A report by SHARE, the European Union Support to Higher Education in the ASEAN Region, and its partners has revealed that while inbound and outbound mobility increased between 2013 and 2018, in 2018 less than 10% of that was between member states.

“Increasing intra-ASEAN international student mobility is a challenge for policymakers and HEIs,” the report noted.

“Increasing intra-ASEAN international student mobility is a challenge for policymakers and HEIs”

“ASEAN Member States are at different stages of development in terms of higher education internationalisation and there are destinations outside of ASEAN which are attractive to students from the region.”

The leading destinations for ASEAN students heading abroad are Australia, the US, the UK and Japan, accounting for 70% of students going abroad.

Preference for studying in these countries, as well as China and South Korea, remains strong, with one student referring to other ASEAN member states as the “second tier of choices”.

Of ASEAN students that do study abroad in the region, Malaysia alone accounts for 50% of intra-regional mobility, while Thailand, Vietnam and Malaysia make up 80%.

In order to develop the region’s higher education and offer more options for students, the report proposed introducing an “ASEAN Student Pass” to replace individual country student visas in the region.

It also suggested looking at the Nordplus Higher Education Programme as a potential model for regional educational and academic cooperation, and tackling issues around a lack of mobility data for some countries.

But other factors are harder to tackle. Thomson Ch’ng, an international specialist advisor at ASEAN Focus Grouptold The PIE News that safety and welfare factors play a role.

Instability in Thailand following recent student-led protests could make people hesitant to study there, while tensions between locals and foreign residents can also be an issue, with some international students claiming to have been victimised by police officers in recent years.

But above all the preference is still strongly in favour of English-speaking destinations. Even though ASEAN member Singapore uses English as an official language – and two top 100 universities – Ch’ng said that if it was a choice for students between Australia and Singapore, the former would be the obvious choice.

The demand for English, cost of living, and the opportunity to meet people from all over the world, as well as to migrate, are keeping destinations outside the region more popular.

“The bottom line is, mastering English language opens up the door for global opportunities”

“The bottom line is, mastering English language opens up the door for global opportunities with English being the international language,” he said.

“While there has been debate in certain member states on the identity of national language, ASEAN society generally still perceives and values individuals with a stronger English language competency.”

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