Thai universities in ‘crisis’ as student enrollments decline
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Thai universities in ‘crisis’ as student enrollments decline

MANY universities in Thailand are beginning to see class sizes steadily shrink, as there are less and less students enrolling in the institutions.

Academics are now urging top management at local universities to quickly wake up and make changes to avoid getting left behind.

During a recent forum, local scholars discussed the significant decrease in incoming students and what were the possible attributing factors.

One reason was a trend shift in the majors chosen by students, with changes in the labor market having a large impact on non-scientific programs.

While there are 170 institutions across the country offering up to 4,100 programs, this change has seen a particular decrease in students applying for courses in the social sciences, which cannot compete with students’ preference for pursuing courses in scientific fields.

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According to education officials, in last year’s admissions period, universities had up to 156,216 spots open for prospective students.

However, only 105,046 applied to take the entrance exams, leaving more than 50,000 places empty.

If the trend continues, academics fear that some universities may be forced to shut down.

“Universities which want to stay financially healthy may have to close certain programs,” said Pong-In Rakariyatham, an academic specializing in university enrolment, as quoted by the Bangkok Post.

For example, Thammasat University in Bangkok, which is the country’s second oldest higher education institution, currently has an average of 40,000 students, but the decline in student enrollments is making the university consider downsizing, or even closing, some of its top social science majors, such as law, journalism, and mass communication.

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Another factor believed to be behind the decline is the shift in the education levels of women.

“Many women who receive a higher education tend to marry late and this can affect the fertility rate, or the average number of children born per woman,” said Pong-In.

The National Economic and Social Development Board predicted that the number of Thais in the school-age group (< 21 years) will make up only 20 percent of the population in 2040, a sharp drop from 62.3 percent in 1980.

Pong-In said it was vital for university administrators to start considering changes to the number of students for each department and program.