The Changing Demographics of Asia – Understanding The Implications For Education

The demographics of Asia are changing rapidly, and for many countries the internationalisation of higher education is no longer something that can be thought of as an option.

The rapidly changing demographics of Asia are not only going to re-shape the population make-up of many countries, but it will also bring significant challenges in regards to health services, employment and education. The theme of this year’s Asia-Pacific Association for International Education (APAIE 2017) conference was “New Era, New Horizon, New Frontier: Higher Education in Asia-Pacific”.  As part of the conference a workshop that specifically focused on “Changing Demographics Across Asia – The Implications” was held.  The session speakers not only included Anna Esaki-Smith from the British Council and Guy Perring from i-graduate, but also Professor Hiroshi Ota (Hitotsubashi University, Japan), Prof Huey-Jen Su (President of National Cheng Kung Univ, Taiwan), and also Professor Perry Hobson (Pro-Vice Chancellor for Global Engagement from Taylor’s University). As Anna Esaki-Smith pointed out “Asia faces huge challenges in adapting to the demographic forces across the region which includes rapidly ageing populations in some nations such as Taiwan and Japan”. Her data pointed out that as a ‘super-aged nation’, Taiwan could see 42% of its population being aged 65+ by 2050 - up from 20% today. So how will schools and universities fill their places? International students offer a potential solution, and so both Japan (with some 750 universities) and Taiwan (with some 180 universities) are now more actively looking to recruit students from overseas. In particular, Taiwan is aggressively targeting overseas students to help it keep its universities open and to provide a future workforce. As Prof Hobson pointed out, “In 2010 there were just 5,000 Malaysians studying in Taiwan, while today there are now more than 16,000” adding that, “this puts Taiwan in the number three spot after Australia and the UK in terms of being the most popular overseas study locations”. Unlike the situation in Japan, Taiwan has been helped by the fact that it is able to recruit Chinese speaking students from the Malaysian UEC (Chinese language) schools into its domestic programmes - and also many other universities have also started to offer courses in English. Japan has been much slower to adapt, and its internationalisation approach is currently seems to be more focused on helping Japanese students to study overseas than to attract more international students to Japan. Prof Hiroshi Ota also noted that while some universities are trying to recruit overseas, there is an inbuilt contradiction as Japan has no immigration policy. Meanwhile, Malaysia has launched an Education Blueprint for Higher Education 2015-2025, with the aim of attracting 250,000 foreign students as a way of internationalising its universities  - Global Matters 2017.