Malaysia is education destination ‘of last resort’

S RAMAKRISHNAN is a former senator.

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Second Education Minister Idris Jusoh claims that Malaysia’s higher education system is now on par with developed nations like the United Kingdom, Germany and Australia in view of the fact that the 135,000 foreign students here make up 10 percent of all students in local institutions of higher learning. Many had expressed their reservation and disagreement over his claims. Below are some more facts as to how far away the minister’s claims are from on the ground reality.

Many students from China are enrolled in local colleges that have twinning programmes with foreign universities. Many foreign countries have limited places for students from China. Malaysia is a stepping stone for these students to get foreign degrees or migrate to a third country.

Students from China choose Malaysia as they feel at home here with the local Chinese culture and food are affordable. They are not here to get a Malaysian education. The Education Ministry has neglected the English language but in the private sector and colleges, English is still the lingua franca.

Australians students in Malaysia are few and far between. The reverse instead is true. Malaysian students are in large numbers in Australia because of the high Australian education standards.

We have a large number of Middle Easterners here because of Islamophobia in the west. Besides, many Middle Eastern students get scholarships from the Malaysian government. Malaysia is considered moderate by these students who come from hard-line countries. Quite a number of these students are also escaping the rigid and hard-line policies in their home countries.

Malaysia is a stepping stone for Middle Easterners before they migrate to third countries. Malaysia is also relatively cheaper for those among them who want a degree. Many are here to learn English before they go back. There are, in fact, more Middle East students than local non-Malays in local public universities.

Some North African students are enrolled in public universities due to the support received from Islamic bodies that help them to continue their studies here. A lawyer friend of mine told me that nearly 30 percent of African students are languishing in Malaysian prisons for violating immigration laws, drug dealing or some illegal activities.

The local police, too, seem to find African students easy targets for some offence. The Malaysian government spends millions keeping these students in prison. It’s a big drain on the government coffers.

All the above does not say much about Malaysia being a regional education hub. It is the foreign affiliations and twinning arrangements that bring foreign students to Malaysia. In fact, many more Malaysian students would have left for foreign universities if not for the twinning programmes that links them to local colleges and universities.

The brutal fact is that foreign students are here not because of our education standards. It is the third world countries’ students who come here to study. Therefore, Mr Minister, please do not use the high number of foreign students to measure the standard and quality of our higher education system.

See more at: http://www.malaysiakini.com/letters/290404

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