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Thailand is currently undergoing a process of review and reform of its tertiary education sector as the effects of the globalization of education, reflected in part in the global ranking of universities, challenge established educational ideologies and highlight the shortcomings of long established, well funded, and highly respected institutions.
Archival research indicates that “Westernization” of education in Thailand has a long history that can be traced back to the 16th century when Jesuit and Dominican missionaries were allowed to open schools in the Kingdom of Ayutthaya. Yet the Burmese invasion of 1767 and the fears that Western ideas were a threat to Buddhism led to xenophobic responses and Christian missionaries were banished. One hundred and forty years later formalized Western education regained acceptance as foreign traders and missionaries were granted access to the Kingdom. Significant individuals stand out as champions of the societal and educational reforms in Thailand which laid the foundations for the present. Academics have formulated a number of models relating to the iteration of educational reform in Thailand.
This paper proposes a new historical model and concludes that the development of modern education in Thailand, characterized as “Westernized” education, has grown on its legacies from the past. The paper identifies a paradox inherent to this process of “reform”; a plethora of bureaucratic interventions limiting academic autonomy that may be retarding Thailand’s entry into the ranks of the global educational elite.
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