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Understanding the Politics, Economics and Culture of Borrowing: The Case of Thailand's Higher Education Reform

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Abstract:

This paper offers a historically, theoretically and empirically grounded analysis on the trajectory of Thailand Higher Education reforms in relations to globalization and the changing role of the Thai state. Grounded in the policy borrowing and lending perspective, this paper seeks to understand complex interplays between “external forces” and policy changes in higher education. Furthermore, this paper uses the in-depth and context specific analysis of Thailand higher education reforms as a case to elucidate and clarify the theoretical differences between “the politics, economics and culture of borrowing.” Although each perspective has subtle nuances differences, they provide different rationale as to why country would borrow or emulate policy from elsewhere. Moving beyond the normative analysis of “best practices” or “learning from international standards,” this paper critically examine the political, economic and cultural aspects that could influence the decision of Thai policymakers.

The paper commences by providing the interpretative framework of policy borrowing and lending theory. Subsequently, the paper uses the three theoretical concepts to analyze and understand the evolving nature of Thailand's higher education sector. Not only does this paper contribute to better understand the trajectory of Thai higher education, but it is argued that the theoretical clarification contribute to the broader literature on policy borrowing and Asian higher education.

Policy borrowing and lending attempts to “describe, analyze and understand ... traveling reforms that surface in every part of the world,” (Steiner-Khamsi, 2012, p. 1). It is argued three significant rationales support the decisions to borrow. These include the politics, economics and culture of borrowing (Steiner-Khamsi, 2004; Steiner-Khamsi and Stolpe, 2006, Steiner-Khamsi and Waldow, 2012; Takayama and Apple, 2008; Lao, 2012). Additionally, the concepts of socio-logic, policy window and belief systems of policy elites are particularly useful to understand the historical factors, contemporary policy contexts and belief systems of the policy actors involved in the borrowing process (Steiner-Khamsi, 2004; Schriewer and Martinez, 2004; Grindle and Thomas, 1991, Sabatier and Jenskin-Smith, 1993).

Since its inception, external factors have contributed significantly to the formation and evolution of the Thai state (Kaewmanee, 2007). Fearful of being colonized by foreign powers, Thailand began the modernization process in the mid-19th century in the reign of King Rama the Fourth (Kaewmanee, 2007). Harrison (2010) argued that the modernization process in Thailand was considered to be “enforced self-modernization,” with the sole purpose of “appeasing the west” (p. 13). These strategies were perceived as the only way for traditional Thailand to be recognized and respected as a civilized nation in the eyes of the Western powers (Baker & Phongpaichit, 2009). In the early days, European higher education was the model for the Thai higher education system. The establishment of the first university, Chulalongkorn, in 1916, epitomized this. It was characterized as elitist, and the sole purpose of higher education was to educate the ruling elite to serve in modern bureaucracy (Wyatt, 1960). Evidently, the creation of earlier universities was heavily linked to bureaucratic and ministerial demands. Thammasat University was founded in 1934 to specialize in political science and law. In 1943, two more universities were founded: Kasertsart University aimed to focus on agriculture, while Silapakorn University was intended to focus on fine arts. In 1969, Mahidol University was founded to specialize in medicine (World Bank, 2010). Until the end of the 1960s, there were only eight higher education institutions in Thailand, five of which were located in Bangkok, the capital city, with limited access and specific purpose.
Through American economic assistance after the Second World War, access was expanded, and the American model of higher education became the prototype for Thai higher education. Three more public universities were established in three regions of the country: Chiang Mai University in the North, Khon Kean University in the Northeast, and Prince Songkla University in the South. Since 1986, it is noted that globalization and internationalization has become the main source of policy aspirations. Similar to the experiences of other countries, Thailand has moved from bilateral borrowing to international frame of references. Globalization, global league tables and global models become the sources of policy aspirations and necessitated assimilation, in whole or in parts (Steiner-Khamsi, 2012). Altbach (1989) persuasively argued: “the Thai universities function with a variety of foreign influences” (p. 12). While it is widely acknowledged that Thailand has relied on multiple external influences to formulate its higher education policymaking, the current account of Thailand higher education reforms are coated with a historical nationalism.

Author's Keywords:

policy borrowing
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Name: Comparative and International Education Society Annual Conference
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MLA Citation:

Lao, Rattana. "Understanding the Politics, Economics and Culture of Borrowing: The Case of Thailand's Higher Education Reform" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Comparative and International Education Society Annual Conference, Sheraton Centre Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, Mar 10, 2014 <Not Available>. 2014-12-10 <http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p720395_index.html>

APA Citation:

Lao, R. , 2014-03-10 "Understanding the Politics, Economics and Culture of Borrowing: The Case of Thailand's Higher Education Reform" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Comparative and International Education Society Annual Conference, Sheraton Centre Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada <Not Available>. 2014-12-10 from http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p720395_index.html

Publication Type: Conference Paper/Unpublished Manuscript
Review Method: Peer Reviewed
Abstract: This paper offers a historically, theoretically and empirically grounded analysis on the trajectory of Thailand Higher Education reforms in relations to globalization and the changing role of the Thai state. Grounded in the policy borrowing and lending perspective, this paper seeks to understand complex interplays between “external forces” and policy changes in higher education. Furthermore, this paper uses the in-depth and context specific analysis of Thailand higher education reforms as a case to elucidate and clarify the theoretical differences between “the politics, economics and culture of borrowing.” Although each perspective has subtle nuances differences, they provide different rationale as to why country would borrow or emulate policy from elsewhere. Moving beyond the normative analysis of “best practices” or “learning from international standards,” this paper critically examine the political, economic and cultural aspects that could influence the decision of Thai policymakers.

The paper commences by providing the interpretative framework of policy borrowing and lending theory. Subsequently, the paper uses the three theoretical concepts to analyze and understand the evolving nature of Thailand's higher education sector. Not only does this paper contribute to better understand the trajectory of Thai higher education, but it is argued that the theoretical clarification contribute to the broader literature on policy borrowing and Asian higher education.

Policy borrowing and lending attempts to “describe, analyze and understand ... traveling reforms that surface in every part of the world,” (Steiner-Khamsi, 2012, p. 1). It is argued three significant rationales support the decisions to borrow. These include the politics, economics and culture of borrowing (Steiner-Khamsi, 2004; Steiner-Khamsi and Stolpe, 2006, Steiner-Khamsi and Waldow, 2012; Takayama and Apple, 2008; Lao, 2012). Additionally, the concepts of socio-logic, policy window and belief systems of policy elites are particularly useful to understand the historical factors, contemporary policy contexts and belief systems of the policy actors involved in the borrowing process (Steiner-Khamsi, 2004; Schriewer and Martinez, 2004; Grindle and Thomas, 1991, Sabatier and Jenskin-Smith, 1993).

Since its inception, external factors have contributed significantly to the formation and evolution of the Thai state (Kaewmanee, 2007). Fearful of being colonized by foreign powers, Thailand began the modernization process in the mid-19th century in the reign of King Rama the Fourth (Kaewmanee, 2007). Harrison (2010) argued that the modernization process in Thailand was considered to be “enforced self-modernization,” with the sole purpose of “appeasing the west” (p. 13). These strategies were perceived as the only way for traditional Thailand to be recognized and respected as a civilized nation in the eyes of the Western powers (Baker & Phongpaichit, 2009). In the early days, European higher education was the model for the Thai higher education system. The establishment of the first university, Chulalongkorn, in 1916, epitomized this. It was characterized as elitist, and the sole purpose of higher education was to educate the ruling elite to serve in modern bureaucracy (Wyatt, 1960). Evidently, the creation of earlier universities was heavily linked to bureaucratic and ministerial demands. Thammasat University was founded in 1934 to specialize in political science and law. In 1943, two more universities were founded: Kasertsart University aimed to focus on agriculture, while Silapakorn University was intended to focus on fine arts. In 1969, Mahidol University was founded to specialize in medicine (World Bank, 2010). Until the end of the 1960s, there were only eight higher education institutions in Thailand, five of which were located in Bangkok, the capital city, with limited access and specific purpose.
Through American economic assistance after the Second World War, access was expanded, and the American model of higher education became the prototype for Thai higher education. Three more public universities were established in three regions of the country: Chiang Mai University in the North, Khon Kean University in the Northeast, and Prince Songkla University in the South. Since 1986, it is noted that globalization and internationalization has become the main source of policy aspirations. Similar to the experiences of other countries, Thailand has moved from bilateral borrowing to international frame of references. Globalization, global league tables and global models become the sources of policy aspirations and necessitated assimilation, in whole or in parts (Steiner-Khamsi, 2012). Altbach (1989) persuasively argued: “the Thai universities function with a variety of foreign influences” (p. 12). While it is widely acknowledged that Thailand has relied on multiple external influences to formulate its higher education policymaking, the current account of Thailand higher education reforms are coated with a historical nationalism.


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