11 July 2024

Frustration with the Thai University Central Admission System (TCAS) is growing four years after its launch, with students complaining it has failed to offer better or fairer access to higher education.

For some, their experience with TCAS has been so bad that they want the system banned. This month, TCAS was rocked by another setback when the personal data of 23,000 students was leaked.

Though most students still use TCAS to further their education, experts say problems surrounding the system should not be ignored.

TCAS target?

Chulalongkorn University education lecturer Athapol Anunthavorasakul complains that the Council of University Presidents of Thailand (CUPT) – which plays a big role in shaping TCAS – apparently views students from too narrow a perspective.

“If you talk to it, you realize that it kind of thinks universities are shoppers. So they are going to take the most qualified candidates when they can,” Athapol said. “However, the higher education sector should not exist just to serve the country’s labor market.”

He also lamented that TCAS frequently changes its rules leaving students very confused.

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Flaws and changes

In 2018, the third round of TCAS allowed applicants to list four university courses, with entry dependent on their test scores. Students who scored high in tests were offered places at all four programs, but this meant low scorers could be left with no choices at all.

The four-choice system also brought a problem. For example, Chulalongkorn University’s Faculty of Commerce and Accountancy found that all candidates it had shortlisted were actually aspiring medical students. This problem prompted TCAS to abruptly change the system and require that successful candidates reconfirm just one of their four choices before calling in alternates.

In 2019, TCAS changed the rules again, offering just one choice to applicants in the third round. Students not happy with their choice must relinquish all rights to their university place before choosing another in the following round. Further problems then arose because TCAS failed to set a deadline for students to relinquish their place. This left universities confused over the number of new students enrolling.

In 2020, TCAS made more changes after the COVID-19 outbreak, allowing student interviews to be conducted online. TCAS also set a clear deadline for students to relinquish their place at one university and choose another.

These moves should have made the enrollment process smoother, but students were faced with new problems. Inaccuracies were found in their GAT/PAT (General Aptitude and Professional Aptitude Tests), so TCAS had to recheck scores to identify successful students.

In 2021, the TCAS process became smoother, but students were still not happy. Many complained loudly about having to take tests over 22 consecutive days because school exams clashed with the TCAS tests.

This year, the CUPT stepped in to organize all TCAS exams. TCAS applicants will take their GAT/PAT on March 12-15 with scores announced on April 18. Then on March 19-20, they will take tests on general subjects, with scores announced on April 20.

Even CUPT’s solution has caused an uproar, however.

Students concerned over what would happen if they caught COVID-19 around the time of their exams were told they would have to wait till next year to re-enter TCAS. This declaration sparked a loud outcry, with #banCUPT trending on Twitter for most of last month.

What is TCAS?

Educator Komjak Krimatanyasorn, whose Facebook page @PDomeTCASCoach has over 200,000 followers, explains that TCAS was launched to fulfill three key goals.

The first is to ensure applicants have completed their secondary education before taking GAT/PAT or tests on general subjects. The second is to help students avoid having to travel from one university to the next to sit entrance exams, by creating one national exam system that is recognized nationwide. The third is to manage the university enrollment process efficiently.

In Komjak’s opinion, TCAS does make university admission easier for students. However, it does little to ease the pressure since it requires them to sit so many exams.

“Frequent changes to TCAS rules have also put a strain on students. And they cannot consult those who have done it before or even prepare according to rules used the year before,” Komjak said.

Also, wealthier students have an advantage as TCAS applicants must pay a fee at every step.

“To take the IELTS test [for TCAS], students have to pay Bt6,000, and not everybody can afford that,” he said. “Also, not all students can afford tuition courses to boost their chances of admission.”

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Years of preparation

Naridsa Phachart said she began preparing her daughter for TCAS when she was in Mathayom 2, by gathering and studying university admission information together. When her daughter entered Mathayom 4, Naridsa asked her seriously about which field interested her, so she could start preparing herself. When her daughter expressed an interest in dentistry, she was made to take extra math classes every evening.

“We have also been building her portfolio because the first round of TCAS is all about the portfolio. Success in the first round means she will not need to complete other rounds,” Naridsa said.

“With so few dentistry places offered in the portfolio round this year, we have decided to wait until the third round [in which seats are allocated based on scores].”

Another mother said her son had submitted his portfolio to seven institutes and been offered a seat at two. However, her son is still determined to enter the third round of TCAS.

“If he gets a place in his preferred program in the third round, he will give up the right to places offered in the first round,” she said.

By Thai PBS World’s General Desk