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‘Cougar Thais’ leading change

Twelve faculty and doctoral students from Khon Kaen University in Thailand will visit the Pullman campus April 14 – 18 for a research symposium at the College of Education. Following their visit, they will travel on to Chicago for a featured presentation about their collaboration with WSU at the American Educational Research Association national conference.

These events are the latest results of the University Partners for Academic Leadership collaboration between WSU’s faculty in educational administration and their counterparts in Thailand.

The partnership began when Thailand privatized its universities and looked to Forrest Parkay, WSU professor of education leadership, to guide the effort. The U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs funded the project, which began with a month-long institute at Pullman last May, attended by nine presidents and 24 vice presidents from Thai universities.

Thai higher education had functioned as a centralized bureaucracy, with universities owned by the national government, Parkay explained. Now the goal is the transition to “autonomous” schools, using the American model, to reduce cronyism, mediocrity and red tape.

WSU assistant professor Willie J. Heggins III, who codirects UPAL with Parkay, believes that this international collaboration benefits WSU.

“This exchange enhances the education of our graduate students — and our faculty — by linking theory and practice in our study of higher education,” he said. “At our institutes, we are involved in the decision-making of the Thailand university presidents. That face-to-face experience builds a world view in this time of globalization and significantly adds to our growth and research.”

The program is helping higher education reform efforts in other countries and enhancing WSU’s reputation worldwide, as well as integrating technology and incorporating new ideas into the curriculum of the higher education program at WSU, Heggins added.

Wirot Sanrattana, chair of the doctoral program in educational administration at Khon Kaen University, will lead the Thai delegation at the Pullman symposium and the Chicago conference. He explains that the UPAL collaboration is improving higher education in his country.

“What we learned about university planning and organization enriches both our educational program and our university,” said Sanrattana. “Through our collaboration, we have learned that two or more is better than one, and that we can learn from each other to our mutual benefit. At this symposium, we hope to learn more about the culture, climate and style at WSU, plus challenge the capacities of our Thai students and learn more about what we can collaboratively do in the future.”

UPAL will likely expand to other Asian nations, like Malaysia, Hong Kong and Singapore, Heggins said.

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