PETALING JAYA: If our students studying overseas are safe and their welfare is taken care of, it would be best if they stayed put.
However, if these students are in a Covid-19 hotspot or if they are not being given food or a place to stay, then we should consider bringing them home, educationists say.
Prof Tan Sri Dr T. Marimuthu said the decision on whether the students should return to Malaysia must be made on a case to case basis.
“We have to look at whether their welfare is taken care of.
“The government must engage with the student associations to find out whether a particular campus is safe for the students to be there.
“If there are no classes and the students’ food and accommodation are not taken care of, then we should look at bringing them back.”
Prof Marimuthu said the government must get detailed feedback from the various embassies and universities before deciding.
“If we bring them back, we must make sure that quarantine procedures are followed and their health is prioritised.”
Suhakam commissioner Datuk Lok Yim Pheng agreed.
Lok, who is also the former secretary-general of the National Union of the Teaching Profession (NUTP), said if the students are in areas not impacted by the pandemic, then bringing them back to a place like Kuala Lumpur – for example – may prove to be more of a risk because it is a red zone.
“If their varsity is located in a country or an area that is badly impacted, then it would make sense for them to come back.
“This cannot be a blanket decision but one made in consideration of the circumstances of each student.”
Former NUTP secretary-general Datuk N. Siva Subramaniam said Malaysian students studying abroad should maximise the opportunity given to them and should not come back to Malaysia out of haste.
“Since you are already there, why not look into avenues on improving and furthering studies. Once you return to Malaysia, you might lose out on better opportunities overseas.
“Stay put and make full use of the opportunity. Wait till it’s a more stable time as travelling now has its difficulties given the current situation, ” he added.
He said students who are determined to return need to understand the situation before making a decision they might regret later on.
“Students, especially those who just graduated or are looking for employment, must be able to face hardships for a certain period of time and be flexible of employment in Malaysia if they choose to come back, ” he added.
Addressing parents, Siva said they should get advice and weigh the circumstances properly before imposing the child to come home.
However, Malaysian Association of Private Colleges and Universities president Datuk Dr Parmjit Singh said students should make arrangements to come home while there is still an opportunity to do so.
“There is no telling as to how long the pandemic may persist and flights are already very limited now and may be grounded. Borders are being progressively closed, ” he said.
Noting that most universities globally have substituted their lessons to an online mode, he said being away from the country of students’ respective universities should not have a large effect on studies.
“This also happened during the financial crisis of 1998 where a large number of Malaysian students could not afford to remain overseas due to constraints faced by their parents and sponsors.
“All was not lost as these students were able to continue their studies locally where they left off and complete their degrees locally, ” he said.
He added that students could obtain credit transfers which could be done between universities seamlessly.
“Credits are transferable universally and mobility of students between different universities across different countries is a daily event, ” he said.
Sunway Education Group CEO Elizabeth Lee said before making a decision to return to Malaysia, one should consider factors including access to healthcare, the environment of the child, and how badly studies would be affected.
“Evaluate the child’s psychological makeup, whether he or she could be worse off on their own away from home or if they are resilient and independent of taking care of themselves in isolation, ” she said.
Heriot-Watt University Malaysia Provost and CEO Prof Mushtak Al-Atabi said students whose semester abroad has ended should return home.
“The peace of mind for students and their families should be a priority. Students whose universities provide online learning should also return home as they can continue learning from the comfort of their homes in Malaysia, ” he said.
Students who remain overseas, he said, should ensure there are enough daily necessities, healthy food and access to healthcare which is covered by their insurance.
“Keep a positive mindset and stay in touch with loved ones and Malaysian consulates abroad to get emotional support.
“Also, make sure that your student visa remains valid while you are abroad. The university staff can help with this, ” he said.
HELP University deputy vice-chancellor (academic) Prof Dr Khong Kim Hoong said students can return home to continue their studies online.
“Via e-learning, there is no interruption. They will have the comforts of home. It may also be emotionally better to be with their families, ” he said.
Should students remain where they are, Prof Khong advised them to abide by the rules and regulations, as well as to keep safe and healthy.
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