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Students struggle amid economic strife

Since the economic crisis hit in 2008, many students have reported hardships, including an inability to repay their student loans and deep concerns over their future after graduation.

A 50-country survey carried out by Unesco's Paris headquarters in 2009 revealed large-scale global cuts in education budgets due to lower revenues.

The Thai government reduced its 2010 education budget by 4 percent from last year.

Social impacts, such as job losses and income reduction, created by the financial downturn are exacerbating the financial burden on students and their families.

Professor Paitoon Sinlarat, vice-president for research affairs at Dhurakij Pundit University, said more students are taking out student loans to deal with the downturn. At the same time, more graduates are failing to repay loans as they are unable to secure employment.

Phubass Thammasiri, a third-year student at Chiang Rai's Mae Fah Luang University, admitted the crisis has been tough for him and his family.

"For the past couple of years, my parents have been struggling to send me money," said Phubass, whose family grows corn and beans in Nan province.

"They give me less, and late," he said.

Phubass cannot take on a part-time job as his studies occupy all of his time. His two sources of income are his family and a student loan.

He receives around 3,000 to 4,000 baht a month from his family, of which half goes towards his dormitory fees, with the rest saved for personal expenses.

He has to pay an extra 5,000 baht per four-month academic term as his departmental fees exceed the loan amount.

Phubass studies Chinese business in the school of liberal arts. He will have to pay back a 200,000-baht student loan when he graduates.

"I'm very worried," he said. "Many senior students who have graduated said it's really difficult to find a job. Many have had to take whatever is on offer, such as part-time tutoring."

A World Bank report said only 5 percent of Thai university students are from low-income families.

The report found that many Thai graduates in the fields of pure science and engineering were unemployed. The number of social science graduates was much greater than the market demand. Too few students were graduating in science, technology and health sciences.

Thailand faces instructional problems such as substandard teachers, as well as a mismatch between the skills of its graduates and the demands of its labour market. These system-wide issues further aggravate the unemployment rate.

Examining these education trends and challenges faced by Asia-Pacific countries is essential to national policymaking, as well as front-line education practices.

Dr Gwang-Jo Kim, director of Unesco Bangkok, said: "The economic downturn has a direct impact on education access, quality and investment. Therefore, this is a serious concern."

The recently-established Unesco Education Research Institutes Network in Asia-Pacific (ERI-Net) is taking on the study on the impact of the economic crisis on higher education as its first task. ERI-Net was set up by Unesco Bangkok during a consultation meeting on the "Impact of the Economic Crisis on Higher Education in Asia and the Pacific".

Dr Molly Lee, a senior programme specialist in higher education at Unesco Bangkok, said: "The initial study of this regional collaboration is targeted for completion in June 2010. Unesco will then present research findings to policymakers to raise awareness of higher education issues and to encourage evidence-based policy making."

Perhaps the findings from ERI-Net's first research will help the Thai and other Asia-Pacific governments to understand how the economic crisis is changing the higher-education landscape.

For more details on ERI-Net, email apeid@unescobkk.org.

 


Christen Chen is a management consultant in the financial services industry. She was previously an intern with Unesco Bangkok. She can be contacted at christen.chen@gmail.com.

Rojana Manowalailao is Unesco Bangkok's media and communications officer. She can be reached at r.manowalailao@unesco.org.

© Bangkok Post, 2 February 2010



15.02.2010