Top U.S. universities show interest in opening Thai campuses

Some of the world’s top universities, including several Ivy League institutions from the United States, have expressed interest in establishing satellite campuses in Thailand and several Cabinet ministers said last week they will support on legislation that will permit the universities to operate in the Kingdom’s special economic zones.

Among the prestigious U.S. universities investigating the idea of setting upThai campuses are Harvard, Carnegie Mellon and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, according to Education Minister Teerakiat Jareonsettasin.  Top universities from Japan were also weighing the possibility of establishing satellite schools in the Kingdom, he added.

“For quite a few years, many foreign universities have wanted to establish branches in Thailand because they think the country has the potential to serve as an international education hub,” Teerakiat said. “But under the current regulations, foreign universities need Thai partners to operate here, which foreign investors see as a burden, so we are relaxing the rules. I think some of them will definitely grab this opportunity.”

Last Monday, the government announced its intention to allow foreign universities to invest in campuses in the country’s 10 Special Economic Zones (SEZs). These zones are located along Thailand’s borders with Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos and Malaysia.

The zones will be home to industrial estates that will house a mix of advanced and medium-level industries such as manufacturing medical equipment, automotive, logistics and pharmaceuticals, as well as furniture, jewelry, ceramics and agro-industries.

The workforce will be a mix of Thai nationals and migrants from neighboring countries seeking better jobs and a better life in Thailand.

The minister said that there will be a strong demand for skilled workers in these zones, and so foreign universities in these areas could help produce workers with the knowledge, skills and abilities to drive these industries and in turn raise Thailand’s level of development.

The foreign universities would be asked to tailor their satellite campus courses to provide instruction in the fields that produce highly skilled workers that will accelerate Thailand’s development to a higher-technology plane.
The Kingdom needs more workers who are innovative and creative.

Several academics have come out in support of the idea, saying it will help increase research and development, something Thailand wants to do more of.

“The foreign institutes’ presence would also help keep Thai researchers, teachers, administrators and university students on their toes,” said Suchatvee Suwansawat, rector of the King Mongkut Institute of Technology and head of the Council of University Presidents of Thailand. Competition would raise academic levels, he said.