UPDATE: The Senior Director of the GED Testing Service has responded to this article. The response, in full, can be read here.
Since the 1970s, Thailand’s birthrate has been consistently dropping and computerisation has been consistently increasing. The Bangkok Post and The Nation have both reported that Thai universities and colleges are expecting 50 to 75% of their campuses to close in the next 10 years.
This, in turn, has opened a Pandora’s Box of problems. As classes empty and tuition evaporates, few Thai academics are untouchable from job loss.
Thailand tends to be especially heavy on administrative staff, tradition, pomp, circumstance and ceremony. All of that, of course, is very expensive and so some savvy Thai universities have looked to fill their empty desks by bringing in more foreign students.
But, there are serious concerns about the quality of Thailand’s increasing array of international university graduates, and these issues run the gamut from simple quality control problems all the way to alleged criminal activity.
A cross-reference of Unesco published data and various public records indicated that there are four conspicuous problems affecting today’s international university students here in Thailand.
These problems consist of anemic Stem ratings (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) in the Thai educational sector, unsuitable international candidates for university enrollment, illegal work, and a lack of Western-style licensing exams to prevent malpractice.
The problems begin with the Stem scores of Thai students today, as they will be our foreign student’s teachers tomorrow. Unesco’s 2017-2018 Global Education Monitoring Report showed that barely 50% of today’s Thai students are competent in maths and reading.
Unesco also published that Thailand’s national student proficiency testing system is not reliable. (This system is sometimes called ‘O-Net.’)
Taken together, these deficiencies can create weaknesses in the Thai teachers who often help educate international students… but there are also alarming concerns regarding the quality of our international university and foreign college students themselves.
The Phuket News has obtained evidence indicating that some international undergraduate programs popular in Thailand have been admitting student school leavers to college, even though they don’t have high-school degrees.
The documents demonstrate that at least two undergraduate programs have been engaging in this practice over the past five years.
Some campuses have offered so-called ‘grace periods’ for high-school dropouts to acquire what is known as a General Educational Development (GED), a high-school equivalency certificate generally frowned upon by most of the Western world.
More alarmingly, these records strongly suggest that the ‘grace periods’ have not always been adhered to. Over several months, a special reporter for The Phuket News has cross-checked the transfer patterns of students in these programs and came upon a document that indicated that one program instituted a GED prerequisite in order for students to graduate… only last month.
By the simple process of deduction, that means foreign high-school dropouts have been engaging in college instruction in Thailand for at least four years. Ergo, these so-called ‘grace periods’ seem little more than a means to lower the entry bar.
The Phuket News has also acquired a document that indicated that another undergraduate program has been enrolling foreign students into degrees taught in English, even though these students are not asked to prove that they actually speak English.
For instance, one web advertisement that was published online just a few months ago read:
“Q: Do I need to take an IELTS or TOEFL exam before being admitted?” “A: You can join the program with only an in-house English exam given by [the school.]”
To explain, IELTS & TOEFL are standard English proficiency exams for foreign students from non-English speaking countries.
In addition, The Phuket News has recently learned that foreign students enrolled on the same program may soon be graduating from an American university due to a partnership between that Thai college and an American school.
But, The Phuket News has also learned that these same students might not have fluency in English until two years into their studies. This is not likely to be normal practice at an American university and seems entirely unorthodox to either common academic standards, or routine American university enrollment standards.
This suggests that some of Thailand’s international college students are simply being enrolled in Thailand in order to evade the entry standards of American universities on a commercial or repetitive basis and graduate later on. A practice that many would find morally bankrupt.
And it only gets worse from there. Thailand’s Education Visa expressly prohibits employment.
Yet, Thailand’s authorities have long-suspected that many international undergraduate students are breaking that law. There was a heavily reported crackdown on this very issue by Immigration and the Tourist Police.
‘Operation X-Ray Outlaw Foreigner’ has been widely publicised throughout Thailand. This year, the Royal Thai Police arrested hundreds of illegal foreign workers.
Numerous unqualified English teachers were handcuffed, collared and dragged out of at least 74 of Thailand’s international schools and language
Critically, The Bangkok Post reported Pol Maj Gen Surachate Hakparn did not say that any of those illegal teachers were qualified professionals limping from one legitimate visa to another, but exactly the opposite. Those arrested were reportedly illegally teaching on student visas.
“Police Maj Gen Surachate Hakparn sought cooperation from educational institutes and entreated them to avoid helping foreigners change their Tourist Visa to a Student Visa,” The Bangkok Post reported.
The results of ‘Operation X-Ray Outlaw Foreigner’ have suggested that foreign students who engage in educational visa fraud do not necessarily limit their criminal activities to illegal teaching. The operation has ensnared a complex web of often concurrent crimes; all the way from international romance scams to complex illegal drug networks.
In summary, as Thailand’s number of international students soar, the reality is that their teachers are often not up to Western standards and that some programs have been flouting Thailand’s labour laws, as well as allegedly skirting the standard entry requirements commonly applied around the world for American university programs through which some students may soon graduate.
Compounding these woes, Thailand presently lacks occupational ‘licensing examinations’ that are on par with those of many Western states and countries. These are the crucial exams that verify the competency of some of society’s most critical occupations... such as teachers, doctors and lawyers.
“At present, Thailand has no equivalent licensing examinations in the post-graduate, pre-degree window of time on some critical teacher-training programs that mirror their Western counterparts,” says Dr Ian Reide, a multiple Ph.D holder, historian, teacher and software designer from The University of Western Australia.
He explained that Thailand’s licensing examination issues need to be updated, but this is little understood by the general public. Practically anyone can become a foreign college student, but that does not mean that they are competent to work after they graduate, and these exams stop unqualified candidates from committing occupational malpractice post-graduation.
But Thailand’s glaring weaknesses here are clearly being exploited.
According to a slew of Thai college websites, foreign students can come to Thailand to study architecture, accounting, aerospace engineering, automotive design, business, dentistry, many forms of finance, food science, public health, medical science and, very notably, foreign-language teaching, as well as teacher-training programs.
As it stands, Thailand’s mechanisms to detect high school dropouts and prevent them from entering college have proven to be barely present, or easily evaded. Its mechanisms to detect international students not fluent in English are also being skirted.
In effect, recent revelations demonstrate that a growing number of international undergraduate programs offered in Thailand seem to be taking in unsuitable students today; but solving the problems by ‘backdating’ their records tomorrow.
The investigation opens up wide-ranging questions that are as yet unanswered. These questions include how high-school dropouts can be ethically enrolled in college; how those who have not yet finished high school can be expected to master college or university topics; how the general public can rely on them without Western-style licensing exams prior to being granted a diploma; how any student not fluent in English can possibly master complicated occupations taught in English; by what means these students are obtaining high grades; as well as how students who might harbour these deficiencies can possibly be deemed as suitable prospective American university graduates?
Large numbers of substandard students could constitute a serious hazard for any advanced nation outside Thailand whose government could be liable for defaulted student loans. Whilst many foreign students pay Thailand in cash for their education, further education in their Western countries is likely to be on credit.
Substandard foreign college and university students in Thailand today could be your dentist, teacher, or architect tomorrow. The revelations revealed in the course of this investigation are shocking and their consequences could eventually be enormous.
And, if left to continue, the person who may someday pay for those consequences could very well be you.