This special issue has chosen the theme ‘globalisation, changing nature of the state and governance in education’; the articles selected in this issue examine how and what strategies different East Asian states have adopted in response to the growing impact of globalisation. Major attention is paid to whether these East Asian states have reduced in capacity in governing education policy and management. More specifically, the contributors to this issue will address the following questions: How do these Asian states cope with the globalisation challenges on the one hand and maintain controls over public policy and management on the other? In what way has the nature of the ‘East Asian developmental state’ changed in the context of intensified pressures of globalisation? How have the selected East Asian states attempted to change the governance strategies in higher education? This introductory article sets out the wider theoretical and policy contexts for the special issue. The following discussion will outline a few major trends in higher education governance change in East Asia. More specifically, it will reflect upon whether the state capacity of East Asian governments has weakened in education policy and governance.