International Student Mobility and the Pivot to Asia
The demand for higher education in South and East Asia has exploded. According to a World Education Services report, in 2015 Asian countries sent an estimated 2.3 million students abroad for study. With a population of more than 620 million under the age of 18, $226 trillion combined economy and the fastest growing middle class in the world, South Asia is poised to become a major economic player in the future. The 10 ASEAN countries are projected to become the 5th largest economic bloc by 2020.
More than 300 million students are enrolled in higher education in South Asia and the unmet need is estimated to be 3 to 4 times that number. The governments of Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, Korea, Singapore, Vietnam and Cambodia have made higher education a priority and have invested heavily in higher education initiatives.
In March, 2016, the ASEAN-Socio-Cultural Community Blueprint for Higher Education 2015-2025 was launched. The goals are to promote innovation in higher education and encourage the free flow of ideas, knowledge, expertize and skills within the region. The architects of the blueprint hope that it will strengthen regional and global cooperation by enhancing the quality of competitiveness of higher education institutions across ASEAN.
The year 2017 marked the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. One of the major accomplishments of ASEAN has been the harmonization of member states’ education systems and increased collaboration among universities in the region.
In April, 2017 the Asian Universities Alliance was created to facilitate the creation of a platform facilitating exchange programs as well as joint research projects.
Collaborations between institutions in the region include: Malaysia’s Al Bikhary International University and Turkey’s Ibn Haldun University, National Taiwan University and Vietnam National University and Southern Taiwan Universities Alliance and several universities in the Philippines.
No doubt these are ambitious regional goals. I am not suggesting that past and current strongholds of international student enrollments will immediately decrease or disappear. But I am suggesting that several political, economic and sociological trends suggest that over time, there will be an increased shift in regional enrollments from the west to the east.