What’s driving the growth of education in ASEAN?

What’s driving the growth of education in ASEAN?
In ASEAN, GDP has increased over tenfold since 1970, and this has created a vast range of new educational options for parents.

One important driver of this growth has been the regulatory framework in Singapore and Malaysia, where private education has enjoyed early success and been able to thrive significantly compared to other schooling systems in the region.

Singapore in particular has been a regional leader in creating the regulatory framework to welcome and accommodate foreign investment in private education, which in turn improves the opportunities for prospective enrolments.  

Similarly, Malaysia offers a pro-foreign friendly investment environment, allowing for-profit education and subject to minimal limitations.

However, while locals are generally allowed to enrol in international schools, there are regulations on primary and secondary education (unlike Singapore).

Jonathan Lynch, Senior Associate Clyde & Co, pointed to some of the factors that have been driving the liberalisation of the education sector in ASEAN.

Trade liberalisation under the World Trade Organisation (WTO) has been a major factor,” Lynch told The Educator Asia.

“Education services always were intended under the WTO's General Agreement on Trade in Services [1995].”

Lynch said that while service sectors such as telecommunications and maritime saw early benefits, gains in education and educational investment were slow to take hold in many countries.

“However, some twenty years on, as their economies start to reap rewards from WTO, and coupled with a ‘middle class’ population growth, ASEAN governments see the need and the value for open education systems to give its people the knowledge and skills to compete on the global trade stage,” Lynch said.

So what makes the regulatory framework of Singaporean and Malaysian education particularly strong compared to countries like Indonesia, Philippines and Vietnam?

Lynch said that Malaysia and Singapore focused very early on in the education sector in their development, and therefore had more time and funding respectively to develop their own comprehensive set of regulatory framework.

“This includes providing better administrative guidance. Singapore and Malaysia certainly have their fair share of red tape,” Lynch said.

“However, this tends to be far less cumbersome and opaque than its neighbours, where administrative guidance on regulatory issues is not as cut and dried.”

But there is hope. Recent studies indicate that five of the 25 world's largest economies in 2050 will be from ASEAN, with Indonesia, Philippines and Vietnam leading the charge. 

And while foreign investment in ASEAN private education, outside of Singapore and Malaysia, has been relatively limited, Vietnam recently issued a decree to lift caps on locals allowed at international schools and the requirement that foreign investors build their own facilities prior to recruiting students. 

Lynch concludes: “There are grounds for optimism, for opportunistic investors and empty nest parents alike, that further regulatory liberalisation of the private education sector in ASEAN is to come.”

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