Thammasat is Thailand’s second oldest university, and has always been a critical and urgent voice of democracy since its founding, and throughout the turbulent decades in 20th century Thailand – which is maybe why they’ve moved it out of Bangkok…
Before it was established in 1934, there was only one university in the whole of Thailand that graduated less than 70 people per year. A new university was to be created called the “University of Moral and Political Sciences” – founded under the leadership of Pridi Banomyong, the father of Thailand’s democratic movement. He envisioned open education with low tuition fees, and admitted over 7,000 students in its first year, thereby transforming the entire philosophy of education in the Kingdom.
With the guiding philosophy of “love and cherish democracy” and with an original campus in Bangkok’s old quarter, Thammasat continued to be a political force throughout the 20th century. It was, for example, the headquarters of the clandestine Free Thai anti-Japanese underground during the second world war.
The coup d’etat of 1947 brought an end to Pridi Banomyong’s vision for Thammasat. It was brought under the military junta’s yolk and Pridi went into exile.
Perhaps unsurprisingly then: Thammasat students led two pro-democracy mass uprisings that were watershed events in Thailand’s political history – one in 1973 which led to a brief semi-democratic transition, before the other in 1976 which ended in a brutal massacre of students which continues to be a scar on the Thai collective psyche. Shortly after, Thammasat gradually moved all of its students out of the city centre to its Rangsit campus. Yet, it continues to be a political force in Thailand, with most of Thailand’s recent Prime Ministers and leading political figures and jurists being Thammasat alumni.