Malaysia is looking to boost its role as a regional education centre, seeking to attract more foreign university students to its expanding network of tertiary facilities while also increasing the number of overseas universities with campuses based in the country.
There are currently around 70,000 foreign students taking courses at Malaysia’s 20 public universities and 24 private higher learning institutions, according to Higher Education Ministry figures. Deputy Minister Hou Kok Chung believes the number will rise to 80,000 by 2010.
“The target can be met as Malaysia offers a more affordable and higher quality education for students from China, Taiwan, Thailand and Singapore in the current economic scenario,” he told local media on May 26.
The country’s drive to attract foreign students was given a helping hand in mid-May when five Malaysian universities were ranked within the top 100 Asian higher learning institutions in a survey conducted by London-based QS Quacquarelli Symonds, the compilers of the Times Higher Education World University Rankings.
Universiti Malaya was the highest-ranked Malaysian university, at 39th in Asia in terms of quality, with Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia coming in at 51, Universiti Sains Malaysia at 69, Universiti Teknologi Malaysia at 82 and Universiti Putra Malaysia at 90. The rankings were based on an assessment of regionally relevant measures of excellence and research productivity, QS managing director Nunzio Quacquarelli told The New Straits Times on May 11.
“Malaysian universities have performed well, with large numbers of international students. These results make studying in Malaysia an attractive option for international students,” he said.
Another arrow in Malaysia’s higher-education quiver is EduCity, a purpose-built campus covering 240 ha located at Nusajaya in the country’s south. As part of the larger Iskandar Malaysia development project, EduCity aims to provide all levels of education but with a special focus on tertiary learning, combining international-standard universities, knowledge-based industry leaders, industry-based research and development clusters, international schools and colleges.
The first foreign university to commit to the EduCity development, the Newcastle University of Medicine Malaysia, opened enrolments for its first intake in early May, with 40 places on offer for Malaysian and overseas students.
According to Arlida Ariff, the chief executive officer of Iskandar Investment, which is in charge of developing the project, as many as four more overseas universities will agree to establish campuses at EduCity by the end of the year.
“For the maritime universities, we are looking at two Dutch institutions to set up facilities here,” Ariff said while on a visit to Singapore on May 19. “We are also in talks with a private Indian university operator over a management, technology and distance-learning centre. The third discussion we are having is with an Australian university over a hospitality school.”
There is growing interest in the Malaysian education market among foreign universities, with South Korea’s Korea Maritime University signing a memorandum of understanding on May 25 to establish a campus.
The new university, which will work in conjunction with the Malaysian Maritime Academy, will help the country to become more of a maritime nation, internationalise its higher education sector and provide opportunities for students to pursue education in new academic fields, said Mohamed Khaled Nordin, the higher education minister. Malaysia had to beat off challenges from a number of other countries in the region to gain the services of the Korea Maritime University, the minister said.
“The university receives numerous requests from other countries to set up a branch campus but it has chosen Malaysia due to our strength in the English language and our good infrastructure,” he said.
There have been some concerns that the global recession could impact on the number of foreign students either studying in Malaysia or considering enrolling in one of the country’s universities, though according to Binary University College’s vice- chancellor and chief executive officer, Joseph Adaikalam, the reverse is the case.
“The current economic situation has a positive impact on Binary as more international students have started enrolling with us,” he told the Malaysian Star on May 10. Even if overseas enrolments fall it is likely that Malaysia’s lecture halls will remain full, as high costs at foreign universities force some local students to return home to complete their studies.
While Malaysia faces stiff competition for foreign students from universities across the Asian region, its ability to attract quality institutions to its shores from abroad, along with the rising standards, mean that it has the potential to go to the top of the class.