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FTA with Japan ’could hurt education sector’

The Nation, Bangkok

FTA with Japan ’could hurt education sector’

A competitive environment would put Thailand at a disadvantage: educators

3 April 2007

The Japan-Thailand Economic Partnership Agreement (JTEPA) could put Thailand at a disadvantage if it focuses more on competition than on co-operation in educational services, participants at a brainstorming session claimed yesterday.

"Educationally speaking, Thailand can’t compete with Japan," Dr Suthasti Wongsamarn, who heads the Office of the Education Council’s Education Planning and Policy Office, said yesterday.

The office held the session in order to draft a strategy that is intended to ensure the country’s educational environment can deal with the impact from the JTEPA.

The strategy will be presented to the Cabinet.

"When it comes to education, Thailand will be at a disadvantage if the JTEPA focuses on competition," Suthasri said yesterday, adding the strategy would be based on studies into the pros and cons of the free-trade agreements on educational services in both countries.

"We should also find out what Japanese learners want and ensure that Japanese investors in Thai based higher-educational institutes do not have greater privileges than what are granted to Thai entrepreneurs," she said.

According to Suthasri, the JTEPA opens the way for Thai entrepreneurs to provide higher education services, adult education services, Thai dance classes, Thai kick-boxing classes, Thai music classes, and Thai cooking classes in Japan.

JTEPA in turn allows Japanese entrepreneurs to hold shares not exceeding 50 per cent in Thailand’s higher-educational institutes.

"Thai entrepreneurs will find it hard to get into Japan’s educational market given the fact that Thai educational services hardly meet Japanese requirements. In this case, the signing of JTEPA may effectively allow Japanese education-service providers to enter Thailand. This could be one-sided in practice," Kasit Pirom, a former Thai ambassador to Japan, said.

He suggested the University Presidents Council of Thailand and all universities should present any agreements they have made with Japan to the Office of the Education Council so that it could see the direction of co-operation.

"There are fields where joint research will be useful to Thailand. They are nano-technology, biotechnology and food science," he said.

Kasetsart University lecturer Panapipop Kasempat said through the JTEPA, Japan would have access to Thailand’s biological resources through research channels.

Mahidol University lecturer Sansanee Chairoj said relevant parties should be extremely cautious when conducting joint research with Japan as some medical information could affect Thailand’s security.

Dr Jaras Suwanwela, who heads Chulalongkorn University’s Council, agreed there should be mechanisms to protect Thailand’s information that was sensitive to the country’s security.