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SE Asia trends require uni strategy rethink

Changes in Southeast Asia that could have impact for the global international education sector include the growth in intra-Asian student mobility, a potential shift to demand for masters among Malaysian students and increasing competition for TNE provision, a new report says.

Some 75% of all under 14-year-olds in Southeast Asia are in Vietnam, Indonesia and The Philippines. Photo: pexels

Institutions should balance investment between established and emerging markets in the region

The Acumen Key Trends Southeast Asia 2024 report, released today, details recommendations on emerging trends in the region and how institutions can prepare to engage with students in the next years.

Featured in the top advice for universities is the need to improve the experience across the entire customer journey through investment in agent relationships and activities that will lift offer-to-enrolment conversion.

Institutions need to be “visible and present”, while emphasising their ROI on prospective students, in addition to providing more study pathway options such as new TNE and transfer options at different price points.

They should also balance investment between established and emerging markets in the region, particularly in Indonesia, Vietnam and the Philippines where demographical shifts will lead to rises in the size of the addressable market.

Southeast Asia offers quality and diverse cohorts of students and consistent and growing demand for international study, as well as opportunities to diversify delivery modes through TNE, said Acumen’s executive director for the region, Haike Manning.

As well as responding to emerging trends, institutions should “acknowledge the important cultural differences within the region and to adjust your approach accordingly”, he continued.

On the demographic and economic growth stories within the region, he noted that 75% of all 0-14 year-olds in Southeast Asia are in Vietnam, Indonesia and The Philippines.

The document notes competition from destinations in the region as one challenge for providers seeking to boost enrolment numbers.

Japan and Korea – both of which are directly linking study to work opportunities to solve labour market shortages – have created “compelling ROI stories” by doing so, the document reads. Both have also raised targets to increase international student numbers – Japan is seeking to hit 400,000 in the next decade and Korea plans to attract 300,000 international students by 2027.

Similarly, Taiwan is seeking to hit a 320,000 target by 2030, while Malaysia and Singapore both “attract significant numbers of international students from across Southeast Asia”.

As Southeast Asia continues to “loom large as an important diversification market for international institutions”, Acumen urges them to adapt their relationships with agents.

In the future, agents will concentrate on specialised advice, pastoral care and graduate outcomes rather than providing general information to families, while the rise of master agents and aggregators has increased agents’ market reach.

“[You should] acknowledge the important cultural differences within the region and to adjust your approach accordingly”

They are also “increasingly acting as intermediaries in TNE and transfer programs”, it details, such as in Vietnam where local universities have formal agent agreements in place to provide recruitment and downstream services for their international programs.

The report also details TNE opportunities, particularly in Malaysia where financial constraints and post-pandemic travel hesitancy mean it is becoming increasingly attractive.

Growth in international and bilingual schools is also highlighted in the document. They provide better preparation and efficient pathways for students seeking international options, it says, offering new opportunities to engage directly as an alternative to traditional foundation providers, particularly in Indonesia and Vietnam.

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