Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Asia’s Prospects: Regional Hubs and Skilled Mobility

This post covers the latest developments in human mobility in Asia, mainly with regard to skilled migrants and international students. While China, Korea and Japan are trying to attract skilled immigrants as well as to ease policies toward immigrants already arrived, they might have to compete with Southeast Asian countries.

The University World News article Worldwide Student Numbers Forecast to Double by 2025 revealed some highlights of the Bob Goddard chapter for the book Making a Difference: Australian International Education. According to the author, by 2025 there will be 262 million post-secondary students worldwide (up from 150 million currently, or an increase of 75 %), much of that growth coming from India and China; and almost 8 million students studying outside the country in which they were born (up from 3-3.5 million currently).

Goddard points to Singapore and Malaysia as emerging education hubs: the former hopes to attract 150,000 foreign students by 2015 while the latter has a target of 100,000 by 2020. However, both countries are currently experiencing some problems.

Indeed, foreign undergraduate students in Singapore made up 18 % of the 2011 intake but 27 % in science and engineering - fields which were less attractive to local students. On the other hand, politicians in Singapore have expressed concerns about financing international students without any return for the country since they are believed to treat Singapore as a transit destination to the West. Along with the 2,000 scholarships worth S$36mil awarded each year to overseas students, their obligation to work for at least three years for Singapore-based companies was another burden for locals due to perceived competition.

As far as Malaysia is concerned, the Malaysian Insider reveals that the Ministry of Higher Education would like to attract 200,000 internationals students by 2020 - twice the number quoted above. The same source reports that in 2011 their number was 90,000 which made Malaysia the 11th host destination for international students. The top five countries from where students arrived were Iran, Indonesia, China, Nigeria and Yemen. However, due to some students being involved in crimes, the country is now tightening rules on student visas.

Malaysia has given foreign universities the opportunity to set up campuses in the country. Currently applications have been submitted by the US, Australia, Switzerland but also the UAE, China, India and Singapore. According to the Minister of Higher Education, foreign institutions will increase the competitiveness of the local ones.

At the same time, the country has lost significant part of its skilled workforce - around 330,000 of the 1 million Malaysians abroad, and more than half of them are concentrated in Singapore.

Hong Kong, Taiwan and the Philippines should also be added to the list of emerging education hubs while Japan cannot be easily ignored, given its economic position in the region and investments in higher education.

The Government of Hong Kong has invested HK$1 billion in a bursary fund for international student scholarships and its universities enjoy a good reputation. Along with the fund, other measures addressing internationalization were the doubling the non-local quota of overseas students at public universities to 20% and students’ part-time and post-study work rights. The approach of the country to internationalization differs from the one of Singapore and Malaysia – instead of volumes, Hong Kong aims to attract students who are already proficient in English. In 2010/11, there were 18,000 international students from 70 countries and one of Hong Kong’s main objectives is to diversify the flow which is now dominated by students from mainland China.

Over a period of four years (2007-2011) the number of foreign master’s students in Taiwan increased by 50 % and the one of undergraduate and Ph. D. students by 100 %. While Southeast Asians preferred to study business, Taiwan was particularly satisfied with the Indian students as 90 % of them enrolled in Ph. d. in chemistry or chemical engineering. Taiwan hopes to attract 130,000 students by 2020, including those on short-term and exchange studies.

In the Philippines, over 60,000 study permits were granted to foreign students only in 2011 excluding students enrolled in courses in English. South Korea, China, Iran and the US were the top sending countries. Meanwhile, Korea’s eight best universities were said to be among the Asian institutions recruiting students in New Zealand – an indication that Asia is deploying efforts to lure back its educated youth.

Asian universities had a strong presence in 2012 Times Higher Education Reputation Rankings. Korea, Singapore and China had two universities in the rankings, Hong Kong had three but Japan was the Asian leader with five, two of which in the top 20. In addition, it had 15 universities in the latest 2011/12 THE World University Rankings. Suzuka Sakashita, director of the Office for International Planning in Japan's Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports Science and Technology, was pleased with Japan’s success but he observed that more needs to be done with regard to internationalization. He referred to Japan’s plan to send students abroad and to attract 50,000 international ones by 2020.

As far as immigration laws are concerned, China, Korea and Japan have just made some concessions to please business and science investments as well as improve conditions to migrants already residing in their countries. China has recently changed the age criteria from 55 to 65 for its 1,000 Foreign Experts Scheme while the Shanghai Chamber of Commerce claimed to be exploring the option of extending expatriate visas. The 1,000 Foreign Experts Scheme aims to bring in the next 5 to 10 years 1,000 foreign scientists who have to work in China for at least 3 years. As for Shanghai, foreign investments contribute to 30 % of all jobs in the city.

The government of South Korea announced that it will invest in multicultural schools and increase subsidies for SME which intend to hire foreign highly educated workers so that more people could be employed indefinitely. The foreign workers’ quota for 2012 was fixed at 57,000 permits – which is an increase of 9,000 over the last year. Over 16,000 permits were added to the regular quota for the first half of 2012 as a result of acute labour shortage.

Starting from July 2012, Japan will replace the current alien registration cards given by local authorities by centrally managed new residence cards and extends the maximum period of stay from 3 to 5 years.

Goddard believes that Japan will open its doors to international students. While I think that Japan will consider specific schemes to attract students (e.g. like those in Canada), I am pessimistic that its British-style points system for highly skilled workers is going to work (unless it relies on Indian managers able to meet the salary requirements). At the same time, Japan is already recruiting workers from Vietnam that it is willing to educate and train (similarly to Indian companies recruiting and training Indian graduates, based on the understanding that the educational system does not prepare them adequately). Japan International Training Cooperation Organization announced that it wants to hire 10,000 Vietnamese workers each year. While workers with secondary education will receive orientation education for 6 months and courses in Japanese for free, highly skilled professionals will get a salary of around $2,000 and will be allowed to bring their families.

As I already referred to the trade-migration links in a previous post, human mobility is often a consequence of a country's trade ties. For instance, UAE-India relations went as far as the UAE is currently India’s biggest trading partner, India overtook Britons as Dubai’s top source of visitors and half of Dubai’s companies are owned by Indians. Similarly, it is not surprising that the University of Tokyo opened an office in Bangalore but rather a logical step that deepens the cooperation between Japan and India. The office aims to attract Indian students in Japan and will serve as a one-stop service for all questions related to studying in Japan.

While much attention has been paid to Europe and North America, mobility patterns in Asia might further develop and new ones could be formed. Gallup’s research on potential migration published in December 2011 shows that Asians are the least likely to migrate permanently – only 9 % are willing to do so, compared to 33 % of Sub-Saharan Africans and 18 % of Europeans. At the same time, Asian potential temporary migrants account for half of all potential temporary migrants or around 500 million people (but again, the share of Asians willing to migrate temporarily is the smallest of all regions).

All in all, foreign students are more likely to go to high-tech Japan and Korea and Singapore, Hong Kong and Taiwan – where students can get to know Chinese language and culture while undertaking studies in English. However, other Asian countries are trying to attract students from the region and the competition is likely to increase. It seems that secondary effects such as nationalist moods (e.g. Singapore) and security concerns (e.g. Malaysia) will not spare Asia on the way to internationalization.

At the same time, China, Korea and Japan are revising their immigration procedures to attract more investors and foreign scientists while Indian IT and managerial talent is sought after in Taiwan, Singapore, Japan and the Middle East.

Gallup estimates that India’s potential Net Brain Gain Index is lower (-12 %) than its Potential Net Migration Index (-5 %). Faced with the challenge of compensating for the loss of their best and brightest, some Asian countries may opt for importing labour from other sources - and the pool in the region is the biggest one. In the long term, however, if Asia wants to strengthen its image worldwide, it would be even better to consider a global rather than a regional approach to international education (and workforce) which should span beyond one’s immediate reach.

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