Bangkok beckons

International curricula, reasonable course fees, cultural affinity and geographical proximity make Thailand a top draw for Indian students, finds Hemchhaya De

By The Telegraph Online
  • Published 9.01.14

Calcutta girl Anushila Mukerji believes that Thailand has myriad advantages over such traditionally preferred education destinations as the US and the UK. "I didn't take up offers from universities based in the US. I chose Thailand because I would get international education closer home," says the first-year undergraduate psychology student at Webster University in Hua Hin (about two hours from Bangkok), who aspires to be a criminal psychologist.

Kannan Santhanaraj from Tamil Nadu would broadly back her point. Pursuing doctoral studies in remote sensing and GIS in any Indian university wouldn't have provided him with an exposure to global developments in his area of study. The Bangkok-based Asian Institute of Technology (AIT), one of the leading technology universities in the world that has tie ups with IIMs (Indian Institutes of Management), provided him just that and more. "We get mentored by global experts at AIT and there's ample scope for innovative thinking, something institutes in India hardly offer," says Kannan, a PhD student at AIT on a Japanese scholarship, who worked briefly with the National Informatics Centre in Delhi before opting for doctoral studies in Thailand.

There's clearly more to Thailand than its dazzling malls, lip-smacking food and alluring seaside resorts at Pattaya, Phuket and Hua Hin. With more than hundred education institutes, public and private, South-east Asia's second largest economy is fast becoming a global education hub, rivalling other overseas study hotspots such as Singapore and Australia.

Indeed, the Thai government has drawn up an ambitious blueprint — a 15-year (2008-2022) long range plan focusing on research, science and technology — to raise the quality of learning and infrastructure at its universities to international standards in order to attract more and more foreign students. "Thailand is at a very interesting juncture now — many universities in the region will grow rapidly after the intra-regional economic integration under the planned Asean (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) Economic Council in 2015," says Rod Hearps, vice-president, ICEF Asia-Pacific, a global student recruitment consulting agency based in Queensland, Australia.

Public and private higher education institutes in Thailand offer a total of 1,017 international programmes with English as the medium of instruction. "Over the past decade, Thailand has introduced several international accreditation and quality assurance programmes on a par with other top international destinations," says Samrat Ray Chaudhuri, director, marketing and enrolment management, at Webster University, a St Louis-headquartered US university which has campuses all over the world, including two in Thailand. "Thai universities, which regularly get featured in international rankings, have been attracting foreign students in large numbers."

  • Learning is fun at Webster University

According to the last available data from the ministry of education (MoE), Bangkok, the number of international students in Thailand grew by 7 per cent between 2009 and 2011. The maximum number of overseas students comes from China, followed closely by the US, South Korea, Bangladesh and India. Thai authorities say they are witnessing a surge in the number of students from India — there was a 9 per cent rise in Indian students' enrolment between 2009 and 2011. "There has been a sharp increase in students from eastern India, especially from the northeast," says Tharadol Thongruang, minister counsellor (commercial), Office of Commercial Affairs, Royal Thai Embassy, Delhi.

Calcutta boy Saswata Sanyal says he chose to study in Thailand because some of the institutes there boast of academic programmes that only a handful around the world offer. A Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai, graduate, Saswata is doing his PhD in disaster preparedness at AIT.

Thailand has other offbeat areas of study too. Take the School of Oriental Medicine at Rangsit University, a sprawling state-of-the-art private higher education centre in Pathum Thani on the outskirts of Bangkok, known for its science, health and management programmes. "We are launching undergraduate and postgraduate courses this year in oriental medicine that provide a thorough grounding in traditional Chinese and Thai herbal medicines and Indian Ayurveda," says Krisana Kraisintu, dean of the faculty of oriental medicine and faculty of pharmacy at Rangsit, who's internationally feted for her pioneering work in HIV medicine in Africa. "Such degrees will help international students to get jobs in the growing wellness and spa industries in Asean and elsewhere." She adds these courses are relevant to cancer care as well and hence oriental medicine graduates can also be hired by leading hospitals in Thailand and other parts of Southeast Asia.

  • Students conducting research at Asian Institute of Technology

Thailand also boasts of top class business administration (BA), marketing, finance and media programmes. According to the Thai MoE, the most popular programme is actually business administration with 15.56 per cent of international students opting for it while 6.01 per cent pursue international business. "Medical and media programmes are other top draws," says Jatuporn Wattanasuwan, executive director, Department of International Trade Promotion (DITP), Bangkok, a government agency that promotes Thai education along with the MoE. "One can opt for medical programmes at state-run Mahidol University while public institutes like Thammasat University and Chulalongkorn University are known for their journalism and communication courses."

The Thai government is also aggressively collaborating with foreign universities. According to the MoE, 2,534 agreements or MoUs were signed between institutes in Thailand and foreign education institutions in Europe, North America and Asia focusing on student-exchange programmes, dual-degree programmes and research initiatives.

For Indian students, Thailand has some basic advantages — international programmes that are significantly cheaper than American and British courses, cultural affinity and geographical proximity (there are about 15 daily flights from India to Thailand and vice versa). According to DITP, tuition fees and living costs in Thailand are around 60 per cent lower than what Indian students need to pay at American or European institutes.

Besides, there are scholarships galore from the Thai government as well as from individual universities. The most popular scholarship and financial aid available to Indian students is the Indo-Thai Cultural Exchange Programme which provides 8-10 scholarships annually. Other scholarships available include the Hindi Language Scholarship, Oriental Medicine Scholarship and so on.

If we look at individual institutes, almost all Indian students at Webster received financial aid in some form last year. At AIT, a significant number of scholarships are for non-Asean countries. His Majesty the King's Scholarships and Her Majesty the Queen's Scholarships are available for non-Asean students.

But Thailand's rules are not quite lenient when it comes to students looking for part-time jobs while studying. "Those with student visas are prohibited from working while studying," says an MoE spokesperson. "However, if they belong to countries that have a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with Thailand, they can opt to do so." Quite clearly, it's time Thailand raised awareness of its top class education facilities. "I think the international student community is relatively unaware of the opportunities offered in Thailand," says Hearps of ICEF.

Saswata of AIT vouches for this when he recounts, "When I told an immigration official in Calcutta airport that I am going to study in Thailand, he looked at me suspiciously. Obviously they expect people to go there for tourism!" he says. "It's time Indians change this mindset."

Top public universities

• Chulalongkorn University

• Thammasat University

• Mahidol University

• Kasetsart University

• King Mongkut's University of Technology, Thonburi

Top private international universities

• Rangsit University

• Webster University

• Asian Institute of Technology

Tuition fees

Differ from one university to another. On an average, US$ 1,000-2,000 a year for a master's degree and US$ 5,X000 a year for doctoral degrees

Source: Ministry of Education, Thailand

(The writer was in Thailand on an invitation from the Department of International Trade Promotion, a government agency inBangkok)