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Bangkok Battle: The Fight over Prime Real Estate Between Top Thai Universities! Is a Resolution Finally in Sight?”

In the heart of bustling Bangkok, a longstanding dispute that has uniquely tangled the Ministry of Higher Education, Science, Research and Innovation with Chulalongkorn University (CU) and a local technical college, might be approaching a resolution. At the epicenter of the contention is the relocation of Rajamangala University of Technology Tawan-ok (RMUTTO) Uthenthawai campus, a process which has been punctuated with numerous hurdles.

The proposal for a resolution is on the table, thanks to the Minister, Supamas Isarabhakdi. Continuing down the diplomatic road, he confirmed earlier this week about the formation of a new committee. Comprised of representatives from both educational establishments, their mandate is simple: Find a solution. Easier said than done, one might add.

So what’s the pacifying proposal? They’ve come up with two possibilities! The first one being that CU could graciously offer up the disputed land to the wider public, with innovative suggestions including transforming it into a public park or a museum dedicated to the younger generation.

“If RMUTTO discovers CU has express intent to avoid commercial exploitation and instead, use the land for public enrichment, there might be more leeway for an agreement”, Supamas was heard hinting towards. “Imagine having spaces that inspire like the famous Bangkok Art & Cultural Centre built right there.” Supamas was quite optimistic that RMUTTO might just say yes to this versions of proposal.

Needless to say, the land’s location is one of envy. Situated in the heart of the Thai capital, the portfolio of Chulalongkorn University doesn’t stop there. Alongside it, they are proud possessors of over a 1000 rai of prime real estate, including most of Siam Square and other sought-after areas that have proven to be profitable out on a lease for commercial ventures.

At present, the somewhat disputed 20-rai plot is the proud campus of RMUTTO, originally obtained on lease from the university in the year 1935. The lease, which lasted 68 years, officially reached its end in 2003. This sparked off the start to negotiations for the return of the land, which hasn’t worked out to date with the best intentions since its start in 1975.

As an attempted resolution, in 2002, the Treasury Department showed a generous face by offering a 36-rai plot in the Bang Phli district of Samut Prakan as the new site for the RMUTTO campus. Moreover, the government pledged an impressive 200-million-baht for its construction.

In full accordance, RMUTTO was set to leave the original campus by September 30, 2005, and move in to Bang Phli site by November of the same year. But as fate had it, this process got abruptly stalled, facing staunch opposition from the only people it claims to serve – the students.

In the latest eye of the tug-of-war, the Supreme Administrative Court in December last year ruled for RMUTTO to vacate the CU campus within 60 days. Yet, students remained rooted and the campus wheels continued to turn as normal.

Seemingly, the major concern for these students is awaiting the clarity of their future. They are equally concerned about their new place of study, their quality of study and who will hold responsibility going forward. As Supamas aptly concluded, “We don’t want hard deadlines, as it only increases the hostility.”

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