Lecturers call for major reform of higher education after tragedy

SATURDAY, MAY 21, 2016

THE murder of two lecturers at a Bangkok university on Wednesday and suicide by the shooter shortly after has spurred the Assembly of Faculty Senate Chairs of Thailand (AFCT) president Rattakorn Kidkarn to call for the case to inspire serious reform of hi

He urged the prime minister to apply power under the charter’s Section 44 to bring about better change to Thai higher education.
Rattakorn urged agencies supervising higher education institutions, plus the education minister and prime minister, to order an investigation into the cause of the tragedy. He said the incident reflected cumulative problems that have plagued universities for a long time. 
These included university administrations not in line with good governance, the seeking of power and illegal gain, and the lack of good supervision and checking systems that affect the overall quality of higher education and graduates. 
He revealed that teachers and school directors were major clients in a two-year Master’s Degree in Education Administration programme, which is available mostly among Rajabhat universities, while some private institutes offered courses as short as one year. 
The AFCT, made up of lecturer representatives from each university in the country, had previously issued a statement to call for reform and offer its condolences for the three lecturers killed, including the gunman, while also urging people to use peaceful means to solve problems. 
He said the group had hosted two seminars on good governance and submitted a proposal to Education Minister General Dapong Ratanasuwan and Deputy Minister Teerakiat Jareonsettasin, saying that issues stem from conflicts between university presidents and university councils. 
If these two parties did not get along administration issues would occur, he said. Thailand, however, mostly saw the opposite scenario of both parties getting along too well, as they elect one another and thus accommodate beneficial matters such as the opening of special study programmes. 
“I affirm that the opening of special study programmes leads to conflicts at all universities, but most severely among Rajabhat universities, as they have the highest number of students in such classes. And the programme administrators, curriculum developers and lecturers get highly paid, resulting in complaints, including issues of lecturers selecting their own people to teaching positions or thesis examination positions,” he said. These cases were mostly ‘ended’ when university council orders were cancelled but the root of conflicts remained.
Meanwhile, Soranit Silatham, deputy secretary-general at the Office of the Higher Education Commission, said that in regard to the AFCT’s call for reform that Ohec had given importance to the issue of good governance and acted on complaints according to their authority. 
For complaints of bad quality study programmes, the agency would have a committee to supervise and have the respective university to solve the problem. 
He said the agency would also send a committee to Phranakhon Rajabhat University, which had lost the three lecturers, to ensure minimal impacts on education management and students. 
He said the institute had yet to report the result of a fact-finding probe in to this week’s tragedy to his agency.
Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha yesterday slammed the media for live broadcasts of the stand-off on Thursday, in which lecturer Wanchai Danaitamonut, who shot dead two colleagues at Phranakhon Rajabhat University, shot himself in the head after hours of negotiations. 
Upon arrival at Suvarnabhumi Airport from Russia, Prayut told reporters the media shouldn’t violate people’s human rights and should let police do their job. 
“Why would you want to broadcast such violent images? I’ve asked many times about some images and some stories but the media keep playing them up and people will soon get used to violence,” he said. 
“You should let police do their job, not [cameras] shooting every step with all eyes on them and criticising with disregard to the man’s family.”
In a related development, the National Broadcasting and Telecommunication Commission will meet with representatives of ThaiRath TV, Nation TV, Springnews and TNN24 at the Century Hotel tomorrow afternoon to seek an explanation about their constant broadcast of Wanchai’s stand-off with police.
Hours into the live coverage, the NBTC ordered all TV channels to stop broadcasting the stand-off on grounds that the incident was violent in nature. 
Dr Burin Suraaroonsamrit, of the Mental Health Department Bureau |of Mental Health Service Administration, said Wanchai may have been under immense cumulative stress to kill his co-workers. 
There may have been warning signs prior to his acts, he said, with remarks such as “I don’t want to live anymore” or “I feel despair”, but people may not have taken them seriously. 
He said the office would soon send a psychologist team to talk with Wanchai’s relatives, as there could be a copycat behaviour which, without a solution being found, could stem from stress that was heredity or cumulative. 
Burin cited a department study that found working-aged people were most at risk of suicide due to stress while teenagers, due to their life inexperience and lack of life skills, were most likely to copy behaviour. 
From 2014-15, Thailand’s suicide rate was 6.08 per 100,000 people but it might rise this year based on the higher number of people with suicidal urges seeking advice on the 1323 and 1667 hotlines.