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They were formerly called Rajabhat Institutes and originally formed the teachers college system. In 2005, King Bhumibol Adulyadej collectively elevated them to be universities. Many provinces have one—there are 38 total—and they are generally easier to gain admission to than the public universities (formerly the government universities). Most Rajabhat Universities offer graduate degrees, some even to the doctoral level. Enrollments have been shrinking. As of 2018[update], students numbered 540,000, down from 600,000.
These institutions are equivalent to British polytechnics that have become universities. They face a similar challenge of matching the prestige of older institutions. They were conferred the royal word Rajabhat to possibly shield them from criticism and help raise their status.
The word "Rajabhat" is derived from the same origin as the Hindi, "Rajput" (from Sanskrit raja-putra, "son of a king"). In this sense, a "Rajabhat University" might be regarded as being analogous to the English "King's College", or "Royal Institute", or more literally as a "Prince's University" ("Rajabhat" could be considered to mean "prince"). For simplicity they may be considered a "Royal University".
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