The beginning of higher education in Thailand dates back to the latter part of the nineteenth century when King Chulalongkorn (Rama V) introduced visionary education reforms after he assumed the throne in 1868. Centers of higher education incorporating elements of western influence were established and subsequently flourished. The history of higher education in Thailand can be divided into three periods: the Early Modernization Period (1889-1931), the Post Revolution Period (1932-1949), and the Development Planning Period (1950-present).
Within a decade of the first national economic and social development plan, the regional universities Chiang Mai University, Khon Kaen University, and Prince of Songkla University were established successively from 1964 to 1967 as part of the education decentralization programme. In addition to the establishment of regional universities, other important developments arose in the late 60s and early 70s, such as the Asian Institute of Technology and the National Institute of Development Administration (NIDA).
Soon after, more higher education institutions were formed. In 1971, King Mongkut’s Institute of Technology was established through the merging of several technical schools and has since been developed into three independent institutes. Srinakharinwirot University, established in 1974, followed a similar process of establishment. Maejo Institute of Agricultural Technology, subsequently becoming Maejo University, was upgraded from a college under the Ministry of Education to a university in 1975.
Around this time, private higher education institutions began to play a role in higher education provision, thus allowing more Thai youth to gain tertiary qualifications. The Sixth National Higher Education Development Plan (1989-1991) gained great attention and focus from the government, particularly in financial support for private tertiary institutions to further improve their standards of education and provide more education programmes.
Private higher education institutions expanded in Bangkok and other provinces to accommodate the social demand for higher education and the need to strengthen educational development of the country. Private universities and colleges also began to offer international programmes to enhance internationalization of Thai higher education.
In the 1990s, six more regional universities were established: Burapha University, Naresuan University, Mahasarakham University, Thaksin University, Ubon Ratchathani University, and Suranaree University of Technology.
A significant innovation during the Development Planning Period was the initiation of two open admission universities: Ramkhamhaeng and Sukhothai Thammathirat, which opened in 1971 and 1979 respectively. These two universities provide an effective and economical way to respond to the growing public demand for access to higher education. Both make use of modern technologies such as radio and television to broadcast tutorials to a wider audience. As a result, the two universities presently share around sixty per cent of all tertiary enrolments. Currently, Ramkhamhaeng University also delivers closed admission study programmes in 16 undergraduate programmes as well as all of its master’s and doctoral degree programmes.
Suranaree University of Technology, founded in 1990, is the first public university in the country to operate independently from the government bureaucracy with its own autonomous administration system and with government financial support in the form of block grants. It was hoped that it would become a model for other public universities seeking to become autonomous in the future. Walailak University, the second of its kind, opened its doors to students in 1998. In early 1998, King Mongkut’s Institute of Technology Thonburi was also upgraded to be an autonomous university and renamed King Mongkut’s University of Technology Thonburi. Mae Fah Luang University, another autonomous university, was established in 1998 in Chiang Rai.
40 Rajabhat Universities were formerly Rajabhat Institutes before being upgraded to university status and falling under jurisdiction of the Office of the Higher Education Commission. Dealing with education at an advanced level, the universities operated under supervision of the Rajabhat Council under the Ministry of Education and are scattered in the big cities throughout the country. In order to serve the different regions of Thailand, they have been divided into eight clusters.
The Rajabhat University Act of 2004 stipulates coordination of the strengths of Rajabhat Universities in order to aid development of the regions. Although Rajabhat Universities have become separate legal entities, there is still a joint committee that consists of representatives from each Rajabhat University.
Each type of higher education institution in Thailand has certain governing bodies that are responsible for academic administration: the maintenance and supervision of the institution. These types of institutions include public and private higher education institutions, as well as autonomous universities. The governing bodies at these types of institution are listed in the diagram below. In addition, the Council of University Presidents of Thailand and the Association of Private Higher Education Institutions of Thailand play a significant role in university administration and serve as advisory bodies to public and private institutions respectively.