KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia is fast becoming the choice destination for foreign students seeking higher education.
There are currently more than 120,000 foreign students in institutions of higher learning here, and the number is expected to reach 200,000 by 2020.
Among the reasons for this popularity are value for money, wide range of courses available, and a safe environment.
Higher Education Minister Datuk Seri Idris Jusoh also recently quoted the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) as stating that one of the reasons for Malaysia’s popularity with students from India, China and Islamic countries was cultural comfort.
As for Malaysia, the influx of foreign students has contributed to higher revenue earned in both the areas of education and tourism.
In addition, the countless spin-offs from this include raising the country’s profile internationally, attracting investments from top overseas education providers and enabling local students to embark on degree programmes without having to go abroad for the entire duration.
EasyUni chief executive officer Edwin Tay said that over the past five years, more than 700,000 overseas students have used his portal to search and apply for places in Malaysian institutions of higher learning.
Among the courses offered here that are popular with foreign students are business, hospitality and tourism, culinary arts, computing and engineering.
At Sunway University, KDU University College, Taylor’s University and INTI University, foreign students make up between 15 and 30 per cent of the student population.
International students will find no problem adapting to Malaysia.
A campus like Sunway University, which is part of an integrated township with an excellent infrastructure, offers restaurants, banks, medical centre, shopping mall, cinema and even a theme park at its doorstep.
While one can see why foreign students are attracted to Malaysia, what about the reasons why Malaysian universities are keen to attract foreign students?
Both the Times Higher Education World University Rankings and the QS World University Rankings have placed among their criteria the proportion of international students and faculty members at an institution, which reflects the ability to attract students and academics from other countries.
“There are many benefits to having international students on campus. As these students come from many countries, they bring along varied experiences,” said Sunway University vice chancellor Professor Graeme Wilkinson.
“Having a mix of local and foreign students is interesting for both the students and the staff.
“Students learn from each other about the customs, cultures and characteristics of different countries. They also help our local students become more adaptable to the globalised world of work.
“International students also boost our student numbers in some departments and enable us to employ more staff and keep courses economically viable.”
Datin Teh Geok Lian, chief executive officer of Paramount Education, said that having international students at KDU will develop student diversity and increase the cultural mix of student community, which in turn creates educational and cultural experiences for our campuses and local communities.
“In an increasingly globalised world, it is important for our graduates to become educated citizens with a global frame of reference,” said Teh.
“Cross-culture learning encourages our students to develop empathy while widening their world view, and to find common grounds while appreciating diversity.
“Cultural diversity at KDU establishes our reputation as a global tertiary education institution in the country. This is also in line with Malaysia’s aim of becoming an international and regional education hub.
“Such diversity on our campuses also encourages collegial networking among local and international students to develop professional and business collaboration in the future.
“This is another aspect of our tertiary education offering of real-world experiences with real-world opportunities.”
At KDU’s Student and Alumni Centre, the International Student Society serves to bring students of various nationalities together to foster racial harmony and encourage a closer rapport among each other.
It also conducts the KDU Cultural Initiative Programme, designed to assist international students who are new to KDU to adapt to their new surroundings more quickly.
Professor Dr Pradeep Nair, deputy vice chancellor of Taylor’s University, said that higher education institutions play a critical role in inculcating cultural integration and unity amongst young people.
“At Taylor’s University, we strive to create a truly international campus that places emphasis on cultural integration, creativity and collaboration across all learning and campus activities,” he said.
“We are working to enrol more students from the US, Europe, New Zealand and Australia.
“Such diversity is proven to enhance the students’ learning experience.”
Nair stressed the need nowadays to ensure that the young generation understands how cross-cultural dynamics work and appreciate differences among the different cultures.
“By bringing together young people from around the world on the same campus, we provide them with the opportunity to live with and learn from one another,” he said.
“Now more than ever, employers are no longer looking just for the technical know-how; they are putting greater focus on employees’ ability to communicate and collaborate with others.
“By bringing together young people from around the world on the same campus, we provide them with the opportunity to develop this skill even before they enter the workforce.
“The opportunity for collaboration between various cultures and nationalities provides our students with global perspectives and ideas which help them thrive in an increasingly borderless workplace.”
Foreign students can now earn credits from Taylor’s Summer Programme which offers 25 courses, from arts to hospitality, and engineering to medicine.
This summer programme enables students from other countries to complete their summer semester at Taylor’s University Malaysia.
INTI International University and Colleges chief executive officer Rohit Sharma said students from some 60 countries are drawn to study at universities like INTI because they get access to programmes offered with established academic partners within the Laureate International Universities network as well as practical learning experiences through collaborations with more than 300 industry partners.
Last year, INTI was represented at the Clinton Global Initiative forum by Nelson David Bassey, its engineering student from Nigeria.
Bassey, who is also co-president of the university’s student body, was selected to conduct interviews with world leaders who were present at the event.
“Our mission is to provide students with the most international, individualised and innovative education experiences which provide them an edge of their peers,” said Sharma.
“A significant part of how we prepare our students for the global workplace is by providing them the opportunities to experience a truly international learning environment — be it through academic programmes from established universities around the world, practical learning experiences with multinational organisations, or connecting and working alongside a diverse group of fellow students.”
Sharma said the wide range of dedicated services offered to its international students included an English Language Programme to help the students improve their language and communication skills so as to transition smoothly into undergraduate studies.
New students are also paired with seniors from similar backgrounds or nationalities during their orientation.
“This provides them a familiar face while they are away from home whom they can turn to for assistance in adapting to INTI and the local community,” said Sharma.
Thanks to Malaysia’s strategic position in the heart of Southeast Asia, many foreign universities have also chosen to base their offshore campuses here.
Australia’s Monash University chose Malaysia to locate its first offshore campus and it also became the first foreign university to be invited to establish a branch campus here.
Professor Helen Bartlett, Monash University Malaysia president and pro vice chancellor, said the university’s many Malaysian alumni made the university well-known within the region.
“A global university needs a presence in Asia to provide an effective platform for contemporary education, research and industry engagement,” she said.
“At the same time, students whose families are unable to support their education overseas will find a culturally appropriate, geographically convenient and affordable quality education at Monash Malaysia.
“Monash courses are customised to the local context wherever possible, drawing on relevant case studies locally and building understanding of Asian society and the economy.
“Through our exchange programme with Monash Australia and our partner universities around the world, many students also have the opportunity to spend a semester at Monash Malaysia.”
Among the most recent branch campuses to be established here are Scotland’s Heriot-Watt University (HWU) in Putrajaya and China’s Xiamen University in Sepang.
HWU Putrajaya chief operating officer and registrar, Janice Yew, said that Heriot-Watt was looking for a location to set up its second international campus after the success of its Dubai campus.
“A search team considered a few potential countries and then decided on Malaysia because of its long-established history of education with the UK, English being widely spoken here and the fact that Malaysia already had a number of other foreign branch campuses operating here which signalled government support of the establishment of foreign branch campuses,” she said.
“We were informed by the British High Commission that there was a bid for a foreign university to be set up in Putrajaya, and we won the bid as HWU offers degrees that are required for the local economy, like petroleum engineering and actuarial science.”
Yew added that having a campus in Malaysia meant that HWU could expand the provision of high-quality British education at a much lower cost to students in the region, especially those who may otherwise not have had the opportunity to study in the UK.
“Not only does being here help to enhance the university’s brand in the region, it also gives our students more flexibility in deciding which campus at which to undertake their course.
“This flexibility also provides security to parents in view of the rising cost of international education. Students can choose to complete their degree totally in Malaysia at less than half the cost of studying in the UK and receive the same degree, or choose to spend a semester or a year in another campus in the UK or Dubai.”
Yew said that the attractiveness of Asia as a destination and the relatively lower cost of living has made Malaysia an attractive proposition for UK and European students at the Edinburgh campus to spend some time in Putrajaya.
“We have had more than 30 students from our Edinburgh campus spend a year in Malaysia and they will be going back to Edinburgh this year while we welcome a second batch out,” she said.
“Those who were here recently told Higher Education Minister Datuk Seri Idris Jusoh that they had no regrets in coming to Malaysia.
“They said the branch campus gave them a safe environment to explore outside of their country with the exact same curriculum, virtual learning environment and resources that connected them back to the Edinburgh campus and we’re very excited as we can only see this interest growing.”
While more than a quarter of Monash University Malaysia’s student population come from overseas, it is presently about a fifth at HWU Putrajaya although Yew said that the intention is to increase the ratio to better reflect its status as “Scotland’s most international university”.
Following the footsteps of its Western counterparts, Xiamen University which was founded nearly a century ago by a Malayan, Tan Kah Kee, will this year open the doors to its branch campus here in a “historic reciprocation”.
It is the first university from China to set up an offshore campus.
(The photograph shows some foreign students from Sunway University.)