More and more students in Southeast Asia are considering pursuing their education in nearby international locations.

In a groundbreaking report released today, comprehensive insights into outbound mobility from Southeast Asia, as well as trends in Transnational Education (TNE) and international schools, have been disclosed. The report, conducted by the renowned international education consultancy Acumen, delves into the dynamics of intra-regional mobility and sheds light on the evolving landscape in Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam.

Key Findings: Outbound Mobility

The 2024 Key Trends in Southeast Asia report reveals a surge in outbound mobility, with 132,000 Vietnamese students studying abroad in 2021/22, constituting 37% of the market. Notably, Malaysia and Indonesia each dispatched over 50,000 students, while Thailand contributed 32,000 to the global student community. English-speaking destinations remain popular, but there is a rising interest in regional alternatives.

According to UNESCO data, Australia leads in hosting outbound Indonesian students, closely followed by Malaysia, with the United States, Japan, and the United Kingdom rounding out the top five destinations. The report highlights the competitive landscape in Southeast Asia, with China, although not captured in UNESCO data, emerging as a significant destination pre-pandemic.

Intensifying Competition and Trends in Education

Western institutions are facing increased competition in Southeast Asia, primarily due to ambitious enrollment targets set by Japan, Korea, and Taiwan. These countries are offering post-study work opportunities, a compelling factor for international students.

Asian destinations, providing cost savings and prestigious universities, are gaining traction. Acumen notes a rise in the number of Asian universities within the top 200 Times Higher Education rankings, offering an attractive alternative to more expensive Western counterparts.

Transnational Education (TNE) on the Rise

The report underscores the growing popularity of Transnational Education (TNE) in Southeast Asia, driven by its cost-effectiveness. Vietnam emerges as a market with ample room for expansion, presenting opportunities for institutions to offer in-country delivery through various models.

Australian providers are deepening their TNE presence in the region, particularly in Vietnam, where approximately 20,000 students are enrolled in Australian TNE programs. Micro-credentials and shorter degrees are gaining momentum among professionals seeking to fast-track their careers.

International Schools: A Rising Trend

Enrollments in bilingual and international schools in Southeast Asia are on an upward trajectory, reaching 600,000 students across 1,905 schools in 2022—a 25% increase since 2017. This surge is attributed to growing family willingness to invest in international education at an earlier age, preparing students for future study abroad experiences.

Evolution of Agent Roles

Education agents continue to play a pivotal role in Southeast Asian families’ educational decisions. In a post-pandemic context, parents increasingly rely on agents for individualized, humanized services, navigating concerns about sending children abroad. Agents are expected to shift focus towards specialized advice, pastoral care, and graduate outcomes, aligning with heightened expectations for return on investment in international education.

Malaysian Educational Landscape Shifts

Malaysia’s demand for foreign education is undergoing notable shifts, with Australia emerging as a more competitive market against the traditionally dominant UK. Postgraduate demand is rising, and interest in TNE delivered in Malaysia is on the ascent, indicating evolving preferences among Malaysian students.

As Southeast Asia continues to redefine its education landscape, the 2024 report provides a comprehensive snapshot of emerging trends and dynamics, offering valuable insights for educators, policymakers, and stakeholders in the region. Stay tuned for further updates as we delve deeper into the implications of these findings.

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