ALTHOUGH hopeful, the private education industry does not have high expectations for the upcoming budget 2004 to help boost its growth.
National Association of Private Education Institutions (NAPEI) president Dr Mohamed Thalha Alithamby said despite various requests, incentives for the industry in the past budgets had been far and few in between.
The budget should encourage the current momentum in the private education industry by nudging industry players to consolidate into larger units, encouraging indigenous designs of programmes and rewarding those that innovate and prosper the industry, he told StarBiz.
He said the current emphasis in private education was on quality enhancement and attracting more foreign students. Thus he expected the budget to incorporate new incentives to realise these goals.
Thalha said NAPEI estimated foreign student population to reach 54,000 by 2007, bringing in a direct income of RM3bil, and to 93,000 students by 2010, with RM5.2bil in income excluding the expected income from educational tourism.
Therefore, the government should nurture the industry as it is poised to play a very significant role in the economic development of the country, affecting many areas of the construction, service, transportation, food and hospitality industries, he said.
Some aspects that NAPEI would like the budget to consider include tax incentives for all investments in improving the quality of education, especially those that finance the construction of own campuses, and to maintain the current waiver of tax on imported equipment as well as simplify the procedures.
Another aspect is improving the current tax waiver on promotion to attract foreign students by allowing a tax waiver on double the amount spent on promotions overseas and within the country.
Although expecting the budget to be business-friendly, SEG International Bhd chief executive officer Datuk Clement Hii does not expect the government to make any significant allocation for private higher education providers as they are expected to be financially independent.
However, Hii said, the industry would have an easier time if the government were to facilitate a system for faster approval of its academic programmes.
He added that there was also a need for the government to increase funding for skills-training courses and retraining of unemployed graduates in order to meet demand for a trained workforce in the countrys recovering economy.
Hii feels that the focus on primary and secondary education, with additional funds for the teaching of maths and science in English in the last budget, should continue.
As more students become proficient in English, the demand for private higher education will increase as these same students will want to enter local pathways that lead to a good foreign degree, he said.
TimeCom Holdings Sdn Bhd chief executive officer Alan Tan said the thrust of the budget for education should be focused on training and upgrading the competency level of trainers and teachers in information technology (IT), leading to a higher IT literacy rate and quality workforce.
They will also be more receptive in using education software, thus spurring demand for further training as well as local software content providers, he said.
Tan also hopes for incentives for local IT companies embarking on research and development in course content within the education industry.
The education-based IT company has been the recipient of projects from the Education Ministry, including the supply of IT equipment to schools for the teaching of maths and science in English and the construction of IT labs for 200 schools in Sabah.
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