Sustainability of overseas education

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The international education industry has seen explosive growth in recent decades, with an exponential increase in student numbers from rapidly developing second-world economies such as China and India heading overseas for further education in the western world’s finest educative institutes. So significant is this trend, and the subsequent beneficial economic impact for education providers, that many western universities and other service providers now depend heavily on their international student fees to underpin their own budgets – but is this state of affairs a sustainable one?

The economic benefit of international students for the countries they study in should not be underestimated. In Australia, a leading provider of international student services per capita, the international education industry contributes just over 1% of Australia’s gross domestic product – a remarkably figure and a significant contributor to that nation’s international balance of payments, and heavily subsidizing local Australian student’s higher educations.

As the economic revolution in the developing economies of China and India continues to rapidly grow those nation’s notional middle classes, the number of people with the spending power to purchase international education – once the domain of the rich – will grow with them. Placed in context of a traditionally strong cultural value on education in many Asian countries, not only does the demand for international education services appear sustainable in the near and medium terms, it is likely to continue to grow at an increasing rate for some time.

Indeed, confident that the demand for the services will continue to grow, many institutions that provide services to international students have now made moves to offer their services locally – with many seeking to set up local branch campuses in international locations. For example, in this year Malaysia received applications from twenty five internationally based service providers seeking to set up locally based campuses to meet the exploding demand for high quality education in the developing world’s burgeoning middle class.

While local providers will continue to improve and perhaps make some inroads into the exodus of students from their nations, the western providers have significant market advantages over them in quality, personnel, standards and market presence – better termed as prestige. With the traditional entry point for industries in developing economies seeking to break into a new market – significantly better price points – almost negated by the quality-focused nature of the education industry, it may be decades before Chinese and Indian based facilities can even begin to compete with the prestige attached to an international education – and if the move by international providers to offer their services in locally-based branches is successful, they may well achieve complete market domination of higher education services for decades to come.

So, assuming western institutions can maintain both their results-based and prestige-based advantages over developing local alternatives, there is little doubt that overseas education is not just sustainable, but may become a vital and significant export industry of many western nations throughout the 21st century.

Prospective international students seeking information on what nations they can choose to study in should contact passport office in their local areas.

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