Country ‘set to steal students from US, UK, Australia’

A targeted approach by Malaysian authorities to attract international university students appears to be paying dividends, with the country already achieving among the highest ratios for this student body globally.

The inaugural Hotcourses Insights destination country report focusing on Malaysia shows that in 2015 10% of students studying in that country were international. The report evolved from the Hotcourses Insights tool that captures 23 million annual searches by prospective students and offers a robust understanding of emerging international trends.

In April last year Malaysian Prime Minister Dato’ Sri Mohammed Najib bin Tun Abdul Razak launched a higher education blueprint for 2015 to 2025, committing to further expanding the country’s international student population.

Hotcourses director of insights and author of the report, Aaron Porter, says if the Malaysian government can realise its target of 250,000 international students by 2025, this will catapult Malaysia as among the major global destinations.

Statistics show the country attracted 135,000 international students in 2014 compared to 27,872 in 2002 and 80,750 in 2009. There was a prominent Eastern hemisphere skew as well as countries with high Muslim populations, with the most popular country searches being conducted from Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and India.

The data came from searches conducted between January 2015 and January 2016. Founded in 1996, Hotcourses provides among the world’s largest web-based course and tertiary education search for domestic and international education and adult learning.

The group’s web products and services are used by over 68 million students annually.

“We have already seen capacity in Malaysia to rapidly increase its international student population in a relatively short period of time. Potentially this can see Malaysia pulling away prospective students from the big three, the US, UK and Australia,” Porter says.

Key subject areas for Malaysian study courses were business and management (20.1%), health and medicine (18.4%) and engineering (14.1%).

Porter says while the search tool does not specifically question why students are researching a particular country, there was a significant correlation between countries with large Muslim populations and the interest in Malaysia.

“There has been a clear and consistent commitment from the Malaysian government to improving and supporting higher education. This appears to have contributed to improving the status of Malaysian universities and made them a more desirable destination for international students,” he says.

Correspondingly, the universities benefited from a more diverse student population as well as receiving the higher fees paid by this student body. Porter said there was also the longer-term association between international students and their country of study, the 'soft power' that promoted a country’s positive image.

“As a destination country, Malaysia is perhaps the most intriguing of any on the planet. It has experienced quite extraordinary growth since 2002 and by 2025 could well be a contender to break into the established cohort of countries dominating international student destinations,” he says.

He believes universities across the globe want to better understand the demand for Malaysia and how this will affect their international intakes.