Thailand's low birthrate is affecting enrolments at Thai universities
Thai universities are struggling due to lower enrolments because of the sharp decline in the number of new births over the past several years, an education professional said.
Arnond Sakworawich, head of Business Analytics and Intelligence Program at the Graduate School of Applied Statistics of the National Institute of Development Administration (NIDA), said that most Thai universities have not been able to meet their enrolment targets.
The number of vacant seats are more than the number of students enrolling, forcing many state and private universities to organise 3-5 rounds of admission sessions, but still failing to fill all the available seats, Arnond said.
The current Thai higher education market is relatively small, with 200-300 universities taking in fewer students than their annual capacity. Additionally, there has been a continuous decline in the number of births over the past five years. Thirty years ago, Thailand had over a million births, but currently the number has dropped by half to 500,000-600,000 births per year.
In 2005, Thailand started becoming an ageing society, and became a full-fledged ageing society in 2022 when registration statistics showed that the elderly population had reached 12,116,119, accounting for 18.3% of the total population of about 70 million.
By 2027, Thailand is expected to become an ageing society at an advanced level, similar to Japan, with the elderly population accounting for 28% of the total population. The birth rate is very low, with only a 0.18% increase in population from new births.
As the number of Thai students entering universities continues to decline while the elderly population increases, it undoubtedly has an impact on the entire Thai education system, Arnond said.
State and private universities might struggle to survive in the next five years if they do not not adapt, possibly leading to mergers or closures, he said.
Thai universities have managed to survive by actively recruiting Chinese students. At some institutions, Chinese students make up half of the total student population. Approximately 3 million Chinese students have enrolled in Thai universities, he said.
While Thai higher education is recognised in the Asean region, not all countries in the Asean group are popular choices for studying in Thailand, except Chinese students who usually choose Thai universities. Chinese students contribute substantially to the universities' revenue, paying tuition fees ranging from 40,000 to 50,000 baht per semester in private and state universities, such as Thammasat University, Chulalongkorn University, and NIDA, he said.
The decrease in the number of students has resulted in a sharp decrease in revenue for universities. Some universities have started laying off teachers, or adjusting their working conditions more flexibly, Arnond said.
From a positive perspective, it is an opportunity for the private sector to employ Thai universities for research in various fields to increase business value. However, the success depends on the potential of the teachers and their ability to drive research with the assistance of students. This becomes a chain problem when universities are declining, and it remains to be seen how the new government will provide solutions for Thai universities, he said.