Most of higher education in Asia by 2030, professor predicts

Hamish Coates calls for creation of transnational accreditation system to pull the region together post-Covid

December 24, 2020
Future vision an Asian university network could exploit local expertise
Source: Getty
Future vision an Asian university network could exploit local expertise

While many experts have foreseen a tilt towards Asia in higher education, Hamish Coates, a professor in Tsinghua University’s Institute of Education, goes a step further.  

“The best predictions place around two-thirds of 2030 higher education within a five-hour flight of Singapore, which means all education will be much more Asian,” Professor Coates told Times Higher Education. “Not just students, but most faculty and universities will also be from this region.”

A theoretical five-hour ring around Singapore would take in most of East and South-east Asia. In a stretch, it would also include the northern capital cities of Beijing and Tokyo, which are a bit over six hours away.

Asia is already home to six of the world’s top 50 universities, while China, the world’s most populous nation, has the largest higher education sector. Japan, a traditional leader in Asian education, has now been joined by the “four Asian tigers”: South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore, which underwent rapid development in the 1980s and 1990s.

Climbing up the ladder are sizeable emerging economies such as Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam, Thailand and Malaysia.

Professor Coates recommended that the historically fragmented region come together, in the way that the European Union did for higher education. “Asia should lead the way in setting up a regionally aligned set of transnational accreditation arrangements, learning from Europe and fully exploiting contemporary platforms, indicators and expertise,” he said.

His vision was that each state would control its own institutions, but that an overriding system of “regulation and quality management could emerge”.

East and South-east Asia also have the advantage of limited Covid-19 infections and economic pain. “Countries in the Asian time zone have handled the pandemic well, offering a development advantage,” Professor Coates said. “This accelerates transformations already under way.”

Last month, Professor Coates co-authored an essay for the UK’s Higher Education Policy Institute (Hepi), warning that Western institutions had to enact “long overdue change” in order to stay competitive.

“Western universities accustomed to decades-long growth in international student demand increasingly priced themselves higher and higher during the halcyon days of international education,” the essay says.

However, the post-Covid world will bring a downward pressure on fees, and “traditional export markets will need greater support from governments, [and to] reduce over-reliance on foreign student subsidy, and offer clearer return on education investment”.

The Hepi essay lists several factors that may keep Asian students closer to home. “Resilient Asian economies and education are very attractive to [Asian] students, many of whom prefer local cultures and employment networks, would prefer to divert available funds towards other opportunities, and in any case spend much time working hard online,” it says. 


Print headline: Most HE ‘will be Asian’ by 2030

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