This paper reports on a study which investigated the importance of global citizenship for Thai higher education in the context of ASEAN Economic Integration (AEC 2015). It is anticipated that the impacts of AEC 2015 will increase over time in many areas, inter alia, higher education. The traditional concept of national identity is challenged by the newly arising concept of global citizenship, which is fueled by the economic opportunities of the ASEAN economic zone. It is worth questioning whether Thai universities will be able to accommodate the changes such as the transnational flow of academics and students from other ASEAN member countries and the implications this has for the management strategies and teaching and learning. This research looks at how a university in Thailand and its affiliated international college interpreted and implemented the discourse of global citizenship into their undergraduate programs. Perspectives on global citizenship were derived from the interviews with senior administrators and lecturers and focus-group discussions with students. An analysis shows that the university students have a different perception of global citizenship when compared to the international college students. Interviews with senior university administrators indicate that being a good Thai citizen was considered a prerequisite to being a global citizen. Some students perceived global citizenship in a superficial level whereas a few overseas students showed sophisticated understanding of the concept. The discourse on global citizenship in a Thai university is socially constructed.  Cultures can determine how people perceive things and perform tasks. In this case, participants from the university perceived global citizenship as a construct that was grounded in a Thai identity.

Keywords: Global Citizenship, multi-level citizenship, internationalisation, Thai higher education, ASEAN 2015





The discussions on an ASEAN Economic Community in 2015 are proliferating especially in the economic discourse. However, the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) covers not only the economic integration in the region but also the cooperation in the areas such as political-security and socio-cultural. Higher education, inter alia, has been merged into these aforementioned areas and is a factor that strongly drives the economic success of the region.

Among the main aims of major international universities is to prepare students to be good global citizens in order that they may participate actively at national, regional and global levels. However, such an aim brings to the fore the tensions between global, regional and national citizenship. An investigation of these tensions in Thailand, at this time, is particularly relevant as the nation prepares to takes its place as a member of the AEC in 2015. These tensions are aptly summarised in the words of S. Rajaratnam, a former Singaporean Foreign Minister, who in 1967 at the foundation meeting of ASEAN nations stated “We must now think at two levels. We must think not only of our national interests but posit them against regional interests: that is a new way of thinking about our problems” (Flores & Abad, 1997). Since that time, as a result of the forces of globalisation and internationalisation, the individual states of Southeast Asia not only must consider national and regional interests but international interests as well. The establishment of the AEC by 2015 brings with it many challenges not least of which is the need to operate at multi-level citizenships: national, regional and global.

Although the ASEAN Community aims for economic cooperation and development, social progress and cultural development, it is conceived that as the ASEAN Community develops higher education will be under the tension of the open economic zone for a number of reasons such as the free movement of academics and students among the member countries, and the challenges of multi-level identities. These identities are not mutually exclusive, but may challenge the status quo of the aims and purposes of higher education in universities throughout member states.

Global citizenship and Thai Higher Education

The term global citizenship is commonly used in an attempt to encompass the multiple citizenships as nations and regions become increasingly interdependent. In many parts of the world universities and other educational institutions have emphasised the attribute of “global citizenship” and promoted it in their statements of graduate outcomes. In attaining the attribute, graduates are expected to develop awareness of concerns and issues that transcend the local and national levels, and to understand their rights and responsibilities in their active participation in regional and global arenas.

Universities have an important role in national development in the areas of economics, politics, culture and environment (Brown & Jones, 2007; ONEC, 2001). In addition, universities are the main mechanism that produces graduates to serve the country’s demand. Sangnapaboworn (2003) indicated that the university has an ultimate goal, which is to “develop our future people who are well-rounded with competence, virtue, and happiness” (Guidelines for Reform of Higher Education according to the National Education Act 1999 and its Implementation, para. 2).

The Eighth National Economic and Social Development Plan (NESDB) (1997-2001) stated that higher education should encourage “global and regional perspectives in university teaching and research through various cooperative and exchange programs with foreign institutions” (as cited in Nakornthap & Srisa-an, 1997, p. 163). An additional initiative of the 8th NESDP was to develop a regional database to facilitate regional cooperation with other ASEAN countries (Nakornthap & Srisa-an, 1997, p. 163). However, a study by Filbeck (2002) found that even after Thailand had gone through the stages of modernisation, the local culture still determined and shaped the development of higher education. Since that time many reforms have occurred in Thai universities. Thanosawan (2012) found that universities in Thailand were moving towards more inclusive education, with students becoming more active in their own learning and skills such as critical thinking becoming accepted as essential attributes to be developed through degree programs. At the same time, there has been an increase in the number of degree programs and courses now being offered by universities to meet the emerging needs of society.

In this research, the term global citizenship was selected based on the underlying structure that incorporates the roles, obligations, awareness, and actions to rectify social injustice and global issues. However, the political implication of global citizenship infers centralised global government and undermines national patriotism (Schattle, 2008). Nevertheless, global citizenship is highly contested and has not been advocated in education (Bowden, 2003). Byers (2005) clarified “if such a thing as global citizenship exists, it clearly doesn’t amount to the rights of national citizenship, transposed to the planetary level” (n.p.). Global citizenship scholars such as Shattle (2005) and Abowitz and Harnish (2006) argued that the global citizenship discourse is heavily influenced by the civic republican citizenship discourse which proposes that civic citizenship will be translated into actions that serve one’s political community (local, state and nation) and “a love that translates into action and service to the common good” (Abowitz & Harnish, 2006, p. 658). Held (1995) articulated the term, global citizenship, as involving multiple layers of memberships, e.g. national, regional, and global networks that individuals freely participate in.

Thai Government’s Initiatives in Promoting Global Citizenship

There has been an urge for higher education to promote global citizenship as a response to challenges in the 21st century. Such challenges were brought about by globalisation. There is a call for “global-ready graduates” (Hunter, White, & Godbey, 2006). Even in the Australian academic context, it is lacking consistent understanding of such graduate attributes and the development of these attributes (Barrie, 2004, 2007). The same situation occurred in Thailand, where the government has seen an importance of fostering global citizenship attributes among the citizens. Global citizenship first became an agenda of development of Thailand in the globalised era by the Commission of Thailand’s Education in the Era of Globalisation in 1996 (CTEEG, 1996).

In 2003, global citizenship became an emphasis of the Thai government. In the 15 Years Long Range Reform of higher education, global citizenship is one of the four goals. Furthermore, the Office of the Education Council (2004) stated that higher education reform aimed “to enhance the knowledge of the Thai people, who will be endowed with the basic qualifications of global citizenship [emphasis added]” (p. 9). Nonetheless, the reality does not match the aspiration. The statement of ONEC (2001) clearly indicated that national development is a priority for graduates. It is evident that the development of graduates in Thailand is to benefit the Thai society.

To complicate matters, Thai higher education institutions have insufficient understanding of theoretical and practical issues on global citizenship. Despite the Thai government’s attempt to promote global citizenship as a necessary attribute, Thai universities were left to their own devices as to how to promote global citizenship attribute in the graduates. These local universities have to individually develop an approach to develop global citizenship attributes in their graduates with little or no help from official authorities.

Research Question

Global citizenship has influenced policy making in universities worldwide, and with time it gains greater significance in the education area. Recently, the Thai government proposed global citizenship as a desirable graduate attribute in the higher education reform program. As a result, it is worthwhile posing the following questions: What are the implications of global citizenship on Thai higher education in the context of AEC 2015? And what are the impacts on the higher education institution, staff and students?

Research Methods

In order to investigate this question the selection of appropriate higher education institutions was most important. In the first phase, a large number of universities in Thailand were considered. The researcher studied each university’s policies and mission statements in regard to internationalisation and global citizenship, and the structure of each university was examined to identify the international components, e.g. international courses or international college. The second step was reviewing the quality of teaching and learning, graduates, and academic excellence using an international benchmark of Times Higher Education Ranking. The last step involved assessing the possibility of gaining access to the targeted university. With a combination of these factors, an initial selection process was purposive sampling, which required that the researcher selected individuals and sites for this study “because they can purposefully inform an understanding of the research problems and central phenomenon in the study” (Creswell, 2007, p. 125). The process of determining took several weeks to consider all factors of the appropriate research site that has a policy framework regarding internationalisation and global citizenship attributes and suits the objectives of the study.

The second stage of “snowball sampling” (Miles & Huberman, 1994, p. 28 ) was employed to select participants within the cases. This was achieved through initial interviews with some participants by the researcher. After the interviews, these participants referred to other potential participants or groups that could be relevant to the study. On other occasions, these participants were directly introduced to the researcher. The success rate of contacting the prospective participants was quite high, although there were two cases where participants were not available to attend the interview.

Multi-methods of data collection were applied to the study to triangulate the data. It was anticipated that by adopting the naturalistic data collection of case study, the researcher would obtain “thick description” (Geertz, 1973, as cited in Denzin & Lincoln, 1994, p. 59). Finally, grounded theory has been selected and applied to the data coding and analysis of this study since it uses a “systematic set of procedures to develop an inductively derived grounded theory about a phenomenon” (Strauss & Corbin, 1990, p. 24). The researcher seeks to develop substantive theory by using grounded theory (Merriam, 1998; Silverman & Seale, 2005), which serves to explain “specific, everyday-world situations” (Merriam, 1998, p. 17). As Silverman and Seale (2005) clarified, grounded theory provides “details which is inherently grounded in the precise particulars of such matters as people’s understanding and interaction” (p. 9).

The interview data were collected from the selected University and the International College. The participants from different levels were chosen to represent the two institutions. These participants included senior executives, lecturers, and students from the University and the International College. The researcher conducted semi-structured interviews with 9 senior executives and 10 lecturers. The interview questions were designed to derive the understanding of global citizenship of two groups of participants, namely senior executives and lecturers from both institutions (see Appendix A for a list of questions). Approximately a group of 15 students were interviewed through focus group discussions. Surveys were conducted with the rest of students from the international program (~40 from 2 classes) to derive their perception of global citizenship and themselves as future graduates and global citizens.

Analysis of the data obtained through the interviews began with open-coding and followed by selective coding (Charmaz, 2006; Corbin & Strauss, 2008; Glaser & Strauss, 1967; Glaser, 1978; Strauss & Corbin, 1998; Strauss, 1987). The initial open-coding was undertaken using transcription in the language in which the interview was conducted.

Participating Institutions

The University is a large state-funded, research university in Bangkok that adopts the notion of internationalising higher education and global citizenship into the teaching of its programs. The progressive action that the University continues to pursue is to internationalise the institution and promote harmony in the diversity of students and staff. The expected outcome is to develop graduates who are “socially informed and socially aware.” The philosophy of the University regards the cultivation of global citizenship as producing competent and ethical members of a human society. All national degree programs at the University were taught in the Thai language. The administrators and staff of the University were all Thai nationals, as were the majority of the students.

The University offered international degrees delivered in English through its International College. These programs aimed not only at ensuring that programs had international quality, but also that students develop into global citizens. In the mission statement, the International College’s website defines global citizens as “graduates…who are prepared to meet the challenges of living and working in a diverse and globalised world”. The administrators and staff consisted of Thais and expatriates, while the majority of students were from countries other than Thailand.

Results and Conclusion

Globalisation has brought a number of changes to higher education in Thailand. Higher education institutions in Thailand prior to the age of globalisation were under the tight control of the government. The promulgation of the 1999 National Education Act resulted in major Thai universities becoming independent from the government. Although there are many government organisations that deal with quality assurance and frameworks of the higher education sector, many universities have the authority to manage their organisations in major areas (e.g. policy and planning, administration, program development, staff recruitment, student admissions, resource management, teaching and learning and industrial relations).

The study reported here focuses on an elite Thai university and its affiliated international college. The differences found between the perceptions of administrators, lecturers and students in each institution are marked, and given the status of the University and the imminent creation of the ASEAN Economic Community in 2015, its implications raise issues of the preparedness of the Thai higher education sector to accept the challenges.

Senior administrators’ point of view

The open of AEC 2015 will bring along fast-paced economic development among the ASEAN members. Free movement of goods and trade and convergence of synergies (e.g. economic, political, social, and cultural) will be intensified. It was found from the dialog that the global economy and international trade greatly influence the economic system in Thailand and other ASEAN countries. Apart from that, the discourse of nationalism will be highly contested in AEC 2015. While many administrators of the Thai program conceived that nationalism is necessary for their students. Many non-Thai staff challenged nationalism because it is believed to be problematic in practice in the age of globalism. The same is true for AEC 2015, and there needs to be a mutual understanding between members of the mission of ASEAN members in promoting global citizenship in education. In the time of decreasing government support, universities have to become more self-supporting financially. They also have to create an active network with universities overseas for an academic collaboration. Lastly higher education institutions can seek industrial support to help preparing students for employment.

Lecturers’ point of view

Lecturers commented that education moves towards inclusive education which means students will take control of what they learn and participate actively in classroom. Lecturers will be facilitators of knowledge rather than prescribing it. Teaching becomes more challenging for lecturers in the national program. Secondly, critical thinking is crucial for students in the modern world. Nevertheless, students in a Thai program are lacking critical thinking skills. Having studies in Thai classroom, these students were not taught to challenge or question their teachers. International students or those who were educated abroad are more advantageous than Thai fellow students in developing critical thinking skills. This is the outcome of a “two-tiered” system. This means only affluent families can afford more creative, quality education for their children while children from less-fortunate families have to compromise with lower quality education. Unless the government tackles this issue, the situation of unequal opportunity and underqualified education standards will continue to exist and exacerbate.

Students’ point of view

Students found globalisation and global citizenship concept very challenging. Somehow there is a great lacking of understanding in the concept among Thai students. Students in international program have more understanding in global issues and cross-cultural knowledge. Moreover, the international students are more familiar with the students from other cultures. Students who studied in Thai programs are deprived of the opportunities to explore cross-cultural topics. However, Thai students were engaging in research culture due to the teaching style of the University. They were highly academically competent and strongly adhered to national values i.e. nation, religion and the monarchy. Therefore, their aims are to develop the country through their expertise and works. Many international students from the course were more inclined towards the human rights concept. One American student who was interviewed described her goal as to pursue the career in women’s rights internationally. It was concluded that Thai students are more nationally focused while international students are interested in global issues. Furthermore, Thai students perceived that language competence such as English be the utmost important skills for AEC 2015. From the dialog of Thai students, experience overseas such as internship or research collaboration is also crucial. Such experience was perceived to broaden their global outlook.

Discussion and Conclusion

If globalisation could be viewed as an opportunity, universities should look for ways to build networks with other universities, especially those within the region. Through internationalisation, universities can promote student and staff mobility as well as enhancing teaching quality and research capacity. However, some senior administrative participants found globalisation a threat. As more students enrolled in the University, it is becoming increasingly difficult to control the quality of the courses. A lecturer from the International College contended that higher education has now become “commodified”. The essence of knowledge acquisition has been lost in the midst of globalisation forces. This scenario is compared to a production line in a factory, where the University becomes a factory and graduates, the products. The International College expressed that “once there are too many students from one dominant country in the class, we (the International College) begin to lose our character.”

The study indicated that global citizenship is a desirable attribute for graduates of both the University and the International College. Although the concept was questioned regarding its legitimacy, most lecturers agreed that their students should develop as global citizens or at least understand global perspectives. It was found that participants defined the concept differently. Some comments concurred with Western literature that global citizenship is concerned with intercultural awareness, global competence, and social responsibility whereas other comments showed alternative views such as preparation for work, intellectual growth, and Thai values being essential for the students.

Emphasis on the knowledge economy has directly affected the higher education sector in Thailand. Skilled workers are in high demand in the current job market. There are an increasing number of people attending university. This meant that the universities have had to deal with greater numbers of students. They have to employ more staff and standardise the learning outcomes. This approach has also resulted in the centralisation of the curriculum and compulsory units.

An implication of globalisation results in a shift in learning outcomes that requires graduates to have a number of skills based on professional competence in an internationalising workplace. This factor has forced the University to adjust its policies, curriculum, and teaching and learning to correspond to national and global demands. This act has inclined teaching towards a universal, critical pedagogy adopted in many universities worldwide. Thai universities cannot avoid this global trend. Therefore, there is a shift towards a critical learning style where students investigate issues from different perspectives. The University has implemented an approach to Western pedagogy, which analyses multiple perspectives in order to develop reasoning, problem-solving, analytical thinking and critical thinking skills. Rather than focusing on rote learning skills as in the past, the University has developed more critical-thinking skill courses and research modules for students. For example, in the general education units, students work on case studies which are controversial (e.g. abortion) and make a decision based on specific circumstances. Students arrive at a conclusion and support it with evidence.

Although not all students at the University regarded the general education courses as highly important to their future professional careers, these courses were considered essential by lecturers in developing students’ critical thinking and reasoning skills. Apart from developing a moral and ethical outlook, the general education courses served as a foundation in the development of general academic skills.

It is worth questioning which direction universities should take between specialized education and general education. Liberal or general education is recognised as an enabling agent for students to gain knowledge on a broader scale and increase learning capacity. Machin and McNelly (2007) argued that high quality general education is beneficial for higher education in that it develops a solid foundation for specialized learning and interdisciplinary knowledge for research development (p. 89). The University and the International College have realised the value of general and liberal education. In prioritising general education for all students in professional and science-oriented fields the University sought to achieve a balance between specialized and general education.

A further impact of globalisation on higher education has been the introduction of new programs and courses. The University and the International College now offer more courses e.g. Information Technology, Social Studies and Women’s Studies. To compensate for the lack of experts and materials in these new areas, the University has received support from organisations such as the Rockefeller Organisation through the provision of funding and technical support for some courses.

With the establishment of the ASEAN Economic Community in 2015 Thai higher education institutions will experience greater competition from major universities in other ASEAN nations. As it will become easier for students to enrol in universities in other ASEAN countries, universities will have to cater for more diverse groups of students who have different needs and goals from the local students.

As Hofstede (1980) pointed out, national culture is “the collective programming that is different from that of other groups, tribes, minorities or majorities, or nation” (p.43). The findings of this research into perceptions of global citizenship supports this idea and illustrates how a Thai mindset is embedded within the culture itself and portrayed in the form of thinking, communication, behaviour and education offered in its higher education institutions.

Membership in the ASEAN Community will bring challenges to the emphasis on Thai values as the diversity of staff, students and programs increases. The way in which Thai institutions choose to internationalise higher education and prepare their students to become global citizens will determine not only the quality of their graduates but also ways in which they will use their capabilities, skills and knowledge to adjust to changes in a life of unpredictable velocity and volatility (Brandenburg & Wit, 2011, para. 7). If, as might be expected, the views of administrators, lecturers and students are grounded in their national cultures rather than in the development of a regional and global mindset establishment of the ASEAN Economic Community will bring with it great challenges especially if higher education institutions are under-prepared.


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Appendix A: Indicative questions for the executives and lecturers

Interview questions for senior administrators
  • What kinds of citizens are needed to function in the 21st century world?
  • What is your understanding of global citizenship?
  • Do you think it is necessary for the university students to possess such qualities?
  • What can the University do to encourage or develop the concept into practice?

If you teach a class, how would you apply the concept into your class(es)?

  • (For international courses) Can internationalisation contribute more to global citizenship or global perspectives?
  • Does the conception “global citizenship” create any implications in the general practice?

Interview questions for the faculty members

  • What is a global citizen?
  • How does your teaching encourage students to become global citizens?
  • How do you apply an international dimension into your classes and to what extent?
  • Do you use materials, research, literature, case studies from overseas to illustrate the points?
  • What are the effects on the students (short-term and long-term)
  • How can you promote students’ interaction and maintain the cooperation among students during group work?