How can Asia compete for international students?

The traditional outward mobility of Asian students to Western destinations has received lot of attention. In contrast, the inward mobility of international students to Asia has remained on the sidelines.

Governments and institutions in some Asian countries are becoming interested in attracting and retaining more international students. But there are several challenges, ranging from perceptions of location and reputation to realities about employment prospects and cultural differences, which are preventing them from achieving their goals.

Most of the students in Asian institutions of higher education are regionally mobile “glocal” students.

I recently chaired a workshop entitled “Can Asian Universities Become the Hub of International Students? Opportunities and Strategies for Maximising the Potential” at the Asia-Pacific Association for International Education, or APAIE, annual conference in Beijing.

The discussion aimed to answer the following questions: What are some of the challenges and opportunities to be found in attracting international students to Asia? What are some of the successful models and proven strategies in recruitment, partnerships and exchanges? What are the experiences, outcomes and best practices?

The session was delivered by a diverse panel of international experts in three thematic strands of policy, partnerships and experiences.

Enabling mobility through policy

Professor Hiroshi Ota from the Center for Global Education, Hitotsubashi University, Tokyo, highlighted that Japan is facing a situation of overcapacity in higher education. Over the past decade, the high-school population has been declining while the number of higher education institutions has been increasing.

This contradiction has resulted in institutional overcapacity that in turn forces policy-makers and institutions to attract more international students.

Christopher Hill, director of research training and academic development at the University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus, shared the example of Malaysia where a policy of attracting more branch campuses was coming up against restrictive student and work visa policies.

The aim of making Malaysia an education hub needs to be better aligned with visa policies that in turn will support post-graduation employability prospects.

Developing partnerships and exchanges

David Cheng, associate vice-president for mainland and external affairs at City University of Hong Kong, shared innovative approaches for doing more with less through student exchange and dual degree programmes.

While these alternative approaches are complex for a range of academic and administrative reasons, they provide international students with a rich blend of learning opportunities in East and West.

Sabine C Klahr, deputy chief global officer of the University of Utah in the US, shared its “extended campus model” through its Asia Campus in Korea, which serves as a gateway to Asia for main campus faculty and students. In addition to building time, patience and flexibility into the campus growth strategy, she said it was critical to have the right people and strong leadership to build bridges between campuses.

Enhancing the student experience

Sky Zheng, director of international recruitment at the University of Sunderland in the UK, emphasised that recruitment is a people business and that a sustainable recruitment strategy is built on relationships. It is important for institutions to establish customer-oriented recruitment processes that engage students throughout their decision-making journey. This delivers positive student experiences that in turn drive word-of-mouth marketing to prospective students.

Angela Pok, vice-president of student experience at Taylor's University in Malaysia, said that ensuring positive experiences for international students requires a dedicated infrastructure.

This not only includes financial and human resources, but also innovative approaches to getting feedback from students. Taylor’s allows students to give their immediate feedback at key touch points in their studies through a device placed at service counters.

Asia is diverse and full of potential. It is rife with complexity and change. Maximising the potential of Asian universities to become a hub for international students will require diverse, innovative solutions that align student needs with institutional value propositions and a supportive policy environment.

Asian universities and colleges that pursue an undifferentiated, “me-too” approach of international student enrolment will find it difficult to achieve their goals in a sustainable and effective manner.

Dr Rahul Choudaha is the co-founder and CEO at DrEducation and 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 and @DrEducationBlog.