SUPINDA NA MAHACHAI
THE NATION October 18, 2012 1:00 am
Complaint alleges degrees will not be certified; questions deal with US firm
A number of Asian Institute of Technology students yesterday staged a protest against their president over concerns that their degrees will not be certified by the Office of the Civil Service Commission (OCSC), and suspicion that the president is opening up an opportunity to a US-based company to administer the institute.
The protesters lodged a complaint with AIT president Professor Said Irandoust, Education Ministry permanent secretary Panita Kambhu Na Ayutthaya and the Foreign Ministry.
"A number of students know that the graduate degrees given by the AIT after January 2012 will not be certified by the OCSC because the AIT issued a new charter in January this year, and the government has not yet ratified it. The government has only ratified the 1967 charter, which made the AIT an international institution that can work in the country legally. As the government has not ratified the 2012 charter, the OCSC will not certify the degrees approved by the AIT council," said Amornphon Changsuphan, a doctorate-degree student in environmental engineering and management at the AIT's School of Environment, Resources and Development.
"Among the students who will be affected directly by this problem, about 900 of them, or 30 per cent, are Thai," he added.
He represented the students in lodging the complaint with the permanent secretary for education.
Amornphon said the Foreign Ministry had written to the AIT president on September 13, stating that the government had not ratified the new charter. The degrees approved by the institute would not therefore be recognised by the OCSC.
The degree-certification problem results from the AIT's current legal status, and students are worried that the ministry's explanation will affect those who graduated since January.
He said one group of students that graduated in June had had their degrees approved under the new charter. The OCSC certified the degrees because it had not been informed that the AIT had announced a new charter. Those students now believe the agency will likely revoke its recognition, thus removing the validation of the degrees, he said.
"We would like both the Education and Foreign ministries to solve this problem soon. Most of the Thai students at AIT are [hoping to be] university lecturers and government officials, and they need to present their degrees with their [prospective] agencies. The second batch of graduates, or about 140 people, will be given the degrees in December. The problem has to end before December 1. If it lasts for a long time and more people know about it, some universities and companies will hesitate to hire graduates from the AIT," said Amornphon.
"And it's not only Thai students, as those from other countries are not satisfied with the problem, because they are also worried that those countries may not certify their degrees following the degree refusal in Thailand. We would like the president to discuss the matter and seek a solution with the government," he added.
"The president was told about the problem a year ago and said he would deal with the problem, but there has been no change so far," said Bhawat Traipattanakul, a master's student in energy engineering.
The students also said they were suspicious over the level of transparency in the AIT's administration, as it had opened up an opportunity to a foreign company to invest in the institute, even though it was a non-profit educational institution.
The AIT has also terminated the contracts of lecturers who opposed its administration, they said.
Bhawat also said that in the absence of official ratification of the new charter, the AIT had not been financially supported by the government.
The government had not allocated the expected Bt290 million for post-flood recovery or Bt46 million allocated for scholarships. It has also halved the research grant budget for the institute, Bhawat said.
Irandoust said AIT was in the process of discussing the issue with the Education and Foreign ministries to ensure total compliance with Thai law. He expected the problem would be resolved by the end of December, before the next batch of students graduate.
He insisted that AIT's degrees upheld the necessary standards and were recognised by international associations.
Responding to allegations that he had failed to administer AIT transparently, he said he had done everything according to the regulations and that the public was free to monitor the transparency of his actions.
He said the students' protest might have been motivated by a conflict between him and the institute's alumni association.
AIT students stage rally fearing degrees invalid - The Nation