THE INTERNATIONALIZATION OF HIGHER EDUCATION AT ABAC*
Today Thailand, traditionally an agrarian nation, can boast of a complex multi-faceted economy embracing industries employing the latest, sophisticated technology.
Thailand’s initial involvement in world trade is generally attributed to the Bowing Treaty of 1855 which was drawn up by representatives of King Mongut and the British government.
The earliest business education in Thailand may be traced, on the one hand, to a government vocational school named Wat Keofa Commercial School which was established in 1901. A special feature of this school was the emphasis placed on the acquisition of a substantial knowledge of the Chinese language. In due course the school adopted the slogan “ ”
On the other hand, some sixteen years earlier, in 1885 a missionary private high school was founded under the name of Assumption College (AC). Its mark of distinction was that it offered courses of study in languages – Thai, English and French. The English language was primarily intended for business and science studies while French was the language of diplomacy.
By 1917 many foreign enterprises along the New Road urged AC to produce graduates for their firms. Accordingly a commercial program was added to the existing curriculum. Gradually this developed into an independent Junior College by 1938. It assumed the name of Assumption Commercial College (ACC). At that time both at AC and ACC, English was extensively used as the medium of instruction in most of the subjects offered, even in science and mathematics.
Towards the end of 1960s, the Brothers of St. Gabriel who were managing ACC decided to develop it into a degree granting College which later became Assumption Business Administration College (ABAC).
The Tradition continues
When ABAC, or Assumption University as it is now know, was formally established in 1972, its purpose as stated in the charter was to serve “the nation by providing a sound professional business education” with an emphasis on “making an extensive use of English as one of the media of instruction”.
The 1974 ABAC Bulletin hinted at the connection between the need to meet international standards and the use of English as one of the media of instruction. As the College became increasingly recognized and accepted in the business community, foreign students began to find their way to ABAC. The importance of English as the medium of instruction was then again reaffirmed by later administrations. For example, the 1981 ABAC Bulletin states that “English is the officially approved medium of instruction”. By 1987 when the Faculty of Arts was opened to teach Chinese, Japanese, French and English for business, the College charter was modified to state: “English is the medium of instruction except in the subjects where it is otherwise stated”.
The Process involved in the selection for instructors
In order to foster the spirit of Assumption University’s International Community, an effective selection process for hiring instructors is vitally important. This process, cited below, ensures a better understanding among faculty members as a result of having English as both the medium of communication and the medium of instruction. The Faculty Manual has this to say:
Assumption University exercises great care in the selection of its instructors because it knows that no matter how noble its ideals, they will never be realized unless its teachers are imbued with the same ideals.
Applicants for teaching positions are therefore thoroughly screened by a committee consisting of the Rector, the Vice Rector for Academic Affairs, the Personnel Director, and as needed, the faculty chairmen.
Since, excepting for a few courses, the college uses English as the medium of instruction, fluency in English is a requirement for most applicants. However, fluency in English alone does not guarantee acceptance. The applicant must have a thorough grasp of the subject or subjects he or she wishes to teach and must demonstrate ability to impart such knowledge to the students.
The benefits accrued from internationalization are not merely confined to language application alone. Student and instructors are challenged to confront cultural diversity and seek to lessen their ethnocentric and xenophobic tendencies as they become more knowledgeable and aware of the values and ethics of other cultures.
c) Thai Studies :
The curriculum of the Department of General Studies in the School of Humanities offers core courses for both expatriate and non-Thai students. Such courses include Thai Civilization, Thai Society and family structures, Thai Literary History, Thai Art and Business Communication in Thai. The department and the Thai Cultural Center can also arrange Basic Thai Conversation classes for the international lecturers and students.
d) General Studies in Cross-Cultural experience :
For both the Thai and non-Thai students courses such as Western and Eastern civilization are offered. Also, courses in Behavioral and Professional ethics are mandatory for all students. Some courses include field trips and films and student term papers. These course term papers seek to encourage students to address deep-rooted cultural issues.
e) International Language Studies :
In 1986 the institution responded to the Thai market need for polyglot business professionals. The Faculty of Arts was set up with four major language specializations in business: Chinese, English, French and Japanese. Since then a fifth business language German has been added.
f) Foreign Students :
The international student body at Assumption University at this time stands over 300 with students from more than thirty five different countries from four continents attending. They include students from: the Philippines, Russia, Finland, Bangladesh, U.K., Cambodia, Canada, Japan, China, Belgium, U.S.A., et alia. More foreign students are expected to join the University especially in the ABAC School of Management and in the Schools of Engineering and Science and Technology. This anticipation is due, in part, to the fact that Thailand is expected to move rapidly ahead in the areas of finance and technology as increases its presence in the global market place.
g) Foreign Student Exchange programs :
Apart from the transfer system that the University encourages, there are student exchange programs on both long range and short range arrangements. Currently, Loyola College, Maryland, U.S.A. and Simon's Rock, Boston, U.S.A. have students enrolled in courses once a year, for one semester. Students from Germany and France are studying at the university for one year. Credits gained from A.U. courses are transferred to their respective degree programs. In the past credit transfers have also been accepted by world prestigious universities such as Stanford and Columbia.
Future Exchange Programs at A.U. will involve American, Australian, Asian and European universities as well.
h) Foreign exchange programs for lecturers :
Currently Assumption University has visiting professors from China, Japan and the U.K. in the undergraduate degree programs. In the Graduate School, it has visiting professors from the United States of America from Universities such as Princeton, Stanford, Swarthmore and Loyola College of Maryland as well as professors for the U.K.
Assumption University has been sending its lecturers periodically for higher education, under twining programs to Pittsburg State University, Southern Illinois University, and Wollongong University, Australia. We also have scholars at the University of Waikato at New Zealand, The Imperial College, London, Georgia State University, Pittsburg State University, Hartford College and Southern Illinois University in U.S.A.
International Center at ABAC
The ABAC International Center is an integral part of Assumption University and has as its main goal the creation and promotion of a better understanding between nations and cultures. Thereby, it seeks to promote collaborative efforts between people from different cultures, nations and enhance the quality of life for all the students and faculty.
We hold the view that life is a continuous flux mediating between diversity on the one hand and unity on the other, and the energy we employ for our everyday living flows from this process. Diversity and differences, therefore, are not to be shunned but accepted for the formation of unified structures that result first in harmony which gives us the joy of living and, ultimately, unity, the basis for happiness, love and worship. Our tasks human beings and students of life is to seek out the relevant differences, harmonize and if possible, synthesize them and thus help and be helped by the natural flow of life.
(Quoted from "The Philosophy of ABAC International Center", September 1982)
An International Community
Assumption University is truly comprised of an international community. Our faculty of Thai Nationals is supplemented by a cadre of international teachers and visiting professors from several countries such as India, Pakistan, Burma, Japan, Australia, England, the U.S.A.
Summary and Conclusion:
I have traced the development of the school from its modest beginnings in 1885 (AC) to an independent junior college in 1938 (ACC) through a further maturation to a degree granting college in 1972 (ABAC), which was fully accredited in 1975, and then to a full fledged university with competitive advantages in internationalization in 1990 (Assumption University).
The thread which ties together this historical development is the emphasis placed by successive administrations on the tradition of providing its students with sound professional business education which emphasizes the use of English as the medium of instruction, exceptions being permitted which would entail contradictions to the curriculum.
The motivation that prompted such thinking was consistently directed to the perceived need of meeting the criteria of international educational standards while promoting the use of English as a medium of instruction.
Within the last decade of its development the evidence for the university's international status is provided by the number of foreign students coming to study for their degrees and the increasing number of foreign faculty members who come to teach in the university, using English as the medium of instruction, and at the same time learning and promoting the interests and culture of Thailand.
The lessons learned from co-operation between people and institutions from different cultural contexts has placed Assumption University in a comfortable situation of facilitating further dialogue in the sphere of internationalization. The University holds memberships in various International Academic organizations and has been invited to play an important role in counseling and guiding both academic and teaching resources within and around Thailand.
More significantly the understanding, and not rejection of cultural diversity has created a unique blend of hard working, farsighted academicians who seek to forge newer visions of academia in the changing Global landscapes.
*ABAC Journal Vol. 11 No. 1 (January - April 1990).