With over half the world’s population, Asia contains the largest number of living languages. This rich cultural heritage has posed both a challenge and an opportunity for the development of world-class educational institutions and for the international students who seek to attend them.
Japan has had a head start in Western-style education dating back earlier than WWII. However, thanks to heavy education-sector investments, several other countries have joined the lead—notably, China, South Korea, Malaysia, Taiwan and Singapore.
Policy reforms in all these countries have led to dramatic improvements in the quality of higher education. Generally, the trend among the top universities has been toward the creation of educational hubs—as in Malaysia, Singapore, China and to a certain degree, India. Governments have allocated vast public resources to that end.
This situation has triggered intense competition over foreign-student recruitment, academic partnerships and research funds, resulting in a dramatically higher standards bar and more comfortable tuition levels. Despite wide differences in educational quality and offerings, some countries now boast universities that rank among the world’s top one hundred learning institutions.
Three Asian nations stand out for the dynamism of their educational sector:
where public investment has vastly improved the country’s educational infrastructure and created the capacity to accommodate international students. Plans are underway to double the number of foreign students attending local higher-learning institutions to two hundred thousand.
where the government, hoping to triple the number of foreign students to 150,000 by 2012, has invested large sums of money for the creation of an Asia-wide education hub called the Global Schoolhouse. It aims to attract ten world-class universities to Singapore within a decade.
where international education has benefited from the billions of dollars of government spending to improve the country’s higher-education infrastructure. China is rapidly becoming one of the most popular overseas study destinations—with more than 140,000 foreign students, based on figures from 2006.
But embracing the global character of modern education often means sending one’s own to be educated overseas. Until recently, this has been the case for most, if not all, of Asia. However, international education also implies educating foreign nationals, who make a growing proportion of the total number.
Transnational e-tutorials, now an education-industry norm in many places, are not enough to attract foreign students. This is why Asian countries have taken robust steps to develop relevant academic and vocational programs and put in place research-driven policies that attract students from abroad.
Malaysia, for instance, has undertaken to create new opportunities for exchange with the outside world by establishing standardized degree structures; mutual recognition of degrees and units within degrees; and joint academic appointments between partnered universities. Its universities actively engage industry, and some (like Monash University) have a global network of research alliances, strategic partnerships, and internship programs designed to improve student employability.
In response to the rising demand for international education, the Chinese government has for its part created a China Scholarship Council Scheme to promote cooperation and exchanges in education, science, trade and culture with other countries.
In general, Chinese universities have grown considerably in size, and they act increasingly like network structures—for example, the Academic Consortium 21, International Alliance of Research Universities and Association of Pacific-Rim Universities. Unlike the rest of China, Hong Kong follows a system similar to that of the United Kingdom and is highly competitive on a world scale.
Until recently, Asians have been accustomed to traveling to the United States or Europe for a world-class education. Consequently, the export potential of their education systems has been left comparatively untapped.
And yet they now enjoy educational systems that more than live up to world standards. And people around the world have taken notice.