IN an exclusive interview with The Star (April 8), Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department (Economy) Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamed admitted that the country was too dependent on oil and palm oil, and that the education sector could boost the Malaysian economy.
I agree. Malaysia can capitalise on its strategic position to become the Asian hub for education.
The education sector has always enjoyed the highest allocation in the country’s annual budget, which symbolises the Malaysian government’s commitment to education.
The Education Ministry said the sector is expected to generate RM15.6bil when we hit our target of 200,000 international students this year.
This accounts for more than 4% of the total GDP of Malaysia, compared to 7% contributed by the tourism industry.
We can leverage on existing competitive advantages such as cost, geographical location, language and first-mover advantage to make Malaysia the preferred choice for education.
The government should go on a regional promotion exercise, together with public and private universities to promote Malaysia as the regional education hub, especially in targeted countries within Southeast Asia, East Asia, Middle East and Africa.
We would certainly be able to serve the niche market as we have the competitive advantage.
We already have at least 10 renowned foreign universities with branch campuses in Malaysia, such as Monash University, University of Nottingham, Heriot-Watt University, Reading University, Curtin University and Xiamen University.
We can leverage on their worldwide branding. Their presence here is a testament of their confidence in the country.
We also have hundreds of local private universities, with varied disciplines to choose from and a track record of over 20 years.
Most of these local private universities offer twinning and ‘3+0’ degree programmes through partnerships with world-class universities such as RMIT University and the Royal College of Surgeons, Ireland.
The local public universities are also offering affordable quality education, with the top five public universities ranked between 70th (Universiti Malaya) and 217th (Universiti Teknologi Malaysia) in the QS World University Rankings 2020.
These universities have been assigned research university status with additional funding for research and development.
With the cost advantage, the authorities should select top-performing students with strong grades or special skills and bond them to work in Malaysia for three years, much like what the Singapore government did to attract talents.
A weak ringgit translates to lower cost of study, compared to Europe and the United States of America (US) where most of the top universities are located.
Typically, the total cost of study, from tuition fees to cost of living, is between 30% to 50% cheaper compared to similar courses in Europe or the US.
There are a sizeable number of students in the region who have always dreamt of studying at a renowned university abroad but were prevented from doing so due to financial constraints. They can come here.
English is widely used as the primary medium of instruction in Malaysian higher education institutions.
Malaysia is among the top three countries in the region when it comes to the command of the English language, behind Singapore and Philippines.
However, the cost of study is much higher in Singapore compared to Malaysia.
The Philippines still lags behind when it comes to having established overseas branch campus.
Malaysia is the melting pot of different cultures and languages.
English, Mandarin and Bahasa Melayu are widely spoken and foreign students need not readjust.
They would feel at home with the familiar language, culture, religious practices and even food.
Malaysia is located two to four hours away from most Asian cities.
On top of that our budget airline, Airasia, covers most Asian countries, making the trip home more affordable.
The Malaysian Qualifications Agency (MQA) has played a pivotal role in ensuring the quality of higher education is matched with international accreditation standards, covering both public and private higher educational institutions.
With the joint commitment from the public and private sectors, we can create a higher education environment that is conducive for the development of academic and institutional excellence in the Asian region.
By doing so, the education sector will potentially become another major income earner for Malaysia to compete sustainably in the Asian region.
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