Emerging Student Markets in South and South East Asia

Student recruitment in Asia has long been focused on the major exporters like China and India; however economic development in the South East Asian region is opening up a number of new emerging markets. The countries below are tipped to become some of the major recruitment zones within the next few decades:


VietnamVietnam’s economy has been steadily growing in the last few years and, by 2020, one in three citizens are expected to be part of the middle classes. In addition, the country has the world’s fastest-growing percentage of ‘ultra-high-net-worth’ individuals – people with investable assets of US$30 million. Both of these statistics show just how increasingly well-placed citizens of this nation are to send their children to reputable institutions abroad to study.

Thanks to this, and perhaps also to the many programmes on offer in the USA help which Vietnamese students to enroll there, the percentage of students traveling to the North American nation has rapidly increased in recent years. Between July and November 2015 there was an 18.9% growth in enrolment, and Vietnam is now the sixth highest sender of students to the USA.

As is currently the case in many South East Asian countries, tertiary education in Vietnam is often not at the same level of quality as can be found in other regions. This, coupled with the lack of provision as more and more students apply, will lead to many seeking opportunities elsewhere.


IndonesiaAccording to a 2013 report by the Boston Consulting Group, Indonesia’s middle class is set to double to more than 141 million by 2020. The country already boasts the largest economy in South East Asia; is rapidly expanding its internet and technology provision in remote regions, and could well become a technological hub in its own right.

With a vast and fairly young population focused on aiding the development of their country, many Indonesians are seeking a world-class education. This demand is not being ignored. Indonesia is investing heavily in higher education, yet as the country develops, more and more students from this nation will look elsewhere for international education opportunities.


NepalNepal has a population of around 28 million people; a median age of 21.6 years; and a middle class which has grown to almost a quarter of the entire population. It has a rapidly growing young population, with the British Council estimating that the country will be among the top 10 for population growth in the 18-22 age bracket in the next decade. This, coupled with the tragic earthquake which destroyed much of Nepal’s higher education infrastructure, will make it difficult for the country to provide enough university places to meet the growing demand.

“Rising demand in South Asia for higher education is currently not being met, despite its growing importance on the economic development agenda. As South Asian countries forge a path towards growth of their industry and services sectors, the role of the higher education sector in facilitating a skilled, knowledgeable workforce has become critical – to the point of competitive advantage for many countries seeking investment.”

This is a point reinforced by the limited provision in Nepal already. Only 1% of the country’s university campuses offer PhD-level classes, which suggests that many postgraduate students will also need to look abroad – despite the country having one of the highest proportions of postgraduate-seeking students in the region.


BangladeshWhile a third of the population of Bangladesh still live in poverty, the economy has been growing rapidly in the last ten years. The vice-chancellor of Northern University Bangladesh, Shamsul Haque, is quoted as saying:

 “For the last 20 years the economy of Bangladesh has been growing at the rate of 5% on average. This growth has been witnessed by the changing composition of GDP in the major sectors… This transformation in the economy created demand for higher education in the country.”

This economic development has led to high demand for higher education in the country and with a third of the population aged 15 or under, that demand looks set to continue indefinitely. The British Council has announced that Bangladesh can expect to have some of the largest growth in tertiary enrolment over the next decade.

Despite this increase in enrolment, it’s probable that outbound mobility will also continue growing. In fact, almost three times as many Bangladeshi students were studying abroad in 2013, in comparison to 2010’s numbers. The lack of supply, coupled with the often low-quality facilities has made international study particularly appealing.

“An unfortunate by-product of the low quality of higher education – both for the economies of the region and the students themselves – is the low employability of graduates who emerge from the universities. Though there are notable exceptions, as a general rule, employers in South Asia are more inclined towards graduates from the large public universities.”

As we noted in our latest report, students from South East Asia are particularly focused on employability. With that in mind, until domestic tertiary education is as competitive as international tertiary education, it’s very probable students will continue looking abroad.

But, do these increases in international exports necessarily mean those students will flock to western universities?

Here’s why Malaysia could be the next major education hub.

More QS Insights

Sign up for industry insights

Receive the latest insights, expertise and commentary on the topics which matter most in higher education, straight to your inbox.

Sign up
This site is registered on wpml.org as a development site. Switch to a production site key to remove this banner.