Change and change management in Higher Education in Thailand

Year: 2008

Author: Sinthunava, Kittiwan

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

This research focuses on change and change management in higher education in Thailand, specifically in six Rajabhat universities in Bangkok. Systems thinking as outlined by Senge (2006) is linked to chaos and complexity theory to provide a theoretical framework to help explain and interpret fieldwork findings in this study. These theories suggest new perspectives for thinking about research which includes how people respond to change and how leaders manage change. Change is unpredictable and people who are leading change in higher education have to understand their environment and the impact of change upon the behaviour of their members.

Numerous educational reforms have been introduced in Thailand since the financial crisis in 1997. The first changes were introduced through the National Education Act of 1999, and then in 2004 the Rajabhat University Acts transformed the former Rajabhat Institutes to university status. A case study approach has been adopted to analyse the changes and the change management practices occurring in six of the new Rajabhat Universities, all located in Bangkok. Systems theory is adjusted to explain how organisational respond to change. The four major environments that have changed the policies and the strategies of Thai Higher Education are Western ideas or Globalisation, Thailand Financial crisis in 1997 and the role of International Monetary Fund (IMF), Political-legal and Technological (ICT).

The four major factors of environmental impact on Thai Higher Education have been continued until today. The longer they have impacted the more changed have been the universities in Thailand. The economic crisis in 1997 which led to change in the National Education Act and the innovation of Rajabhat University Act in 2004, have impacted on Thai people and Thai society to think and understand the new environment in the different ways. Universities have adopted a new role to change the Thai people into higher quality workers enjoying more quality of life.

This study focuses upon how six Rajabhat universities reacted to this policy change and how they become autonomous universities under the supervision of the Office of the Higher Education Commission. In the Thai context autonomy is seen as a significant step toward strengthening public higher education institutions so that they will be more accountable to the public, more adaptive to educational and social needs and market demand, and more proactive and dynamic in prioritising their goals, outputs and outcomes.

Changes that have happened within six Rajabhat universities are consistent with the explanation of Dooley (1997) and organisations are showing potentially chaotic behaviour. The Presidents from six Rajabhat universities and their senior executives have played important roles in setting priorities and encouraging their staff in the move towards becoming autonomous universities which generate innovations, and address issues of cost-effectiveness, accountability, performance-based assessment, good governance and long-term social and economic development. This study involved in-depth interviews with each president and a number of vice-presidents from the six Rajabhat universities in the Bangkok region.

Change and change management in higher education in Thailand has been considered as one of the most important factors that will affect the development of the country. However, to understand change and to implement change is complex and the results are unpredictable. In this research three major areas are the foci of this study into change and change management in Rajabhat universities. The research focuses on the way in which the new Rajabhat universities have changed as a result of the National Education Act (1999) and the Rajabhat Universities Act (2004).

The following three major questions are addressed:

1. How has the National Education Act (1999) and the Rajabhat Universities Act (2004) changed the new Rajabhat universities operate in term of policies, structures and programs?
2. How did the senior management team of the new Rajabhat universities respond to meet the requirements of the Acts? Why did they implement these changes?
3. How will these changes impact on the Rajabhat universities in the future?

Every Rajabhat University has adopted the Rajabhat University Act 2004 as the master plan for their policies and their objectives. However, each Rajabhat University has been implementing the Rajabhat University Act 2004 in different ways and they all believe that they are doing the correct and appropriate things for their universities. Rajabhat Universities were given a high level of autonomy and were able to interpret the new policies in different ways and create a variety of projects and activities depending on their resources and their experience. The most common change was to empower more people to make decisions by devolving authority from the former National Council to the President, the Vice - Presidents and the Deans. In the first year after the Rajabhat institutions became universities, new faculties were created and the number of students increased. If they had not decentralised, they would not be able to compete and provide a good quality education service as did other more established universities. Decisions about which changes to introduce needed to be made quickly, so that it was very important for each President to have a senior executive team whose members could contribute to the decision-making process.

The research approach adopted in this study is qualitative. Change and change management is studied in the actual settings of six Rajabhat universities. The six universities are studied as six individual case studies, but commonalities and differences among the universities will be identified. The data for this study was obtained through interviews with university presidents and vice-presidents, as well as analysis of reports and documents of the universities, the Ministry of Education, the National Education Act (1999) and other documents related to Rajabhat universities.

This study investigates change and change management policies, processes and practices in six Rajabhat universities in Bangkok, Thailand. These universities have been chosen because they are closely located geographically and are partners in the Office of Rajabhat Universities Council (ORUC) in which they collaborate to provide information about how they have responded to the National Education Act (1999) and the Rajabhat University Act (2004). This study focuses on change policies and practices which have occurred and how the Rajabhat universities plan to survive in the new milieu of higher educational reform in Thailand.