Asia-Pacific higher education is becoming a global force, but only some nations in the region have achieved or approached parity with Western Europe and North America.
The truly spectacular success story is from the Confucian zone in East Asia. Japan achieved high participation rates and research-intensive universities in the 1970s: now Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan and China are following suit. Student numbers and research are growing by leaps and bounds.
East Asia embodies a new Confucian model of higher education. The key is the willingness of families to invest in schooling, tertiary education and extra tuition. Households are driving the growth in participation. Private investment is secured less by neoliberal ideology than an older Confucian respect for self-formation via education, within a social hierarchy “harmonised” by fierce competition for university entry.
China and Singapore maintain higher public funding. But the jury is still out on the extent to which these systems can foster a spirit of openness, criticism and free-wheeling creativity.
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