According to media reports, Malaysia was hosting 127,583 international students as of March – 70% of which were in private higher education institutions.
“Our international numbers have been flat in the last couple of years”
In 2019, 30,341 international students were enrolled at public higher education institutes, statistics show.
Speaking at a Ministry of Education event, Mohd Ghazali Abas education ministry secretary-general warned that stakeholders, private and public institutions needed to work together if the country is to meet its aim.
“By strategically synergising the internationalisation of activities, we can improve our institutional capacity in providing high quality and adequate support services to our main customer, the international student,” Mohd Ghazali said.
Speaking with The PIE News, Perry Hobson, Sunway University‘s PVC for Global Engagement, noted that the institution is seeking to grow its international cohort, which currently stands at around 7,500 degree and diploma students – approximately 12% of its students.
“I don’t think the country will meet its targets given the issues and problems that the country is facing with a poorly its co-ordinated approach – which was highlighted in the recent seminar the MoE ran.
“Our international numbers have been flat in the last couple of years, and we would very much like to see them grow further – ideally between 20-30%,” he said.
Hobson, who was also chairing the opening panel session at the ‘Internationalisation of Higher Education Seminar’ in Putrajaya where the secretary-general was speaking, explained that with a number of other universities Sunway is actively engaging with the MoE to “identify the issues, problems and gaps that are preventing Malaysia from reaching its potential”.
“While it’s pleasing to see and work with the enthusiastic team in the Ministry of Education (HE), the reality in Malaysia seems to be that the MoE has little sway over the workings of the other government departments,” Hobson stated.
These departments also seem to lack coordination, he said, citing bureaucracy and identification paper issues.
“Immigration insists it has to endorse the student passports and visa after arrival at the university, which means students have to surrender them.
“But, technically it’s illegal not to be in possession of your passport and so the police can then arrest a student and hold them without charge for 14-days,” Hobson added.
Some police officers also claim that the student ‘i-kad’, a identity card for international students issued by the Immigration Department of Malaysia through Education Malaysia Global Services since 2014, is not an official document, resulting in arrests.
One Nigerian PhD student died in custody after his arrest, resulting in questions around racial profiling arising.
“Is this part of a pattern?” Hobson asked. “Well, the Namibian High Commissioner also recently made headlines about treatment of her nephew at the airport.”
The University of Wollongong global enterprises managing director and group CEO Marisa Mastroianni noted that the institution is not working with other universities to strategically recruit students, however it aims to “highlight Malaysia as an internationally recognised education hub”.
“UOW is committed to helping Malaysia reach its target in 2020,” she explained.
“Universities will need to be agile and adaptable in their academic approach to ensure the curriculum remains relevant in an ever-changing economy. The curriculum must be relevant to the local market, but also translatable so that students have the experience required for global employment opportunities.
“It needs to be delivered dynamically and flexibly to attract students who are already busy with their professional pursuits.”
Additionally, the government seems to be giving an optimistic spin on next year’s aims.
If Malaysia does reach its target of hosting 200,000 international students by the year 2020, the secretary-general announced that revenue from international students is expected to generate 15.6 billion Malaysian Ringgit (£3bn).
“Given the rising cost of education and other related costs at 10% per annum, this sector is expected to generate RM15.6 billion when we hit our target of 200,000 international students by the year 2020,” Mohd Ghazali said according to the Malay Mail.
The average expenditure of an overseas student in Malaysia is about RM46,000 (£9,944) per year. According to the news report, international students contribute an average of RM7.2bn (£1.4bn) to Malaysia per year via tuition fees and other living expenses.