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September 2006 issue

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Destination Asia

The international education marketplace is widening every year. English language study and/or tertiary study in countries such as the Philippines, Singapore, Malaysia and China is an increasingly popular option for students looking to achieve their academic goals overseas. Amy Baker reports.

911 Language Inc. was established in 2001 to respond to the growing demand in the Asian market for an effective English education,” relates Rob San Miguel, Head Teacher at 911 Language, based in Quezon City in the Philippines. 911 Language represents one of many relatively newly established institutions aiming to attract students from other countries who are looking to improve their English language skills; often as a prerequisite for their further study plans.

San Miguel underlines a trend that is taking place in Asia – the biggest source market for English language schools in countries such as the UK, USA, Canada and Australia. Many students are brushing up their English language skills first in an Asian country, such as the Philippines, and then planning to study or emigrate to other countries. “Most ELT students see their stay in the Philippines as a training period,” he underlines, emphasising that low costs and the highly skilled English teachers in the Philippines are the principal attractions.

This assertion is backed up by OJ Kim, Director of agency chain IAE Global, which is based in Korea. “The Philippines has become one of the major destinations for language studies among Koreans,” he says. “It is used as a destination before [students] start courses in major countries such as Canada and Australia. This means many students are using schools in the Philippines to improve conversation skills for up to three months before flying out [to their next destination].” Kim estimates that up to 10,000 Koreans head to the Philippines for this purpose each year. Visa figures reveal that there were over 5,000 Koreans studying in the National Capital Region alone in 2005.

Such is the dynamism in the Filipino market that the Department of Tourism (DOT) is helping to promote ESL Tour packages. Maria Rica Bueno, Chief Tourism Operations Officer for the department’s Asia Pacific Marketing Team, explains, “We started developing the Philippines ESL Tour Programme in 2004. The DOT has signed a memorandum of understanding with the Department of Foreign Affairs, Bureau of Immigration and [another skills agency].”

A range of structured tour packages is offered with English language training included. Prices quoted on the DOT website for a three-week package with Miriam College Language Foundation, including 48 hours of English language training as well as cultural tours with English-speaking guide and outdoor activities is US$850, including board and lodging.

“The programme targets our non-English neighbouring countries, specifically, Korea, Japan, China and Taiwan,” says Bueno, who reports that demand is increasing, especially from Koreans. She details reasons for the popularity of the Philippines as an English language learning destination: the fact that English is widely spoken (by 93.5 per cent of the population, according to the DOT website); the country’s location; the affordable costs and ability to combine English language tuition with tours and excursions to the country’s natural and cultural attractions.

San Miguel makes another point. He explains that the growth of the call centre industry in the Philippines has meant local Filipinos have access to better language training, “including accent reduction and grammar training”, which in turn is meaning more highly-skilled local English teachers. “This will result in higher demand for Filipino English teachers,” he says.

Another country actively promoting itself as an “education hub” in Asia is Malaysia. Malaysia Education Promotion Centres (MEPC) have been set up in the last three years by the country’s higher education ministry, and there are now MEPC offices in Beijing, Dubai, Ho Chi Minh City and Jakarta. “We hope to set up a fifth one in central Africa soon to cover the continent,” says Dr Mohammed Nasser at the ministry.

The ministry is collaborating with the national tourism board and the Malaysia Trade Council as well as a few private institutions to promote education opportunties in the country. And, according to Nasser, the Malaysian Qualifications Agency is planning to streamline its qualifications with international standards, “making it easier for accreditation and credit transfers”.

Sheikh Fahmy Sheikh Mohamed, Director of International House Malaysia in Selangor Darul Ehsan, says demand for English language training is increasing. He points to the government’s promotion of “all education courses to the rest of the world” as helping boost numbers further, and the fact that English language is now the medium of instruction in certain parts of the country’s education system.

“Malaysia has now changed the education system, so maths and science subjects are taught in English from primary one to secondary five (age seven to 17),” he explains. “Therefore, the education ministry has promoted English use to schoolchildren and the teachers. We believe, over the next five years, the government will promote the use of English in other sectors as well: business, customer service, finance and hospitality.” Mohamed adds that new edu-tourism packages have also increased numbers of English language students and he predicts that numbers will continue to rise. Current student intake at IH Malaysia is from Korea, Japan, Vietnam, Indonesia, China, Iran, Egypt, Sudan and Brunei.

Singapore is another country that positions itself as an education destination within Asia. At Inlingua School of Languages in Singapore, Marketing Manager, Nicky Sage, states, “Singapore is seen as a safe, clean and comfortable environment to learn English and attracts students from all over the world” – she says the school attracts students from Asia but also from Europe and the Americas.

In a five-year-old report undertaken by the Ministry of Trade and Industry in Singapore, it was estimated that the education industry in the country contributed US$3 billion to the economy in 2000. The report, Developing Singapore’s Education Industry, revealed that there were approximately 50,000 foreign students in Singapore in both public and private institutions (as of September 2001). Most of the foreign students were in the tertiary and private sectors, many on scholarships.

The government has since been trying to expand its international education sector. Recommendations in the report suggested streamlining visa processing, setting aside land in Singapore for new educational campuses to be built, expanding access to accommodation for students, exporting Singapore-branded schools and curriculm materials, establishing a quality assurance system and setting up an education promotion agency, which happened in 2003. Singapore Education has a website with a searchable database of courses, including English language courses and a wide range of tertiary programmes.

Two listed English language teaching institutions, MTC Asia Education Centre and NYU Language Centre, list their clientele as coming largely from Korea, Japan, Indonesia, Taiwan, China, Malaysia, Russia, Vietnam, Mongolia and Thailand.

While trans-Asian study patterns are emerging, however, many agents can’t document similar trends because studying in Asia is still a new concept for them. Tatsuo Kayama at Raps Study Abroad Center in Japan reports that they have had no enquiries at their agency for study in Asia. Fellow Japanese agent, Aya Shimzu at Ryugaku Journal, says that they don’t work with Asian institutions, although she acknowledges that the lower costs might attract “money-conscious” clients.

Li Dong at World Culture and Education Company in China says that students prefer to study in an English-speaking environment and even Kim in Korea attests that his company is just dipping its toes into Asian waters at present. “Due to the limited amound of profit gained, and the immaturity and uncertainty of business with schools in China and the Philippines [the two countries IAE works with in Asia], we are not heavily involved in these markets,” relates Kim. “But we will follow the demands of our clients.”

Given that agencies determine to a large extent where students might study, the fact is that there is business to be built in Asia, and potential clients to target who might not be able to afford the UK or USA but can in fact stretch to two weeks in the Philippines. Kim is certainly cognisant of the fact that there is business to be tapped. He promotes conversational classes in the Philippines and options from general language training to academic study in China. He says in the future, IAE will become involved in business with schools in Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia, “but this will be limited to certain categories, such as international high schools and foreign universities and their linked programmes”.

This is another trend in Asia that has really emerged in the last decade. Dr Arief Sadiman, Director of the South East Asian Ministers of Education Organisations (Seameo), acknowledged at the Education Forum for Asia in Beijing in 2004, that “there has been an explosive growth in international trade in education services covering all modes of supply”. He said this has taken place since since the General Agreement on Trade in Services (Gats), adminstered by the World Trade Organisation, came into force in 1995, and detailed a significant number of foreign universities and colleges becoming involved in the Asian market via twinning programmes and the establishment of new campuses, particularly in Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Indonesia. Sadiman explained that in Malaysia, foreign universities establish a Malaysian company with majority Malaysian ownership to operate an overseas campus.

Diane Squires, Senior Media Communications Coordinator at Monash University (MU) in Melbourne, Australia, explains how this university works in Asia. The university licenses providers to provide the Monash University Foundation Year (MUFY), which is a 12-month programme that provides a pathway into university degree courses. “MUFY is recognised by most Australian and many offshore universities,” explains Squires. “In 2006, licensed MUFY providers operate in Australia, Malaysia, Jakarta (Indonesia) and Laos. Most students move to a broad range of MU degrees and perform well and with little attrition.”

China as an education destination

China has been stepping up to the world stage as an economic power and exporter of goods to the world and it is adding education to its list of exports. The latest statistics from the Ministry of Education reveal that in 2005, 141,000 overseas students went to China to study, up by 27 per cent on the previous year.

“The year 2005 was the year where we had the most students coming to China to study from the most amount of countries,” said Ministry of Education spokesperson, Wang Xuming. The biggest source countries were South Korea (54,079) and Japan (18,874). Of all overseas students, 86,679 were studying Mandarin.

Zhang Xiuqin of the China Scholarship Council said that training in economics, law and medicine was also becoming popular in China with international students. “Today, we have students from more than 160 countries,” he said. “With such momentum, China will soon become the biggest education destination country in the Asia and Oceania region.”

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