Sixth biggest education exporter by 2020?

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Much progress has been made as Malaysia aspires to be a leading education provider by 2020. The private sector has risen to the challenge for Malaysia and the strategic location of the country in south east Asia is attracting leading universities from the west to set up their Asian branches here. But can Malaysia achieve its target of 200,00 international students by 2020, while ensuring a world-class education delivery?

It is a known fact that Malaysia intends to establish itself as a regional hub for higher education for students, not just from across Asia but the rest of the world too.

This fact was reiterated last year at the Transforming Education Summit in Abu Dhabi. Education Minister and also Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin shared with the delegates that education is the top priority for the country.

“We have come to grips with the fact that the world economy is now increasingly driven by knowledge and innovation. Future economic growth and global prosperity will therefore depend on our success in making the pursuit of innovation through quality education as the prime mover of economic development,” he said.

The goal is to have Malaysia become the world’s sixth-biggest education exporting country by 2020 with a target of 200,000 international students who are expected to generate RM600 million in contributions to the economy. Growth is expected to be led by the private sector.

It has made strong progress. According to the Malaysian Association of Private Colleges and Universities (MAPCU), there were some 512,000 students at private institutions of higher learning as at December 2010. Meanwhile the Ministry of Higher Education (MOHE) revealed that last year alone, there were 93,000 international students studying in Malaysia, mostly in the private sector.

Clearly the private sector has been instrumental in education over the past three decades, contributing significantly to the rapid progress made. Mark Disney, Chief Operating Officer, (Asia) of London Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) describes it as “The engine room for developing outward-looking graduates.” LCCI provides vocational and business qualifications to students. Disney was previously the founder of Education Quarterly in Malaysia and was the editor for over 10 years.

In efforts to become a desired study destination by 2020, a number of initiatives and policy changes have been instituted:

  • facilitating the private sector to provide market driven programes
  • streamlining immigration processes for students
  • supporting niche study areas such as Islamic finance and executive education, and
  • attracting foreign universities to set up branch campuses in Malaysia

In regards to the latter, the 142-hectare campus at Malaysia’s Educity Iskandar – which will open as a full campus in 2015 – is the latest example of this effort. Latest news is that Educity Iskandar will comprise no fewer than eight foreign universities. Newcastle, Southampton, and Reading universities, The Netherlands Maritime Institute of Technology, Singaporean private university Raffles and the University of Southern California which will set up a cinematic art school. Meanwhile leading courier and logistics player DHL will establish a supply-chain centre of excellence academy too. Media reports indicate negotiations are going on with at least two other institutions.

l “There’s going to be an increasingly exponential demand for higher education but it’s largely going to come from Asia and South East Asia.”-Reg Jordan, CEO and provost of Newcastle’s Medical School.

Reg Jordan, CEO and provost of Newcastle’s Medical School in Malaysia has been quoted in the press, saying: “The World Bank will tell you that there’s going to be an increasingly exponential demand for higher education but it’s largely going to come from Asia and south-east Asia… The growth triangle of Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia is a very big market. We already had a presence here so when the operation came to put our own full international branch campus, our building, our staff, right next door to where we have other interests that became a quite interesting proposition.”

Clearly the desire to drive higher education is not just driven by economics. The future competitiveness of Malaysia is also a driver. Malaysia is clearly evolving from a production-based economy to an innovative, knowledge-based one. This requires the development of a highly skilled and knowledgeable workforce. There is a recognition that the Malaysian talent pool may not be enough.

To ensure the growth of this critical workforce, there needs to be increased accessibility and flexibility to higher education. Which is why to date, Malaysia has close to 20 public-funded universities, 37 private universities and university colleges and approximately 460 private colleges (Ministry of Higher Education data, 2010).

Numbers are one thing, the quality of the education that students receive in Malaysia is all critical. This is the challenge for Malaysia to live up to its dreams of becoming a regional hub for educational excellence. The lack of Malaysian universities in the Top 100 global university rankings is clearly an issue that needs to be addressed.

Tomorrow, Business Circle talks to Datuk Loy Teik Ngan, Group CEO, Taylor’s Education Group on how the group’s education strategy has been in lock step with the development needs of Malaysia.

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

Photo credit: Flickr user faizalr

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