Economic Update

Published 12 Jul 2017

Malaysia is strengthening its position as a destination for international students, having recently inked bilateral deals related to tertiary-level education with partners in Turkey and Senegal.

The most recent of these moves took place in May, when Malaysia’s Al Bukhary International University and Turkey’s Ibn Haldun University signed an agreement to work on a collaborative education programme.

Set to begin in September, the arrangement will see greater academic cooperation between the two countries, with the goal of fostering cultural as well as educational links.

This followed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) undertaken between Malaysia and Senegal in March. On top of offering 10 scholarships for Senegalese students to study in Malaysia, the MoU aims to increase the number of student and lecturer exchange programmes between the two nations.

Both agreements should help to enhance student mobility, particularly in an environment when students are choosing less traditional destinations to obtain their education. This trend was highlighted by Idris bin Jusoh, minister of education, in an opinion piece published by local media in May.

“Various factors around the world today, including a challenging global economy and changes in geopolitical trends in the US and Europe, mean that international students are looking to pursue higher education outside of traditional destinations, such as the US, the UK and Australia,” he wrote.

High-class appeal

One development playing a key role in bolstering Malaysia’s higher education offerings is EduCity. A fully integrated education centre that stretches over 123 ha, EduCity hosts several private universities and branch campuses.

The University of Reading is the most recent international addition to the EduCity hub, opening in March 2016. Enrolment at the branch campus is forecast to reach 2500 by 2024, with the UK-based university joining Malaysian branches of the UK’s Newcastle University and University of Southampton, as well as the Netherlands’ Maritime Institute of Technology.

A new addition is also expected in September, when the Management Development Institute of Singapore is scheduled to move from its current location in the city centre of Johor Bahru to a new EduCity campus currently being constructed.

The influx of foreign universities aligns well with Malaysia’s aim to take advantage of growing globalisation in the job market, as skills learned in one country become marketable in many, according to Joanne Oei, managing director of EduCity.

“It is important to understand that the job market and labour are becoming increasingly mobile and global,” she told OBG. “EduCity should prepare students to enter today’s global market.”

Education windfall

Attracting foreign students is a key goal in the National Education Blueprint for Higher Education 2015-25, which sets the target of hosting 200,000 by 2020 and 250,000 by 2025.   

Malaysia is well on its way to achieving the mid-term goal, with foreign enrolment at just under 173,000 at the start of this year, according to the Ministry of Higher Education.  

Hitting its 2025 target could generate significant revenue: the Ministry of Education estimates that foreign students bring in RM5.9bn ($1.4bn) each year, a figure that it says could more than double by 2020 as student numbers climb towards the 250,000-mark.  

Malaysia’s recent focus on improving higher education services has yielded some international recognition, with Kuala Lumpur ranked 41st globally and eighth in Asia in the 2017 QS Best Student Cities Index. The 2017 result, a jump of 12 places on the last year, was based on the capital city’s affordability, quality of education and multicultural appeal.

Kuala Lumpur came in first on the affordability ranking due to its low cost of living and tuition fees, which averaged $2900 a year, much lower than in other prominent educational centres such as London ($21,400), Sydney ($23,000) and Boston ($46,800).

While the city ranked lower on other indicators such as desirability (74th) and employer activity (59th), high levels of investment could spur improvement in these weaker facets of the country’s tertiary-level offerings.  “Malaysia devotes a higher proportion of the national budget to education than many countries, and establishing itself as an international destination for university education is part of the economic plan,” professor Tony Downes, provost and CEO of University of Reading Malaysia.