Diversity a key attraction of studying in Malaysia.

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The Vice Chancellor of UCSI University, Dr Robert Bong, gives his take on the attractiveness of Malaysia as an emerging education hub and points to one area which prevents more international players from coming in.

 Dr Robert Bong, an American Korean has been Vice chancellor of UCSI University for over two years now and has some interesting observations about Malaysia’s strengths as an education hub.

He feels that Malaysia sits in an interesting location where there is still a large group of people in the developing world that can benefit from Malaysia’s private sector led education sector. He sees demand for tertiary education coming mainly from Islamic majority countries who are coming to Malaysia not just because it is more comfortable and familiar to them but also attracted by the natural diversity Malaysia offers which leads to a richer education experience for international students.

As an education hub, he feels Malaysia is unique because it has about 40% of its total tertiary student population coming from overseas and mainly from Islamic countries. “I see that in my own university too,” he says.

He is excited by this as he feels that one of the four economic growth engines of the world is this Islamic growth engine, which he admits is loosely organised. “But they tend to do business with each other.” The others are the US as the innovation economic engine, China as the manufacturing economic engine and India as the services engine.

“On the evidence of what I have seen, I think Malaysian private education can take advantage of the inherently unique factors that Malaysia has [its natural ecosystem] and turn the country into a special education hub.”

This way, instead of competing with Singapore, it has a unique strategy. “You can then work to raise the standard of education to meet the aspirations of offering world-class quality education.”

Part of this world class education comes from the diversity of the student body where Malaysians and foreign students learn from each other to embrace and respect diversity and inclusion. “Actually you already see the more advanced nations do this very well with their foreign student population which typically averages 10% of the total student body,” he notes.

“Whereas in Malaysia, we are only now learning to make use of this diversity as part and parcel of our pedagogical approach.” He believes this should be marketed as a key education value for Malaysia. “So, don’t let the recruitment of foreign students just be for the sake of recruitment, see it as a tactic that fosters a conducive environment for students to experience and learn diversity, to network and later to even return back something to society in whatever manner they can.”

As comparison he notes that China graduates around 7 million students a year and India a little over 4 million but notes that they are all homogenous. “Diversity and inclusion are not natural assets to teach students and to learn from in that environment.”

In other words, students heading to Malaysia for their tertiary education will come out of the experience more prepared to be global citizens.

So, is Malaysia well positioned to be this special global hub? Bong feels that one aspect missing is the presence of more international education providers in Malaysia. “But, while I would like to see more of them here, the education market is too fragmented and congested. I feel once the market has consolidated, the international education providers will look at Malaysia with more interest. But for sure, I would hesitate to come over in the present scenario.”

The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.

Photo credit: Flickr user h3csc

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