Can U.S. Universities Compete in the Southeast Asian Transnational Education Market?

According to WES’ recent survey of U.S.-bound international millennial students, 44% of students from Southeast Asia1 [1] considered pursuing a foreign degree in a country other than the U.S., compared to 33% of overall respondents. International enrollment data [2] from the Institute of International Education also shows that, although the number of undergraduate students from the region increased 22% between 2009/10 and 2013/14, the number of graduate students dropped 13% over the same time period. Last year, the total number of Southeast Asian students studying in the U.S. rose only 1.8%, which is a slower rate of growth than other developing regions such as Latin America (+8.2%) and West Africa (+3.8%). The increase within Southeast Asia is skewed towards Vietnam and Indonesia, which jointly accounted for 86% of the regional growth last year. These facts beg the question: How can U.S. schools continue competing for students from Southeast Asia?

This question is especially relevant when one considers that Australia and the U.K. have been actively marketing themselves in Southeast Asia and developing transnational education partnerships to enroll local students with global ambitions, or ‘glocal students [3].’ Among the 220,000 Southeast Asian students that studied abroad at the tertiary level in 2012, approximately one out of four went to Australia, the most popular destination for students from the region. Australia benefits from its geographic proximity to Southeast Asia and also significant investment in education marketing by working closely with local governments. For example, Australia opened the first foreign university in Malaysia more than 15 years ago and it is the only country that has set up a branch campus in Vietnam since 2000.

Southeast Asian Outbound Students by Destination in 2012 (Total=2224,483) [4]Besides Australia, the U.K. also has strong partnerships with Southeast Asian higher education institutions (HEIs), especially in Malaysia and Singapore. In 2012, Malaysia and Singapore accounted for nearly 20% of all offshore students enrolled on a U.K. degree program [5] through a transnational delivery method. Generally speaking, these foreign programs and branch campuses are perceived to offer a high quality education compared to other local private institutions [6]. In 2013, for example, the University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus along with the three Australian branch campuses received “excellent” rating in a review of the quality of teaching and learning [7] conducted by the Malaysian Ministry of Education.

The U.S. lags significantly in the Southeast Asian transnational education market. Considering the medium-term projected economic growth of the region through 2019 [8], Southeast Asia is a market that U.S. institutions of higher education should be looking to compete in, especially when it comes to relatively low risk transnational education delivery options. U.S. institutions should be prepared and be more active in building collaborative relationship with local institutions using different transnational models [9]. In addition, U.S. institutions should strengthen their efforts in targeting emerging markets [10], such as Vietnam and Indonesia in the future.

1. [11] Southeast Asia region refers to the following 11 countries: Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, East Timor, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

Previous Mobility Monitors

WES in the News