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Students checking documents for university admission on registration day.
Cost of tertiary education includes hostel accommodation.

KUALA LUMPUR: HOW much does it cost to pursue higher education in the country? Making sure their children get a degree is so important to parents here that most are willing to spend all their savings and even go into debt to finance their education.

A HSBC Bank study last year stated that 57 per cent of the 411 Malaysian parents surveyed took up loans to fund their offspring’s university education, even with savings in hand. Parents in the country spend an average of RM38,000 a year on their child’s university education.

However, while the London-based Expert Market survey ranked Malaysia as the fifth most expensive country to get a higher education, it also ranked the country as having the cheapest tuition fees out of the top 10 most expensive places for tertiary education. Looking into the income to cost of education ratio, it reported that parents here spend more than half their salary on education.


Sheikh Azmir Sheikh Mokhtar, 51, a civil engineer, said he and his wife make sacrifices for the sake of their children’s education.

Sheikh Azmir Sheikh Mokhtar.

Their children, Sheikh Mohamed Naim and Nur Izzah, are pursuing tertiary education at Universiti Teknologi Petronas (UTP) and at Universiti Teknologi MARA respectively.

”I paid for my eldest son’s foundation studies including rent for an apartment, averaging RM15,000 per year. His pocket money for food, mobile phone bills, petrol and car maintenance is close to RM1,000 per month.

“He has a car for ease of transport on campus and to the nearby town. He rode a bicycle initially but was exposed to the weather. GrabCar and Uber were not in existence then,” said Sheikh Azmir.

Now his son’s four-year undergraduate course is funded by a loan of RM93,000 from MARA.

Sheikh Azmir said he bought an education plan for RM2,000 which helped to pay for his daughter’s studies.

”Her tuition fees are RM1,200 per year. She used to stay at a hostel which cost RM300 per semester. But now that she’s staying off campus, her rent is RM250. She gets an allowance of RM600 a month.

”Taking a loan is an option but it is better to rely on savings. The increase in cost of living and tough economic climate make it challenging to support my children’s studies.

“As a general rule of thumb, it costs RM3,500 a year to study at a public university and RM25,000 at a local private tertiary institution.

“I advise parents to start saving for an education early or buy an education plan.”

“Parents must realise that getting straight As in SPM does not guarantee a scholarship or loan,” said Aunillah Hilmi.

Aunillah Hilmi and her husband Mohd Khalil Abd Jabar, both 48, finance their daughter Aisyah’s petroleum engineering studies at UTP with their savings and monthly salaries. Aisyah was unsuccessful at applying for a scholarship and was unable to get a loan from MARA, Public Service Department and Yayasan Pahang.

”Parents must realise that getting straight As in SPM does not guarantee a scholarship or loan,” said Aunillah.

Aisyah’s parents forked out more than RM18,000 for her one-year foundation programme and pays about RM9,000 per semester for her degree course. She gets RM450 a month to pay her mobile phone and broadband bills.

”We may have to get her a car when she does her industrial training and internship,” said Aunillah, adding that she and her husband are willing to get a loan if necessary.


The most notable difference between public and private universities in the country is the fees.

Fees at local private universities vary depending on the course. Foreign private universities such as Monash University and Nottingham University generally charge higher tuition fees.

University of Malaya marketing department head Fatima Nuntasinee Muadmanee said parents need to pay registration fees (only in the first year), tuition fees (per semester) and cost of living (meals, accommodation, transportation and living expenses).

Registration fees vary between art, science and law programmes. For example, registration fees cost RM910 for all programmes except dentistry (RM970) and built environment (RM1,050).

The total cost of tuition fees for non-science courses such as Islamic Studies, Malay Studies, Language and Linguistic, Economics and Administration, Education, Business and Accounting, Arts and Social Sciences, Law, and Cultural Studies are in the range of RM7,500 to RM9,800. Science programmes like Dentistry, Medicine, Architecture, Engineering, Computer Science and Information Technology, and Sports, cost between RM8,000 and RM15,000 for the three to four years of studies.

”Programmes such as Engineering and Dentistry cost more because of the access to facilities such as laboratory, technical equipment and the longer duration of study,” said Fatima.

Sunway Education Group senior executive director Dr Elizabeth Lee said its university fees vary from programme to programme and the length of the course. Sunway College and Sunway University programmes range from pre-university and financial courses to diploma, degree and the American Degree Transfer programmes.

”Education counsellors advise students on the right programme for them. They also counsel students and their parents on the fees and payment schemes available.

“Mindful of the increased cost of living, we have made a conscious decision not to further burden families by maintaining our programme fees where possible.

”Sunway programmes are more affordable than studying overseas, especially in light of the weaker ringgit. It is indeed more cost-effective to pursue pre-university and undergraduate studies at Sunway, and obtain dual certificates on completion of its degree programmes, validated by Lancaster University,” said Lee.

Sunway’s fees range between RM47,000 and RM100,000 for courses such as American Degree Programme, Bachelor of Science (Hons), Accounting and Finance. Those who want to study overseas can pursue a twinning degree programme under Victoria University at Sunway and opt to transfer at any chosen stage to the institution in Melbourne, Australia.

”Our American Degree Transfer Programme significantly cuts down on tuition fees spent at universities in the US. Students in the programme pursue at least half of their degree course units at Sunway University before transferring all credits earned to the US university to complete their studies.”

Students in Sunway’s pre-university and diploma programmes can apply for scholarships to pursue its degree courses. “We also have a savings plan where eligible students enjoy a minimum 10 per cent fees waiver on the three-year tuition fees up to a full scholarship.”


Jeffrey Cheah Foundation-Sunway Group scholarships and bursary schemes are based on need and merit.

“We have more than 35 scholarships and awards catering to the different backgrounds and needs of students. The foundation has awarded RM270 million worth of scholarships to deserving individuals annually since 2010, “ said Lee.

INTI International University and Colleges’ affordability package allows students to access an interest-free monthly payment scheme to ease the burden of a lump sum payment for their education fees.

Alternatively, with the easy payment plan, those with either a Maybank, Citibank, Public Bank or RHB Bank credit card can opt to pay their fees by instalments.

Increasingly concerned by the growing number of students who have had their education goals derailed due to the rising costs of living and the weaker ringgit, INTI offers bursaries to qualified students with the aim to lighten their financial burden.

INTI Edu-Assist is a partial grant on tuition fees offered to National Higher Education Fund Corporation recipients and applicants of foundation programmes with the aim of minimising out-of-pocket fees.

Start saving early

Abdul Ghaffar Yusop.

HOW much do I need to save for my children’s higher education? Will I be financially ready when they turn 18 and are ready to enrol in university?

These are among the questions asked by most parents. There are many options for them to come up with the funds for their child’s education.

Getting a personal loan will help, and the Employees’ Provident Fund allows withdrawals for professional and skill-based courses approved by it.

Another option is to apply for a loan from the National Higher Education Fund. Online applications can be done via its website.

Its marketing and strategic communications department senior general manager Abdul Ghaffar Yusop said that since 1997, the government has assisted eligible students to access higher levels of education.

Demand for National Higher Education Fund loans is expected to continue to rise especially with the increase in higher education enrolment figures. Moreover, with the projected higher increase in the number of local students attending private higher education institutions which charge higher fees compared to public tertiary institutions, the yearly loan burden of the National Higher Education Fund, currently at RM4 billion a year, will increase significantly.

”Student loans have become an important part of the global higher education landscape, in tandem with an increased demand for tertiary education. Student loans increase access to higher education for students from poorer backgrounds,” said Abdul Ghaffar.

He urges parents to start saving for their children’s education as early as one year old under the National Education Savings Scheme (SSPN-i) and SSPN-i Plus.

“We encourage parents to open an account for their children with us as soon as they are born to ease the burden of funding their tertiary studies.”

Since its launch in 2004, 2.7 million SSPN-i and SSPN-i Plus accounts have been opened as of December 2016.

The latter, a value-added version of SSPN-i, is an affordable savings scheme with comprehensive takaful protection.

“With SSPN-i Plus, parents invest not only in education but also receive competitive dividends,” he added.

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