As access to education improves worldwide, tertiary qualifications have eclipsed secondary school certifications as the new minimum standard. Technological change and digitalisation demand a highly skilled workforce to keep pace with the times; thus, job advertisements these days invariably list bachelor’s degrees as a compulsory requirement, no matter the field. While paper qualifications aren’t the be-all and end-all, the lack of one is undeniably a severe handicap when entering the working world now.
Recognising the role of good post-secondary education in local talent development, the government has increased investment in the sector and created the Malaysia Education Blueprint 2015-2025 (Higher Education) as part of its transformational efforts. As a result, student enrollment, scholarly output growth rate and Malaysia’s higher education system ranking have all shot up dramatically in the last five years. Let’s take a closer look at some of the main factors of Malaysia’s success.
Diversity of Choice
After secondary school, students have a wide range of options to continue their higher education in Malaysia. Local students can opt to take the Malaysian Higher School Certificate (STPM), which is a prerequisite for entry into public universities and is also internationally recognised by many foreign universities. It’s no walk in the park, either; the STPM is considered to be very comprehensive and has been monitored by Cambridge Assessment since 2012.
Besides that, many international pre-degree certifications such as the GCE A-Levels (UK), American Degree Transfer Program (US), Canadian International Matriculation Programme (Canada) and South Australian Matriculation (Australia) are also offered in various institutions of higher learning within the country. These certifications are preferred among the universities in their country of origin but are also recognised worldwide, enabling students to experience foreign curriculums and learning styles with the option to study overseas if desired.
At undergraduate level, the choices are even more varied. A huge range of degree programmes across all fields are offered here, many supported through partnership with foreign universities in arrangements such as twinning degree programmes, advanced standing or credit transfers for bachelor’s degree programmes, and 3+0 foreign bachelor’s degree programmes. This means that students in Malaysia receive a tertiary education certified as being on par with their foreign counterparts, and it can be fully completed here or partly overseas.
The Price Is Right
Let’s face it, university isn’t cheap. Student debt can run into the hundreds of thousands and cripple people financially for years as they try to pay it off. While this may be accepted as a necessary financial burden for the sake of the future, students and their parents are still looking for the best possible value they can get education-wise. Malaysia, with its favourable exchange rate compared to many non-Asian countries, offers excellent value for money.
Besides the international partnerships mentioned above, ten foreign universities have established branch campuses in Malaysia with more on the way, mostly originating from the UK and Australia. As these campuses are considered direct extensions of their ‘home’ institutions, their programmes, quality of education and in some cases facilities mirror or try to mirror the standards of the main institution as closely as possible. Thus, students of these universities in Malaysia are able to receive a foreign degree at a much lower cost.
The cost consideration applies not only to the price of the course, but to living costs in Malaysia as well. Malaysia has the lowest cost of living out of six cities listed as education hubs, including the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Singapore, Hong Kong and Botswana. Food, rental, transportation and other essential expenses are low without having to sacrifice quality of life even before the exchange rate is factored in; for the ASEAN region, Kuala Lumpur was second behind Singapore in Mercer’s 2018 Quality of Living survey.
English As A Common Language
Malaysia ranked 22nd out of 88 countries on the Education First English Proficiency Index 2018 and was placed in the ‘High’ category, behind only Singapore (3rd) and Philippines (14th) in the region. Malaysians communicate decently well in English, especially in urban centres where the tertiary institutions are usually located, which makes the country an attractive higher education destination for foreign students and universities alike.
Foreign institutions can easily choose local partners or establish a branch campus here without worrying too much about how the language barrier will affect their ability to deliver the syllabus. Similarly, students who come from English-speaking countries will find it easier to understand and complete the lessons, communicate with their lecturers and peers, and adjust to living in Malaysia. This reduces the impact of culture shock and ensures that they can make full use of their experience here.
Due to the growth in certain industries in Malaysia, studying in those fields here will grant students a unique perspective. The oil and gas industry, for example, is a core contributor to Malaysia’s economy and many international oil and gas companies have large investments here. As a result, a wide variety of petroleum engineering courses are offered at undergraduate and postgraduate levels by universities in the country and graduates are highly sought after in the Malaysian workforce.
Similarly, the Islamic financial industry in the country has been a global leader for many years with comprehensive market offerings, stringent regulations and risk management as well as innovative products such as the world’s first green sukuk. With Islamic finance poised to grow further in the region, many universities here also offer courses in Islamic banking and finance in anticipation of the impending workforce demand, giving students first-hand experience in one of the world’s largest Islamic banking and financial centres.
With all eyes now upon emerging Asian markets, it is clear that future growth will be driven by this region and those who graduate with experience in Asian culture and perspectives will no doubt have the upper hand. As one of the leading hubs for higher education in Asia, Malaysia presents an attractive option to prepare students for the Asian challenge, even if they don’t end up working in the region.
It used to be a common belief in Malaysia that the best tertiary education could only be found overseas. Today, however, that perception no longer rings true. With a diverse range of institutions and qualifications offered, low education and living costs, high growth in certain sectors as well as an overall high proficiency in English, Malaysia’s emergence as a leader in higher education is no surprise and this is likely to continue for years to come.