Online degrees yet to take off in ASEAN


Online degrees yet to take off in ASEAN

The education sector is becoming more diverse, with universities offering different paths to graduation. Strategic market research consultancy Spire Research and Consulting conducted 300 interviews with pre-tertiary students from Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia in October 2013 to understand their preferred mode of study for degree programs. The survey results show the vast majority preferring local or residential overseas degree programs in spite of the availability of online degree options.

Based on a recent study by Spire, students in Singapore and Indonesia prefer to obtain their degrees from local universities (89% and 84% respectively), whereas students in Malaysia prefer to do so abroad (75%). These results were derived from the students’ rankings of their top three choices of university study prior to applying.

Spire Online degrees 01

The option of obtaining an online degree was ranked last for students in all three countries when placed against other options, such as enrolling in locally-based institutions that offer degrees, and locally-based overseas campuses that offer external degrees.

Cost-savings proved to be one of the most important considerations for students in Indonesia. Aside from tuition fees, students in Indonesia typically spend a significant amount of time commuting to and from their classes and may incur additional costs in trans-city travel and accommodation.

Online degrees: High awareness but low consideration to apply

Spire’s findings revealed a high level of awareness of online degrees in Indonesia and Malaysia (91% and 90% respectively), but not so in Singapore (45%).

However, only 3%, 14% and 24% of students in Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia respectively would consider applying for online degrees.

Online degree: Lack of personal interaction with teachers and classmates

The Spire survey revealed two main factors inhibiting students from applying for online degree courses.

Interaction with teachers

Online degrees are mainly obtained through self-study. Students may feel that this is less effective as compared to face-to-face teaching conducted by faculty.

Building networks

Students feel that their time at university is opportune for building social networks that would be useful in their future careers. Brick and mortar universities offer more opportunities to build such personal bonds.

School rankings are still critical for university choice… but employability and networking opportunities are not far behind

The top three considerations students have when applying for a degree program are: the university’s ranking (58%), their career prospects after graduation (47%), and networking opportunities (35%). In their brand development and outreach efforts, all universities need to communicate a clear message in these three areas.

In addition, the Spire survey shows that advice from their pre-university school teachers (23%) and education fairs (14%) are most effective in influencing prospective students. Events are particularly useful in Malaysia, whereas teacher’s and senior’s recommendations carry the most weight in Singapore.

Spire Online degrees 02


The education sector is becoming increasingly competitive and diverse, particularly with the growth of trans-national degree programs in Asian countries. Many universities will consider the online campus route as a less risky first step in market entry. But Spire’s survey clearly shows that prospective undergraduates are far from convinced as yet – with the possible exception of Indonesia, where 24% of students surveyed were open to online degrees.

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