Asia, at present, is experiencing a major shift in the education industry. From the declining enrolments in higher education in the late 90’s, it is very significant in this present decade that there is an increasing penetration of international universities in Asia. According to a study conducted by the British Council, in 2012, there is an increasing population of international students in higher learning institutions in Malaysia, China, India, Indonesia and the rest of Southeast Asia. This trend, according to British Council analysts, is a clear indication of a major shift in the balance of global students from West to East.
The impact of Transnational Education (TNE) in the growth of online degree programs in Asia is very significant in the number of universities embracing the online learning and distance education today. This is also clearly manifested in various publications, surveys and reports of major research firms from around the globe. To gain better insights on how online programs became widespread in many Asian Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) today, it is practical that we examine some of the remarkable events that happened in the tertiary education market in Asia over the past decades.
During the early 2000s, internet penetration in many Asian nations has been significantly low. Even today, developing countries particularly in Southeast Asia are still lagging behind other countries in terms of information and communication technology infrastructures development. According to a 2012 article published by Pearson Asia Pacific, in Cambodia, the internet penetration rate was just 0.5% while in Indonesia, it was only 10.5%. Based on a blog article published by The Australian, in 2011, internet penetration in China and India was 40% and 10%, respectively. The growth of online programs in these regions is therefore constrained by poor internet accessibility. This technological circumstance also left many countries in Asia became dependent on text-based teaching programs and traditional face-to-face classroom meetings for years.
Post-Internet Period and Rise of Open Universities
The rapid rise of mobile and internet technology that was observed from 2005 to 2011 introduced new education markets across Asia. Through the funding of national governments and private institutions, new campuses, virtual universities, and learning centers sprouted like mushrooms across the Asian region. Online and Distance Learning (ODL) providers became dominant particularly in South Korea, Hongkong, Japan, Malaysia and Singapore, countries with major advancement in internet technology. Many analysts regarded these improvements in internet technology a “quantum leap” for many ODL providers.
In Malaysia, around 85,000 students took online degree courses in 2011. South Korea boosted its web-based class enrollment to more than 112,000 students on the same year. In 2010, about 1.64 million people in China were enrolled in various online courses provided through online media.
Open universities, in particular, pioneered the distance learning programs in Asia. Among of the major open universities that initially offered online degree programs were the Asia e University (Malaysia), Korea National Open University (South Korea), Indira Gandhi Open University (India), and Central Radio and Television University (China).
The Surge of Mobile Students
According to the 2012 study on global higher education conducted by the British Council, in 2010, international students enrolled on UK degrees abroad outnumbered the international students onshore (or in UK). This was completely the opposite of the situation during the period of 1985-2008 where over 50% of Asian students were studying abroad particularly in North America and Western Europe. In Malaysia, about 58,000 international students taking on-campus and online degree programs were accounted in 2010. China, on the other hand, reported 71,700 international students enrollment on the same year.
The Rise of the MOOCs and Global Alliances
New ways of learning online courses triggered explosive enrollment growth in many HEIs in Asia. Growth in the number of TNE students taking up online courses was significant in Southeast Asian nations beginning 2011. TNE, as defined by the British Council, is “delivering or conducting education via distance education, twinning programmes, branch campuses, and franchising arrangements.” It is projected that TNE enrollments in India, China and Indonesia will experience a significant growth until 2020, and this will account for 7.1 million, 5.1 million, and 2.3 million students, in the respective countries.
What will trigger this huge growth in online courses enrollment is the increasing number of Western institutions engaging with Asian universities for franchises, joint or double-degrees and eLearning or distance learning, including Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). Relative to this, online degree programs offered by these Asian universities will continue to explode until 2020, according to analysts.