Education Hub? Singapore & Malaysia leads with Thailand being Americans favorite


A number of Asian countries have declared that they want to become higher education hubs. They are setting up facilities and initiating policies to attract foreign students, as well as branch campuses of foreign institutions. Many people believe that with student and faculty mobility rising in Asia, there is scope for several regional higher education hubs.

“Hong Kong is positioning itself to be an educational hub that takes in the rich Pearl River Delta [in Southern China],” said Tony Chan (pictured), President of Hong Kong’s University of Science and Technology. “Hong Kong is at the heart of this new Asian prosperity zone.” Chan said: “A big part of being a hub is that our own higher education must be international in character and quality, turning out students to be effective players in the global economy. This is a good time for overseas students to come.”

Vietnam also said it wanted to be a ‘hub’ to attract foreign students and to learn from overseas universities through knowledge transfer. “A lot of students would like to get an international quality degree,” said Mai Trong Nhuang, President of Vietnam National University.

Other hub countries in Asia include South Korea, with a number of US branch campuses in its Incheon Free Zone. Taiwan recently declared that it wanted to become a hub for overseas students, with an eye on the large Chinese-speaking market. Even the Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan has ambitions to be an Asian higher education hub.

China also plans a big increase in the number of foreign students, from 260,000 now to 500,000 by 2020. Shen Yang, deputy director general of the department of international cooperation and exchanges in China’s Ministry of Education, told the conference: “We also want to be an [education] hub.” China is already attracting international universities. Britain’s Nottingham University, which has a campus in Ningbo, is setting up its second campus in Shanghai. New York University is signing an agreement with the Shanghai authorities, and universities from Singapore and the UK are operating in Suchow.

Sri Lanka‘s Ministry of Higher Education said the country, which he described as “a paradise”, expected to set up 10 world-class foreign university campuses in the coming years and ease restrictions on state universities to enrol foreign students, with the aim of having 100,000 foreign students by 2020. Sri Lanka’s incentives to foreign institutions include land subsidies, tax rebates, and tax-free imports of building materials and other equipment.

However, “How many regional hubs can you have?”

  • Singapore and Malaysia already have a decade-long start:

The International Education says:

A year later, the Singapore government created  “Singapore Education” as a brand name to establish  and promote Singapore as a premier education hub  and encourage international students to study there. In the years since, Singapore has drawn a number of leading foreign tertiary institutions and more than 30 pre-tertiary schools offering international curricula. The University of Chicago’s Booth Graduate School of Business and the Technical University of Munich have set up Asian campuses in Singapore, while Duke University’s School of Medicine, yale University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Britain’s Imperial College are among foreign institutions that are collaborating with local Singapore universities to offer joint academic programs, Leow reports.

While Singapore “is typically lauded as the originator and exemplar” of the Asian education hub policy and model that has been formally adopted or is currently projected in some form or another now throughout parts of Asia, there is evidence that it may have originated first in Malaysia. In a paper he delivered this year at the International Conference on University Education (INCUE), he cited a reference in a 1990 Malaysian Ministry of Education policy document to developing “a world-class quality education which is flexible and innovative that in turn will make Malaysia a regional educational hub and a centre of educational excellence.”

Malaysia has attracted students from Asia and the Middle East since 2002, when US visa policies became stricter in the wake of 9/11. Malaysia now we have 86,000 foreign students. For a country of 28 million we think that is quite a big number. Malaysia is also poised to take students and faculty who might otherwise be attracted to Middle-East higher education hubs, if unrest in that region spreads.

  • Thailand corners a niche markets:

While Thailand’s education system is ranked 37th out of 40 countries assessed in latest global index ranking published by British education and publishing group Pearson Plc, where Finland took first place, followed by South Korea and Hong-Kong, then there are two other Asian countries Japan and Singapore that ranked highl, American students favor Thailand in ASEAN..

According to the Institute of International Study, Thailand is ASEAN‘s favorite destination for higher education for Americans. But the trend is downward, while Singapore is rocketing up.

Thailand hosts more US students than any other ASEAN country, with 1,231 American students studying in Thailand for 2009/10; again, this number has been declining since 2006/07, caused perhaps mostly, by Thailand’s political crisis. Over the past decade, US students in ASEAN have increased from 1,210 in 2000/01 to 3,701 in 2009/10, an average annual growth of 13%.

Overall, for the year 2010, Thailand hosted 20,155 international students at 103 higher education institutions. The overall totals of international students increased by 5.7% from the year 2009. The top sending countries, China (9,329), Laos (1,311) and Myanmar (1,310), comprised more than 59.29% of total international enrollments. Beyond these three countries, the international student enrollments were especially strong from Asia (17,193).

  • The following is from the Why Asia Matters to the USA Blog:

The number of US students studying in ASEAN countries is on an upward trend, with more than 3,700 going during the 2009/10 academic year, triple the number from ten years ago. It was a record year for five ASEAN countries—Singapore, Vietnam, Cambodia, the Philippines, and Indonesia— hosting US students with Thailand remaining the most popular destination, according to the Institute of International Education (IIE).

Over the past decade, US students in Southeast Asian countries have increased from 1,210 in 2000/01 to 3,701 in 2009/10, an average annual growth of 13%. The top three fields of academic study for US students studying abroad are social sciences, business, and humanities, according to the Christian Science Monitor.

As noted in the graph above, Thailand hosts more US students than any other ASEAN country—1,231 for 2009/10—though this number has been declining since 2006/07, likely caused in part by domestic political and civil unrest.

Webster University, Missouri, the only university accredited in both the United States and Thailand, is one of the leading US universities to send US students to its campus in Cha-am. Cal Poly, San Luis Abispo, California, is another leading sender of US students to Thailand, followed by the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities and the University of Washington, according to the IIE report US Students Study Abroad in Thailand.

In the same year Singapore hosted 841 US students and is the second most popular destination for US students in Southeast Asia, followed by Vietnam. San Diego State University has successfully established a study abroad program with Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, where classes are taught in English. The number of US students going to Vietnam continues to grow—686 in 2009/10. Loyola University Chicago became the first US university in 2007 to receive a license from Vietnamese authorities to establish a joint educational program at the Vietnam National University according to the Chicago Sun-Times.

The number of US students studying in Cambodia in 2009/10 increased 75 percent over the previous year placing that country fourth among ASEAN countries for hosting US students. The diversity of programs on offer to US students studying in Cambodia includes George Mason University’s study abroad program entitled Community Development, Post Conflict Reconstruction and Spirituality, while students from the University of Mary Washington focused upon geography during their recent spring 2012 Cambodian study abroad experience.

The value of a study abroad experience for US students has been emphasized by leading public and private leaders.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton endorsed study abroad for US students during the 2011 International Education Week initiative jointly sponsored by the Departments of State and Education. “I am asking all American students to think about expanding your own worldview by studying in another country. I hope the administrators of our American colleges and universities will support this study abroad experience.” US News and World Report began in spring 2011 releasing data on colleges and universities “with stellar examples of study abroad programs.”

A number of public and private programs support study abroad experiences for US students. The IIEPassport initiative provides prospective students with information on programs, including in Southeast Asia and StudyAbroadFunding offers resources on funding the venture.

Undergraduate students choosing to go to Southeast Asia are eligible to apply for the IIE administrated Freeman-Asia scholarship which has sponsored over 4,000 students who chose to study in Asia since its implementation in 2001. US government sponsored scholarship programs applicable to Southeast Asia include the Boren Scholarship and Fellowship Program, the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship Program, and the Fulbright Program.

For the more adventurous there is the option of the Semester at Sea program, sponsored by the University of Virginia, which include global voyages that make port calls in Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam. Other opportunities include programs that incorporate multiple countries in one trip as is the case in this itinerary to Cambodia, Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam with the University of Houston.

It is likely that with increased interaction between the United States and Southeast Asian states, the number of programs and choices for US students to study in the region will also increase.

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