Transforming Thai higher education through global partnership

“Thailand’s unique location in South East Asia  sees it poised to become a regional education hub, an advantage the UK cannot ignore”

In response to Thailand’s ambition to internationalise its higher education system, the flagship Thai, UK World Class University Consortium initiative pairs seven Thai universities, through 15 research projects, with 14 lead UK university partners. This impressive partnership empowers outstanding collaboration on topics high on the list of national agendas.

The Consortium aims to open a sustainable pipeline of Thai – UK higher education collaborations. It was established by the British Council under its worldwide Going Global Partnerships program and devised and co-funded in partnership with the Thai Ministry of Higher Education, Science, Research and Innovation.

These are no ordinary, stand-alone partnerships but a program with multiple layers of engagement to embed internationalisation throughout the Thai university system. They have been developed to embrace a holistic understanding of partner objectives and aspirations, framed by shared values and objectives. This builds trust and confidence between partners, gained by shaping outcomes together, equitably.

The Consortium has already demonstrated the power of co-operative commitment, with lead UK members bringing 10 additional associate UK universities on board. This gives Thailand an impressive pool of British academia to bear its world-class aspirations and boosts a well-established program of Thai – UK co-operative research. A new round of British Council – Thai government funding for existing Consortium member projects was announced in May 2022. An opportunity for new members to join the Consortium will be announced in 2023.

With the UK, Thailand has found an ideal partner to carve a globally persuasive university education offer, fit for the challenges of our times. The UK’s research capability and its global reputation for innovation across learning and teaching (in 2022 nearly 20% of its universities are ranked in the world’s top 100, with four universities in the global top 10*), combined with the aspiration of Thailand’s Ministry of Higher Education and the university sector, means Thailand can rapidly inject quality and strength into its systems.

The Thai – UK World Class University Consortium brings positive personal benefits too. Students will gain a dynamic world view through their studies, with the chance to learn with both Thai and UK academics, making them more employable and willing to take a proactive, shared responsibility for the future.

It promotes life-long learning, English skills and the opportunity to acquire micro-credentials or to access online and hybrid ways of learning that enable a rich university education in the face of restrictions and uncertainty caused by disruptors like Covid-19.

Researchers focused on the Thai context will gain new perspectives from UK expertise and experience and will interact with a diversity of academics and disciplines from more than one British university. As one Thai member of the Thai – UK World Class University Consortium succinctly defines the initiative, “It’s a shortcut to relationship development.”

Partnering with Thailand brings rewards for the UK too.  A post-Brexit UK seeks to deepen its relationships and influence beyond Europe to advance its ambitious economic, trade and innovation agendas. The UK is currently Thailand’s third research partner after Japan and the USA, leaving room for the UK to increase and enrich connections with Thailand. This enables the UK’s educational practice and research excellence to be broadcast widely across the country and the ASEAN network.

Thailand’s location in South East Asia – with four ASEAN countries as immediate neighbours – sees it poised to become a regional education hub, an advantage the UK cannot ignore.  The Consortium offers the UK opportunities to boost its relatively modest TNE links with Thailand and a chance to grow its 45% share of the Thai student market, a market that has been shrinking in recent years and open to increasingly stiff competition.

The organisation for regional education ministers (SEAMEO) has its HQ in Bangkok, and the British Council in the capital has an enduring relationship with the government departments that drive the nation’s world class education agenda.

The Thai – UK World Class University Consortium expresses a deeper collaborative aspiration for the UK and Thailand by seeking impact that can be applied far beyond their own national agendas. Priority subjects include Agriculture and Forestry, Architecture and the Built Environment, Chemical Engineering, Development Studies, Geography, Life Sciences and Medicine. This is a broad menu of topics for the UK to draw from its formidable bank of scientific, medical and environmental knowledge, research and innovation, and topics of primary relevance to regional and global, social, environmental and healthcare concerns of our times.

These topics speak directly to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, geared to improving the future of the planet and all those that live on it.  In short, the impact of the Thai – UK World Class University Consortium is positioned at the heart of the global quest for ground-breaking solutions to our greatest challenges which places Thailand’s higher education offer in the mainstream of world-class, research.

The test of any strong relationship is the willingness of both partners to not only develop themselves but to enable each other to grow.

Like Britain, Thailand appreciates that international education leadership is not something done in isolation, especially in the context of complex global challenges and disruptors, like the recent Covid-19 pandemic. It recognises that only by working with others can the epithet of ‘world-class’ be more than just a badge for Thailand’s higher education, but rather a statement of its essence. With the UK, Thailand is on a fast track to success.

* 17 of the UK’s 90 universities in the 2022 QS World University Rankings are placed in the top 100

About the author: Andrew King is a freelance writer and formerly Assistant Director Education UK at the British Council in the UK. Andrew has developed brand and communication strategies for international education, law and finance.


Editorial note on Going Global Partnership Programme Thailand – UK

The Thai – UK World Class University Consortium is a part of the British Council’s worldwide Going Global Partnerships programme.  British Council Thailand’s combines its insight, connections and experience to bring exceptional partners from the UK and Thailand together, inclusively and equitably, to work on high-impact projects of national and global relevance. The team’s in-depth knowledge of Thai and UK higher education landscapes means British Council partnerships are hard-wired for impact, enriched by the ability to tap into a much larger pool of multi-lateral expertise available through the British Council’s global network to inform partnership strategies.