Malaysia: Asia’s emerging higher education hub
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Malaysia: Asia’s emerging higher education hub

In the age of globalization, more and more international students are recognizing the benefits of looking beyond traditional study destinations such as the U.S. and the U.K. As higher education institutions in Asian countries improve by leaps and bounds, experts predict that in the coming years, Asia will become the next higher education superpower – both as a source of students and as a higher education hub.

Among these rapidly developing countries, Malaysia has emerged as a top study destination for students all around the world. Its popularity has steadily been on the rise: in 2014, it made UNESCO’s top 20 countries for international students, ranking at #12, while in 2015, it was up to #9.

Higher Education Minister Idris Jusoh recently said that Malaysia had a total of 151,979 international students enrolled in 2015.

“From the total, 80.3 percent are enrolled in higher education institutions. This records almost a 12 percent increase in international student enrolment for higher education in 2015,” he said during a visit to the newly-opened Education Malaysia Global Services (EMGS) Student Service Centre in Cyberjaya on Wednesday.

By the year 2020, the Ministry intends to increase that number to 200,000.

For those wondering what makes Malaysia a viable study destination, let’s look at the key factors.

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Image: Monash University Sunway Simulated Trading Lab

Affordable top-class education

Malaysia is home to more than 290 higher education institutions open to international students, many of which provide quality education. As part of the government’s efforts to further cement the country’s position as a notable higher education hub, Malaysia has also opened its doors to international universities, 10 of which have set up branch campuses, such as Australia’s Monash University and the U.K.’s University of Nottingham.

Speaking to Asian CorrespondentMonash University Malaysia’s Director of Marketing and Future Students Jay Jayatilaka said that international university branch campuses are becoming a more appealing option for international students, as they offer world-class education closer to home.

“As a campus of Monash University, which is ranked among the top 100 universities in the world, we provide the same high quality education and internationally-recognized qualifications, within close proximity to countries in the region,” he said.

“Students at international campuses like Monash will also benefit from the university’s global network, excellent reputation and comprehensive resources,” Mr. Jayatilaka added.

Depending on which field of study you decide to pursue and which university you choose, tuition fees will differ. For example, fees for Medicine and Engineering courses tend to run higher compared to others. However, in general, the cost of studying in Malaysia is far lower compared to that of countries such as Australia and the United States, which are known for having high university fees.

Pursuing an undergraduate course at an international university branch in Malaysia would cost around US$10,000 in fees in total, whereas a 2014 HSBC report comparing fees and living expenses in popular study destinations noted that it would cost an international student about US$24,000 per year in fees to study in Australia, amounting to about US$72,000 in total.

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Image: Monash Cup. Photo by Andrew Peter Tze-Meng Lim

Livability: high quality of life at a low cost

Another pull factor for international students is the balance between a high quality and affordable way of life. In the Mercer 2016 Quality of Living Rankings, which looks at factors such as safety, health, education and public services, Malaysia’s bustling capital city of Kuala Lumpur was listed among the top 10 cities in Asia and was ranked at 86 overall out of 230 countries. This is good news for students, as the majority of higher education institutions are concentrated within Kuala Lumpur and the neighboring state of Selangor.

According to the HSBC report, the average cost of living in Malaysia for international students is US$10,488 a year, lower compared than other popular study destinations such as Australia (US$18,012), the U.K. (US$13,680) and the U.S. (US$11,651).

For those concerned about adjusting to life in a foreign country, most Malaysian universities and colleges have extensive international student support services. For example, Monash Malaysia provides support from pre-arrival, such as visa applications and airport shuttle services, to post-arrival, which include social and recreational activities to help students hit the ground running. Additionally, English is a widely-spoken language in Malaysia, particularly in its cities, so students shouldn’t find communicating with locals too arduous a task.

Getting around in larger cities is relatively easy, especially in cosmopolitan Kuala Lumpur, which has numerous public transportation systems, such as the Light Rapid Transit (LRT), Monorail and Komuter lines, as well as MyRapid KL buses. With the completion of the Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) system, which aims to create a more integrated public transport system, traversing Kuala Lumpur should become even more effortless. And thanks to the introduction of handy apps like Uber and GrabCar, hailing a taxi has also become simpler.

As for accommodation, many international students opt to stay in student housing provided by their respective university. For example, Monash University Malaysia offers comfortable and affordable accommodation choices near their campus, such as the Sunway Monash Residence. Managed by Sunway, the residence provides a safe, secure environment which is within easy reach of restaurants, food courts, banks, shopping malls and hypermarkets. Residents get access to a range of facilities, such as the gymnasium, swimming pool, and basketball court. Surrounded by fellow students, international students get to become part of a close-knit community.

Good food, tropical climate

Besides the cost of accommodation, students (and their parents) will usually worry about the cost of food. In Malaysia, that won’t be a problem – the Southeast Asian country, like many other countries in the region, is renowned for its smorgasbord of delicious cuisines, thanks to a multiethnic society mainly comprising of Malay, Chinese and Indian culture.

Students who aren’t so keen on cooking can also rest easy, as cheap food is widely available, so eating out won’t burn a hole in the pocket. From perennial favorites such as nasi lemak (rice cooked in coconut milk) to street food classics such as char kuey teow (fried flat rice noodles, often served with cockles and prawns), students will find it difficult to not gain the “Freshman 40”.

But not to worry – students who wish to work off the pounds have a broad range of recreational activities to choose from, like hiking on one of the many popular trails, such as Broga Hill and Bukit Tabur.  Malaysia’s annual average of 2,228 hours of sunlight and average temperature of 28°C also encourage students to get out and about, though it can get rainy towards the end of the year due to monsoon season – in which case Malaysia’s myriad selection of shopping malls are a convenient alternative.

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Image: Parade of Nations, Monash University Malaysia

Culture and diversity

The international student experience extends far beyond the walls of a classroom or lecture hall, as students also get to acquire valuable life experiences. In Malaysia, there’s a thriving international student population, comprising of students from all around the world and all walks of life, such as Bangladesh, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, Mauritius and Singapore. Not only will international students feel welcomed by locals, who are known for their sunny disposition, they will also feel at home among fellow students while gaining exposure to different cultures and perspectives.

Globally, Malaysia is seen as a role model in cultural diversity, as Malays, Chinese and Indians, as well as other minorities, have been living in harmony for decades. Contributions from the various communities can be seen in all sorts of quintessentially Malaysian things, such as food (even TV cuisine connoisseur Anthony Bourdain can’t get enough of it) and language (most Malaysians speak a curiously colloquial mixture of English known as ‘Manglish’, which is peppered with phrases from Malay, Chinese and Indian dialects).

Proximity to ASEAN countries

Speaking of gaining exposure to different cultures, Malaysia’s convenient location within Southeast Asia gives students the unique opportunity to travel around the region. With the 9th best airport in the world,  which saw nearly 49 million passengers in 2015, students will find it easy to explore the nearby ASEAN nations, such as Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia and Philippines, as well as further on, like China, Japan and Australia.

The presence of low-cost airlines like AirAsia, Cebu Pacific and Malindo Air also makes traveling by air cheaper – another plus for students. Over the course of term break, students can wander the ancient ruins of Angkor Wat, relax on the beaches of Bali, or ride around the streets of Bangkok on a tuk-tuk.

Looking back over the many attractive reasons, it’s no mystery why Malaysia has become increasingly recognized as a reputable study destination for international students.

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Image: Monash University Malaysia campus

Monash University Malaysia is considered an exemplar of transnational education. As it is a campus of Australia’s prominent Monash University, its staff and students are part of a global academy with an international reputation for excellence in teaching and research. Studying at Monash University Malaysia is a dynamic, international experience. Its community of scholars is supported by collegial processes and comprehensive first-class infrastructure. While it is firmly engaged in Malaysia and the region, its focus is relentlessly global, so that graduates emerge ready to transform the world around them. The campus, which is located in the lively township of Bandar Sunway about 20km from Kuala Lumpur, is home to seven outstanding schools, including the prestigious School of Business, which offers competitive, industry-driven programs.