Dr. Christina Yan Zhang
Recent years have seen growing interest in a new type of international student: the ‘glocal’ student. Glocal students have been defined by Dr. Rahul Choudaha, director of Research & Advisory Services at World Education Services, as students who have global aspirations, but prefer to stay in their home country or region for education – and the fast-developing ‘ASEAN’ countries are leading this trend.
The Boston Consulting Group and McKinsey & Company have predicted that by 2020 there will be 100 million people with middle class spending patterns across the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) – such as Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand. Will glocal students from this emerging regional demographic represent the future of transnational education (TNE)?
The new international students?
The motto of the United Nations is, “Think globally, act locally”. In a globalized economy, every student should be educated as an international student, a global citizen with the aspiration to compete globally. However, not everyone is lucky enough to be blessed with the talent and wealth to be admitted to the world’s most competitive and expensive universities.
Transnational education, defined as education for students based in a different country to the degree-awarding institution, is becoming increasingly popular. It often offers students an international experience with the advantages of better affordability, lower English language requirements, less competitive admission standards, and regional economic initiatives.
The rise of ASEAN countries
In the aftermath of the global financial crisis, Asia has increasingly attracted the attention of the world with its booming economy and the abundance of business opportunities in countries such as China, India and now ASEAN. The ASEAN countries are home to 600 million people, with a combined nominal GDP of US$ 2.1 trillion in 2012, predicted to grow at an annual rate of 5.5% in 2013.
What is also striking is their economic ambition: by 2015, ASEAN aims to integrate the whole Southeast Asia region into the ‘ASEAN Economic Community (AEC)’, with free movement of goods, services, investment, labor, and capitals.
Just look at how the European Union operates now, and you can imagine what a massive change this would bring in two years’ time to everyone who is lucky enough to be connected with ASEAN, or Asia in general. This applies both to students and universities.
Developing southeast Asian universities
Higher education will play a crucial role in supporting the continued economic integration of ASEAN by 2015. An ambitious plan was set up in 2009, aimed at creating a systematic mechanism to support the integration of universities across Southeast Asia.
Student mobility, credit transfers, quality assurance and research clusters were identified as the four main priorities to harmonize the ASEAN higher education system, encompassing 6,500 higher education institutions and 12 million students in 10 nations. The ultimate goal of the scheme is to set up a Common Space of Higher Education in Southeast Asia.
Individual ASEAN governments have increased public investment in universities to support the ASEAN Higher Education Area, and the region’s burgeoning knowledge economy. Measures have been set up to strengthen the performance of Southeast Asian universities across a wide range of indicators such as teaching, learning, research, enterprise and innovation.
These initiatives also pave the way for further collaboration and integration between universities in the region, enhancing the overall reputation of Asian universities compared to their competitors in the West and elsewhere in the world. It is not surprising to see the improved performance of many ASEAN universities in this year’s QS University Rankings: Asia.
Top 10 ASEAN universities in the 2013 QS University Rankings: Asia
National University of Singapore (NUS)
Nanyang Technological University (NTU)
Universiti Malaya (UM)
Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM)
Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM)
University of Indonesia
University of the Philippines
Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM)
“Asian higher education is undergoing a rapid transformation, and Singapore, Hong Kong, China and Korea are at the forefront of the assault on the global academic elite,” says Ben Sowter, head of QS Intelligence Unit, which compiles the QS University Rankings: Asia and the QS World University Rankings. “There are already 17% more Asian universities in the global top 200 since the recession, and the next two decades could see leading US and European universities objectively overtaken.”
At the moment Singapore is the only ASEAN country whose universities are operating at the forefront of Asian higher education. But if Asia continues on its current path and emerges as a genuine competitor to the West in the coming years, the increased financial power of a unified ASEAN could start to have a major impact on global higher education. And glocal students in the region would be among the foremost beneficiaries.
This article is adapted from the QS Top Grad School Guide 2013/14.