Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Emergence of Asian Educational Hubs

Until 1997, several Asian countries including Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia and South Korea were riding high, attracting high foreign interest investment and maintaining good currency exchange rates. Singapore, Malaysia and South Korea were nicknamed the young economic tigers. Suddenly, almost without warning, at least to the man on the street, interest rates started tumbling and naturally the currency exchange rate followed suit.

What was affordable was now exorbitant and this was particularly true of western education. Parents found themselves unable to support their children's education abroad and many had to return home unable to complete their tertiary education.

Many who had aspired to go overseas for further studies thought they would never see the chance of ever owning foreign degrees. Fortunately for them, they were wrong. Private entrepreneurs in the education industry turned the financial disaster into a blessing by introducing twinning programs which allowed students to still own foreign degrees but at a lower cost through the 2+1 program or its equivalent option. The 2+1 means two years of study in Malaysia with the final year at the related western university.

At the same time, these private institutions gained experience through their exposure with their western counterparts and were soon able to conduct their own bachelor’s degrees. Some have even been able to offer master's degrees.

This was followed by changes in the Education Act which allowed for liberalization in the education field to allow for the establishment of more private universities which were allowed to recruit foreign students since English was allowed to be the medium of instruction.

The flourishing of Asian educational hubs was aided not just by the lower cost but as an outcome of 9/11 which made obtaining a student’s visa from the US or UK almost impossible. This accounted for not just the large number of students from the Middle East but those from China as well.

What does this reversal in trend imply for foreign universities that previously had strong foreign enrollment? Every adversity in business can be turned into an opportunity. Several Australian universities have stepped up on their research strengths, reinforced partnerships with local Malaysian institutes. In the recent past, some have even set up branch campuses.