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The average man (or woman) on the street in Bangkok knows that Mahidol University is the number one university in Thailand. Every Thai university applicant in science or medicine knows that Mahidol is number one. Mahidol University produces over 30% of all the medical and scientific research produced by Thailand as a nation. Yet Mahidol is placed second amongst Thai universities in the THES QS World University Rankings, QS took the opportunity to visit the university to try and better understand why this might be.
Bangkok is a crazy place, right? One of the most enduring impressions of our cisit to Bangkok is that whilst in London perhaps meetings are opened with small talk about the weather in Bangkok, the talk is of the traffic. In fact, it seems Bangkok is an increasingly less crazy place, throughout our stay the traffic was reasonable, a brand new (huge) airport and new freeways are very strong initial signs of current investment. Evidence of construction and development are everywhere and the malls, such as Siam Paragon, are vast showcases of Thai and International retail outlets, food courts and restaurants echoing and perhaps bettering the American mega-mall.
The main campus of Mahidol University is just outside Bangkok at Salaya and our first impression was very welcoming as there were signs and posters directing visitors to the World University Rankings Seminar. Upon arrival we had the opportunity to meet and speak with some of the universitys senior administrators and soon we were eating with an eclectic group of Mahidols leadership and academics. A quick glance around the table saw not only Thai but also America, British, Australian and French faces perhaps an early indication of Mahidols commitment to internationalising their campus.
We ate in a restaurant housed in the MUIC (Mahidol University International College) that was entirely staffed by students and faculty from their hotel and hospitality management programme. The Japanese menu was excellent and the service was indistinguishable from that of a five-star hotel.
After lunch it was time to deliver our presentation to over 200 representatives of Thai higher education, the seminar went well and evokes some interesting questions, providing some interesting input towards the continuing strategy of the rankings project. One thing that struck me about Mahidol though, was that as we walked into the room we were presented with a folder containing a print of a photograph taken just shortly after our arrival the efficiency of their PR department is impressive.
Other key highlights of our trip to Mahidol included a drive around their campus where we were able to see one of Thailands leading high schools affiliated to the university, a large amount of student accommodation in place on campus as well as many academic faculties; a trip to the College of Management in Bangkok, which whilst still under development, is clearly a state of the art teaching facility. We were shown round by Philip Hallinger, their Chief Academic Officer, who clearly had much influence in the design and development of a very innovative team-based learning environment; and a tour of their Faculty of Science.
A visit to the Faculty of Science was particularly interesting. As mentioned earlier, Mahidol produces an enormous proportion of Thailands research output and visiting the Faculty of Science provided some insight as to why this is. Funding is a clear challenge for scientific research in Thailand and this was most profoundly evident when comparing Mahidols nanotechnology department with KAISTs Nanofab Center that we visited just two weeks earlier. The latter is clear evidence of enormous financial investment, the former a great example of enterprise and human ingenuity. The professor we met at Mahidol had his students working with him to actually build their own nano-fabrication machines the understanding of the science that this must deliver is surely different to that reached by being trained on the use of a commercially manufactured apparatus. In fact, the Dean of the Graduate School, Prof. M.R. Jisnuson Svasti pointed out that this practice had enabled the university to pull ahead of some more heavily funded institutions in some area.
There are great works taking place at Mahidol, just a couple of floors above the restaurant mentioned earlier, there is a fully operational hotel for the training of their students, they have strong internship programmes and good employer links across the country, the highest proportion of international students in the country, a strongly diverse international faculty that we witnessed first-hand and much, much more. They appear to deserve their domestic reputation as number 1.
However, in our two-day visit we must have seen six different interpretations of their logo, seven or eight completely independently designed folders, and the university name written in over ten different typefaces. There are over 15 alternative names and spellings for the university in the ISI database for research publications and citations. This lack a consistent, strong and coherent image to reflect and project the quality of their work and facilities internationally may be the next issue to address in the universitys undeniable ambition to be recognised as strongly internationally as they already are at home.