Valuable lessons from falling ranking

Mahidol, along with other top Thai universities, continued to show among the Asian rankings - but none of them rose in the rankings. (File photos)

Many of my friends were excited to see their universities continue to rule the charts in Thailand when the annual ranking of universities in Asia was announced late last week. The jubilation of those graduating from the likes of Mahidol, King Mongkut's University of Technology Thonburi (KMUTT) or Chulalongkorn University was all good, but little did anyone appreciate that all of these revered institutions actually saw their rankings slip from the previous survey.

The only university in Thailand that managed to maintain its ranking was Chulalongkorn, which was placed around 151-160, a rank it achieved last year.

What's disappointing is the fact that Thailand seems to be the only country in the region to have seen none of its universities rise up the chart, and at best Chulalongkorn retained the status quo.

Umesh Pandey is Editor, Bangkok Post.

Every other country saw either all or at least some of its educational institutions rise in the ranks over the period. Frankly, we were among the poorest performers in the so-called more developed Asian countries.

Even the likes of Malaysia, which has not made it to the top levels in years, managed to get University of Malaysia to rise to 59th in Asia, and one should not even talk about Malaysia's tiny city-state neighbour whose National University of Singapore maintained its top place for the second year running after being the second best since 2013.

Meanwhile, China saw as many as nine of its universities rank among the top 50 in Asia against eight in 2015, while Japan also saw nine of its universities placed in the top 50 in Asia for both 2016 and 2017.

Little Hong Kong and Taiwan also fared better than Thailand as their educational institutions maintained their status or improved them, not to mention the fact that the bulk of their institutions managed to make it to the top 50 in Asia -- unlike Thailand where only two institutions managed to make it into the top 100.

Ask any local and the answer would be that we have the best educational system in our universities, but if that was the case then why are we losing our standing each year? "What has gone wrong with our educational system?" is the question after the slide of Thailand's best-ranked university, KMUTT, from 55th place in 2015 to 98th place in 2016 and down to 101-110th position in 2017.

Blame is placed on the government for not providing sufficient funding, with less than 0.5% of GDP being provided to universities for their research and development projects against the 4-5% that is the global norm for developed countries.

Yes, part of the problem stems from the lack of interest among government officials to regard education as a key driver for future growth. But it is also the lack of push among the people to revamp the system that is in place in our country.

How many of us actually ask the parties we support what is their educational plan for the future?

How many of those who were on the street protesting for the military to seize power are posing this question to the military rulers? How many of us have the courage to stage a sit-in outside Government House to seek an answer to why a government with all its power is not making one of the key drawbacks of any elected government one of its key priorities?

Why is it that the dual-track and high-speed rail links to Nakorn Nowhere are more important than building our educational system and infusing some much-needed steroids into the educational system to propel it to be one of Asean's best places for higher education?

I guess raising these issues is like banging one's head against the wall because the answer to these questions is that no one will care about it in a few days.

The fact that two of Thailand's higher education institutions at least made it to the top 100 could make most Thais satisfied, not caring for the fact that a small country such as Taiwan has five educational institutions in the top 50, or there are six from Hong Kong and nine each from China, Japan and South Korea.

The celebrations of friends is warranted but I would ask my friends and the country's rulers to consider if this kind of result is really something that calls for us to be joyous.

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