How Thammasat University Responded to the COVID-19 Crisis

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Since the end of January, many people have praised Thammasat University because the university gave extensive policy and assistance to staff and students quickly. The university could have just complied with the government order to close the university and conduct online classes, but Thammasat University did beyond that.

The President, Assoc.Prof.Gasinee Witoonchart says that “when we decide to take action, we have to know what the real problem is and the effect on people whom we want to protect. We use 360 angle principles as we have to thoroughly consider every group of people. During the crisis, we also have to increase participation, speed, and flexibility in order to cope with the problem with various groups that have different needs and face different problems. We act flexibly and consider the priority that we have to focus on in order to prioritize the working order. We also observe the situation in other countries compared to the situation in Thailand. Therefore, we have information from all sectors. In another point, we created the TU War Room in the university and the hospital. The director will be head of the conference to supervise the urgent matter and resource management”.

The Preparedness of Thammasat
Focusing on online instruction has been a long-standing strategy of TU, much before the COVID-19 crisis. So the transition to online learning was smooth and without many challenges.

Measures Taken in Thammasat
Assoc.Prof.Gasinee Witoonchart, President of Thammasat University, says that the first thing that the university did during the outbreak of COVID-19 is to announce the closure of the university since 16 March in order to reduce congestion and the risk of disease transmission. The university has shifted to conduct an online course in just one week. We also distribute internet packages for students. Due to the happening situation, the university has to change the learning way to online classes.

Online classes may not be convenient for all students so we conduct an Educational SIM project to assist students who have problems accessing the internet. We provide them with 4 Mbps unlimited internet to use for 3 months. We also have COVID life insurance for all staff and students in Bachelor, Master, and Doctoral degrees. The insurance will cover for 1 year from 23 March 2020.

For assistance in accommodation, the university’s dormitories have three measures that depend on each rental type to help students. The dormitory will give a rental fee before the end of the contract and will return an insurance fee for students who will stay in the dorm next semester. For students who will not stay in the dorm, they will get a 50% discount for 3 months.

For dormitories outside the Rangsit campus, Asst.Prof.Dr.Prinya Tewanaruemitkul, Vice-Director for Sustainability and Administration of Rangsit Campus, Thammasat University, has consulted with owners of the dormitory to reduce the rental fees for students. Each dormitory requires different measures to deal with. Recently, the university gave 5,000 scholarships for affected students, accounting for 15,000,000 Baht.

In another point, there are other measures that show the university’s care for staff and students. First, the university has extended the tuition fee reduction time. We also requested airlines to reduce rescheduling fees and refund the eligible fare in full for the students. We also postponed the graduation ceremony and initiated Thammasat Food Delivery to students and staff in order for them to stay within the accommodation and helped food vendors and motorcycle drivers to sustain their income.

Thammasat Stands for People
Apart from the measures that alleviate the effect of virus transmission, there are many projects showing the university’s consideration for Thai people.

One of the projects that we created is Thammasat University Field Hospital that took only 72 hours to proceed with the project. Thammasat University transformed the accommodation room of DLUXX dormitory to a field hospital that could accommodate 308 patients. Inside the hospital, there is a CCTV system for communication. To ensure the safety of the medical team, we use Tham-Robot from the Faculty of Engineering to deliver medical equipment in order to reduce the risk of contacting COVID-19 patients.

Moreover, the faculty of Science and Technology and COVID-19 protection and prevention committee also produce face masks that have a water-absorbent quality called Thammask. The face masks were distributed to medical staff. We used donation money from social media to produce more than 60,000 pieces.

Another project that received lots of good words is a legal aid centre for people who get affected by COVID-19. The centre was established by the Faculty of Laws, Thammasat University. The aim is to provide free legal advice for affected people via website: law.tu.ac.th/tulawcovid19 and Facebook page: TU Pandemic Legal Aid Centre. The centre works as a consultant and educator for people. Due to the quick administration and management under the crisis, measures and projects by Thammasat University receive a lot of appraisal. This is difficult to happen without a good vision and administration.

Assoc.Prof.Gasinee Witoonchart tells us about the administration coping with the crisis and the outcome measures. In the general administration, an administration sector focuses on all groups of people, including citizens, students, alumni, staff, and instructors. The aim is to ensure them and reduce their anxiety and their risks in their daily living life from the crisis.

When every administrator, including Vice President, Assistant Director, and all deans have the same vision, it creates teamwork in the form of a War Room. The purpose is to work together and propose different measures in this war room. The administration affair has formed an ad hoc team in order to draft measures via teleconference. This war room is a center of data extraction and information sharing in order to revise guidelines and orders. It requires academic, human resource, and student affairs to work together and be discreet in order to publish the university’s announcement.

Apart from planning for announcement and proceeding measures, the war room is also a center of real-time situation reporting. This includes the effect on staff and students, complaining issues, and the infected situation. These data will allow the working team to reflect and solve the problem from the real situation. Moreover, clear and extensive measures and orders allow each working team to know their responsibility, proceed quickly, and can solve the problem.

Opportunity to Test Technology
The transmission of the virus is not a good thing. However, under this crisis, it is a good opportunity for the university to use technology for instruction and work. The president of Thammasat University saw the goods in this crisis. Due to the situation, the university has to conduct online classes while many professors are not familiar with the technology so it is a good time for them to learn how to use it along with the students.

A Leader’s Sacrifice
Assoc.Prof.Gasinee Witoonchart, President of Thammasat University, chooses not to receive her salary since 2017 and put it into the collective account for the university’s expenses.

“I (as a president) have an adequate income so I want to use my salary for the university’s administration because it takes a long time to ask for a budget. For example, if we want to paint a building, instead of a direct order to paint, we have to write a selling and hiring contract to find someone to take the job. It takes months to do but if I use my salary, we can do it promptly.”

Thammasat aims to Improve People
Until now, the working team in the war room still followed up the issue in order to solve the problem and reduce the impact on the university’s staff, students, and citizens. However, the most important thing that the university concerns are learning instructions. These lessons are not only to give knowledge to students but also to develop their living attitude which is a vital part of creating a human. Therefore, we have to think about how to use online classes to answer this problem if the situation is still going on.

“A vital thing is instruction. Now, we can solve the problem by conducting online classes, but we also have to improve the efficiency of instruction, both online and offline classes. Our aim is to build leaders in the world and national level to create changes and quality people for the country.”