MALAYSIA’S aspirations of becoming a global education hub is spelt out in the Malaysia Education Blueprint for Higher Education 2015-2025, which sets an ambitious target of 250,000 international students by 2025.
Aside from the benefits that a more diverse student population would bring, the sector is expected to generate RM15.6bil on the back of 200,000 international students.
Even before the global Covid-19 pandemic, the challenge was a significant one that entailed a near doubling of international students from a base of around 133,000.
Malaysia, has however, made significant strides over the past decade in developing the higher education sector, as evidenced by institutional improvements in global university rankings, the extensive number of transnational education partnerships that now exist between local and foreign universities, and the establishment of 10 international branch campuses in the country.
Although countries such as the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada and the United States are likely to remain perennial destinations of choice for a major segment of international students, Malaysia can position itself strongly with its distinct combination of location, affordability, cultural diversity and safety.
To a large extent, Malaysia has already developed its reputation as a regional education hub.
But with Dubai, Singapore, New Zealand and other locations vying for a slice of the lucrative international education pie, new strategies are required to propel Malaysia to the next level.
Many international students are attracted by the opportunity to work in the country where they pursue their degrees upon completion of their studies.
The UK government hastily reintroduced its two-year post-study work visa for international students after earlier withdrawing it. Australia and Canada have similar post-study arrangements.
Malaysia could adopt a similar approach, particularly in sectors where there is a known shortage of talent, such as defined in TalentCorp’s Critical Occupations List.
Complex visa and immigration processes are perceived by international students as a hurdle. Many end up paying external agents in their home countries to handle visa processing.
There’s an opportunity for Malaysia to take the lead in developing a seamless, hassle-free end-to-end experience, effectively creating a digital student pass that would signal how welcoming the country is towards international students. Such a pass could also be used to capture other important information, such as health and medical details.Recognition
Degrees in Malaysia are accredited by the Malaysian Qualifications Agency (MQA) to ensure a minimum set of quality standards, including any requirements of local professional bodies. Achieving mutual recognition of degrees and professional qualifications at a country-to-country level will not only enhance the global acceptability of degrees awarded in Malaysia, but also provide international students with the reassurance that their degrees will be recognised in their home countries.
Education tourism, which might adopt elements from the European Union’s Erasmus programme, could be developed at the national level and jointly promoted by the Higher Education and Tourism, Arts and Culture Ministries.
By emphasising high-quality academic offerings, general affordability and ease of living, such a concept could attract students from developed countries such as the UK, US and Australia to spend part of their studies in Malaysia, where English is widely spoken.
Dubai Knowledge Village, an initiative launched in 2003 by the Dubai government, has been successful in raising the profile of the city as an international higher education hub.
A similar venture exists in Malaysia in the form of EduCity, which is part of Iskandar Malaysia. Strategic investments in initiatives such as EduCity, which works its partner institutions to provide students with integrated facilities and community activities, are central in enhancing Malaysia’s position as a preferred destination for international students, but these have to be made more visible on the global stage to fulfil their full potential.
Prof Wing Lam is provost and chief executive officer at University of Reading Malaysia, an international branch campus of University of Reading, United Kingdom (UK). He has held a variety of academic positions in Malaysia, Singapore and the UK. Prof Wing completed his PhD in computer science at King’s College London in 1994. He has published over 80 peer-reviewed articles and journals. His current areas of research interest include technology and innovation.
The views expressed here are the writer’s own.