Thailand - Country Commercial Guide
Market Overview

Discusses key economic indicators and trade statistics, which countries are dominant in the market, the U.S. market share, the political situation if relevant, the top reasons why U.S. companies should consider exporting to this country, and other issues that affect trade, e.g., terrorism, currency devaluations, trade agreements.

Last published date: 2020-03-10

Capital:  Bangkok
Population:  68,977,400 (July 2020 est.)
GDP:  1.236 Trillion USD (2017 est., Purchasing Power Parity)
Currency:  Thai Baht
Language:  Thai (official)

UNESCO Student Mobility Number:
Thailand has 32,119 students studying abroad according to UNESCO.

CIA World Factbook: 
29.47% of Thailand’s population is under 24 years of age.

OVERVIEW

The Thai government is urging educational institutions to equip their students with the appropriate skills to become innovators, instead of providing them with the knowledge to join the conventional workforce.  Life-long education concepts are necessary nowadays, in which universities and other higher educational institutes join hands with the corporate sector and government, to connect with industries and large businesses in order to educate and improve their human resources.  

In August 2019, the Thailand Board of Investment (BOI) signed an agreement with eight of the country’s leading universities aiming to improve the linkage between the academic and manufacturing sectors in the fields of research as well as human capital development, in order to foster innovation and boost the country’s competitiveness. The next generation of workers needs to have the right digital technology and other skills to meet new demands and new job categories.  Starting from November 2019, some public schools under the Office of Basic Education Commission (OBEC) will begin teaching computer coding to grades 1-to-3 students and support the government schools for teaching coding of computer programs on a voluntary basis.  The first phase of the program will not require the use of computers, but the students will be taught coding concepts that can improve children’s creative and logical thinking.  Then, the next phrase will require computers to be implemented when there are enough staff and equipment.  In addition, about 1,000 primary school teachers nationwide will be selected and trained by experts at the Institution for the Promotion of Teaching Science and Technology (IPTST) for three days to become master trainers.  Later, trained teachers will be deployed across the country’s 30,000 schools.   
 
In terms of government spending, education received the largest budget at $12.29 billion seeking to improve the educational system.  The overall R&D expenditure is targeting to further increase to 1.5 percent of GDP by 2021. Despite relatively high government spending on education, the outcome has not been as expected.  

Over many years, the curricula at universities did not correspond to changes in the manufacturing and service sectors, therefore, it is expected that 50 to 60 percent of 524,000 new graduates in 2020 will not be able to find a job because the labor market prefers workers in science and technology fields.  According to a 2019 report by the World Economic Forum (WEF) entitled “ASEAN youth: technology, skills and the future of work,” 31.4 percent of youth are either entrepreneurs or work for a start-up. The WEF report revealed that 31.9 percent of Thailand’s youth have robust entrepreneurial aspirations, behind Indonesia (35.5 percent). A joint report in 2018 by the Sea Group and WEF entitled “Youth x Entrepreneurship in Thailand” revealed that youths without a bachelor’s degree or basic college qualification are more likely to choose entrepreneurship (42 percent) compared to those with a college degree (25 percent).  

The Global Entrepreneurship Index (GEI) 2018 ranked Thailand 71st out of 137 countries around the world and 15th out of 28 countries in the Asia-Pacific region based on its quality of entrepreneurship and the extent of the entrepreneurial support ecosystem. Thai society also encourages entrepreneurship, making the nation a fertile ground for young Thais to begin start-ups. Although Thai youths want to start their own businesses, they are facing a challenge with the English language and many need to change their mindset to learn new skills or re-educate themselves. 
 
Both online and offline education, training, and other human resource development programs are also facing new challenges because of emerging technologies, including data analytics, artificial intelligence (AI), fifth-generation (5G) mobile network, blockchain, Internet of Things (IoT) and other technologies which are not connected with traditional education.  The Thai government keeps working to improve its educational systems and increase technological skills to the workforce in order to serve 10 targeted industry sectors, which are five existing industries (“First S-curve”) comprised of the next-generation automotive; smart electronics; affluent medical and wellness tourism; agriculture and biotechnology; and future-oriented foods, as well as five advanced industries (“New S-curve”), including robotics; aviation and logistics; biofuels and biochemicals; digital industries; and a medical hub.  These ten targeted sectors are part of the Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC) Development Plan under the scheme of Thailand 4.0 aiming to upgrade Thailand from a middle income to a highly developed country by 2036. 
 
Thailand’s educational system has much room for improvement, including reducing the gap between elite schools and those in underprivileged schools, developing students' and instructors’ proficiency in the English language, upskilling teachers, and developing the quality of educational textbooks. Another challenge for Thai education is a decline due to demographic trends, which shows Thailand’s population to be aging rapidly.  The National Economic and Social Development Board also expects the number of Thais in the school-age group (0-21 years) will fall to 20% of the population in 2040.  During the past year’s admissions period, universities had vacancies for up to 150,000 prospective students to study various subjects, but only 80,000 applied for the entrance test.  Three-quarters of Thai universities are facing of a shortage in numbers of student enrollment, and they are at risk of downsizing or closing over the next decade. 
 
The number of international high schools are increasing by 12 percent and the number of new students increases 4 to 6 percent annually.  Currently, there are 175 international high schools in Thailand, according to the International Schools Association of Thailand.  Due to the growing demand for high-quality education and parent’s desire in empowering students to be ready for the global market, Thai parents are choosing to offer their children study in international high schools with broader international background.  It is widely accepted in Thailand that opportunities for students after international school provides for unlimited opportunities for students to enter the top universities and have better careers. 
 
SUB-SECTORS

The demand to study abroad for an undergraduate degree has grown over time.  More than half of the Thai students in the U.S. educational system are enrolled in higher education programs.  According to the 2018/2019 Open Doors report, prepared by the Institute of International Education (IIE) in 2019, the total number of Thai students declined by 2% to 6,503 students compared to 6,636 students in the previous year. Thai students studying in the USA comprised of 42 percent undergraduates, 35 percent post-graduates, 16 percent Optional Practical Training (OPT) students, and 7 percent short term non-degree program students (one-year exchange students and ESL students).  Though the total number of Thai students in the U.S. decreased over the past few years, the proportion of students studying for undergraduate degree programs increased 2.3 percent.
 
Student exchange and summer programs in the U.S. are popular choices among Thai high school students.  Moreover, many Thai students enroll at universities that offer ESL and English-intensive programs with the intention of increasing their English proficiency.  Also, it remains popular for students looking to enter undergraduate and graduate programs to choose a pathway program to ease the transition into a new social environment to learn more about Western culture and to immerse themselves in an English language environment with native speakers prior to enrolling in their intended study program.  
 
Online degree programs are not popular among students due to these programs not being taken seriously by employers.  Additionally, distance learners need to provide a good reason for this method of studies and it also required high levels of discipline to maintain self-driven learning over a longer period of time.
 
The most popular academic programs are: 

•    Business Administration
•    Education
•    Social Studies and Communication
•    Engineering
•    Humanities
•    Tourism and Hospitality
•    Health and Medicine
•    Creative Arts  
 
OPPORTUNITIES

The United States is always the number one destination for Thai students to continue their studying abroad, followed by the other English-speaking countries, including the United Kingdom, Australia Canada, and New Zealand.  Thai students are also interested in studying in non-native English-speaking countries like China, Japan, Germany, South Korea, and Singapore because of the short distance, affordable tuition fees and variety of programs.
 
Thai students seeking high school exchange education present a growth opportunity for the U.S. education market.  The graduates from these schools are good candidates for further education in the U.S. because they generally have superior language capabilities and are exposed to an international schooling environment. These are mainly due to school culture experience, variety of programs, and difference teaching styles that help drive the demand for self-development.
 
In addition, Thai students seeking higher education and graduate degrees also present a growth opportunity in the U.S.  However, these students currently face a major obstacle in that their high school grade point average (GPA) and standardized test scores that often do not meet the requisite U.S. standards.  This has limited the number of potential Thai students enrolling at universities in the U.S.  The United Kingdom has also become a more affordable competitor destination for studying abroad. It is advisable for US schools and higher education representatives to work with agents in Thailand in order to promote their institutions and increase their accessibility. 
                     
Thai students are mostly self-funded; however, scholarships are being offered by Thai government agencies, the public sector and private sources in countries such as Japan, Germany, Italy, and China.  A common scholarship would involve a Thai student receiving a scholarship to study overseas, where a specific corporation is headquartered, and then returning to Thailand to ply their trade at the Thailand office of the corporate entity that granted the scholarship, usually for a predetermined period that was stipulated in the initial scholarship offer.
 
RESOURCES
 
•    EducationUSA: https://educationusa.state.gov/centers/us-embassy-bangkok 
•    Fulbright Thailand – United State Education Foundation: www.fulbrightthai.org  
•    Thai International Education Consultants Association (TIECA):  www.tieca.com   
•    Office of Civil Service Commission (OCSC):  www.ocsc.go.th 
•    Or contact Office of Educational Affairs, DC (OEA), an office assigned by the OCSC, to take responsibility for the educational supervision of Thai government scholarship students, government officials and Thai students.: http://oeadc.org/english/oea-staff 

U.S. COMMERCIAL SERVICE CONTACT
 
Thanyathorn Voravongsatit, Commercial Specialist
U.S. Commercial Service – Bangkok, Thailand
tvoravon@trade.gov
+662-205-5282