NEAC's target of an international student population of 50,000 in five
years is too small and modest and should be doubled if not trebled
by Lim Kit Siang
Friday): The National Economic Action
Council (NEAC) has set the target of an international student population for
50,000 in five years, contributing about RM3 billion in foreign exchange
The NEAC executive director, Datuk Mustapha Mohamad said that currently,
there were 18,000 foreign students in the country, contributing about RM500
million in terms of fees, rental and their families' expenditures.
The 50,000 foreign students targeted in five years are expected to come
mainly from China, Indonesia and the Gulf countries. The direct potential
earnings could be around RM1.25 billion annually, which would contribute
about RM2.8 billion to Malaysia's gross domestic product (GDP) when the
multiplier effects are taken into account.
The NEAC's target of an international student population of 50,000 in five
years is too small and modest and should be doubled if not trebled.
The global education industry involves astronomical
expenditures in the region of trillions of ringgit. Education, in particular
higher education, has become a very lucrative industry, both domestically as
well as internationally.
There are at present some two million international students pursuing higher
education abroad, nearly half of them from Asia, which has been described as
"only the tip of the iceberg" as the demand for higher education will grow
by leaps and bounds in the next one to two decades with East Asia's combined
GDP set to surpass that of the US and the European Union around 2020.
Malaysia should aim to secure at least five to ten per cent of
these international students to come to our universities by the end of the
decade, which should not be too difficult if our universities are of
international repute, as the cost of living in Malaysia are very much
cheaper and lower than those in the West. This would mean a target 100,000
to 200,000 international student population by 2,010 with a potential of RM6
billion to RM12 billion foreign exchange earnings instead of a paltry 50,000
by 2,007 targetted by NEAC.
The only hurdle to surmount is for Malaysia to establish itself
as an international centre of educational excellence with universities and
tertiary institutions recognized globally for their academic attainments - a
provider of quality education not only for Malaysians but for international
students to further their education in the country.
Instead of continuing to allow education to divide Malaysians, the
government should provide the lead and set the example to make quality
education for primary, secondary, tertiary, mother-tongue and ICT education
the top national educational objective.
A major drawback for Malaysia at present is the absence of an university
which is internationally recognised for its academic excellence.
Previously, the country had one, as the University of Malaya in the sixties
was undoubtedly an university of international repute and standing. However,
in the Asiaweek's 2000 ranking of Best Universities in the region,
University of Malaya was ranked a lowly 47th position out of 77
universities, with Universiti Putra Malaysia in 52nd and Universiti Sains
Malaysia in 57th position.
Asiaweek in 2000 also had a separate ranking for "Science and Technology
Schools" where Malaysia's sole mention, Universiti Teknologi Malaysia, was
ranked 30th out of 39th universities/institutes, while in the Asiaweek 2000
ranking of the Best MBA Schools in the region, Malaysia's top MBA school,
the Faculty of Business and Accountancy in the University of Malaya was
ranked a lowly 32rd place among the top 50 MBA schools.
In 2001, the Hong Kong-based Political and Economic Risk Consultancy (PERC)
conducted a survey of foreign business executives working in the region on
the best education system in Asia and the highest quality labour force.
Malaysia came out poorly, ranked seventh out of 12 countries when we should
be among the top three, which went to Japan, Singapore and South Korea.
The NEAC should commission a masterplan for an education
revolution and not just reform to make Malaysia the provider of quality
education for primary, secondary, tertiary, mother-tongue and ICT education.
Quality education at the tertiary level is only possible if there is quality
education at the primary and secondary schools, as they lay the foundation
of a generation's educational prowess and greatness.
Lim Kit Siang, DAP National