British universities are redirecting their overseas recruitment efforts as they prepare for a collapse in their Asian Tigers market.
Institutions in the United Kingdom stand to lose over Pounds 300 million in fees if students from the Southeast Asian countries facing a currency crisis decide not to apply for places in the UK.
In Malaysia, which is estimated to have brought around Pounds 123 million in fee income to British universities in 1996-97, the government has warned that 80 per cent of its sponsored students who had planned to go abroad will now study locally.
And the British Council has indicated that it expects a similar decline in the number of students travelling from South Korea, believed to be worth over Pounds 12 million in fees.
But British Council directors based in other key areas, such as Singapore and Hong Kong, are being cautiously optimistic. They say applications from Singapore for places this year are up by over 13 per cent on last year. And they point to a recent speech by Singapore's deputy prime minister, Tony Tan, pledging continued support for education and urging individuals to cut back on luxuries rather than study costs.
However, the council admits it is too early to gauge fully the likely impact of the economic crisis on recruitment, since students can generally apply for places without having to put down deposits. A clearer picture will emerge only in four to five months time, it says.
In the light of this uncertainty, many universities are already taking steps to bridge what could be a multi-million pound fees gap.
Middlesex University, Britain's biggest recruiter of Malaysian students, is shifting recruitment efforts to the Eastern Mediterranean, South America and East Asia as it prepares for an expected 40 per cent drop in students from South East Asia.
The British Council is urging institutions to follow the example of the University of Warwick, which is setting up a Pounds 500,000 scholarship fund to help support students from Southeast Asia.
The UK Council for Overseas Student Affairs said some Southeast Asian students already in Britain were having to leave due to financial difficulties. Institutions were trying to help by offering to take fee payments in instalments.