When Mohd Radzlan Bin Jalaludin was offered the job as CEO of Education Malaysia Global Services, the southeast Asian country was successfully establishing itself as an international education hub.
Branch campuses of Australian, British and Japanese universities were thriving and Malaysia had set an ambitious goal of hosting 250,000 foreign students by 2025.
EMGS, a company overseen by the Malaysian Ministry of Higher Education, was responsible for reaching that target.
The organisation promotes the country’s booming international education sector, from hosting promotional events to facilitating visa processing.
Mohd Radzlan joined as CEO in January 2020: Malaysia entered its first lockdown two months later.
But instead of telling prospective international students to wait until the borders reopened, Mohd Radzlan and his team continued encouraging them to enrol.
Mohd Radzlan networking in London, May 2022
The message was clear – Malaysia’s education would remain on offer to all, albeit primarily online.
“We cannot stop students or anybody from pursuing their studies,” Mohd Radzlan told The PIE, recounting the early days of the pandemic.
“If you delay, it would affect the students. We don’t want that to happen to any students, so that’s why we encouraged the students to enrol at least for the first semester, or two semesters, [and] do it online.”
“For us, online stays. That is the future.”
Like most of the sector, EMGS shifted its marketing activities online during the pandemic.
It hosted webinars with international alumni from Malaysian universities and invited academics to give online lectures to prospective students in a series that gained over 10 million views from students and parents across 54 countries.
EMGS also launched an online platform, Discover Education Malaysia, to enable students to find and compare the myriad of courses and institutions available across the country.
According to Mohd Radzlan, the site has had more than 160,000 visitors since it went live in 2021.
“Since borders opened, we started to go back to our normal engagement through fairs but online is still on,” Mohd Radzlan said.
“For us, online stays. That is the future.”
Malaysia opened its borders in April 2022 and its higher education institutions have now returned to delivering in-person education once again.
So how does Mohd Radzlan feel now that, after two challenging years, international students are finally returning in-person?
“We are very, very happy,” he said. “Both the institutions and also the students. For the past few years, we haven’t seen each other face to face.
“Students are excited, lecturers are excited, the administrative officers are very excited to receive the students. And everybody’s happy now.”
And, as international travel resumes, EMGS is once again setting its sights on welcoming 250,000 students.
There are currently over 100,000 international students enrolled in Malaysia’s institutions and, last year, the country received approximately 40,000 new applications from overseas.
Study in Malaysia’s global alumni networking dinner in London, May 2022
This year, Mohd Radzlan is aiming for 50,000 new applications – and they are, he said, “far ahead” compared to their pre-covid benchmark of 2019.
“Students have a wide variety of choices of good universities, with affordable fees and affordable cost of living”
Over the past decade, Malaysia’s biggest markets for incoming students have included Bangladesh, China, Indonesia, India and Pakistan.
But when asked about intra-regional mobility and how EMGS is targeting Asian students, Mohd Radzlan explains that they aren’t – at least, not specifically. Malaysia’s education sector is looking beyond the continent.
At the time of interview, Mohd Radzlan and his team were in London, meeting global alumni, British universities and prospective partners – indication enough that the organisation has its sights set on the Western market.
“We have 38 countries of target, not only from Asia,” he said.
When it comes to attracting students, the biggest challenge, according to Mohd Radzlan, is “the perception of the international community that Malaysia is a destination for tourists, a destination for vacation.”
Malaysia is set on selling itself as not just a nice place for a holiday, but as a serious education destination. To do so, Mohd Radzlan said his organisation has identified eight unique selling points.
These include diversity, safety (Malaysia is ranked at number 23 in the Global Peace Index: in comparison, the UK is placed at 33, and the USA is 122), impressive infrastructure and – crucially given global inflation rates – affordability.
“Of course, the UK has better ranked institutions but you also have foreign-branch campuses in Malaysia,” said Mohd Radzlan. “So students have a wide variety of choices of good universities, with affordable fees and an affordable cost of living”.
Prospective students are offered the chance to study at one of Malaysia’s branch universities and receive a world-class education for a fraction of the price of studying at the institution’s home campus.
Mohd Radzlan cites his greatest achievement during his two years as CEO as bringing Malaysia’s varied institutions together to promote the country’s education offering.
“In the past two years, I managed to get institutions to work not only with EMGS but to work together amongst the institutions,” he said.
“We have to promote not only prospective institutions individually, we have to promote Malaysia as a whole, as a hub of international education [and] a higher education hub.”