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The University Challenge I

by Nicole Tan & Deborah Joy Peter 1 Jan 2012
The University Challenge I

Like clockwork each year, multitudes of 18-year olds leave the comfort of their Malaysian nests for what is believed to be an opportunity of a lifetime in gaining a topnotch education, by taking to the skies and landing in a prestigious foreign university, and many times as far away from home as possible.

While for some the process is one filled with grief, reluctant families are somehow under the impression it is the only available alternative for their children. Yet, there is another option.

It used to be that expatriate and even local parents steered their children towards overseas universities owing to the belief that by attending institutions in places like the UK or the US, their teenagers were getting a ‘better deal’ by obtaining a much higher standard of education compared with what Malaysia had to offer.

Whether this was true in the past is debatable, but as is becoming increasingly apparent in recent years, the benefits of pursuing an education in Malaysia are not only exceptional but growing.

From the excellent facilities to the highly qualified professional educators, perfect weather and beautiful landscapes, the advantages of studying in Malaysia are plentiful

The Setting

“Besides being a food haven and melting cultural pot, there are very few countries in this region as safe as Malaysia,” remarked Dr. Chong Beng Keok, the principal of Kolej Damansara Utama (KDU) Penang.

“It is a country that is not only blessed with protection from natural disasters but also a country where a society of all races can co-exist harmoniously together.”

On its own, Malaysia’s diverse population comprises three main races, yet the annual increase in international students studying in Malaysia has resulted in an even larger range of variety in the country.

It’s what is said to be a further progression in already developed attitudes towards acceptance and integration.

Nottingham University’s local campus situated in Selangor has a strong international student population, making up 40 per cent of the community. At KDU Penang, with a student body of 49 different nationalities.

“While active in studies and co-curricular activities, the variety of international students in the college also serves as a useful sociological education tool in the diffusion of culture amongst KDU Penang’s 2,300 strong student population number,” Dr. Chong notes, describing some of the benefits of the international mix in his school.

Some people believe that harmony entails monotony, but in no way is the Malaysian melody dull. With well-situated private schools, the university and college experience is as complete as ever, providing hundreds of venues to socialize in; students will never find themselves out of options.

The urban backdrop also makes it convenient for students to find and obtain internships which provide valuable work experience; English being a widely spoken language only makes this easier.

With generally warm people to top it all off, the Malaysian scene and company is just as good as if not better than what any other country has to offer.

The Substance

It’s true that when it comes to league table comparisons, Malaysia simply cannot compete with universities in the UK and the US but that doesn’t mean that education in Malaysia on the whole is not progressing at a positively rapid pace.

With increasing numbers of overseas schools setting up branches in Malaysia, it is safe to say education within the country is beginning to brim with unmistakable potential; that which even foreign institutions can no longer ignore.

One such example is the country’s first graduate school of medicine the Perdana University Graduate School of Medicine (PUGSOM) which was set up locally in 2010 in collaboration with American based Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

Located in the southern portion of the Peninsular, the Johor campus is run as a private medical school offering a four-year doctorate degree in medicine. Another is UK-based Newcastle University Medicine Malaysia (NUMed) which celebrated its official launch on local soil in November 2011.

The school is an international branch campus under the Newcastle University UK, providing undergraduate degrees in Medicine (MBBS) and the Biomedical Sciences (BSc) as well as upcoming opportunities for postgraduate study.

The programmes offered are identical to Newcastle’s UKbased provision and lead to the award of the same degrees. The BSc degrees in the Biomedical Sciences and the school’s postgraduate provision are slated to launch in 2013.

Meanwhile, the University of Reading began working with Taylor’s University College (TUC) in Kuala Lumpur in 2002 and two years later, its School of Law tied up with TUC to deliver its qualifying LLB programme locally, with students spending two years at TUC before transferring to Reading for their final year.

The first intake enrolled in Malaysia in September 2004. The curriculum at TUC is identical to that delivered in Reading. At the end of three years, each student is awarded a Reading degree.

With multiple undergraduate courses ranging from Accounting and Business (BA) to Biomedical Sciences (BSc) to Cybernetics (BSc) and Law LLB available, students are spoilt for choice when it comes to gaining that much coveted quality education.

At the postgraduate level, local and overseas students need not look further. Like the above, other new universities which have recently set up shop in Malaysia include the University of Cardiff and KBU’s Middlesex University among many others.

Educational achievement is and always will be the major focus of all private Malaysian schools. Tan Sri Dato’ Dr. Abu Bakar Suleiman, president of the International Medical University (IMU), stresses the huge part this plays in admissions, “We accept students on academic grades and because they show a caring attitude towards the society they will serve.”

In addition to high results, it’s good to know that local universities/colleges still aim to achieve what seems to be totally forgotten at tertiary level by many institutions – the development of the individual outside of the classroom.

Colleges like Kolej Bandar Utama (KBU), located in Petaling Jaya, seek to promote a sense of community in their campus by organising various student clubs.

In some foreign institutions in urban areas, like the London universities, many societies cannot be formed as campuses in cities like London tend to be small and lack facilities. Malaysian campuses, however, are generally spacious and full of amenities.

Besides their impressive research department, the IMU campus offers a range of other facilities such as a gymnasium, dance studio and student café.

Accommodation can also be arranged by IMU at a nearby condominium, with special offers made by the university to international students.

KBU College also has convenient accommodation for their students who are usually housed in guarded college managed hostels and student houses while Nottingham University provides on-campus, as well as off-campus housing options.

The Malaysian setting has everything to offer, but if students ever require a change of scenery, many of the institutions here offer various twinning programmes with numerous overseas universities.

KBU College has several foreign partners from UK, Australia, Germany and New Zealand and IMU, in addition to those countries (except Germany), has connections that spread to the US, Ireland, Scotland and China.

Similar to the above, there are numerous schools offering Australian, UK, American, and India-based twinning programmes.

If students are caught between comfort and variation, twinning programmes provide an even wider range of options and should be able to solve any indecision.

Metropolitan College offers a 2+1 Bachelor of Commerce (Accounting) programme with the Curtin University of Technology while Taylor’s University College a 1+2 Bachelor of Biomedical programme with the University of New Castle and KDU a 3+1 Bachelor of Laws programme with the University of Tasmania.

These collaborations open up new avenues for students to re-discover and expand on their experience and exposure to their fields of study in Australia.

UK-based twinning professional courses include PTPL College’s tie-up with the Norththumbria University for the 2+1 LLB (Hons) programme, Stamford College’s (Malacca) partnership with the University of East London for the 2+1 Bachelor of Arts (Hons) International Business programme and KDU’s 2+1 LLB programme with the Oxford Brookes University, to name a few.

Meanwhile, TPM College offers a 2+2 Bachelor of Science in Biotechnology programme in conjunction with the California State Polytechnic University in Pomona, USA.

For those interested in pursuing the field of medicine, Manipal Medical College in Malacca has a 2½+2½ Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery (MBBS) programme in partnership with the Manipal Academy of Higher Education in India.

With a myriad of twinning options available, students get to have the cake and eat it at the same time by being able to enjoy university or college education in Malaysia and abroad.

The Sum

Probably the greatest advantage there is to the Malaysian tertiary education is that it’s economical. It’s a popular belief that anything inexpensive can’t be good, but whatever else Malaysian education may be, it is definitely value for money.

Compare the cost of a Malaysian university education to any school in the UK, whether or not it’s ever been on the QS Top 200 list, the prices here will be cheaper and, with the rising quality of education, worth every cent.

“The competitiveness of the private education industry in Malaysia has also directly increased the quality of the educational offerings with a variety of international programmes being made available at very reasonable fees.” said Dr. Chong, explaining the development of Malaysian private education, Most Malaysian private schools charge fees similar to those of Nottingham University, with course prices ranging from RM15,000 to RM33,500.

The BBC list of 2011 university tuition fees show that most universities in the UK are charging approximately £9,000 a year, so for most three-year courses, tuition fees would amount to approximately RM130,000 nearly four times the cost of a Malaysian education.

And those are fees alone; we haven’t even taken into consideration the high cost of living elsewhere; the cost of living in Kuala Lumpur is roughly 50 per cent cheaper than it is in London.

A calculation by the University of Nottingham show that reasonable living expenses in their university will cost RM1,200 to RM1,700 (£242 to £343) per month including transport, books, meals, pocket money and boarding, whereas an estimated amount that an average student spends in the UK for a month is approximately RM3,500 (£720), not including one-off costs like visa fees, insurance bills and flight prices.

To sum it all up, there is no debate when it comes to costs; no place can compete with Malaysia. It’s not that you’re spending less on your university experience; you’re receiving the most out of it given what you’ve paid for and getting the ‘better deal’.

The potential and promise Malaysian education has becomes clearer and clearer each year as more and more international students choose to study here. Malaysia is an up-and-coming nation with its progressing educational institutions leading the charge and paving the way. So, get on board.

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