The first university in Thailand, namely Chulalongkorn University, was established over 80 years ago. Later on, more universities were founded, each specializing in a specific field: Thammasat University in social sciences (law, political science, liberal arts), Silpakorn University in Fine Arts, Kasetsart University in agriculture, and the University of Medical Sciences (now Mahidol University). This has been the case until the 1960s, when new comprehensive universities were founded:
Chiengmai University, Khonkhaen University, and Prince of Songkhla University. During the same period, the traditional one-field universities began to expand to offer degrees in other fields. Also in that same decade, three technical colleges at Thonburi, North Bangkok and Ladkrabang were merged into one, and upgraded to a higher educational institute, the King Mongkut's Institute of Technology.
In the 1960s there were eight public universities offering baccalaureate engineering programs. Then in the 1980s, the shortage of engineers was so acute that other universities began programs in engineering and technology, new public universities were set up, and several private colleges were upgraded to universities. In addition to institutions under the Ministry of University Affairs (MoUA), technical colleges were combined as Rajamangala Institute of Technology, and teacher training colleges were combined as Rajabhat Institute, both of which offer baccalaureate programs.
In the 1990s there was a movement of establishing the so-called international programs, in which English is used as the medium of instruction. There was also a wave of establishing 'special programs' in engineering, providing classes outside the traditional hours to boost the number of engineering graduates.
Currently there are about 20 public universities and 33 private universities under the MoUA. Some public universities have set up self-supporting semi-autonomous units, such as Sirindhorn International Institute of Technology (SIIT) of Thammasat University, and Sasin of Chulalongkorn University. Due to the economic crisis of 1997-98, in order to improve the efficiency of the public sector, the government has set up a policy to move public universities out of the bureaucratic system. The majority of budget is still supported by the government, but in the form of block grant, not as line-item budget, as is currently the case. University employees will no longer be government officials. Consequently the form of benefits will change, and dismissal of non-performing employees (including faculty members) will be easier. Therefore, employees must be more accountable, and eventually the higher educational system will improve. In return, employees will receive a higher salary.
General Structure of Bachelor Degree Programs
MoUA limits the number of total credits of all bachelor degree programs to between 120 and 150. Bachelor degree programs in engineering and related technology generally contain between 140-150 credits, which are normally spread over eight semesters or four academic years. MoUA also specifies a minimum of 30 credits for general studies, including physical science, mathematics, English language, social science and humanities, and six credits of free electives.
The Engineering Profession Control Committee, which issues practicing licenses for civil, electrical, industrial, mechanical and mining engineers, requires at least 39 credits of compulsory engineering subjects for each of the engineering disciplines. Practicing licenses are not required for other engineering disciplines, such as computer or environmental engineering.
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There are three approaches to bachelor degree engineering education. The first approach puts all the first-year students together to take common studies, and then separates them into various disciplines from the second year onwards. The second approach separates students into disciplines as soon as they are admitted to their first year. The third approach takes vocational students who possess a higher diploma in vocational education, which puts them into appropriate disciplines. Appropriate subjects from their vocational education may be accredited.
International programs should have the following criteria:
- The medium of instruction is one of the international languages, such as English;
- Admission procedures permit candidates who complete secondary schools in various countries to apply for selection;
- Several nationalities are included as members of teaching staff.
With the above guidelines, only a few institutes in Thailand, such as Sirindhorn International Institute of Technology of Thammasat University, Assumption University (ABAC), and Asian University of Science and Technology (AUST), offer international bachelor degree programs in engineering and related technology. It should, however, be noted that several institutions offer engineering programs taught in English, but where the other criteria are not met. Therefore, they merely offer 'English' programs, not 'international' programs.
There are two streams of postgraduate programs, namely taught-course and research-oriented programs.
Taught Course Programs
Masters degree programs, MEng or MSc (Tech) contain from 36-42 credits. 6-12 credits are required for the thesis, and the rest of the credits are for the taught courses.
The Doctoral degree program, DEng or DSc (Tech) covers from 48-54 credits after the masters degree. At least 36 credits are specified for the thesis, and the rest of the credits belong to taught courses.
Masters Degree Programs, MPhil, require at least 36 credits of thesis. Students may be asked to attend taught courses, which will not be graded.
Doctoral degree programs, PhD, require at least 48 credits of thesis after the masters degree. Students may also be required to take taught courses, which will not be graded.
In Thai public universities, educational quality assurance has not been an agenda until recently. The reason being that public universities are fully supported by the government, and that they enjoy the high quality of intake students; consequently, little has been done to ensure the quality of the teaching/learning. This will soon change, as the MoUA has initiated a quality assessment program.
Prida Wibulswas & Sawasd Tantaratana
Sirindhorn International Institute of Technology
Thammasat University at Rangsit