Khun Sutapa Amornvivat of SCB Bank makes some typically elegant points on Thailand's economic outlook in her Ponderland article on Trade and Education in the Bangkok Post this week:
The economic implication of the Trump election may only yield some unsightly towers in Asia, and Brexit could dampen world growth as well as being a damp squib in terms of meaningful EU reform.
It’s a strange UK policy to simply tear up membership of the world’s most successful trade bloc without attempting reforms – or even citing any – and without knowing what will replace it.
While the banking sector is on a former footing in Europe with the bailout of Italy’s Monte dei Paschi, the world’s oldest bank. And in UK the latest round of Bank of England stress tests showed all the main banks succeeding except for minor issues with RBS. Lloyds for example has reduced its government bailout from c.44% of funds to just 6%.
But beyond reading the tea leaves of various permutations of economic forecasts, and tidal wave of State funds keeping banks afloat, Khun Sutapa certainly is right in the importance of education in Thailand - and UK's economy.
The recent PISA education listings are less than ideal for both nations, but the growth of the UK university sector is reassuring. Oxford gaining the No.1 university spot for the first time and UK and USA universities neck-and-neck for research and innovation, and Australian universities also popular in Asia for those students not keen on cold weather.
But The Economist this week devotes another article "Not Rocket Science" (page 48) to the crisis in Thailand's education system: a third of 15 year old students described as functionally literate, the mug-throwing incident scarring a schoolgirl, and calls for reform of the half of Thai schools with under 120 pupils.
With my Surin School Charity hat on I'm not sure that last point is especially correct compared to increasing the number of teachers, reducing class sizes and teacher training etc.
The World Bank article in the Bangkok Post covers similar points:
But 55th out of 72 national rankings and with huge State investment is less than ideal for Thailand’s future.
Here in Kent, the University of Kent goes from strength to strength as the UK's European university (despite Brexit - although a fall in EU students is likely) with campuses in Brussels, Paris, Rome and Athens:
While CCU the lesser-known also in Canterbury is carving out a niche in public sector and police forensic sciences and sports science arts and East Kent College vocational courses such as fashion and beauty and dozens of language schools:
Certainly CCU provides something of a template for Thailand with its development from a teacher training college and new focus on Sports Science, Creative Industries and Cultural Heritage.
Reform is need to boost improvements at University of Kent and CCU, on foreign language and East Asia Studies, as well as Medway primary schools as part of the Ebbsfleet New Garden Town improvements from the Kent coat to the City Docklands, and Paramount Movies theme park.
And shouldn’t green-fingered agriculture students whether with a UK or Thai passport should feel at home in both nations and help develop superfoods.
And shouldn't Thailand and UK work more closely together? I think there are a few areas for consideration:
* I've urged an increase in Thai students studying in UK from c.8k to c.20k to match the number of Malaysian students. And with 5 UK universities in Malaysia as well as at least one Malay university in UK, as well as the new UK university in DaNang, aren't Thailand and UK doing a disservice to future generations?
* While Summer school places in UK for Thai students or for UK students in Thailand as part of the National Citizen programme, similar to the US Peace Corps, should be far easier than now.
* English language improvements are often cited as needed in Thailand - shouldn't both SCB be providing scholarship funds, and student bank accounts, as well as Kent and UK universities providing scholarship places?
Khun Sutapa would know better than me the Lifetime Value of a student to SCB - as well as the value to SCB of future graduates with a UK education and job guarantees on return. And the value to The Land of Smiles of fluent English-speaking graduates.
Americans might struggle with spelling (color instead of colour is just lazy), but aw shucks even they prefer a British accent for spoken English.
Such an education programme could be shared with Bangkok Bank or Kasikorn – ideal for the latter’s Kcyber accounts and tech-savvy students?
* But shouldn't SCB be considering not just its Cambodian expansion but also branches in UK and Europe? There's only one Bangkok Bank branch in The City in London - surely a missed opportunity to open up the UK banking sector to Thailand and support the 50k Thai community in UK? Remittances home at the very least could be a financial goldmine - something the Filipino economy has maximised.
* And with Thailand and UK cooperating through the Royal Mint in Wales – and its actual goldmine - on banknote and coin production why not a series of commemorative coins, as well as vocational training on banknotes and travel credit cards and stamps. UK and Laos have already produced a postage stamp. Thai and Kent orchids?
* Maybe SCB would want to boost its sports diplomacy activity with football clubs and their fans - Manchester United as of last week overtaking Real and Barcelona as the first £500M a year club, as well as sports science and PE colleges for Team Thailand ahead of the 2020 Olympics. Great British Football is hugely popular in Thailand but surely cricket and rugby would be interesting display sports too? The Indians and Welsh can't have all the fun. And shouldn't he UK enjoy a sport of Takraw every now and then?
My occasional TimsThaiTypos series on advertising mistakes by big brands in Thailand suggests a need for advertising education too, whether my Sincerity hat on or advertising lecturer. And with Thailand 4.0 beefing up its regional headquarters economic programmes, it's ideal to launch Sincerity's ASEAN offices from Bangkok soon.
* Couldn't the increased Chevening scholarships in Thailand be supported with British Council and Samaggi be plugged into UK education and employment activity?
A few ideas spring to mind - but how absurd that Luxembourg (population 600k) has as many courses in UK universities as Thailand (population 60M) does - each have just one.
* With SCB sponsoring the excellent Queen Sirikit fashions exhibitions couldn't a few extra baht turn that into a travelling exhibition around Isaan and UK to promote the silk industry and Thai fashions?
Neither UK nor Thailand should bank on every student going to Oxbridge or Chulatham but they should account for improved links?
Kasetsart for example is top of the class in terms of international student exchange programmes that could easily plug into the rest of Thailand's universities as well as UK.
UK has rightly cracked down on fake universities and low quality universities so Thai students can be assured of a solid education. Kent Police have been active on human trafficking and illegal immigration providing a safe environment.
And I would never suggest Thailand should be cheap labour for Kent's hospitals or care homes to the detriment of the Thai health service but nevertheless former PM David Cameron assured foreign university graduates of the right to stay and work with graduate-level jobs.
The NHS as one of the world's largest employers (slightly less than the Chinese People's Liberation Amy or Walmart) faces similar crises from an ageing society, as does Thailand.
Shouldn't both nations be working together on a sensible system of health and education cooperation? With many Filipinos working in the NHS surely there's the basis for an ASEAN-wide work-study programme?
Even more vocational education programmes are viable such as UK and Thai (and Philippines) Red Cross curricula in schools whether first aid training, healthy eating or basic diagnostics for TB, cancer and diabetes. And sweeten the pill with work-study exchanges and and conferences and seminars - at the very least a boon for each other's tourism industries?
Thailand and UK should not just bank on each other but be more than the sum of their parts.