Quality of Education a Major Concern in Thailand, Says New World Bank Study

January 22, 2010

BANGKOK, January 22, 2010 – Every year, a quarter million students graduate from Thai colleges. But Thai companies find that many graduates lack proper skills for employment and the shortage of skilled workers remains a major constraint.


This is a striking indicator of the challenges in Thailand’s higher education system highlighted by the new World Bank report, Towards a Competitive Higher Education System in a Global Economy.  Though access to education has become less of a problem in Thailand, the quality of education appears to be a primary obstacle to the country’s development, the report noted.


There has been a significant growth in the number of students going to college as well as in the number of new higher education institutions, including community colleges,” said Luis Benveniste, an education expert at the World Bank and the lead author of the report. “But there have also been concerns about the quality and the relevance of education at this level. The indicators we have seen suggest that there is a gap between the quantity and the quality of college graduates.”


The stakes are high. In the increasingly globalized world, knowledge has become a critical driver of economic activity and social development. To compete well in this new setting, Thailand needs more than just physical resources and cheap labor. It needs a new generation of workers whose professional and personal skills match the requirements of the changing global economy.


Without these workers, Thailand could fall behind other countries, even though it has done a remarkable job providing its citizens access to education.The global economy has become increasingly complex and competitive,” the report noted. “No country can afford to be complacent. Thailand is no exception.”


Released in Bangkok today, Towards a Competitive Higher Education System in a Global Economy reviews recent developments in Thailand’s higher education system and examines its strengths as well as weaknesses. It focuses on the important relationships between the private sector and higher education. It also explains the significant role universities play in generating new knowledge and in preparing graduates for an increasingly complex globalized economy.


Some of the issues highlighted:

  • While many more young people are going to college now than in the past, half of those who attain a college education are from the highest income level. Less than 5 percent of the lowest income level is  enrolled in college, suggesting inequity in access to education.

  • In a recent World Bank survey on productivity and investment climate, 80 percent of Thai firms ranked the lack of candidates with basic and technical skills as the reason for not being able to fill job vacancies.

  • Unemployment rates are higher among people who have obtained college degrees, and science graduates report the highest unemployment rate. These two indicators suggested a mismatch between academic training and the skills demanded by industries.

  • Thailand faces an oversupply of social science graduates and a shortage of graduates in the fields of science, technology, and health science – all of which are the critical fields contributing to the nation’s transition toward a knowledge economy.

  • Although there is a strong need for more research and development in Thailand, only about a quarter of faculty at the nation’s public universities hold doctorate degrees, suggesting that most higher education institutions in Thailand focus on teaching rather than research. 

The report details the need to strengthen educational institutions and their links with the private sector to be able to respond to the economy’s demand for skills and for entrepreneurship.  It discusses governance and financial reforms necessary for the education system to become flexible and adapt to the nation’s needs. Above all, it demonstrates the imperative for a new focus on quality at all levels of education.


Towards a Competitive Higher Education System in a Global Economy is the latest in the Thailand Social Monitor series of reports, which the World Bank initiated in 1999 as a contribution to the debate on Thailand’s key social challenges and policy responses.


The report argues that investing in higher education yields not just economic but also social returns. In addition to providing better economic opportunities, higher education is also associated with reduced crime rates, lower population growth, better health due to greater awareness of disease prevention, better protection of the environment, and reduced maternal as well as child mortality rates. 

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