The current state of the Thai higher education market reveals a relatively small industry, with approximately 200-300 universities enrolling fewer students than their annual capacity. Compounding the issue is a consistent decline in birth rates over the past five years. While Thailand witnessed over a million births thirty years ago, the current figure has halved to 500,000-600,000 births per year.
In 2005, Thailand began its transition into an aging society, and it officially became one in 2022. Registration statistics indicate that the elderly population now stands at 12,116,119 individuals, accounting for 18.3% of the total population of approximately 70 million. Projections suggest that by 2027, Thailand will reach an advanced level of aging similar to that of Japan, with the elderly comprising 28% of the total population. With the birth rate remaining extremely low, the population growth is negligible, seeing only a meager 0.18% increase due to new births.
Arnond Sakworawich emphasizes that as the number of Thai students entering universities continues to decline while the elderly population rises, the impact on the entire Thai education system is undeniable. Without adaptation, both state and private universities may struggle to survive over the next five years, potentially leading to mergers or closures.
While Thai higher education enjoys recognition within the ASEAN region, it is not a popular choice for students from all ASEAN countries, except for Chinese students who often opt for Thai universities. Consequently, the decline in the number of students has resulted in a sharp decrease in revenue for universities. Some institutions have resorted to teacher layoffs or implemented more flexible working conditions to mitigate the financial strain.
However, this situation also presents an opportunity for the private sector to engage Thai universities in research across various fields, thereby increasing business value. Success in this endeavor hinges upon the potential of teachers and their ability to drive research with the assistance of students. As universities face declining conditions, it remains to be seen how the new government will address and provide solutions for Thai universities, concludes Sakworawich.