Battling for market share 4: China as an ‘Emerging Contender’ for internationally mobile students

This week GlobalHigherEd has been running a series of in-depth reports on the battle for market share of higher education. Our reports draw from a major study released last week by the Observatory of Borderless Higher Education (OBHE) on International Student Mobility: Patterns and Trends. The Observatory report identifies four categories: (1) Major Players; (2) Middle Powers; (3) Evolving Destinations and (4) Emerging Contenders.

Today we look at the fourth category – ‘Emerging Contenders’.

China, Singapore and Malaysia are viewed as emerging contenders each having 7%, 2% and 2% respectively of global market share. Between them, these 3 have 12% (around 250,000-300,000 students) of global market share (compared with 45% for the Major Players, 20% for the Middle Powers, and 13% for the Evolving Destinations). The reason for the OBHE report locating these 3 countries into this category is that:

  • they have all taken active measures to recruit overseas students
  • they have all increased their competitiveness over the past couple of years
  • all three have allocated resources to become ‘world class’ institutions over the next decade
  • changing mobility patterns suggest that they are having some success in getting some market share
  • all three are using more English as the language of instruction, making them more attractive to students
  • all have relatively low fees, and hence are a potentially attractive alternative to the US, UK and Australia


Shanghai in 2002 (courtesy of Henry Wai-chung Yeung)

China has 7% of global market share (pretty impressive, given its new arrival status – and compared to the US which has 22%). In 1999, less than 45,000 foreign students were enrolled in Chinese universities. In 2005, it was more than 140,000. The largest majority come from South Korea (25%) and Japan (20%) while Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam are also source countries. More significantly, there are students also coming from the US ( in year abroad programs) and Russia. It would appear that international students see some part of their education in China being a strategic investment. This could be enhanced if China engages with the Bologna Process – at present for its own internal restructuring purposes – but it might also make it a more attractive destination for European students, as well as vice versa.

Singapore has 2% of market share. In 2005, 66,000 foreign students were enrolled. While historically Singapore higher education enrolled students from around the region, its recent Singapore Global Schoolhouse strategy has meant that it has sought to recruit students globally. The OBHE in their report noted:

It is Singapore’s demography that makes it an especially attractive destination for international students, especially those coming from Asia and the South Pacific. With a population consisting of ethnic Indias, Malays and Chinese, Singapore has the capacity to provide regional students with a ‘Western’ education in a familiar socio-cultural environment.

However, recent developments in Singapore, most notably the withdrawal of the University of New South Wales Asia campus from Singapore, suggests that there is considerable volatility in the market, and one that might make future investors and students somewhat cautious.

Malaysia has 2% of global market share – like Singapore. Traditionally its international students have come from around the region – with Chinese students accounting for around 35%. However, over the past decade, Malaysia has tried not only to invest in its own institutions and dissuade its own nationals from leaving, but it has managed to make some inroads in on the Middle East – a fast growing region with ambitions of its own. It has also set up a campus in Gaborone, Botswana – in order to create a bridge into the African region.

While highly ambitious, the OBHE reports that:

…bureaucratic difficulties are arguably impeding Malaysia’s competitive progress in the global education market….[this will require] substantial funding toward the development of quality assurance schemes…

All three players – China, Singapore and Malaysia – should be regarded as serious emerging contenders in the global higher education market, not only because of their potential attractiveness (for instance fees, living costs, language of instruction) but also because, historically, they have been major sending countries. If each of these contenders is able to generate a sufficiently attractive environment to keep their own nationals at home, as well as entice foreign fee-payers, this will surely create a major headache for countries (such as the UK with Malaysian students) who have depended on these students for their own growth.

Susan Robertson

2 thoughts on “Battling for market share 4: China as an ‘Emerging Contender’ for internationally mobile students

  1. Pingback: Malaysia’s international student numbers increase by 30% between 2006-8 « GlobalHigherEd

  2. Pingback: China: from ‘emerging contender’ to ‘serious player’ in cross-border student mobility « GlobalHigherEd

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s