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As has been my custom over the past five years, this end-of-the-year blog will contain no statistics or data supporting or disproving assumptions about the changing face of international student recruitment and enrollment. I will not share with you my thoughts on the impact of the Brexit referendum in Britain or the impact of the Trump election on future international student enrollments.
In the next year, my book, International Student Mobility and the New World Disorder, will be published and in that publication I will share with you why I believe major shifts are already in place for where international students will enroll in the future and how international deans and recruiters will recruit international students in the future.
For now, all I wish to do in this posting is to wish you and your family and your colleagues health and happiness in 2018.
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.
Although all of the fall, 2017 international student enrollment reports are not known and although no one has a crystal ball, I think it is safe to write an article about the clear enrollment winners and losers for the fall semester.
Clearly countries like Canada and Australia enrolled an increasing number of international students. Clearly the impact of Brexit and the Trump election has affected the decreased number of international students enrolling in those two countries.
Clearly the pivot to Asia has happened with China and other countries in Asia and Southeast Asia enrolling increased number of international and study abroad students for this semester.
Clearly the “new” international student, the digital student, will increase the number of international student enrollments but in a different way. Digital students, especially in Africa, will enroll in international courses but they may never leave their home countries.
Clearly the impact of nationalism, especially in several countries in eastern Europe, will impact the migration of students from those countries to other parts of the world.
Clearly it is no longer possible to write and implement international strategic recruitment plans without researching the economic, political and societal trends taking place in countries of recruitment.
Clearly it is time to change the way international deans and recruiters plan for future international student enrollments.
I have spent the past three years researching and studying the way international student trends are changing. Some of the changes are subtle, like the dynamic “soft power” higher education initiatives of China in countries in Asia, Africa and the Middle East. Others are not so subtle. No longer can we separate where international students study and the Brexit vote or Trump election. Both events have, and will continue to impact, the enrollments of international students not just in this year but for years to come.
The Impact of Political and Economic Changes in China on Future International Recruitment
Some international higher education deans may disagree with me that worldwide political and economic changes will benefit China by increasing its political and economic influence in Asia and around the world. But I believe in time China will emerge as a dominant country on the world stage. The Time magazine columnist, Ian Bremmer, predicts that American international leadership, a constant since 1945, has ended. According to Mr. Bremmer, the United States has become the single biggest source of international uncertainty, creating a void that China is eager to fill.
The following are a few examples of China flexing its muscles on the world stage:
After the United States pulled out of the Paris Agreement, China stepped in to take a lead. The day after the Trump administration announced its decision to withdraw from the agreement, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang reiterated China’s commitment to the Paris Agreement and its cooperation on climate change. The Paris Agreement has been authorized by the National People’s Congress and is legally binding in China.
In 2013, China launched “One Belt, One Road.” This initiative boasts spending $900bn in infrastructure projects in 65 countries south and west of China, along the historic Silk Road, ranging from highways in Pakistan to railway lines in Thailand. The overarching aim of the project is to construct a network of ports, railways and pipelines that will plug China into economic hubs across Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Europe. This integration will strengthen Chinese economic influence and maritime power in the region. “One Belt, One Road” could mark the beginning of a major shift in geopolitical alliances in the region.
The founding of Asian Universities Alliance on April 29, 2017 is one example of Chinese higher education expansion in the region. With an initial funding of $1.5 million from Tsinghua University and an initial membership of 15 universities from across the region, the founders aim to promote student and faculty mobility within Asia and foster collaborative research among member institutions.
Chinese Vice-Premier Liu Yandong delivered the keynote address at the opening ceremony and predicted that the Asian University Alliance will: “Resolve regional and global problems and bring together outstanding talents with an international perspective to serve regional development.”
China’s president Xi frequently refers to the “Chinese dream of the great revival of the Chinese nation.” This objective matches its goal of becoming a higher education superpower. And that could change the bottom line of many colleges and universities around the world.
International Student Recruitment and the New World Disorder
In the Price Waterhouse Coopers’ report, The World in 2050: Will the shift in global power continue?, the authors estimate that in just a few decades the world will be very different than it is today in terms of the global ranking of national economies and the major drivers of economic growth. The report notes that China overtook the United States in 2014 to become the world’s largest economy on purchasing power parity and by 2028 the authors project that China will surpass the United States’ GDP in market exchange rate terms.
Countries with the fastest growing economies, populations and growing middle classes in Asia, like Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam will dominate economic growth in the region. And the Asian middle class is expected to increase from 600 million in 2010 to more than 3 billion by 2030 to represent 66 percent of total global middle class population.
International student mobility, by extension, will be impacted by this new economic reality. I think it is safe to predict that regional mobility will grow in importance over global mobility and the major importers of students today, the United States and the United Kingdom, will continue to lose their share of internationally mobile students. While China will remain a leading exporter of students, it will increasingly become a major importer of students with a goal of enrolling 500,000 international students by 2020.
According to an Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development report, the stage is set for a new level of competition among international study destinations. National visa and immigration policies, coordinated regional and national marketing campaigns, availability of scholarships and employment after graduation, will be some of the factors countries can leverage to maintain or increase their market share of international students.
In his book, The World in Disarray, Richard Haass writes: What exists in many parts of the world resembles more a new world disorder.”
I would extent that sentiment to international higher education.
This article is excerpted from my new book, International Student Mobility and the New World Disorder, to be published in December, 2017.