Picture One: Tahem Veer Verma Credit: Tahem Veer Verma

With world-class education being offered through a wide range of diverse and flexible options, education in Malaysia is one of the best developments in the academic world. In fact, Malaysia is rated as the 11th preferred destination in the world for education and is an increasingly popular choice for those looking for an excellent overseas learning experience.

Malaysia: the plus points

A truly multicultural country, Malaysia extends a warm ‘selamatdatang’ to international students to its pioneering programs in the region. It is one of the safest and most peaceful countries in the world with a relatively low crime rate. Boasting of an excellent infrastructure, it provides a good quality of life while having the lowest cost of living among Asian countries. Malaysia, also known as ‘mini- Asia’, is a true melting pot of different cultures. The majority of the population comprises of ethnic Malays followed by Chinese and Indians. The local cuisine, therefore, includes not just local fare but also a rich variety of international flavors. With its rich culture and natural beauty, Malaysia regularly features among the top 10 travel destinations in the world.

It is interesting to note that English is widely spoken. In fact, it is the medium of instruction in private institutions and many government institutions. Therefore, applicants will need to have a good level of proficiency in the language in order to be able to study in Malaysia. Do not let this deter you, however, as many preparatory courses for globally recognized tests (such as the TOEFL and the IELTS) and internally accepted English proficiency courses are available at most institutions.

A cost-effective Option

In these tumultuous economic times, many students are attracted to Malaysia due to its cost of education. The estimated cost of a foreign university bachelor’s degree in the country is around $5,000 per year. The cost of living stands at a very affordable $4,000 per year and students can often choose between on-campus and off-campus living options. Moreover, student visa holders are also permitted to work under extremely lenient conditions. Little wonder then that Malaysia is rapidly emerging as a hot destination for international students. With huge investments being made by the government to enhance tertiary education options for foreign students, the next decade will witness Malaysia’s rise to the upper echelons of study destinations.

The education System

Malaysia’s higher education system comprises Public universities, Private Higher Educational Institutions (PHEIs) and Foreign University branches. Public universities (also known as IPTAs) comprise about 60% of all higher education institutions and are fully funded by the government. These include the University of Malaya, University of Science Malaysia and Putra University Malaysia. The IPTS (InstitutPengajianTinggiSwasta) or private universities are those that have been set up by and are funded by private companies. Foreign University branches offer internationally –recognized degrees in collaboration with universities abroad.

Additionally, one can also find Technical and Vocational colleges, Polytechnics and Community colleges. Polytechnic schools provide training courses through the Advanced Diploma, Diploma and Special Skills certificate to train school leavers to become skilled technical assistants, technologists and technicians in various engineering fields and trained personnel in commercial and service sectors. There are about 20 polytechnics in Malaysia that offer programs in engineering, commerce, food technology and design. Community colleges provide vocational and training courses within the Malaysian Qualifications Framework in a wide range of disciplines.

All the institutions are controlled and monitored by the Ministry of Higher Education. With increased emphasis on providing education that meets global standards and the introduction of the latest tools and technology, education provided by Malaysian institutions can be considered among the best in the world.

An international education

The highlight of the Malaysian Higher Education system is the Transnational Bachelor’s degree programs. Of those, the ‘2+1’ or ‘twinning’ degree opportunities available at most private universities is a huge draw for international aspirants. In this program, students complete the first part of their degree in Malaysia (typically 2 years) and the remaining part of their course at a partner university in another country. This provides an excellent gateway to a degree from well-known universities in UK, US, Australia and Europe, with the added benefit of being much cheaper. Additionally, students also get to live and experience different cultures and lifestyles.

A large number of US universities also have partner agreements with Malaysian universities. These are commonly referred to as American Degree Programs or ADP. The advantages of the ADP are that the system offers all the advantages of the American education system such as flexibility and all-round development but at a much lower cost. Students have access to a great educational system and an opportunity to progress to some excellent universities in the US through these partner agreements. For example, the ADP at Taylor’s University is well established and has been offering twinning programs for nearly 18 years. Students in the program study their freshman and sophomore years at Taylor’s and finish the remaining 2 years by transferring to one of the 50 different tier-one universities in the US.

The international spin

An extension of the twinning program is the ‘3+0’ degree through which a student can complete the entire foreign university course at their Malaysia campus. For example, students can attain a bachelor’s degree from Curtin University, Australia through LimKokWing University of Technology in Malaysia.

Yet another popular feature is the ‘Advanced standing’ facility where a student can pursue a course in Malaysia that has an ‘advanced standing’ arrangement with one or more overseas partner universities. Through this, the student can get credit exemption while applying for their bachelor degree program, allowing them to get into their second or third years of their programs at foreign partner universities.

A rich cultural experience

Apart from the obvious cost benefits, the advantages of studying on such transnational programs are many. This multicultural experience is not only personally enriching but also adds great value to one’s CV. Today’s multinational workplaces seek young graduates who are globally aware and capable of working in diverse environments, making such degrees extremely valuable. Studying in Malaysia acquaints one with the traditions and customs of its people and also an opportunity experience the different culinary delights and lifestyles of this Far East nation. Students from the Middle East will find Malaysia’s religious set-up similar to home and therefore, less daunting and more comfortable than many other countries.

A popular destination

Another factor that makes going to Malaysia attractive is that the country is a great travel destination in itself. Studying a course will present opportunities for travel within and around this magnificent country. From towering skyscrapers to tiny wooden houses on stilts, serene rainforests to adventurous river rafting rides, Malaysia is a land of amazing contrasts and beauty, and has something for everyone.

Currently, Malaysia boasts of more than 90,000 international students pursuing a range of quality programs across the country. University of Nottingham, University of Southampton, Swinburne university of Technology, Curtin University, Newcastle University and Monash University are just some of the universities that have campuses in Malaysia. Popular programs include Business, Engineering, Computer Science, Hospitality & Tourism and Health-related courses.

Scholarship programmes

The Malaysian government has also launched some scholarship initiatives to attract and retain academically superior and talented international students. The Malaysian International Scholarship (MIS), Malaysian Technical Cooperation Program (MTCP) scholarships and Commonwealth Scholarship and Fellowship Plan (CSFP) are some scholarships that are offered to exceptional students.

With the creation of the Malaysian National Higher Education Strategic Plan Beyond 2020 that focuses on turning Malaysia into an academic hub by the end of this decade, the popularity and demand for educational programs in Malaysia will continue to grow. The unique international qualifications that Malaysia provides will enable their graduates, to stand out and have an edge over their peers, having studied in and experienced the best of both worlds.

(Tahem Veer Verma graduated magna cum laude from the University of Pennsylvania. He is spearheading Intelligent Partner’s overseas foray and brings with him insight from the best of American education, as well as experiences as a lifelong international student. Intelligent Partners is an education consultancy based in Dubai and advises students on educational opportunities overseas.)