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**Growing Trend: Southeast Asian Students Prefer Studying Abroad in Nearby Countries**

For numerous educational institutions such as schools, colleges, and universities, Southeast Asia has become an increasingly vital pool of students. This shift is driven by the need to broaden the student base beyond traditional sources like India and China. Additionally, Southeast Asian countries send thousands of students overseas annually, underscoring their significance in the global education landscape. A recent report from an international education consultancy sheds light on the trends of mobility and internationalization in the region, with a particular focus on Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam.

The report reveals that in the academic year 202122, there were 132,000 Vietnamese students studying abroad, constituting 37% of the market share. Malaysia and Indonesia each sent over 50,000 students, while Thailand dispatched 32,000 students.

Southeast Asian enrolments in institutions abroad, for selected markets, <sup>2021</sup>⁄<sub>22</sub>. Source: Acumen” /></p>
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<p>While English-speaking destinations remain popular among Southeast Asian families, there is a growing interest in regional alternatives as well.</p>
<p>According to UNESCO data, Australia hosted the highest number of Indonesian students studying abroad, closely followed by Malaysia. The United States, Japan, and the United Kingdom complete the top five destinations. Malaysian students exhibit a strong preference for the UK, Australia, and the US, with a growing interest in Japan and Jordan. Vietnamese students, on the other hand, show a higher inclination towards Asian study destinations over Western countries, as depicted in the accompanying charts.</p>
<p><img decoding=The Appeal of Transnational Education (TNE)

In addition to intra-regional mobility, transnational education (TNE) is gaining traction in Southeast Asia, offering further cost benefits such as reduced travel and accommodation expenses.

There is a notable and sustained interest from international institutions to establish TNE partnerships in Vietnam. This includes a growing interest from higher-ranked universities as well as local universities for the complete in-country delivery of international degrees.

Acumen’s experts view Vietnam as a market with significant room for expansion, offering substantial opportunities for institutions that can provide full in-country delivery through various models such as branch campuses, ‘campus within a campus,’ franchise arrangements, and other 4+0 structures.

Australian educational providers are expanding their TNE presence in the region, focusing on a niche market of professionals seeking to accelerate their careers through micro-credentials and shorter degree programs. The report estimates that around 20,000 Vietnamese students are currently enrolled in Australian TNE programs, with institutions like RMIT, Swinburne, and Western Sydney University leading the market.

Southeast Asian students are increasingly attracted to both standalone programs and those that lead to a study abroad experience. TNE programs, including progression agreements, play a crucial role as a recruitment channel in the region, particularly in Malaysia where financial constraints and post-pandemic travel uncertainties are making this option more appealing.

Rising Popularity of International Schools

Enrollments in bilingual and international schools in the region are on the rise, with 600,000 students enrolled across 1,905 international schools in 2022, marking a nearly 25% increase compared to 2017. Acumen’s executives believe this trend reflects the growing willingness of families to invest in international education at an earlier age. Higher enrollments also serve to better prepare Southeast Asian students for future studies abroad.

There are notable variations across different markets:

  • In Vietnam, premium bilingual schools are the fastest-growing segment, surpassing full international schools.
  • In Malaysia, where the international school segment is well-established, A-level programs are losing popularity due to various factors, including the emergence of alternative and more cost-effective university pathways. Additionally, the academic rigor of A-levels is perceived as less appealing to students seeking a less challenging path to tertiary education.

The increasing interest of Southeast Asian families in international and bilingual schools poses a competitive challenge for some providers. The report cautions that foundation pathways face intense competition from this segment of the market, as international school qualifications are perceived to offer greater flexibility and portability compared to foundation pathways, which are seen as more restrictive.

Evolving Role of Education Agents

Education agents play a crucial role in Southeast Asian families’ educational decisions, aligning with a broader trend of using agents or intermediaries across various sectors from banking to real estate. The reliance on agents remains strong, particularly in the post-pandemic era characterized by heightened concerns about sending children abroad. Parents seek personalized and humanized services from agents, which can be challenging for education providers to deliver remotely without a deep understanding of local cultural preferences.

Agents are expected to offer more specialized advice and services as families prioritize return on investment from international education. The focus is shifting towards tailored guidance, pastoral care, and post-graduation outcomes, areas where agents can provide added value beyond what institutions may offer directly.

The demand for foreign education among Malaysians is undergoing significant shifts. For instance, while the UK remains a top destination for Malaysian students, Australia is regaining competitiveness. Conversely, undergraduate enrollments of Malaysian students in the US are declining, possibly due to the weaker Ringgit against the US dollar.

The report highlights a growing demand for postgraduate programs among Malaysian students heading to the UK and Australia, as well as an increasing interest in TNE programs delivered within Malaysia. The UK’s strong position in the Malaysian market is partly attributed to its TNE offerings in the region.

Malaysian outbound from 2017 to 2021. Source: Acumen
Malaysian enrolments in the UK (top) and in TNE options provided by UK educators in Malaysia (bottom). Source: Acumen

Importance of Southeast Asia in Student Recruitment

The supply and demand dynamics in Southeast Asia underscore the region’s critical importance for student recruiters. According to Acumen:

  • Supply: Local education systems in Southeast Asia face capacity and quality constraints, creating opportunities for international education providers. In 20212022, there were only 550,000 available places for new enrollments at Vietnamese universities, while there were 795,000 applicants, resulting in a shortfall of nearly 250,000 places.

  • Demand: The region’s economic development has led to a growing middle class with the means to pursue higher education, including TNE programs offered by foreign institutions. Southeast Asia is home to some of the fastest-growing economies globally, with Indonesia, Vietnam, and the Philippines leading the way.

For a comprehensive review of the region’s potential and effective recruitment strategies in an increasingly competitive landscape, refer to the full report by Acumen.

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