PETALING JAYA: The government’s move to halt the entry of new international students into Malaysia has raised concerns among higher education providers about its impact on the sector.
They acknowledged that while the move was necessary to curb the spread of Covid-19, they said the decision would hurt the private higher education industry which is already reeling from the impact of the pandemic.
“No reason was given in the announcement posted on the Education Malaysia Global Services (EMGS) website, ” said National Association of Private Educational Institutions (Napei) president Assoc Prof Elajsolan Mohan.
He was referring to the July 29 statement from EMGS that entry for such students and their dependents was on hold until further notice.
EMGS, which is a one-stop centre for international students pursuing higher education in Malaysia, also listed the standard operating procedure (SOP) to be followed by returning international students.
Elajsolan said the association was willing to assist students if they were required to adhere to additional guidelines and the SOP.
“According to what we (Napei) were told earlier, new international students can register and start their lessons online and when the time is right, they can enter the country for physical lessons, ” he said, adding that they were in the dark about the current situation.
He also estimated that close to 50% of private higher education institutions were suffering financially and some had even closed.
The move to halt the entry of international students would affect the government’s target of getting 250,000 of such students here by 2025, he added.
Last month, Higher Education Minister Datuk Dr Noraini Ahmad said all international students must register with EMGS before they were allowed to enter the country.
They must undergo a polymerase chain reaction test or antibody rapid test in their home country three days prior to their arrival here.
“They must also undergo a health screening by the Health Ministry, and undergo 14 days of quarantine at locations determined by their respective higher education institutions, ” she said.
There are over 9,000 new international student applications for entry in January and February next year.
EMGS chief executive officer Mohd Radzlan Jalaludin, when contacted, explained that public health was the government’s priority.
“The increase in imported Covid-19 cases was one of the reasons a decision was made to put on hold the entry of new international students and dependents – for now.
“The situation is very fluid and we are keeping tabs on it to see when it will be appropriate to allow new students to come in again, ” he said, adding that existing students could return.
He said meetings involving the Immigration Department, National Security Council, Health Ministry, EMGS and all relevant authorities were being held daily to monitor the Covid-19 situation here.
Under the new SOP, international students must register at https://visa.educationmalaysia.gov.my before they can request for travel authorisation.
Students will only be allowed to enter Malaysia via Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) and KLIA2.
Those who attempt to enter from other entry points will be denied entry and may risk being deported to their country of origin.A mandatory Covid-19 screening test will be conducted by the Health Ministry upon their arrival at the international gate. The students will have to bear the RM250 screening fee.
Melaka Action Group for Parents in Education chairman Mak Chee Kin was receptive of the halt in entry, describing it as a good move.
“Prevention of the spread of Covid-19 is better than cure, ” he added.
But for Pakistani student Tehreem Anjum Khan, 19, who is enrolled at a private university here, “everything is up in the air now”.
She said she chose to study in Malaysia because of its safe environment and the proper manner that the government was managing the pandemic.
“My friends and cousins who are studying in Malaysian universities highly recommended I study here because Malaysia is a hub for international students.
“They tell me the country is safe and the quality of education is good, ” said Tehreem, who has enrolled in a degree course in accounting and finance.
Another Pakistani student Muhammad Hamza Khan, 17, was disappointed.
The student, who had enrolled in a foundation programme, said he had been looking forward to studying in a Malaysian campus, instead of learning via online platforms.
Educationist Datuk N. Siva Subramaniam acknowledged that preventing the spread of Covid-19 is vital, but it was also important not to disturb the students’ studies.