Education took the spotlight as the United Kingdom’s ambassador to Thailand made his first visit to Pattaya at a British Chamber of Commerce dinner.
H.E. Brian Davidson, appointed in June, spoke on business prospects, the U.K.’s ties to Thailand, the prospective sale of the British embassy in Bangkok, and international schools at the chamber’s Eastern Seaboard Business Dinner at the Amari Pattaya Feb. 2.
Davidson said he felt there were many opportunities for the U.K. in Southeast Asia – particularly Thailand – and that his country should look outside of Europe, especially to partners with whom they have a strong connection.
Based on his conversations with Thai ministers, Davidson said he perceived that Thailand looks to the U.K. as an “honest broker” and partner of choice in many spheres.
Part of that comes from Thais’ respect for British education, an area in which the embassy was working closely with the Ministry of Education to determine mutual interests in order to improve the business environment here and back home.
During a question-and-answer session, a representative from Pattaya’s Regents International School asked about the respect for British education. The Regents executive said 51 nationalities now are enrolled at the British-system school and, increasingly, they are not looking at the U.K. as a place to further their educations.
The ambassador replied that he thought schools who follow the British curriculum in Thailand are creating a new way of learning for students. By raising the standard of English-language skills and the quality of teachers, those schools would encourage students to consider the U.K. as an educational destination.
Pattaya Mail Media Group Managing Director Peter Malhotra suggested that, rather than send Thais abroad, British universities should consider opening a campus in Thailand, which would allow students to remain here with their families and bolster that Thai economy.
Davidson said he thought that was an interesting proposal and one that made a lot of sense. He said he had seen numerous examples of such systems in China and Kuala Lumpur and that there is an opportunity for such a model to work here in Thailand.
The Education Ministry, he noted, is aware of the deficiencies in primary- and secondary-school education, which may be one reason U.K. universities are reluctant to set up shop here. Another obstacle may be Thailand’s relatively poor English-language proficiency relative to its Southeast Asian neighbors, Davidson said, adding that the ministry is trying to address that as well.
Outside of education, the dinner also focused on interests close to the hearts of the assembled eastern business executives, such as regulation, immigration and economic issues.
Davidson said a U.K.-Thailand business leader’s council set up in July is trying to delineate key obstacles in the business environment that would have the biggest impact if solved. As the forum is privately run, it should cut down on the bureaucratic red tape and lead to a concise, focused set of results, he said.
Exchange rates, which tumbled following the Brexit referendum, also remain a prime concern, with some assembled saying a great deal of business confidence had vanished in Thailand, which faces other challenges as well.
They asked Davidson how it was that economists projected that 2017 would see growth in Thailand that mirrors the rest of the world.
Davidson said he felt the Brexit situation was now clearer and that, in Thailand, government spending on infrastructure and a rebound in the retail sector should power the kingdom to 3 percent economic growth this year.
He added that the tourism and sports minister had told him tourist arrivals in 2017 also should be on a par with last year.
Finally, on visas, Davidson said there are always challenges related to bureaucracy and the interpretation of regulations, but the new U.K.-Thai business council is tackling that subject as part of its work on improving the ease of doing business here.
Davidson – who previously was posted in Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, China and Australia – also discussed the fate of his latest embassy in Bangkok.
He explained that, in principal, London is looking at how its presence will be structured in Thailand and one of the options is selling part or all of the embassy property.
However, he said, while new sites for an embassy have been identified, no decision has been made and a number of options remain on the table.