Why do Southeast Asian students prefer the UK and US over Europe?

(Photo: Brock University)

por most Southeast Asian students, the dream is to study at a British or American university. Japanese colleges are also gaining popularity in the region. But the European institutions are lagging behind.

For many young Asians, the opportunity to study at a university in continental Europe never really stands out.

Last month, the European Union decided to extend its Southeast Asia scholarship program until the end of 2022. Thanks to the award of an additional EUR 5 million, 300 additional scholarships will be awarded to students in the region for international mobility.

Faced with the lucrative Asian market, universities in EU member states are still trying to catch up with their British, American and increasingly Japanese counterparts.

According to the latest report on the situation in Southeast Asia, published every year by the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute, about 12.2% of respondents in the region said in 2020 that an EU Member State would be their preferred destination if they a university would be offered a scholarship for their study abroad. This figure has risen to 13% in 2021.

EU universities catch up

Despite everything, the EU states are lagging far behind the United States (29.7%) and the UK (19.9%) are among the favorite destinations for higher education. According to the report, the popularity of Japanese universities is also growing faster than that of EU institutions.

“Anglophone universities have the undeniable advantage of language. The use of the English language remains the deciding factor for many Asian students.”says Igor Driesmans, the EU ambassador to the ASEAN bloc, to DW

However, Mr Driesman added that EU universities are gradually catching up: not only are they producing more academic content in English, but they are also teaching more courses in the global lingua franca.

One of the key drivers of this shift to English learning is the European Higher Education Area (EHEA)† This collaboration was established in 2010 between universities in the EU and those in certain regions of Eurasia.

The number of English-taught bachelor’s degree programs offered by institutions in EHEA countries was close to zero in 2009, reaching nearly 3,000 in 2017, according to an EHEA survey conducted that year. For postgraduate programs taught in English, it rose from 725 in 2001 to over 8,000 in 2014.

In total, the number of first residence permits issued to non-EU citizens for educational purposes in the bloc has risen from 235,000 in 2009 to nearly 400,000 in 2019, according to Eurostat data.

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The Popularity of Japanese Schools in Southeast Asia

Although young people from Southeast Asia prefer to study in English-speaking countries for their studies abroad, an increasing number of them also want to go to Japan, despite the language barrier, says Kimkong Heng, co-founder of the Cambodian Education Forum, a newly founded think tank to promote educational research. to promote.

This is because some Southeast Asians have studied in Japan before and recommend the academies to friends, family and other students back home, Heng said. Some even help establish a more formal bond between their relatives and Japanese universities.

Heng said that Japan also offers significant government grants to the region and the countries of origin every year. “European Union should offer more scholarships to students from Southeast Asia”he notes. “The student grants must also be increased to make their scholarships more attractive. †

That said, the EU is not failing to provide this kind of academic aid. In 2015, together with the UK, then an EU member, she launched the EU Higher Education Support Program in the ASEAN region. In 2020, it awarded about 176 students from all over Southeast Asia Erasmus grants for a joint master’s degree, says Driesman.

Retain International Students

At the end of April, the EU extended its support to higher education in the ASEAN region until the end of 2022, including financial support for intra-regional scholarships and grants in EU states.

However, there are still clear limits to what the EU can do in the field of higher education, “which remains in the hands of the member states and the universities that are autonomous”says Meng-Hsuan Chou, an associate professor at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore.

Some EU countries like to emphasize international relations with their former colonies. For example, according to a survey in 2018/2019, 1,402 Indonesian nationals were enrolled at Dutch universities.

Uni-Italia, an organization that aims to promote Italian higher education institutions, has offices in Indonesia and Vietnam, where it often collaborates with Italian embassies. The government agency Campus France and education aid agencies in the Netherlands, with almost all EU countries having similar outreach structures, are also competing to attract foreign students.

A European Commission study on the subject, published in mid-2019 and titled “Attracting and Retaining International Students in the EU”points out that the problem is not in bringing in students, but in retaining them, whether for postgraduate programs or for employment.

Teaching diplomas in English is showing positive results in attracting them to EU member states, the report notes. However, it does not promote student retention. “It can hinder the long-term integration of international students into the labor market, unless language learning and other adaptations take place during the study period. †

But one of the biggest problems, according to Ms Chou from Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, is that universities in EU Member States are still “project a clear image” of itself to Southeast Asian students, as opposed to the American and British institutes.

When choosing a foreign university, she continues, Southeast Asian students look at two things: the value of the money invested and the image of the study experience, that is, the degrees offered and the living environment.

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Value of the money invested

First, many European universities offer less expensive courses than their UK or US competitors.

The initial cost per year of a bachelor’s degree for non-EU students was €2,770 in France, €4,175 in Belgium and between €6,000 and €15,000 in the Netherlands. By comparison, in the UK it was around €12,000, according to data collected by QS Quacquarelli Symonds, a global higher education analytics firm.

In some EU countries, such as the Czech Republic and Slovakia, the cost of postgraduate degrees is about the same for EU and non-EU students. Although these degrees come with some local language requirements.

On the other hand, British and American establishments are often better listed than European ones. As a result, they seem potentially more beneficial for the education of foreign students.

According to the Times Higher Education International University Rankings of 2021, all but three of the world’s universities — ETH Zurich in Switzerland, the University of Toronto in Canada, and Tsinghua University in China — are located in the United States or the United Kingdom. The first European on the list is the LMU of Munich in Germany, in 32nd position.

“The combination of these two images creates the permanence of American and British universities and contributes to the growing attractiveness of Japanese universities in the eyes of students from South East Asia”underlines Mrs. Chou.

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