Higher Education trends and opportunities in Southeast Asia

I was delighted to be joined by Alan Adcock from one of Mills & Reeve’s best friend firms in Southeast Asia, Tilleke & Gibbins, to discuss the higher education market in Southeast Asia and key developments and opportunities for the UK higher education sector.

Alan highlighted the current trends in the Southeast Asian higher education market, the attitudes of students, governments and how UK institutions can strengthen their position as a key destination for Southeast Asian students to pursue foreign study.

Key trends in the Southeast Asian higher education market

As the student-aged populations of Thailand and Vietnam continue to grow, the appetite for a domestic higher education offering has increased.  In recent years, the investment in the higher education sector in these countries has grown; Vietnam currently spends about 2.5 billion USD on education whilst Thailand spends about 12.5 billion USD. Most recently, the Ministry of Commerce in Thailand introduced the new long term resident visa, a long-term investment initiative aimed towards attracting foreign experts to work in Thailand which has, only 3 months into its existence, had an overwhelmingly positive reaction.

Whilst the UK remains the most common overseas higher education destination for Thai, Vietnamese and Indonesian students, there are still opportunities for UK institutions to grow their education businesses in Southeast Asia.

Perceptions of UK universities

  • The UK remains a top destination for Southeast Asian students to study abroad. Not only are there common cultural and historical ties between UK and Southeast Asian jurisdictions such as Thailand, but UK universities are perceived by Southeast Asian students as offering high-quality education, facilities and importantly, a safe study environment.
  • The three-year degree programmes offered by many of the UK’s higher education institutions continue to be more attractive to Southeast Asian students than the longer four-year degree courses offered in other jurisdictions.
  • The convenience of the direct flight routes to the UK from many Southeast Asian countries is an added incentive for students looking to study in the UK.

How can UK Universities develop their respective brands to encourage Southeast Asian students to study in the UK?

  • Work with Southeast Asian institutions to create attractive credit transfer programmes. UK universities should consider offering foreign students the ability to complete a portion of their domestic university course whilst at a UK institution. Credit transfer programmes are an attractive option for students in Southeast Asia who can benefit from the experience of an overseas education in the UK without having to undertake additional years of study which can present a time and financial cost.
  • Grow alumni networks. The UK should look at how US and Australian institutions increasingly rely on alumni networks to promote their foreign exchange courses in Southeast Asia.  The use of these networks is considered to be an effective marketing resource for students interested in learning about life at these universities.
  • R&D collaboration. Southeast Asian higher education institutions boast very lucrative and well-funded research grants and R&D offerings. Working collaboratively with these institutions to provide students and staff members with the opportunity to spend time overseas will enable UK institutions to build better relationships with Southeast Asian institutions and will benefit their own R&D initiatives and general cross-pollination.
  • Acquisition of or joint venture with existing Southeast Asian institutions. By acquiring pre-existing higher education institutions in Southeast Asia, UK institutions can grow their presence overseas whilst avoiding the licensing and permit issues that can arise when UK institutions attempt to open an actual branch of their institution in Southeast Asia.  

The above is a high level summary of some current issues; anyone considering these matters should always seek specific legal advice, which we would be very happy to discuss with you further.  This is the last in the current series of our Higher Education International Strategy Webinars, but you can sign up to a range of our other events here.








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