British and Australian universities face a new competitor for students from the burgeoning economies of Southeast Asia. Academics and administrators from North Carolina's Duke University are helping to launch an American-style university, with tuition in English, on Thailand's eastern seaboard.
The Asian International University is scheduled to open in 1999, about 50 miles from Bangkok, as a private university charging about $10,000 in annual fees - about half the cost of a leading American college such as Duke itself.
Concentrating on undergraduate education, it will aim for a market niche created by Thai families who want the benefits of a western education without seeing their children disappear across the Pacific, said Bill Ascher, the Duke professor overseeing the project and a leading candidate for the AIU's first president.
The university will aim to draw students from Indonesia, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, and parts of east Asia, such as Hong Kong, Taiwan, possibly even Japan and Korea. Focused on Asia and closer to home, it will compete with Britain and Australia for students, Mr Ascher said.
The economies of the "Asian Tigers" have been growing at rates of close to 10 per cent a year, driving up the market for home-grown higher education. Hong Kong and Taiwan have seen rapid university expansion. Another new college, the $80-million University of Science and Technology in Asia, is being developed in collaboration with Imperial College, London. Imperial has also been involved with the Mahanakorn University of Science and Technology in Bangkok, which after seven years has 14,000 students.
The AIU, backed by a group of Asian founders, must be approved by the Thai ministry of university affairs. But Thai officials have been encouraging, and Mr Ascher, former director of Duke's Sanford Institute of Public Policy, has begun recruiting faculty.