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New Options in Graduate Study Destinations

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Staff Writer

Updated Mar 05, 2016



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The world is changing, and new study destinations for graduate students are emerging as viable alternatives to the traditional powerhouses.

“Few parts of the world have been untouched by the new university globalization,” argues former US News and World Report journalist, Ben Wildavsky in his 2010 book, The Great Brain Race. “The same forces of globalization that have shaken up almost every sector of the economy have intensified competition and mobility in higher education. The United States’ market share, while likely to remain formidable for years, is slowly but surely being eroded by competition from overseas universities, not only in the West, but also in the Middle East, South East Asia, Japan and China.”

Asia: rising university powers

Higher education expansion is an ambition shared by the world’s upwardly mobile economies, from powerful nations, such as Japan, South Korea and China to future economic superpowers, such as India and Brazil. Yet nowhere has investment in higher education been of greater priority than in Asia, where nations such as Japan, South Korea, Singapore, India, China and Hong Kong have placed universities at the very top of the agenda.

What is driving this investment?

“The rising nations of the East all understand the importance of an educated workforce as a means to economic growth and they understand the impact of research in driving innovation and competitiveness,” argues Yale University President, Richard Levin. By creating world-class universities at the top end, as well as expanding the university participation rate in general, the world’s competing economies hope to increase their chances of producing the Apples, Microsofts, Googles and Facebooks of the future. “Our elite education has given way to mass education,” says Professor Tony Chan, president of Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST). “For example, the number of government-funded universities in Hong Kong has risen from one to eight in the last 50 years, and the number of students studying local universities has grown from around one per cent to around 20 per cent of the high-school population.”

HKUST was named the number one university in Asia, in the 2011 QS Asian University Rankings™, and was joined at the top of the table by University of Hong Kong (HKU) in second place and The Chinese University of Hong Kong in fifth.   Part of the success of Hong Kong’s universities can be linked to their adoption of a more Westernized higher education model, emphasizing greater critical thinking and creativity. Professor Chan says the changing complexion of the international job market is creating a shift in demand away from the traditional rote learning. “The free-flow of talents and services across borders means that many traditional jobs can now be cheaply outsourced. What is more, innovations in science, technology and management themselves often give birth to new economic opportunities. Hence, the necessity of providing an education that promotes creativity, not traditional job-readiness.”

In terms of numbers of leading institutions, Japan continues to set an example. In the 2011 QS Asian University Rankings™, there were 25 Japanese universities in the top 100, led by the University of Tokyo in fourth place, and 56 in the top 200. Japan has one of the highest university education rates in the world, standing at around 50 per cent of the 18-year-old population. However, more recently it has been pouring funds into attracting greater numbers of international students, particularly at graduate level. Having achieved, in 2008, the 1983 target of attracting 100,000 international students, in July 2008 a revised plan was implemented to reach 300,000 by 2020. Expansion is to be focused on 30 universities as part of the US$40 million, government-funded Global 30 program.

Yet the most dramatic expansion in recent years has come from the continent’s most populous nations, India and China. India has plans to more than double its higher education enrolment to 30 million by 2025. And, at the top end, it aims to create 14 world-class universities to drive innovation and stimulate economic growth. China’s university system grew from 1,022 to 2,263 institutions between 1998 and 2008, and annual enrolment more than quintupled to 5.5 million.

Spotlight on China and India

So how far are China and India’s universities from matching the success of Hong Kong, Japan, Korea and Singapore? “Reputation of higher education institutions takes significant amounts of time, talent and resources and it is not easy to displace existing leaders from the rankings,” says Dr Rahul Choudaha, director of development and innovation, World Education Services in New York. “Thus, it will still take some time for Indian and Chinese universities to bring together the abundant resources and break into the top league.”

China and India are the two largest providers of international students, but this traffic is traditionally one-way. China has put a far greater emphasis on internationalizing in recent years, though it still lags significantly behind the likes of Hong Kong and Singapore. Nonetheless, China now has three universities in the top 20 of the QS Asian University Rankings™. India, by contrast has yet to attract international students or staff in significant numbers. Its most internationalized university, IIT Rourkee, ranks just 114 for international staff and 119 for international students. “Although the Indian government is investing a great deal in higher education, we still have a long way to go,” says Professor Devang Khakhar of IIT Bombay. This is an imperative that also applies to China, says Professor Xiaowei Zang, professor of Chinese studies at the University of Sheffield. “China wants to catch up with the West, but they have to open up their doors to the world. Otherwise, education will only be about throwing government instructions rather than promoting an innovative style of learning.”

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