As birth rate crashes, Thai universities told they must ‘adapt or die’
Thailand’s plunging birth rate is triggering alarm bells in the education business, with some Thai universities recording almost 50 per cent fewer new students in recent years.
The Kingdom witnessed more than 1 million births per year in the 1980s. However, that figure has been falling ever since and dropped below 600,000 for the first time in 2020.
In the next 10 years, the downward trend is set to see fewer than 500,000 children born every year in Thailand.
The record low birth rate also means fewer children are entering the education system and going on to university. Thai universities are also suffering from the new generation’s trend away from taking multiple degree courses, as well as the ease of attending online classes at famous foreign universities.
As a result, Thai higher education institutions, both state and private sector, must adapt fast to keep up with the changes.
Assoc Professor Thanawat Phonwichai, President of the University of the Thai Chamber of Commerce (UTCC), said his university used to accept around 7,000-8,000 students a year, but that figure has now fallen to 4,500. Meanwhile, the total number of students at UTCC has dropped from 25,000 to 22,000 due to the low birth rate and falling popularity of bachelor's degrees. One bright spot is that master's, doctorates and lifelong learning are getting more attention.
Thanawat warned that universities would be forced to close or merge unless they adapted quickly to the changing landscape. Changes that need to be made include more flexible application processes, specialised programmes and evening courses, and more cooperation with universities abroad, he said.
Thai universities should also launch programmes that meet the lifestyle needs of the new generation. He added that adopting high-tech learning methods coupled with hands-on experience was also vital if universities wanted to attract the new students that they need to survive.