THAILAND: Floods disrupt higher education

Thailand's worst floods in decades are disrupting the higher education system, causing millions of dollars worth of damage to facilities and forcing universities to reschedule semester dates. It is also having knock-on effects on the higher education budget and the administration of student loans and could have wider impacts on education plans in the coming months.

According to Education Minister Warawat Ua-apinyakul, since July the flooding has affected more than 2,600 educational institutions across Thailand including schools, further education colleges and universities, causing around 1,500 million baht (US$48.4 million) worth of damage.

More than 10,000 university students are said to have been affected by the floods, which have caused 500 deaths around the country.

The cabinet approved an emergency 900 million baht (US$39 million) budget on 12 October for the ministry of education for disaster mitigation and reconstruction including rebuilding educational infrastructure and equipment, and compensation for teaching personnel and students affected by floods.

The education budget was reduced by 10% this financial year, as part of national measures to reduce the budgets of all ministries in order to fund the country's much-needed rehabilitation.

Sukhum Chaloeisap, an advisor to Suan Dusit Rajabhat University and chairman of the survey organisation Suan Dusit Poll, run by the university, said he was currently surveying the opinions of parents and students on the affects of floods on education.

The survey results will be used to draw up recommendations for the government on education policy, he said.

"What is quite worrying to me is that there may be more families who require their children to drop out of school [university] and work if the parents have lost their jobs" due to the flooding, Sukhum said.

Inundations in more than 20,000 factories in many industrial estates have meant that more than a million workers have had to temporarily stop working or have lost their jobs. Experts note that national economic growth will be severely affected as a result of loss of production.

Many universities have come up with measures to ease students' financial burdens, such as putting off the dates when tuition fees must be paid, reducing or exempting dormitory fees and providing special loans for students affected by floods.

Universities and schools heavily affected by floods have postponed their second semester for the fourth time in recent weeks, due to prolonged inundations in more than 20 provinces.

National universities admissions examinations are also a month behind schedule.

The second semester, which normally starts at the beginning of November, has been rescheduled by some 20 universities to mid-November, December or even January 2012, while some institutions have had to postpone their reopening indefinitely.

President of the Council of University Presidents of Thailand (CUPT), Prasart Suebka, told the local Thai Post newspaper this week that he will hold a meeting of university presidents and boards next month to discuss whether they should reschedule the start of the first semester of the 2012 academic year to September, so that it would not affect the summer semester, which takes place from April to May.

Rescheduling would be an opportunity to match the Thai academic year with universities in member countries of ASEAN, the Association of South East Asian Nations.

"Currently there are already 12 to 13 CUPT member universities affected by floods who have confirmed they will postpone the first semester of 2012 to September," he said.

Related links
THAILAND: Floods expose system failures: Academics
THAILAND: Call for term calendar to match the world


I am at least if not more worried at the effect on younger students in the school system who may not have the independent learning skills to help mitigate the effects of long layoffs. I hope the effects of the floods are fully taken into account when exams come round later in the year.

Ian Hollingworth