Opportunities for UK Businesses in the Education Sector in ASEAN

Raising Education and Skill Levels is an ASEAN Priority

Raising education and skill levels is a priority of all the governments in the ASEAN region. ASEAN member countries have made great progress in improving access to basic education with student enrolments increasing and dropout rates falling. However, for the ASEAN region to take full advantage of its projected economic growth and transition into higher value-added knowledge economy work, governments in the region need to continue to develop their countries human capital and workforce skills. This will require ongoing investment in education, TVET, development of cross-cutting STEM skills, soft skills, and lifelong learning. As countries in ASEAN move up the knowledge chain, the challenge will be to develop workforce skills in innovation and R&D.

The top education opportunities in ASEAN are:

  • Early Years
  • Schools
  • Higher Education (TNE and international students going to the UK)
  • TVET
  • Education Technology
  • ELT
  • Lifelong Learning & Continual Professional Development

Early Years

Early years’ child care, development, and education have been increasingly acknowledged by experts, policy makers, governments and parents as a critical foundation for children’s development. In ASEAN uptake in early year’s child care and pre-schooling has traditionally been low. However, in recent years the market in ASEAN has been growing at an exponential rate because of a number of factors: increasing economic and household wealth and disposable income; more women joining the workforce; less ability to rely on extended family networks for childcare and increased awareness of the importance of early years education. This has led both governments and parents to invest increasing amounts in early years’ child care and pre-school education.


The high potential for growth in Southeast Asia’s education market is well supported by the large school-age population and comparatively low enrolment rates, particularly at the pre-primary and tertiary levels. School-age children in Southeast Asia constitute almost 33% of the region’s total population of 625 million people; nearly double that in the US (17%). Southeast Asia has approximately 208 million school-age children and based on gross enrolment rates the region’s school-age population stands at around 154 million, with 117 million students attending public schools/institutions and 37 million going to private schools/institutions. Rising income levels have driven demand for better schools with world-class infrastructure and international curriculums. Emerging markets in the region are expected to contribute to the high demand for education, specifically speaking, countries such as Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines and Vietnam where income levels are increasing.

Higher Education

The growth of private higher education in Asia has been much more rapid than in other parts of the world. This growth has helped to expand access to higher education and to reduce the burden on governments to finance higher education through public funds. Across Asia, more than 35% of higher education students enrol in the private sector, and almost 60% of the region’s higher education institutions are private. The UK are market leaders in the provision of transnational education in the ASEAN region, with Malaysia the most popular location, home to five UK university branch campuses, more than any other country in the world. The ASEAN region is also a significant source of international students to the UK, with Malaysia again the market leader with over 17,000 Malaysian students studying in the UK per annum.


Demand for TVET in ASEAN is considered significant and likely to grow substantially in the future. Governments have under-invested in TVET due to lack of demand, and as a consequence, the ASEAN educational system has not kept pace with either the number of people that now need to be trained in technical skills; nor have they kept pace with the rapid shifts in the types of skills that are required especially in “hot” sectors such as engineering and IT. ASEAN member countries are therefore committing increasing resources into education and training to provide a workforce with the necessary skills needed for business and industry.

Education Technology

Technological uptake is faster than ever before. It took 75 years for the telephone to be adopted by 50 million users and only 35 days for the Angry Birds computer game to be adopted by the same number of users. Technology is driving up demand for technically skilled workers and education technology is being integrated across the education sector Key trends include increased spending in ICT, Smart schools, education services delivered through mobile applications, online courses, education technology solutions such as E-books, simulation and gaming education and learning management systems.


In 2009, English was chosen as the official lingua franca of the ASEAN region. In many countries in the region, English language proficiency has moved from being an aspirational skill to an essential requirement in the job market. Students and parents in ASEAN place a high value on learning English, particularly in markets such as Thailand and Vietnam, where the public curricula may not offer English-learning opportunities.

Lifelong Learning & Continual Professional Development

In response to the world’s socio-economic challenges, governments across the world including in ASEAN have turned to lifelong learning as the key to both a skilled and adaptive workforce and a more equitable and cohesive society. Although the ASEAN region reconfirmed its commitment to support lifelong in its 2015 ASEAN Charter, there are still in practice significant gaps in the conceptualisation, implementation, and delivery of lifelong learning services. As ASEAN countries move up the value chain and a knowledge-driven economy, there are more professionals in the workforce requiring continual professional development.

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