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How does Asia's rise influence international student mobility?

The centre of gravity of the global economy is shifting eastwards. More than 20 of the world’s top 50 cities ranked by gross domestic product are projected to be located in Asia by 2025, up from eight in 2007, according to the McKinsey Global Institute. It contends that accelerated urbanisation will result in a larger number of households with higher purchasing power.

The two heavyweights China and India alone will see their aggregate urban consumption increase seven-fold and six-fold respectively from 2005 to 2025. What does this projected socio-economic transformation of Asia mean for international student mobility?

There are at least two dimensions of quality and quantity where transformation of Asia will influence international student mobility and recruitment.


Severe budget cuts in the United States and policy reforms in the UK are clearly indicating that self-sufficiency will be the mantra for public higher education. This means that many more institutions are expected to find alternative sources of revenue.

This is where the ‘quantity’ of international students recruited is becoming important.

Asia is already the largest source of globally mobile students and is projected to become an even bigger source. Furthermore, budget cuts are decreasing the availability of financial aid. The socio-economic transformation of Asia provides an opportunity to recruit self-financed students with global aspirations.


There is a sense of urgency among many institutions, which are facing challenges related to less attractive locations and low awareness of their institutions. These challenges are compounded by the pressure of delivering results in a short span of time and on limited budgets, an issue that is especially acute for those developing an international student pipeline.

This is where debate about using agents as a ‘quick-fix’ approach to get the required ‘quantity’ of international students in the US started emerging. It is also argued that the use of agents is prominent in Asian cultures.

Granted, there are segments of students and institutions that need recruitment agents to find each other. However, the rationale for using agents to achieve a quick boost in numbers of international students is coming at the expense of quality, with no adequate measures being put in place to manage risks related to application-related fraud.

Need to develop a strategy

How can institutions maximise the opportunities and minimise the risks?

Navigating Asia is not easy. It becomes even more complex when its rapid pace of growth and change is taken into account.

Institutions need to develop a comprehensive strategy that should involve deep understanding of countries and student decision-making processes followed by prioritising which countries they want to recruit from.

While China and India are too big to ignore, they should not be equated with Asia. There are other emerging countries in Asia - like Vietnam and Nepal - that should be targeted, not only for campus diversity purposes but also as a general business strategy.

How institutions recruit abroad should be mapped with how students make their decisions on where to go without compromising on the quality and integrity of the admissions process.

The socio-economic transformation of Asia is an opportunity for many institutions. However, engaging with Asia will require a thoughtful approach that balances quality with quantity.

Dr Rahul Choudaha is the co-founder and CEO at DrEducation and http://interEDGE.org. He researches, speaks, writes, and consults on international student trends and its implications for institutional strategies and student success. Choudaha holds a doctorate in higher education from the University of Denver. He is reachable at info@DrEducation.com and @DrEducationBlog.

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