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Opening Thailand's University Classrooms
Dr. Robert I. Tobin
Going Beyond The Classroom
It looks the same as any classroom from the outside—big,
heavy, high wooden doors with strong locks. Inside too, it’s
like others I’ve seen-a big white space with a platform
for the lecturer, a white board, student seats in front of long
tables arranged in tiers. I’m shocked when I get inside.
I count about 100 students, but none of them are sitting on the
chairs. Young people are all over the room—stretched out
in front of the white boards, handmade posters and A4 size pictures.
They’re not quiet either. They’re animated, excited,
smiling. As for the professor, he’s not at the podium delivering
a lecture. When he is finally located, he’s there on the
side listening to a small group of students.
The students are sharing the results of interviews as part of
an assignment that pushed them out of the classroom to interview
senior executives in Thailand. They interviewed top executives,
including several AmCham members, such as Richard Clarke of Thai
Farmers Bank and Haiko Hadler of WE-EF Lighting who were kind
enough to make themselves available for the students.
The students arranged and conducted interviews with more than
50 leaders, including a former prime minister, several bank presidents,
judges, entrepreneurs, diplomats, and numerous foreign executives
from Germany, Taiwan, Singapore, Canada and the United States.
Today, they are presenting the interview reports not from the
perspectives of interviewers but as the person they interviewed.
So, the student who interviewed Richard Clarke from Thai Farmers
is giving a talk as if he were the bank executive. The student
who interviewed Haiko Hadler is doing the same. They all talk
with confidence—after all, they are executives at least
for today-and they speak eloquently about their work and, without
exception, their love of Thailand.
The students and the professor and several visitors are elated
and inspired as they learn about each of the executives that the
students interviewed. The students have gone beyond the classroom
walls and have returned exhilarated. They have energized the classroom
with their enthusiasm and new knowledge from outside the classroom’s
The interviews these students have conducted are just one of
the many activities that transport students beyond the doors and
windows of the classroom. These programs like field trips, exchanges,
guest speakers, internships and practicums are providing substantial
benefits to the educational and business community. They connect
Thailand’s students and universities with the business community,
other universities, and community organizations, and are the focus
of this article. Amid all the calls for educational reform in
Thailand, these programs provide all involved with substantial
educational benefits. There is also a benefit that might not be
predicted—they provide a fresh perspective to many business
executives who are stimulated by the students ideas and talents.
University Study Overseas and University
You do not have to look very hard to find the many educational
programs that recruit young people for study abroad. The educational
pages of any Thai or English newspaper tout the benefits of studying
overseas, and advertise the prep schools that will help students
get the training they need for the tests they need-- the SAT (Scholastic
Aptitude Test), TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language),GMAT
(Graduate Management Admissions Test) LSAT (Law School Admissions
The students who complete a degree overseas return to Bangkok
with new knowledge and increased status. Many jobs and careers
welcome them precisely because they have the degree from overseas.
In the words of Khun Rapipongs Banchong-Silpa who graduated from
Chulalongkorn and recently completed study for his Ph.D. in Economics
in Japan, “ a degree from outside Thailand makes you change
from no one to some one.” And the students gain confidence
as well. They’re forced to be independent, and are stimulated
by new ideas. Khun Thanayuth Thongchindavong, a recent university
graduate who is now studying Chinese in Shanghai recommends studying
abroad: “even a short time course --because students can
gain new experiences that they can’t find in Thailand.”
Now, many Thailand university programs offer exchange programs
who wish to study at a foreign university for a semester, year
or shorter term at universities around the world. Prince of Songkla
University in Hat Yai has exchange agreements with more than 100
universities. Students choose from Australia’s University
of Melbourne, Aalborg University in Denmark , as well as the University
of California in Davis and the University of Kentucky for a semester
or more abroad.
Chiang Mai University offers educational programs in collaboration
with universities in the USA, Canada, Sweden and Singapore. Students
enrolled in Sasin Graduate School of Business Administration,
recently chosen by Asia Week as one of the top ten business schools
in Asia, have more than 15 choices. These include a semester at
Northwestern University, ESSEC in France, University of Southern
California or Cornell. There’s also an option where Sasin
students can study for one year at Sasin and one year at York
University’s Schulich School of Business in Canada and obtain
Foreign students also come here to gain the experience of studying
and living in Thailand and to enhance their own education. For
every student who leaves Thailand for an exchange program outside
of Thailand, there are students outside of Thailand who want to
learn more about language, culture, business, religion, medicine,
nursing, and other academic specialties in Thailand. The students
do more than learn-they contribute a different perspective to
classroom discussions and help local students understand another
culture. The Kenan Institute Asia, a Thai-US not-for-profit organization,
has promoted international education in Thailand for many years.
Under its University Linkages Programs , KIAsia provides opportunities
for American students to have international experience in Thailand.
The Kenan Insitute Asia also organizes Thailand study trips for
US business schools.
WORK EXPERIENCE AND LIFE EXPERIENCE
Internship programs have long been a part of university programs.
Students work for a set number of weeks or hours for a company.
They gain intensive-on the job training, develop their managerial
and communication skills and often get an inside track for a job
after graduation. It’s one of those win-win situations for
everyone. Many AmCham members participate in these programs, including
Colgate-Palmolive, Proctor and Gamble, Thai Farmers Bank and L’Oreal.
Mahidol University’s College of Management, founded in 1997
and located at SCB Park, is one of many universities which arranges
internships for its graduate students with international businesses.
KIAsia also has a program, “Alliances for Study Abroad and
Internships in Thailand” to help American and other foregin
students arrange both study abroad and internship placements.
Assumption University (ABAC) offers a practicum in consulting
as part of its Masters in Organization Management (M.M.) program.
Students in this program learn skills in organizational development,
change management and leadership and they have an opportunity
to use their skills on a consulting project with a company or
community organization. Dr. Perla Tayko, Director and Designer
of this M.M. program at Assumption as well as similar kinds of
programs in the Philippines, is pleased to “see students
gain the kind of hands-on experience necessary to be successful
in the field they have chosen. They learn what it’s like
a team and developing solutions for and with clients.” The
students agree. They describe the company project as one where
“[they] can apply what[‘s] learned in class to a real
life situation in a client company”, and “we should
have more in-company projects like this for other courses as it
teaches us a lot about real-life situations.” Dr. Noel Jones,
the professor directing the Organizational Development (OD) projects,
sees “tremendous development in confidence and understanding
among students during the OD projects. It teaches them about real-life
situations that can not be taught in the classroom.”
Other universities go outdoors for a different kind of educational
experience. Mahidol’s Master of Management is one of a growing
number of university programs which starts the year with a “Ropes
Program” –an outdoor adventure program where students
and faculty work together to develop teams and strengthen student
confidence, initiative and resourcefulness. It is an off-site
program with all participants strengthening their own self-understanding,
risk taking, and the knowledge of what it takes to be part of
Outward Bound Thailand, offers a wide variety of outdoor adventure
programs designed to help each participant have a better understanding
of their own strengths and weaknesses and develop their skills
in different areas. At a group level, these programs have many
objectives, including improved decision-making and problem-solving.
Courses for university-age students and working adults range from
the 6 day Outdoor Adventure program to the 21 day Ultimate Course.
Dr. Rebecca Chan Allen, has lectured at universities in North
America and Asia. She is the author of Guiding Change Journeys,
and has facilitated outdoor adventure experience for students.
She has found “that students can have life-changing experiences,
through out of school activities. She recently commented that,
“both students and faculty benefit from seeing how ideas
are applied beyond the classroom. Off campus activities such as
field trips, field research, workshops or volunteer programs really
bring academic learning to life.”
With all of these benefits and many programs to choose from,
these kinds of beyond the classroom experiences are likely to
expand as university education in Thailand implements efforts
Dr. Robert I. Tobin, a member of AmCham Thailand and American
Chamber of Commerce in Japan (ACCJ0, divides his time between
Bangkok and Tokyo. He is a consultant, coach and speaker on leadership
of organizational change and Professor of Innovation, Change and
Creativity at Keio University’s Faculty of Business and
Commerce in Tokyo. During the past four years, he has been a visiting
professor at Chulalongkorn University. He can be reached at email@example.com
Pictures: My pix also forwarded with pix of ABAC MM students.
Suggested caption: Assumption University Graduate students review
data as part of the practicum