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Elajsolan Mohan, president, NAPIE, Malaysia

"Latin American countries are a big market we are exploring, in particular, Brazil"

The PIE: Can you tell me about the association, NAPIE?

Elajsolan Mohan: Last year we celebrated our 30th year anniversary. And we have got a membership of close to 100 institutions as members – we cater for a whole cross-section of the educational industry which means higher education, secondary education as well as early childhood and TVET. We represent our members with various ministries like Ministry of Higher Education, Minister of Education, Minister of Human Resources and Ministry of Finance.

The PIE: What can you tell us about Malaysia’s private education landscape and broader educational opportunities in the country?

EM: In the last 10 years, there has been a tremendous growth in the private higher education, both in the tertiary and also in the secondary sector; international schools. We probably had about less than 30 international schools about 10-15 years ago. Now we have close to 150 international schools, and these international schools today become feeder [routes], Most of them progress into tertiary education as well.

The PIE: Why has there been such a growth in international schools?

EM: Because the demand is very high and also because the government has removed the cap; previously international schools could only take only 40% local students. Now they have removed that and there are a lot of Malaysian students enrolling for IGSE education at international schools.

“We had about less than 30 international schools about 10-15 years ago, now we have close to 150”

The PIE: The government is very supportive of TNE and then establishing Malaysia as an innovation hub for education…

EM: Yes, in fact of all the ministries in the country, the higher education ministry has been branded as the number one ministry because of being very innovative. The minister has introduced a new concept called 2u2i. A student doing a four-year degree program, he needs to spend only two years at the university and two years in the industry. It’s available to public universities and non-professional courses to start with. So this is already kickstarted.

And you know in terms of curriculum, the Malaysian Qualifications Agency has become quite flexible. About 30% of the curriculum, institutions can now modify it without their approval, to help course innovation. The latest technology’s coming in – digital tech, AI.

The PIE: There’s also another program which is called CEO@ Faculty..

EM: Right, Tony Fernandes lectures in some of the universities, the CEO of Air Asia! The program has taken off and at the moment, we have got close to 100 of them registered.

The PIE: And do the CEOs teach at private institutions as well?

EM: Yes, for [our members] we didn’t have any issues because we always invite people from industry to speak to all students.

The PIE: How far along the journey do you think Malaysia is in terms of becoming a leading Asian education hub?

EM: I think in this region, we are ahead. And we are also able to attract more international students – our target by 2020 is for 200,000. We already have about 175,000 students now who are international. By 2025 our target is 250,000 international students.

To facilitate this, the immigration regulations have been revised. For example, the medical examination you basically have to do in the home country as well as in Malaysia – well now, except for about five or six countries that are high risk, you have to do only one health screening when you arrive in Malaysia.

“By 2025 our target is 250,000 international students”

The PIE: Great, when did that happen?

EM: It’s in the final stages. These are the best practices that other countries are following. So, therefore, we have adopted [this position]. It’s gone to the National Economic Council chaired by the prime minister so he’s already approved it.

Also, students previously, when they finished their degree, they had to go back home. Now they are allowed to stay for about three months. They can see the rest of the country or those who have very high grades, could choose to work in Malaysia.

We also reach out to countries where students have enough money maybe for one semester or two semesters but do not have enough money for the whole program and they will want to support themselves by wanting to work here part-time. Previously, this was not possible. The government has already agreed in principle a 20-hours per week part-time work permission. So, this is also a way to attract more students.

The PIE: Do you know when that will happen, that’s a very interesting move.

EM: Two weeks ago had a meeting with the minister and he says once the economic council approves, then it’s only about just rolling it out. It should be happening in next two to three months.

The PIE: There’s a lot happening.

EM: Yes other countries like Latin American countries are a big market we are exploring, in particular, Brazil. A few countries in South America and also Eastern Europe like Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan…

“New strategies are to get more students from China to enrol and also from Middle Eastern countries”

The PIE: Those students will generally study an English medium program?

EM: Yes, all English medium programs. At one point if you did not have the IELTS equivalent, you were not allowed to enrol into any of the degree programs. Now the government has relaxed that, you can come into the country and within one year you have to upgrade yourself with the required English language level for your preferred program.

The PIE:  I was looking at the latest figures for incoming students, I’m interested to see Bangladesh is the number one country.

EM: Yes, Bangladesh followed by China, Nigeria. Actually, students from Bangladesh come more into the lower level programs like certificate programs and diploma programs. So the ministry’s initiative is to get students into higher level programs.

The PIE: And why do foreign students choose Malaysia for their academic career do you think?

EM:  I think one because it is an Islamic country and Malaysia is also Islamic, so when they come they feel very comfortable. Food-wise, very comfortable, even the climate quite ok for them.

New strategies are to get more students from China to enrol and also from Middle Eastern countries. NAPIE is also involved with EMGS – we link into their committees on policy and promotion marketing. So our ministry and association work very closely with EMGS on new market entry initiatives.

The PIE: Do you happen to know how many international branch campuses there are in Malaysia?

EM: There were six or seven. I think it’s a good experience for British students to study here, as Asia is the growth region. It might be cheaper to study the same degree in Malaysia and also get the experience of being here.

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