Online degree growth in Asia

Asia is currently experiencing a major change in the education industry. Starting with the declining enrollment in higher education in the late 1990s, it is of great importance in this decade that there is increasing penetration of international universities in Asia. According to a study by the British Council, there are growing numbers of international students in universities in Malaysia, China, India, Indonesia and the rest of Southeast Asia in 2012. According to analysts at the British Council, this trend is a clear indication of a sharp shift in the balance of global students from west to east.

The impact of Transnational Education (TNE) on the growth of online degree programs in Asia is very significant in the number of universities that are now adopting online and distance learning. This is also evident in various publications, surveys, and reports from major research companies around the world. To gain a better understanding of the prevalence of online programs in many Asian higher education institutions (HEIs), it is handy to examine some of the notable events that have occurred in the higher education market in Asia over the past few decades.

Pre-internet phase

In the early 2000s, internet penetration was very low in many Asian countries. Even today, developing countries, especially in Southeast Asia, are still lagging behind other countries in the development of information and communication technology infrastructures. According to a 2012 article by Pearson Asia Pacific, the internet penetration rate in Cambodia was only 0.5%, while in Indonesia it was only 10.5%. According to a blog article published by The Australian, Internet penetration in China and India were 40% and 10% in 2011, respectively. The growth of online programs in these regions is therefore hampered by poor Internet accessibility. This technological circumstance also meant that many countries in Asia became dependent on text-based teaching programs and traditional face-to-face events for years.

Post Internet Period and Rise of Open Universities

The rapid rise of mobile and internet technology, which was observed from 2005 to 2011, led to new education markets across Asia. With funding from national governments and private institutions, new campuses, virtual universities and learning centers are springing up like mushrooms in Asia. Online and distance learning (ODL) providers have become dominant in South Korea, Hong Kong, Japan, Malaysia and Singapore, countries with great advances in Internet technology. Many analysts viewed these improvements in Internet technology as a “quantum leap” for many ODL providers.

In 2011, around 85,000 students took part in online courses in Malaysia. In the same year, South Korea increased its web-based enrollment to more than 112,000 students. In 2010, about 1.64 million people in China took various online courses offered through online media.

Open universities in particular were pioneers in distance learning programs in Asia. Major open universities that originally offered online degree programs included Asia e University (Malaysia), Korea National Open University (South Korea), Indira Gandhi Open University (India), and Central Radio and Television University (China).

The rise of mobile students

According to the British Council’s 2012 study of global higher education, there were more international students enrolled for a UK degree abroad in 2010 than international students on land (or in the UK). This was the exact opposite of what happened in 1985-2008, when over 50% of Asian students were studying abroad, particularly in North America and Western Europe. In Malaysia, around 58,000 international students were enrolled in on-campus and online courses in 2010. China, on the other hand, registered 71,700 international students enrolling in the same year.

The rise of MOOCs and global alliances

New ways of learning online courses have resulted in an explosive increase in enrollments at many universities in Asia. The number of TNE students taking online courses had increased significantly in Southeast Asia in early 2011. TNE, as defined by the British Council, “provides or conducts education through distance learning, twinning programs, branch offices and franchise agreements.” TNE enrollments in India, China and Indonesia are projected to see significant growth through 2020 and that will represent 7.1 million, 5.1 million and 2.3 million students in their respective countries.

What will trigger this tremendous growth in online course enrollment is the increasing number of Western institutions partnering with Asian universities for franchise, joint or double degrees, and eLearning or distance learning, including Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). In comparison, the online degree programs at these Asian universities will continue to explode through 2020, according to analysts.

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