ASIA: International bac - 'a global academic passport'

The International Baccalaureate diploma is increasingly regarded as a 'global academic passport' by aspirant families in Asian countries, rather than simply a niche qualification to provide education continuity for internationally mobile families such as diplomats, research by the International Baccalaureate Organisation's (IBO) Asia Pacific office has found.

The internationally recognised IB diploma, set up in the 1960s, has become a way to jump-start applications to overseas universities.

"IB students are on the move and the IB is being utilised to create and realise transnational options," said Judith Guy, director of advancement and access at the IBO in Singapore. "In that sense the IB is being regarded by families in Asia as an instrument for social mobility, not just geographical mobility."

"The IB is used by students from Asia to bounce from country to country to go to where the best universities are," added John Switzer, head of Asia-Pacific regional development at the IBO in Singapore.

Over 50,000 Asia-Pacific nationals took the IB diploma in 2009 with growth particularly strong in Hong Kong, Indonesia and India.

Their motivations are very different from IB students of European or US nationality, who return to university in their own countries as 'returning globalists' according to research just published by the IBO on Asian IB students migratory patterns*.

"In the US it is very rare for an IB student to leave for university education. It is a huge exception and one in 300 may leave overall," said Switzer, who co-authored the IBO paper. "However in the Asia-Pacific we see hyper-migration, more than from other regions of the world where there are IB programmes."

These 'aspiring globalists', as the IBO has dubbed them, now make up around a quarter of students in Asia who take the IB diploma, compared with negligible numbers a decade ago, and they are now equal to the number of IB students who return to their home university after a stint abroad.

They join the vast majority (43%) of IB students from Asian countries described as 'nomadic globalists' - they take the IB diploma at international schools abroad and also proceed to universities abroad.

Asian students constitute the greatest percentage and fastest growing group of migratory students worldwide with students from China, India, Korea and Japan comprising half of all international students.

"The growth in IB uptake in the Asia-Pacific mirrors patterns of world tertiary enrolment which are showing a huge rise in students from Asia enrolling overseas," said Guy.

"It is underpinned by globalisation trends," she said.

The growth in Indian and Chinese IB students is linked to economic growth in those countries and "undoubtedly reflects the increasing role that Asian companies and Asian human capital are playing in a globalised economy", the IBO paper said.

"A lot of Asian parents did not come from internationally mobile backgrounds but they see a wider range of employment opportunities in having international qualifications and they feel their children need to understand foreigners socially and culturally," Guy said.

"There is a more sophisticated understanding of what is happening even among poorer parents as they gain more access to media and see the growth of business parks in their areas; they want their children to be able to access those opportunities," Guy said. This accounts for some of the growth in IB students in countries such as India where sending children abroad to study at tertiary level has social cachet.

Others find the scramble to enter their own national universities is ferociously competitive, and want an alternative. This is particularly true in India, China and South Korea.

"The moment they adopt the IB, it's fair to say [these families] have abandoned their local exam pathway," Switzer said.

In Korea, Malaysia, Indonesia and Vietnam, IB students may have to do additional national exams to qualify for entry to their national universities.

Singaporean universities now accept Singaporeans who completed the IB diploma in Singapore. Nonetheless, one in five IB students in Singapore had "clear transnational aspirations", according to IBO surveys. The vast majority of Malaysian IB students also want to study abroad, with Britain the top destination.

"In China when they enter the IB programme they have already decided they are not going to study in China. They are all leaving," Schwitzer said. Chinese students are aiming for universities in the US, Britain, Australia and Japan.

Around 70% of IB student in India have set their sights overseas and leave for higher education. Their number one choice is the US, with Britain, Australia, Canada, and now Singapore as 'third' choices, Switzer said.

Korean students opt overwhelmingly for the US with 'a long tail' opting for other universities globally.

"The challenges are country specific. In some countries where there is an acceptance of the IB as an alternative qualification and there are state schools which do the IB, local uptake is strong; it is seen as a value-added qualification and there is less migration," Switzer said. This is particularly the case in Australia and in some European countries.

Some 2,000 schools offer the IB diploma around the world, half of them state schools.

*Judith Guy and John Switzer: The Migratory Trends of International Baccalaureate Diploma Students in Asia Pacific: Going Global? In the Journal of the World Universities Forum, Volume 3 Issue 5 pp59-74: