WITH more emphasis being placed by the Government on the services sector, education has no doubt become an exciting industry to watch.
Although a smaller contributor to the economy compared with drivers like the oil and gas industry and the palm oil sector, the education industry, is a key enabler for all National Key Economic Areas.
Efforts have been made to encourage private sector's involvement in providing industry-relevant education so that Malaysia can become the world's sixth biggest education exporting country by 2020 with a target of 200,000 international students.
The education arm under the Performance Management and Delivery Unit (Pemandu) has been keeping tabs on the progress. Last year, it targeted 85,000 foreign students but the figure was surpassed when 93,000 students enrolled.
Director of the education National Key Results Area (NKRA) Tengku Azian Tengku Shariman says the next phase of growth for education is expected to come from the private sector.
“As we head towards 2020, we want the services sector to be the catalyst of our economy. The Government sees education as one that is going to propel the economy,” Azian tells StarBizWeek.
Education, which makes up 8% of the services sector and 4% of gross domestic product, is expected to contribute an incremental gross national income (GNI) of RM34bil and a total GNI of RM61.6bil by the end of 2020.
“To become a high income nation, it is important that a more Malaysians achieve higher education because research has shown that the higher one's education, the higher is his or her lifetime earnings,” Azian says.
The private sector has been encouraged to get more involved in shaping the future the workforce and making Malaysia an education exporting country.
“The trend has always been that Malaysian school children go to Singapore for education but with Iskandar Malaysia, the reverse would happen,” she says.
Azian says that Pemandu plans to clear the roadblocks like immigrations issues for foreign students and expatriate teachers.
The Higher Education Ministry is setting up a marketing arm to assist international students coming to the study in the country.
The ministry would corporatise its international marketing divisionto become the Malaysian Education Global Services (MEGS), which would most likely be launched sometime this year.
The board of MEGS would consist of representatives fromthe Higher Education Ministry, Education Ministry and the Human Resources Ministry to set up a portal where student enrolments and visa processing could be done.
“We are trying to streamline the immigration process so that it becomes a seamless affair for the students,” Azian says.
Besides branch campuses being brought into Iskandar Malaysia, other universities are also interested to set up branches in areas beyond EduCity. Azian points out that there is another Entry Point Project under the Economic Transformation Programme with Heriot-Watt University opening a branch campus in Putrajaya.
Azian also says that many institutions have approached Pemandu for assistance to set up a branch in Malaysia.
“We work very closely withthe Higher Education Ministry. Pemandu clears a lot of issues. Sometimes we link the institutions up with KLEC, EduCity or a developer to make it easier for them to do business here,” she says.
MEGS is modelled after the Australian global marketing set-up IDP Education Australia Pty Ltd and Australia Education International.
“There are so many institutions, where are they going to get the students? That's why we always tell the institutions that they cannot depend solely on Malaysian students.
“We tell them that they should strengthen their curriculum and go out there to bring in more students,” Azian says.
Under the ETP, Pemandu has set up a consortium headed by the International Islamic University and Bank Negara to develop a curriculum for generalised programmes such as Islamic finance and business as well as specialised courses in takaful, wealth management and the capital markets.
The Asian Institute of Finance, the Islamic Banking and Finance Institute Malaysia and the International Centre for Education in Islamic Finance are among the bodies involved in the Islamic finance education development.
“We can raise the bar by having Bank Negara as an oversight audit, and when you raise the bar you make it industry-relevantto produce graduates required by the industry,” she says.
Azian says that Pemandu aims to make Malaysia the first-choice for Islamic finance and banking with curriculum that is internationally-recognised.
Besides Iskandar EduCity, there is also the Kuala Lumpur Education City (KLEC) which started in 2007.
KLEC was modelled after the Dubai Academic City and Qatar Education City.
However, it has taken a different direction, providing world-class education for school children and working adults.
KLEC group deputy chairman Kahlil Anwar Kamal admits that although KLEC has a bigger market, it must stand out from the cluster of colleges and universities in the Klang Valley.
“We were looking at Kuala Lumpur because we wanted the connectivity to the KL International Airport. The main attraction is not only to Malaysian students but also those in the region,” he says.
“Our first project is the Epsom College through a collaboration with (AirAsia chief) Tan Sri Tony Fernandes who is an alumni ofthe college,' he said.
KLEC is in the midst of setting up an Epsom's branch here, which would be a replica of the independent boarding school for 13-year-old to 18-year-old students from Surrey, UK.
The college provides a learning environment similar to that in the UK. It is a feeder college to top universities in the UK.
“There is always an attraction for schools to set up a branch here. I was from Epsom and it is looking to expand its brand overseas,” Kahlil said.
KLEC signed a memorandum of understanding in 2008 and received a licence from the Government to build the college in 2010.
The college, a replica of the school in UK, aims to have about 200 students for its first enrolment by end of this year. At full capacity, the branch could accommodate 900 students.
The RM150mil Phase 1 of the college is completed and the campus would be ready for its September intake next year.
Anwar says that KLEC intends to leverage on Epsom's location near the KLIA.
“Our target is regional students. They make use of our boarding facilities,” he says.
While private universities and colleges focus on undergraduate studies and public universities concentrate on undergraduate and post-graduate programmes, the KLEC fills the gap by training working professionals.
“We have Kuala Lumpur as our background so we thought we should try to be more innovative. The next thing we looked at is executive education which is quite developed in Singapore under the National University of Singapore and INSEAD.”
KLEC's education for working adults ExecEd offers two to 10-day courses in collaboration with prestigious institutions like the Cambridge Judge Business School.
“We feel that there is a huge market here that is under-served as many government-linked companies and multinationals are expanding,” Kahlil says.
“We're talking to as many parties as possible because the whole idea about executive education is to open up opportunities.”
For ExecEd, KLEC has engaged SME Corp and plans to discuss with the Multimedia Development Corp as there are a lot of opportunities for training under small and medium enterprises and the information technology industry.
Education can provide support to other sectors in the economy.
Some of the positive spillover effects from having reputable education institutions is thatthey would feed talents into other parts of the economy and attract expatriates as there are opportunities for their children to get quality education.
Headmaster of the Epsom Malaysian branch Gareth Eynon says that the growth in the expatriate community along with the relaxation on the cap in the number of Malaysian students at education institutions has encouraged more colleges to set up branches here.
“Pemandu has identiρied the growth of international schools at a rate of 10% over the last five years.
“This climate of growth in the international and private education providers in Malaysia has provided an ideal opportunity for Epsom,” he says.
International institutions will offer an alternative to families and top students to help plug the talent leakage.
“With acompetitive fee structure and with the convenience of being in the country, families will appreciate the savings and having their children closer to home,” Eynon says.
As the focus in the industry shifts from mere academics, it seems the promotion of education would take a less scholarly approach and the industry would market education institutions as brands and companies.
If all plans come to fruition, the local education industry would not only produce a quality workforce but also create a more diversified society with talent input from other countries.