Higher education across much of Asia is a remarkable success story. It enjoys a high level of government support. Leaders understand that higher education is an important ingredient in the economic and social development of their countries. They recognize that the globalization of markets, the interdependency of international financial systems, the expanded role of technology, and high-speed communications have created an enormous need for highly skilled technical, professional, and managerial leaders. They understand that modern economies cannot be managed by only primary and secondary school graduates. Evidence of this support is quite tangible: Enrollments have grown, participation in higher education has diversified, new universities have been created, and universities are experimenting with new forms of instructional delivery.
At the same time, higher education across the region faces a set of interwoven challenges. Many higher education institutions (HEIs) in Asia are coping with explosive enrollment growth; shortages of qualified instructional staff; widespread concern over instructional quality; and, in many cases, severe financial constraints. These issues are interwoven, and their solutions are interdependent. Efforts to address any one problem need to be undertaken with attention to the larger constellation of issues.
Recognizing the important role that higher education plays in economic and social development, countries in the region are increasing investments in the development of higher education. A central issue is what investments are most likely to be effective in strengthening higher education systems and how development partners such as the Asian Development Bank (ADB) can support countries and HEIs in their efforts.