BROAD ASIAN GLOBAL MISSION OPPORTUNITY: Increasing Numbers of International Students in Pan-Asia Region

This report is an update in relation to prior AMA Advance articles on International Student Ministry in Asia by the author: International Student Ministry: A Most Strategic Yet Most Inexpensive Global Mission Opportunity Arises in Asia, (January, 2014); International Students: A Strategic Component of Diaspora Missions & the Great Commission, (July, 2016); and Ministry Report: Philippines Missions Association Continues Collaboration with Lausanne International Student Ministry Global Leadership Network & Global Diaspora Network, (April, 2017).
The Asian Church continues to have an unprecedented and growing opportunity and obligation to welcome the foreigner coming to its campuses from other nations, with the hospitality and love of God. The fact is that God is sending more international students to the greater Asia region than ever before, and it is no coincidence of our sovereign God. The Church of the extended Asia region can respond by partnering with an existing international student ministry or consider its own kind of service and ministry among the world’s future leadership enrolling in neighborhood institutions of higher education, or language/culture institutes.
The competition by Asian nations to attract international students is heating up. Several years ago, Singapore and Malaysia were among the first Asian destinations to position themselves as regional hubs for higher education and for foreign students, but several other countries in the region have since joined the race.

CHINA is in third place as the most popular destination for international students, after the U.S. and then the U.K.. China’s Ministry of Education (MoE) reports a total of 489,200 international students in 2017, an increase of 10.5% over 2016 and another important step toward the country’s long-term goal to host 500,000 students by 2020. Nearly 59,000 foreign students from 180 countries received a Chinese government scholarship in 2017. Christian students with a demonstrated mission heart and involvement could be encouraged to pray about applying for a scholarship to study and minister among peer foreign students, as well as ‘local’ students in China. The MoE recently revealed plans to allow international students at Chinese universities nationwide work part-time in a bid to make the country’s education system more appealing.
The top sending countries in 2017 included South Korea, Thailand, Pakistan, the United States, India, Russia, Japan, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, and Laos. The need for the Chinese church to catch, embrace, and engage in the ISM vision is paramount. Truly the international student field is very great but the laborers are very few. A newly released and recommended resource addressing the broad scope for outreach among foreign students in China is the E-book, International Student Ministry in China available at

INDIA, which sends the second largest number of students out for study abroad after China, is also positioning itself as a compelling Asian study destination. India’s goal is to be a top choice for African and Asian students. In April, 2018 the Indian government announced its aim to increase its international student enrollment to 200,000 students by 2023. The government started a new program called Study in India and seeks to attract students from Nepal, Vietnam, Kazakhstan, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Thailand, Malaysia, Egypt, Kuwait, Iran, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Bhutan, and Rwanda.

SOUTH KOREA The total number of international students in Korea reached 142,200 in 2018. This makes 2018 the fourth consecutive year of foreign enrollment growth, and adds up to an overall increase of 68% since 2015. This continuing growth has put South Korea well on track to reach its longer-term goal to host 200,000 foreign students by 2023.
The majority of students come from China, Vietnam, Mongolia, and Japan.

JAPAN had 267,040 foreign students as of May, 2017 according to the Japan Student Services Organization (JASSO), and is within reach of its goal of 300,000 students by 2020. Major sending countries are China, Vietnam, Nepal, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, and Myanmar.

TAIWAN has a goal to increase international student numbers to 58,000 by 2019.

MALAYSIA, which has a national plan to attract 250,000 international students by 2025, hosted the ASEAN “Going Global Conference” in May, 2018 and disclosed it’s 10 shifts to position Malaysia as one of Higher Education hubs in the world.

AUSTRALIA had 624,000 international students in 2017 and is on tract to reach the government’s goal of 720,000 by 2025. Two of the thriving ministries among international students in Australia are FOCUS of the Australian Fellowship of Evangelical Students, and the Overseas Christian Fellowship, Australia (OCF).

NEW ZEALAND The New Zealand Education Strategy 2018–2030 report noted that there were 125,390 international students in 2017, 4,810 of which were studying at the Ph.D. level. Half of all international students in New Zealand come from China or India, followed by Japan and Korea, and growing numbers are from the US, Colombia, Chile, Indonesia, and Vietnam.

THE PHILIPPINES is attracting students from India, as the Indian embassy reports more than 8,000 Indians studied science and medicine in the Philippines in 2017. Among them are around 4,500 who are in Davao Medical School Foundation (DMSF), Davao, southern Philippines. On average, in a class of 100 overseas students, Indians numbered up to 90 in most of the 20-22 universities in the Philippines.

Several national student movements in the greater Asia-Pacific region of the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students have an existing outreach among international students. IFES staff from Singapore, Korea, Indonesia, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, and the Philippines participated in the Lausanne ISM Global Leadership Forum: Charlotte’17. (Additionally, ISM leaders from China, India, and Malaysia also participated in historic global gathering).

The Facilitator for the Lausanne ISM Asia-Pacific Region is Terry McGrath, the founding and former director of ISM New Zealand. He directed the Lausanne ISM Asia-Pacific Regional Leaders Consultation/Forum in 2009 and 2015. Inquiries about ISM events and contact information for ISM leaders in the Asia-Pacific Region may be directed to Terry McGrath (


Leiton Chinn

Leiton Chinn is a member of the AMA, WEA Mission Commission, and served as the Lausanne Catalyst for International Student Ministries from 2007-2017.

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