With traditional higher education markets surpassing their peak in domestic student enrollment, library budgets, and demand for research content, the industry continues to look to the developing world for growth.  While the BRIC markets have dominated much of the media focus on emerging nations in recent years, for academia at least three of these—BrazilIndia and China—are certainly important but they are not the end of the story.  Sifting through global data on institutional online access, website usage, and overseas university branches yields some interesting new insights for publishers, vendors and librarians.

At Ingenta, we occupy a unique position in the global research community through the ingentaconnect portal, the most comprehensive digital collection of professional and scholarly content since 1999. Accessible in thousands of registered institutions around the world, ingentaconnect hosts 10,000 journals, books, reports and statistics documents from 250+ publishers, generating ~1.3 million page views per month. Registration on ingentaconnect is free for institutions to access account management tools, paid subscription activation and optional enhancements.  Users can search, browse, read abstracts, manage accounts and sign up for alerts for free, while accessing subscribed content or downloading pay-per-view articles. So what does the geographical distribution of our library registrations and site traffic tell us about higher education demand, at least for (primarily) English-language scholarship?

As you might expect, institutional and user activity is dominated by the advanced economies in Europe and North America; but 25% of the libraries signed up for the ingentaconnect service and 32% of site traffic is generated from the developing world.

Of library activity in developing nations as defined by the IMF, after the predictable leaders China (3.6% of all registered institutions), India (3.2%) and Brazil (1.9%), the next leading contenders in descending order are Mexico, Turkey, South Africa, Poland, Russia, Pakistan, Thailand, Iran, Chile and Argentina.  (For comparison, the US and UK lead the pack of all ingentaconnect registered libraries at 22.4% and 12.5% respectively).  Looking at growth in registrations over the last five years, of these countries Pakistan (40%), Russia (38%), Iran (32%), Chile (28%) and Mexico (27%) show the most upside potential.  By collective region, emerging countries in Latin America at 4.2% (even without Brazil), and MENA (Middle East and North Africa, but setting aside Israel) at 3.7% both stand out as the most promising markets with engaged research institutions.

For actual traffic to the site generated by end users, again discounting China (9.2% of all unique visits in the 12 months ending September 2014), India (4.5%) and Brazil (1.9%), the picture of the ten runners-up tilts slightly:  Iran, Turkey, Malaysia, Mexico, South Africa, Poland, Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand and Russia. (The US dominated global traffic at 22.5% of visits, followed by the UK at 12%).  Sorting by world regions again, we begin to see some patterns emerge: MENA (minus the developed Israel market) claimed 4.4% of unique visits and Latin America (minus Brazil), 2.9%.  Despite the presence of the large Southeast Asian nations rating high among the developing markets above, the absolute numbers do trail off quickly however, with the minor APAC countries, Central Asian republics (minus India) and Africa only providing 6% of ingentaconnect visits combined, compared to say, all of Europe at 32%.

These trends, admittedly from just one platform vendor in a niche industry, can be compared to market data for universities opening international branch campuses (IBCs) around the world where they perceive the action to be.  According to the GlobalHigherEd.org, maintained by the Cross-Border Education Research Team at the State University of New York at Albany, there are presently 217 IBCs in operation in 67 different host countries.  The most popular locations for overseas sites include the United Arab Emirates (33), China (32), Singapore (14), Qatar (11) and Malaysia (9), with multiple instances in emerging markets such as Panama and Thailand (3 each) as well as Bahrain, Bangladesh, Ecuador, Ghana, Kuwait, Mauritius, Mexico, Russia, South Africa, Tunisia, Turkey and Uzbekistan (2 apiece).  As expected, the largest exporters of branch campuses include advanced nations with highly-developed systems of higher education such as the US, UK, Australia and France.  While these strategic expansions may be driven as much by the ability to pay tuition as by usage of academic content, the Middle East nonetheless stands apart as the chosen emerging market for attracting local enrollment.

All of this real data sitting in different domains together tests our assumptions about the world economy, revealing noteworthy trends in where publishers and academia might direct their development initiatives next.  All things being equal with regard to unique market entry challenges and economic conditions (a complicated subject for another day), our information suggests that untapped demand is strongest in overlooked MENA and Latin American countries, with particular interest in Turkey, Iran (US sanctions notwithstanding) and Mexico.  It is also worth keeping an eye on Chile, SE Asian nations such as Malaysia and Thailand, as well as South Africa.  With the right insights, support and connections, Western industry players on all sides can embark on new adventures in these largely uncharted waters.

Toby Plewak is Product Manager at Ingenta.  He was joined by PCG’s Melissanne Scheld along with Vida Damijonaitis of the AMA and Teddy Gray of Duke University Libraries to discuss experiences in emerging markets at the 2014 Charleston Conference.