Research output: Journal contributionsJournal articlesResearchpeer-review


The cultural integration of international students in Thai Higher Education (Thai HE) is spurred by a government initiative known as Thailand 4.0, and has raised the educational bar. It is a lucrative move; increased university costs and access to home countries’ courses ensure capable international students now seek affordable degree education in Thailand. Thus, in this paper, we offer empirical findings based on a case study drawn across a longitudinal, year-long investigation. Using examples from a mixed-methods approach, we report a ‘cultural mosaic’ of multiculturalism resistant to cultural assimilation in our setting, which contrasts themes in Thai HE policy. This policy often embraces nationalist themes, found embedded in General Education (GE) courses and the habitus of Thai HE, which impacts the potential to integrate overseas students effectively into Thai culture and society. With this in mind, we question the nature of multiculturalism in the classroom, suggesting a changing phenomenon with implications for Thai HE’s future. Meanwhile, we use this paper to establish the validity of tools needed for critical discussion about learning culture across the Thai HE community as we move towards Thailand 4.0. We aim to describe the cultural integration of a growing base of international students, hoping to inform the development of Thai HE, which could be a world-class and leading platform for education.

Original languageEnglish
JournalHumanities, Arts and Social Sciences Studies
Issue number1
Pages (from-to)131-142
Number of pages12
Publication statusPublished - 01.2022
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
nationalism, a problem for overseas students. Hence, this led the authors to question their cultural integration. We were supported by a Thai private Higher Education Institute (HEI), Payap University in Chiangmai, who sponsored a data project, resituated to provide the insights within this paper (Waters, 2019). Much like Kitjarooncha and Kitjaroonchai (2012), we wanted to create a case study about the expansion of a Thai university. This setting and higher educational landscape is changing; rapid expansion of university seats after 球爃爃爁 combined with the Thai ‘baby bust’ in the 猃笃笃爀s, meant a surplus of university seats from 球爃? 爀 (Surichai, 2002; Nichols, 2016). This is a problem. Universities are prestigious institutions in Thailand. Their credentials are gatekeepers, shaping Thai society as a whole. Indeed, for Ajarn, known in western settings as a Lecturer, although this role has greater capital and responsibility in Thailand, their job is a ‘high social status’ role. Thai universities, however, offer a unique teaching and learning culture. This begins with elaborate initiation rituals, communal living relationships, loyalty to the university, and enforced nationalism about Thai society (Surichai, 2002; Crocco, 2018; Nichols, 2016). Payap University, our case study site, was the first international private university in the country. It began in 1974, with a new International College from 2003, innovative at the time. Internationalization was possible at Payap because missionaries had been involved in teaching, led by the Church of Christ in Thailand. Like many Thai universities, its internationally-minded systems clashed with the traditions of Thai hierarchy and authoritarian education, alongside rivalry with public universities, which have government funding (Crocco, 2018). What Payap University did differently was to embrace its American (US) roots. As of 2021 it offers Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees taught in English and Thai, and a Ph.D. program. In 2015, Payap was accredited by the US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for armed forces scholarships. Burmese students, sponsored by churches, or parents, were sent after 2010 when travel became more manageable. Finally, from 2016, relationships with Chinese universities brought in approximately 100 Chinese students. By 2018 there were about 200 international students in the English-speaking International College, around 40% of whom were Thai and approximately 3, ? 爃爀 students in the ‘T-shiadie’ faculties. Payap University, we felt, was a prime case for Thai HE cultural integration studies, given students from as many as 31 countries engaged in the study of an English-medium Thai degree curriculum, intended as a basis to inform academics within the Thai HE system (Thomas, 2011). Moreover, Payap University has authorized the data-set release (Waters, 2019). Carried out over 2018, a longitudinal approach improved spatial triangulation of the subject (Holloway, 1997). We focused on General Education courses (GE) which all students take. These exist in part to satisfy government ‘Thainess,’ an issue of particular interest for our case study (OHEC, 球爃猃瘂?. We assumed that the GE courses found in the first year of all Thai international undergraduate degrees sought to encourage student socialization into Thailand’s cultural and thus ‘melt’ international student’s culture into ‘Thainess’. This was not a great leap; GE titles offered at Payap include ‘Truth and Service’, ‘The Path to Wisdom’ and ‘Peace and Aesthetics of Life’, with the latter explicitly including ‘good citizenship’ themes. Our approach echoes efforts by Shan and Christians ( 球爃猃眂?. Both authors call for us to find where ‘inuteltrucral communicative systems are bounded, or perhaps even bonded, by shared cultural symbols’ and communities of practice that include places and modes of study (Shan and Christians, 2015).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 Silpakorn University. All Rights Reserved.

    Research areas

  • Cultural integration, education, higher education, student experience, Thailand 4.0
  • Sociology