Whatever the subject, Asia is difficult to beat when it comes to extremes. It has the highest mountains, the longest rivers, the vastest deserts and the largest and quickest growing populations. When it comes to people, Asia boasts the highest diversity of cultures and languages. And in development, the speed of socio-economic change in some Asian countries has been unprecedented. Regardless whether their economic success was built on trade, industrial production, or natural resources, most countries have realised the need to look to the future and build their societies based on innovation and knowledge.
Since the 1980s, higher education and research have developed rapidly in Asia. This has been a logical consequence of booming economic growth in countries such as Malaysia, Singapore and South Korea. Countries with less favourable conditions have also witnessed significant growth in participation in higher education and educational quality improvements are also of note.
Several countries now even show ambition to establish themselves as higher education hubs, and have set targets to attract more international students, increase higher education and research spending and internationalise their education institutions.
Private Higher Education
Until the 1980s, private higher education was virtually non-existent in most Asian countries. Today, private institutions make a significant contribution to the growth rate in Asian HE. The explosion of private higher education is partly a response to the increase in demand in countries which cannot afford mass, publicly provided higher education, and partly a response to World Bank directives, national governments and international donors who have started to focus more on generic higher education provision as a motor for development. The contribution of higher education to poverty reduction and economic development has been recognised and widely acknowledged. However, in most countries, the national provision of higher education is unlikely to keep a pace with the overall demand for higher education, which is growing as a consequence of demographics and rising numbers of secondary school graduates. Thus, the private sector is welcome and needed in many Asian countries, though with it comes perpetual questions of quality and commercialisation.
Diversity of higher education systems
Institutions of higher learning and studying existed in Asia long before Plato's Academia. They have been established in the framework of religious communities, in particular in Buddhist and Hindu monasteries and Islamic madrasahs. In some countries they continue to play an important role with regard to religious teaching and learning. However, today's education systems in Asia have been built under the influence of, and with borrowings from, the West. British, US, French, Soviet, and Dutch higher education and research have had a strong impact on Asian universities, and Western universities are often looked to as a reference.
Asian Students and studying in Asia
Asian students populate foreign campuses all over the world. Though the US, the UK and Australia are in the lead, studying destination choice is currently evolving and diversifying with the proliferation of information, aggressive recruitment from ‘non-traditional' destinations, scholarship programmes, and a growing interest in language and knowledge diversification (beyond English) in some Asian countries. Another recent phenomenon is the emergence of an intra Asian study market. Studying in a neighbouring country has been for years a convenient alternative for many students (costs, same language or English as language of instruction, geographical closeness). But with the rise of internationally ranked Asian universities and more concerted marketing, Asia is bound to lure with world class research and education opportunities.
Besides Japan, which has remained a number 1 study destination for Asians within Asia for many years, several countries are equipped to attract growing numbers of students from the region and beyond.
Local and off shore institutions in Singapore, to name one example, have ceased to attract a solely Asian clientele. Indeed there are strong aspirations in several Asian countries to become "education hubs" and to establish joint programmes or even off-shore campuses in the region and beyond.