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Thailand: Universities take recruiting into own hands

State universities are bypassing central admissions system to find top students

State universities prefer to directly recruit their own students because the central admission system introduced six years ago has failed to provide them with the best qualified applicants.

Launched in 2006 to replace the university entrance exam, the central admission system requires students to meet a specified grade point average (GPA), combined with satisfactory scores in the Ordinary National Education Test (Onet), General Aptitude Test (GAT) and Professional Aptitude Test (PAT) to enrol in state universities.

Admission numbers for the upcoming school year, which starts June 5, reflect how fewer students are being accepted into the traditionally most popular faculties through the central admission system. For the upcoming year, 122,169 students applied for seats in 723 faculties at 90 universities and 82,102 of them passed the admission tests, Somkid Lertpaitoon, president of the Association of University Presidents and rector of Thammasat University, said.

Although the number of applicants was about the same as last year, the choices of faculties and universities have surprised officials.

Mr Somkid said the top three choices named by applicants were the faculty of nursing at the Police Nursing College, the faculty of science at Prince of Songkla University, and the faculty of education at Chulalongkorn University respectively.

Pol Maj Gen Yupin Neamsang, president of the Police Nursing College, said she was surprised to hear the college was the most popular among applicants. Up to 2,850 students applied for the 56 seats available. Normally, about 1,000 student apply. “Job guarantees and career advancement possibilities attracted their interest,” she said.

“As the competition for university seats has increased, students want to make sure they will get a job after graduation. “If there is no nurse vacancy available at the Royal Thai Police, our graduates can work at hospitals elsewhere,” she said.

Last year, the top three choices were the faculty of political science, Thammasat University, the faculty of engineering, Thammasat University, and the faculty of engineering, Chulalongkorn University.

“It is no surprise the applicants did not choose the popular faculties and universities, because they simply want to make sure they will have a place to study,” Sathon Vijarnwannaluk, lecturer of Chulalongkorn University’s faculty of science said. The apparent lack of interest did not mean that the popularity of prestigious universities was declining, because these universities have recruited the best students through their direct exams.

Applicants who sought to enrol at state universities through the central admission system were those who failed in the direct exams or won seats at faculties they did not like and wanted to change them. “So, the central admission system is the last chance for them,” he said. At many faculties, the proportion of students recruited through direct examinations is higher than those from the central admission system.

“This is because the central admission system could not provide universities with applicants who hold qualifications that meet their criteria,” Mr Sathon said.

Under the central admission system, the Onet score and GPA account for up to 50% of the applicants’ total score, which was only enough to evaluate their “basic” knowledge in the eight core subjects of science, mathematics, health and physical education, arts, careers and technology, English, Thai language, and social science, religion and culture.

Other specific branches of studies such as science required “deep” knowledge in science and mathematics. Although students interested in these fields had to take PAT1, a more specialised maths test, and PAT2, a more specialised science test, they were not enough on their own as PAT1/PAT2 scores account for just 40% of admissions. For science students, scores of PAT1/PAT2 must be higher than those in other subjects.

“As a result, many first-year students who entered the university through the central admission system could not perform well in class and dropped out,” he said. If the country’s central university admission system continued to fail to provide qualified students for particular faculties, the proportion of students recruited through direct exams would continue to rise, Mr Sathon said.

The central admission system must adapt itself to match universities’ criteria for recruiting students, he said. The universities could not lower their benchmarks to embrace all students.

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