Lessons Learned: Credit Transfer and Mutual Recognition
A Case Study of Thailand’s Private Higher Education Institutions* 

Prathip M. Komolmas, f.s.g., Ph.D.
Assumption University, Bangkok
Introduction
“Dramatic increases have occurred in the number of private higher education institutions, with accompanying diversification in structures, curriculum and teaching methods and management approaches resulting from both internal factors (such as changes in academic disciplines and new instructional methods) and external factors (such as population growth, the need to cater for more diverse clienteles and changing labour market requirements).” Higher Education in the Twenty-first Century: Vision and Action, UNESCO, Paris 1998
The emergence of private higher education institutions in Thailand is one of the government’s most significant achievements by any standard. Credit Transfer and Mutual Recognition are timely and relevant topics for study and discussion at this conference on “Quality Assurance in Higher Education: Standards, Mechanisms and Mutual Recognition.” In Thailand’s situation, the rationale for Credit Transfer emanates from the Private College Act of 1969, and Private Higher Education Act of 1979 as amended in 1992 and their implications.
Historical Background
Before 1969 higher education in Thailand constituted a State monopoly, the sole prerogative of government agencies. Towards the end of the 1960s, there was a steadily growing demand for higher education. Public universities in those days could no longer cope with such an enormous increase in demand owing to lack of space and other facilities in their institutions. To solve the problem, the government then launched two open public universities, on in 1971 and the other in 1978, to which to the present day admission is unlimited and without any restraint, thereby guaranteeing the right of access to higher education to all citizens who hold high school certificates or the equivalent.
Just before the establishment of the two Open Public Universities, the government also passed a landmark Private College Act in 1969 under which the private sector was authorized to operate higher education institutions with the right to confer degrees. By 1984 a certain number of private colleges that had consolidated their positions as full fledged tertiary institutions were raised to the university status.
Another landmark in the history of Thailand’s higher education was the establishment of the Ministry of University Affairs (MUA) in 1972. Prior to the aforementioned date, all universities were the responsibility of the Office of the Prime Minister, and colleges were under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Education.
Ever since the establishment of the Ministry of University Affairs in 1972 another bill was passed by the parliament, namely, Private Higher Education Act of 1979 as amended in 1992, and higher education institutions spread far and wide throughout the country capable of catering to the needs of all people.
The provisions in the Private College Act of 1969, and Private Higher Education Act of 1979 as amended in 1992, and their implications
With the promulgation of the Private College Act of 1969 and almost immediately thereafter, a few private colleges were established and licensed to confer degrees under the decision of the Ministry of Education. By 1975, all private higher education institutions came under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of University Affairs (MUA). The Private Higher Education Act of 1979 empowers MUA to oversee all matters relating toConditions for the establishment and operation of private institutions.
  • Directives for Management Policies for private institutions and regulations thereof;
  • Approval of Academic Standards and the enforcement of MUA’s Quality Assurance Principles.
  • MUA’s Development policies of private higher education institutions
Establishment and Operation: Article 9 of The Private Higher Education Act of 1979 as amended in 1992, stipulates that any person or juristic person has the right to establish an institution of higher education such as a university or institute or college subject to compliance with relevant ministerial regulations.
To be a university the requirement is that:
  • the institution concerned must offer education in selected academic disciplines and other branches of professional knowledge;
  • must offer education leading to the conferment of diplomas, associate degrees and degrees at various levels;
  • the institution concerned must fulfill the 4 missions of teaching, research, public service and the preservation and promotion of national heritage and culture.
To be an institute the requirement is that:
  • the institution concerned must offer education in academic disciplines or professional knowledge with special emphasis on certain disciplines or group of disciplines;
  • must offer education leading to conferment of diplomas, associate degrees and degrees at various levels;
  • the institute must be committed to teaching, research and producing graduates; it may render public service or be engaged in preserving and promoting national heritage and culture.
       To be a college, the requirement is that:
  • the institution concerned must offer academic and professional disciplines in some areas;
  • it must award diplomas, associate degrees, and degrees not higher than the masters’ level;
  • it must commit itself to teaching, research and producing graduates and it may engage itself in public service or promoting national heritage and culture.
To effectively implement the provisions in the Private Higher Education Act of 1979 as amended in 1992, a ministerial committee entitled “Private Higher Education Council” was created to regulate certain fundamentals concerning operation of private institutions. The Council has the following functions to perform:
  • To recommend to the Minister of University Affairs to grant permit to a person or a juristic person who has met all requirements to establish a higher education institution
  • To recommend to the Minister to give approval of the academic standards of each degree programmed and finally to grant      recognition of the degree conferred by the institution concerned.
  • To recommend to the Minister to approve curriculum proposed by an institution.
In other worlds, all matters pertaining to essential characteristics of a higher education institution need to be approved by the Minister of University Affairs based on the recommendation by the Private Higher Education Council. Accordingly no private higher education institution has any right to act independently without prior approval from the Ministry of University Affairs
Management Structure
Under the MUA’s regulations, the highest authority of a private higher education institution resides in the university council, which acts as a governing board of the institution. The Ministry of University Affairs designates its own representatives to be members of the university council in proper proportion to the members proposed by the private institution according to the provision in Article 28. The university council has the duty to oversee the administration of the institution and to give approval in all matters such as concluding agreement for academic cooperation with other universities, both within the country and abroad, academic standards, curriculum, academic policies, establishment of new department or new school, financial affairs, etc. before submitting these matters to the Ministry of University Affairs for final approval. Besides the Private Higher Education Council, there are 34 other committees of various types to oversee and to recommend to the Council for approval especially academic activities of a private institution.
Academic Standards and the Quality Assurance Practices
By Article 25 of the Private Higher Education Act of 1979, the Private Higher Education Council has to approve academic standards of an institution whenever the latter is ready. Accordingly, academic standards are set for each degree programmed and it takes into account various institutional characteristics, for example, quality of curriculum content, number of qualified teachers in proportion to students in the programmed, library materials, equipments and other facilities, etc. These characteristics must conform to a set standard for each degree programmed.
Furthermore, all question papers must have the approval of a committee of external examiners before setting them as official exam papers for students. Grading and marking standards must also have the approval of the said external examiners.
Recognition of degree or institutional accreditation is granted for each degree programmed. For this an Evaluation Team or an Assessment Team set up by the MUA comes and evaluates the performance of a faculty or a department for approval of a particular degree. An interview with faculty members and students in the programmed form an indispensable part of the evaluation and approval process.
Credit Transfer and Mutual Recognition
Mutual recognition of Studies, Diplomas and Degrees in Higher Education in Asia and the Pacific is an urgent matter for the region because higher education institutions the world over are facing many new challenges. For example, the internationalization of higher education is becoming a reality today owing to the rapid process of globalization, interdependency among countries and bilateral and multilateral economic cooperation among many states. Furthermore, Academic and Student mobility in Asia and the Pacific Region has not yet become fully practicable and operational among higher education institutions. This is due, in some ways, to the complexity of mutual recognition of higher education qualifications in the region, It is noteworthy that the ERAMUS-SOCRATES Program has been going on very well in Europe and it has worked satisfactorily and smoothly there as intended. With UNESCO’s initiative, it is hoped that a similar programme will soon become a reality in Asia and the Pacific thereby strengthening academic and research development in the region.
However, a number of overarching issues emerge – academic standards and academic excellence among higher education institutions as equal partners in mutual recognition. In this context, Dr. Jane Knight of the Ryerson Polytechnic University on behalf of the Canadian bureau for International Education has voiced her concern by saying: “…to achieve international standards is a key rationale for internationalization. According to the government and private sectors, an important role for the government is to ensure that the quality and standards of the Canadian education system meet international standards.” In this same line of thinking, David W. Strangway, Canadian Prime Minister, in his speech in 1996 at Guadalajara Conference in Mexico mentioning academic excellence as an indispensable part of internationalization said, “Universities in general have an overriding commitment to excellence. It is the excellence of our faculty, of our students, of our programs that is the key underpinning of our activities. In today’s larger interconnected and yet smaller local world, it is clear that without internationalization, we can no longer maintain excellence.”
Concerned with academic excellence, the participants of the Asia and Pacific Regional Conference on National Strategies and Regional Cooperation for the 21st Century, assembled in Tokyo, declared that “In countries where privatization is accepted, governments should provide a legal framework to regulate institutions, to develop appropriate accreditation and monitoring mechanisms, and to ensure academic freedom and maximum autonomy. The complementary and supportive role of private universities and colleges must be recognized”.
In this context, the Thai government through the Ministry of University Affairs has been cited as exemplary in the region, in passing through its parliament a landmark bill, “The Private Higher Education Act of 1979” providing monitoring mechanisms for excellence in private higher education, and promoting private higher education in the country thereby contributing to solutions on equity and accessibility in higher education.
Points for consideration
Being aware of the fact that academic cooperation especially in research and student mobility will not be feasible if the institutions concerned do not meet Academic Standards of Excellence, the following suggestions are hereby tendered:
1. International syllabi or he Equivalent: To facilitate “Credit Transfer” higher education institutions should adopt an international system of course content and formatting, for example, one credit hour involves a minimum of 15 hours of class work. Therefore, a subject involving 3 credit hours will require at least 45 hours in class. To qualify for sitting at the final exam of any subject, a student is required to have a minimum of 80% class attendance.
2. Teacher Education: The program for teacher education is normally 4 years after high schooling in many countries. It is worthwhile to consider whether this time frame should be extended to 5 years to include a) 4 years of academic studies and b) a year of internship to provide practical training and experience including inculcation and absorption of professional ethics. The nature of Teaching Profession is “a high standard of service for its own sake.” It requires on the part of a teacher candidate a commitment to uphold and put to practice Moral Principles and Personal Integrity.
It is also felt that teachers in faculties or schools, other than the Faculty of Education, such as Engineering or Biotechnology should also be exposed to some courses in pedagogy and professional ethics to ward off criticism against lack of training in these important subjects. It is a well known saying that the best teaching is done at the Primary School and the worst takes place at college level!
3. Basic Schooling as Entry Requirement to Tertiary Level: UNESCO should continue to urge member states of the region to systematize and internationalize their education institutions by adopting international standards of primary and secondary schooling known as the K-12 system which is accepted in many Western countries as a prerequisite to entry requirement to tertiary level. The different systems and standards, for example K-10 system, which are applied and which prevail in many countries have been a stumbling block to mutually recognizing one another’s diplomas and degrees.
4. Information Technology: To enhance academic excellence especially through research and development among higher education institutions, efforts should be made, through UNESCO’s initiative, to establish Regional Centre for inter-electronic and digital libraries. There is also a vast reservoir of information, literature and educational materials waiting to be tapped from the millions of websites on the Internet and countries that choose to shut out this channel of valuable resources will be big losers in terms of providing knowledge and technology to their citizens. The Internet is the medium for keeping abreast of the times, which will enable us to maintain similar standards and levels of education prevailing in other regions of the globe: The need for use of the Internet and other technological innovations must therefore be emphasized and promoted.
5. Peace Education and Education in Professional Ethics: There is now general acceptance of the need for Education in Human Rights as part of a curriculum in general education on subjects including ethical and moral orientation in all fields of education- arts, science, technology, law, medicine etc. Seeing that the very future of humanity and the survival of our planet is at stake we must incorporate lessons on ethics and morality at every level of instruction and the curricula of all institutions must be suitably revised to comply with this requirement.
6. Since UNESCO has advocated the concept of lifelong learning we must make changes in the existing system of education. Institutions in the West have already launched programs for junior and senior business executives to return to campuses to attend reorientation courses and other programs of instruction to reinvigorate, redirect, and diversity their training, attitudes, outlooks, visions and projections. All higher education institutions must prepare themselves to cater to this kind of adult education and the arrangements must cover all conceivable types of jobs and employment.
7. Quality Assurance: All higher education institutions should accept and implement the principles of Quality Assurance and Accreditation in order to guarantee uniformity of academic standards. This will require adoption of education reform measures in member countries based, inter alia, on the following framework of principles. The sooner these principles are applied the better which will accelerate the internationalization of higher education institutions.
7.1 Provide high quality and effective teaching and learning, integrate curricula with appropriate teaching and learning process, appoint qualified instructors, ensure appropriate preparation and participation by students and enforce other factors which will enhance the teaching and learning process.
7.2 Develop and adjust course syllabi to meet academic and professional standards. All courses must be evaluated on a regular basis, administered efficiently and revised according to requirements.
7.3 Adopt criteria for recruiting, developing and maintaining qualified instructors with appropriate background, experience and ethical standards. Job descriptions for instructors must be clearly specified. Instructors must be evaluated regularly by way of improving the quality of teaching and maintaining high educational standards.
7.4 Provide high quality teaching and education including appropriate lesson plans, teaching preparation, detailed course modules, teaching aides, course evaluation, instructor evaluation and educational assessment.
7.5 Organize systematic and standardized evaluation procedures for assessing student’s achievement.
7.6 Promote the learning process by ensuring that buildings provide facilities appropriate to teaching in large or small groups or for independent study. There must be libraries with text materials and other types of books and periodicals. There must be computers and software to enable students to acquire knowledge from diverse sources. There must be pleasant and suitable environment to enhance student performance, creativity and enthusiasm for their education.
7.7 Engage in activities which develop student’s physical, mental and emotional health, provide activities that promote self-discipline, democracy, environmental preservation, ethics, responsibility and commitment to family and community.
Concluding Remarks
     As all private higher education institutions in Thailand are under the jurisdiction and strict control of the Ministry of University Affairs as explained above, we can say with assurance that they have met a certain standard of excellence. For this reason, credit transfer and mutual recognition is acceptable not only among themselves but very well recognized by universities in the U.S as well as in Europe.
References
1. สองทศวรรษ ทบวงมหาวิทยาลัย, 29 กันยายน 2535
2. รายงานสัมมนาทางวิชาการ “จากความหวังไปสู่ความสำเร็จของแผนอุดมศึกษาระยะยาว” วันที่ 29 กันยายน 2536
3. Trends and Issues Facing Higher Education in Asia and the Pacific, UNESCO 1991
4. Final Report: Higher Education in the Twenty-first Century Vision and Action, UNSECO, Paris, 5-9 October 1998