New agency to attract foreign students from Asia, Gulf

The Malaysian agency set up earlier this year to promote the country as a higher education hub says it will concentrate on boosting foreign student numbers, particularly from South East Asian and Gulf countries.

Education Malaysia Global Services, or EMGS, was formed as a private company under the aegis of the Higher Education Ministry.

The government decided it was time to have a specialist agency promoting the education industry as a whole, in the same way that other national agencies promote sectors such as tourism or biotechnology, said EMGS CEO Mohamed Yazid Adbul Hamid, who previously worked at Malaysia’s biotechnology industry promotion agency.

Yazid told University World News that both public and private, national and international institutions would be treated equally by the agency, which has been set up with government seed money but will eventually be self-sustaining through fees.

In operation since February, EMGS recognises that all institutions contribute to Malaysia’s status as a higher education hub.

“Private education in Malaysia has been developing on its own, but development has reached a maturity where now education can become a significant contributor to economic development by exporting education services abroad and also by providing education and training programmes within Malaysia,” said Yazid.

“For example, if we are going into Indonesia, which has a significant demand for programmes in the life sciences and engineering, we will involve institutions with good programmes in those areas and if the institution happens to be a branch campus of an international university like [Australia’s] Monash University or [the UK’s] Southampton University, I will bring them.”

International student target

The agency’s main task is to help Malaysia reach its target of attracting 150,000 foreign students by 2015 and 200,000 by 2020, 70% of them in higher education. Malaysia currently has around 103,000 foreign students, according to ministry figures.

Around 10%-15% of foreign students would be expected to be research students, mainly coming to Malaysia’s public research universities, said Yazid.

Malaysia has also become a popular destination for foreign universities to set up branch campuses. Last year there were seven operating and 25 more interested in entering the country, including from the US, the UK, Australia, the Middle East, India and China.

International universities are setting up shop at Iskandar Malaysia, a new eco-city and trading zone and they, along with existing branch campuses, are expected to attract more foreign students and help establish Malaysia as a higher education hub.

The main geographic focus for international student recruitment will be on Association of South East Asian Nation (ASEAN) countries, in advance of the introduction of an ASEAN community in 2015. Apart from Malaysia, the ASEAN countries are Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

The ASEAN community “will have a significant effect in terms of workplace migration between countries within the region, and ASEAN will be a priority market,” said Yazid.

“More importantly, the less developed ASEAN countries have capacity issues. This is where Malaysia can play a role” by hosting students from other countries.

He said the top 10 target countries included China and India as well as ASEAN nations. Malaysia is also interested in attracting more students from Gulf and Central Asian states, as well as from countries that have significant scholarship funds to send students abroad.

Visa processing

EMGS will also monitor and track foreign students once they are in Malaysia, as part of the government’s strategy to curtail abuses of the visa system by potential migrants.

Last year the government announced several new requirements to tighten up entry to international students, including taking out medical insurance, issuing of student cards, proof of acceptance from a higher education institution and Bahasa Malaysia language courses.

The new agency will also operate as a one-stop application centre for private higher education institutions to process international student visa applications.

“Before this, the way international students entered Malaysia was through selected endorsement from the relevant ministry, such as the Ministry of Higher Education,” Yazid explained.

For student visa renewals, students have to fulfil an 80%-85% attendance requirement and maintain a certain grade point average.

“Where we come in is that we will assess educational or academic requirements – we look at the accreditation of universities, the programmes, and whether they meet the eligibility requirements. Immigration will process student visa renewals based on EMGS’ recommendation for each application,” Yazid said.

He added that it would also mean faster visa approvals for students, with a stated target of processing within 14 days.

In the past, visa delays or last-minute approvals caused institutions to lose 20% of international students that had applied to Malaysian institutions, Yazid said. This in turn had an impact on tuition fee revenue, and affected Malaysia’s reputation as an international education hub.

“Aside from making it more convenient for international students, the major shift in the speed of delivery of student visas will help Malaysian higher education institutions to plan better and increase their international student intake.”