The Internationalisation of Malaysian Higher Education: Issues & Challenges

Since the nineties institutions of higher learning have had their share of arguments on the internationalization of Malaysian higher education. When Datuk Sri Najib was the Education Minister he proposed a world standard education concept. Najib explained that the world standards imply “ the strategic efforts for the globalization of education, the search of knowledge regardless of boundaries and to be open and receptive to challenges”. This strategic frame work was further espoused in the 2012 new year address of the Higher Education Minister. Among others, Minister Khaled spoke about the establishment of a knowledge and skill hub through internationalisation as a means towards global leadership.

The National Higher Education Strategic Plan (PSPTN), gave emphasis to a comprehensive internationalization efforts capable of making Malaysia as a regional hub with a 200,000 international students enrollment by 2020. This has caused a surge of transformation in the delivery systems among most higher education institutions in Malaysia. Areas such as international students management, staff recruitment, research development and students accommodation became crucial areas of improvement as the country meets the internationalization challenge.

By 2010, more than 86,000 international students from Asia and the middle-east have chosen Malaysia as their higher education destination. Today, the enrollment figure has reached 93,000 with a large majority of these students pursuing popular programme of studies such as Hospitality & Tourism, Health Services, Islamic Finance, Engineering and Inovation. PEMANDU estimated that the higher education sector will contribute between RM34 to RM61 billion to the gross national income by 2020.

The continuous strengthening of the internationalization agenda has contributed to the increased in number of international students in our institutions of higher learning. Clearly, we have been successful here and this has positioned the local institutions at par with many of our international counterparts. The efforts towards transforming Malaysia into an education hub are showing positive signs. Malaysia is currently ranked eleventh in the World Education Service Report in relation to preferred destinations for higher education.

The internationalization effort was further boosted when several international universities were given the go-ahead to operate their branch campuses on Malaysian soil. It costs much lesser to complete one’s studies at these foreign campuses while one gets to study similar curriculum used in the parent campus and as a result these universities became instant hits.

However, a number of factors must be considered here while we desire to make Malaysia as a successful regional hub . First, in order not to stifle growth of the local public and private institutions, a thorough study must be done to ascertain the viable number of these foreign campuses. Second, in our enthusiasm at recruiting international students, we should not displace the local students in terms of access to higher education. Third, we should continuously work towards attracting prestigious universities and they must be prepared to invest and such investments should lead to a brain gain situation. Fourth, approval should be given only if these universities are able to substantiate that they can attract at least eighty per cent, if not one hundred per cent, international students as part of their students enrollment.

While we relentlessly promote the higher education opportunities in Malaysia to the international community, we are confronted with new issues as we manage the coming of the international students to our shores. A mutual issue among many institutions is that some international students demand that they be given a five-star treatment. There are also issues on discipline which affect the institutions’ reputation and credibility. As reported in the media there is an alarming increased of African students involved in violence, 5,922 visitors from China mostly students are involved in prostitution and 228 international drug smugglers detained by the Malaysian authorities between 2009 and 2010 constitute visitors from Iran who were on social visit pass or visa on arrival. The Minister of Higher Education’s announcement to cease the issuance of social visit pass and visa on arrival to foreign students should be applauded. Many of these students are here with varying intentions but studies. MOHE has become the last trump card when international students fail to get redress on their overzealous demands from the local institutions. The issue is heightened further when foreign governments are being dragged into questioning the quality and system of education that Malaysia provides . Let it be known that the local institutions of higher learning are consistently engaged in the pursuit of quality education, and Malaysia is no place for one to purchase a qualification – to say the least. The need to have effective mechanisms to manage these issues is pretty much obvious if it is 200,000 students that we are aiming for. Such mechanisms must be able to attract only quality international students and ensure the growth of our universities. Nonetheless, not all international students are trouble makers. Many have come with serious intentions of acquiring a good education and many have performed exceptionally well in their studies and in their respective institutions’ sponsored programme. We warmly welcome this group and appreciate the choice made in choosing Malaysia as the higher education destination. We hope that upon their return to their respective homelands they are able to serve well and develop their respective countries.

On another dimension the success of internationalization should also imply the ability of the local institutions to establish branch campuses off-shore. MSU has done so and it has been six years since we began our first off-shore campus operations in Bangalore, India. To help facilitate this development MOHE should give room to more creativity and be a partner to this venture for promoting Malaysian education overseas. The internationalization of Malaysian higher education needs a breath of fresh air.

There should exist smart partnerships between the local and foreign institutions. Such partnerships should be more than mere students transfer or faculty exchanges. Critical areas of research, mutual development of learning technologies, development of international internships are areas that must be given serious thought. Perhaps it might be appropriate to establish a monitoring system along the standards set by MQA and MOHE in order to ensure the effectiveness of this kind of partnership. The credibility and reputation of the local institutions will reach new heights if this were to be done effectively.

Are we ready to confront and manage these challenges ?