Demographic Trends Setting the Education Agenda in Asia

China has been known as the country with the biggest population in the world, but this is about to change. The infamous one-child policy has taken its toll on the country’s population, which peaked at 1.34 billion people in 2011 and is expected to take a downward slide over the next two decades. Data released by the government in 2011 shows an alarming fertility rate of 1.4, much below the replacement rate of 2.1.

n obvious effect of this rather unexpected crisis is a shift in higher education policy. Fewer people means fewer resources spent on infrastructure and academic affairs. A shrinking population would also contribute to China’s goal of producing a higher proportion of skilled workers, while the flow of Chinese students to US and UK universities will gradually slow down.

[quote align=”center” color=”#b64736″]fewer people means fewer resources spent on infrastructure and academic affairs. [/quote]

China is not alone in this position. South Korea is now facing a similar fate, while Japan reached the tipping point of a fertility rate below 2.1 around four decades ago. Japan’s population is expected to shrink one third by 2060, according to data released by the Japanese government last January.

Higher education reforms recently implemented in South Korea aim to address the problem of lower birth rates by reducing student places at public universities and even closing down some institutions. Foreign providers who were planning to set up operations in the Incheon Economic Free Zone have reportedly backed down due to fears of decreasing demand for degrees among young Koreans. In Japan, particular focus has been given on lifelong learning programmes that will meet the needs of Japan’s aging population.

Asian countries with a decreasing population also face an ageing crisis, as economic development has improved living standards and health conditions, resulting in lower mortality among adults. However, an ageing population is not necessarily a bad thing for local and foreign education providers, as they can shift focus from undergraduate to postgraduate and further education provision.

[quote align=”center” color=”#b64736″]India’s sluggish education system cannot cope[/quote]

The picture is rather different on the Indian subcontinent. Pakistan is currently the country with the highest population growth rate in South Asia. India, arguably the 21st century’s demographic bomb, is expected to overtake China in terms of population by 2025. Demand for skilled workers has surged over the last two decades, but India’s sluggish education system cannot cope. The problem could be partly addressed by the much-anticipated Foreign Universities Bill, which will possibly allow non-Indian universities to set up operations in the country without having to partner with local institutions.

by Alex Katsomitros


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