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Higher Education in Deep South

                     Gothom Arya


            Education is one of the key issues in the three southernmost provinces. Not only it should provide a general and civic education to local population who speak Melayu thin Thai (local dialect), it should also allow them to fairly compete for job and social mobility. But following the ‘Thaiization' policy, the primary education uses Thai as a medium of instruction to young children who barely speak the language. The result is poor achievement and a life-long handicap, even for those few who go on to finish secondary schooling thanks to their own intelligence and the help of often lenient teachers. Finishing secondary schools is barely enough to ensure them a job: they still lack vocational skills and if they want a clerical job say in the bureaucracy, the requirement of Thai language and communication skills may be an insurmountable obstacle. If they want to continue their study, they can hardly compete with other students in university entrance exam. Despite the quota system aimed at increasing the percentage of local students and the reluctance of students from other regions to go the restive South, that percentage at the Prince of Songkla University (PSU), Pattani campus remains low. The figure stands at 20 - 25 % when the students of the Institute of Islamic Studies are excluded and rises to 30 -35 % when included. There are many young people who could have been the pride of their family but end up being frustrated.

            The cabinet has already passed a resolution according to which the PSU, Pattani campus should become a full-fledged university. This follows the trend of allowing campuses such as those of Srinakharinwirot University, King Mongkut Institute of Technology and recently Rajabhat Institute to become universities of their own. However, the resolution of the last meeting of the PSU Council was to have a kind of federal system in which each campus of the University would become more autonomous with its own President while remaining under the same Council. This solution may, or more probably may not, work well, but seems to show the ‘security' concern. Thirty-seven years ago, the University established its first Faculty of Science in Bangkok and then its first campus in Pattani. Hadyai campus came later but became the main campus where the President is. Nowadays, Pattani campus' development is left far behind that of Had Yai, and arguably behind that of Rajabhat Institute, recently becoming a university in Yala. 

            Because of the entrenched belief that the education policy in deep South gave priority to "Thaiization' and ‘security' policies, the Ministry of Education should revise its policy and issue a new one that gives priority to the needs of local population. In particular, there should be a clear policy for higher education and a kind of division, albeit somehow overlapping, of tasks among universities i.e. PSU in Pattani, Rajabhat and Narathiwas Universities, and between universities, Community Colleges and Higher Learning Institutes of Islamic Studies

I would like to make preliminary suggestions as follows:

  • The PSU, Pattani campus should become a full-fledged university and be given more resources with the aim at becoming a center of academic excellence as well as an international institution having strong linkages with universities in the region such as those of Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei, New Zealand and Australia.
  • The Yala Rajabhat and Narathiwas Universities should be given the means to excel in both academic and professional areas and should better serve local population in the pursuit of higher education and later on in the finding of a job.
  • The Yala Rajabhat University could keep the original vision of being community-based, therefore it should closely cooperate with Community Colleges
  • Community Colleges should represent a hope for unemployed secondary school graduates to get further education and quickly get a job. The initiatives of local governments to set up such colleges should be encouraged and supported. Existing and newly set up colleges should be given adequate financial supports, as this will partially solve an important problem we are facing: a bulk of unemployed and dissatisfied youth.
  • Emphasis should be put on Islamic Studies inside rather than outside the country. This may be a good way to counter globalised political ideologies that have a tendency to advocate the use of violent means. Our national Islamic scholars should take leading roles in the ‘battle of ideologies'.
  • There are now a state Institute of Islamic Studies attached to the PSU, Pattani campus and a private Islamic Studies University in Yala, so for the time being there may not be a need for more but to strengthen them. More scholarships should be made available for qualified persons to pursue their higher Islamic education in these two institutions as well as in renown and respected universities abroad such as the al-Azhar University in Cairo.



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