IN an interview with the press, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department (Economy) Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamed agreed that Malaysia is too dependent on oil and palm oil and potentially the education sector could be a boost to the Malaysian economy.

I can’t agree more with his view and feel that Malaysia could capitalise on its strategic position to become the Asian hub for the education sector.

The Education Ministry said the sector is expected to generate RM15.6 billion when we hit our target of 200,000 international students by 2020. It accounts for more than 4% of the total GDP.

The government should go on regional promotion, to be joined by public and private universities to promote Malaysian education as the regional hub, especially targeting countries in Southeast Asia, East Asia, Middle East and Africa. We would certainly be able to serve the niche market based on the following competitive advantages Malaysian enjoyed:

1. We already have at least 10 renowned foreign universities with branch campuses in Malaysia, such as Monash University, University of Nottingham, Heriot-Watt University, Reading University, Curtin University, Xiamen University, etc. We can leverage on their branding worldwide and a testament of these universities’ confidence in Malaysia.

2. The local public universities are also offering affordable quality education, with our top five public universities ranked between 70th (Universiti Malaya) and 217th (Universiti Teknologi Malaysia) by QS World University Rankings 2020. The top five public universities have been assigned research university status with additional funding for R&D.

3. A weak ringgit, which translates into lower cost of study, compared to Europe and the US, where most of the top universities are located. Typically, the total cost of study, from tuition fees to cost of living, is between half to 30% cheaper compared to similar courses in Europe or the US.

4. English is widely used as the primary medium of instruction for Malaysian’s higher education institutes. Malaysia is among the top three countries when it comes to the command of English, behind Singapore and the Philippines. Singapore is tapping into Ivy league universities and the cost of the study is much higher compared to Malaysia. The Philippines is still lagging when it comes to established overseas branch campuses.

5. Malaysia is the melting pot of different cultures and languages. English, Mandarin and Bahasa Malaysia are widely spoken, home to roughly a third of the world market. Students need not readjust and would feel at home when it comes to familiar language, culture, religious practices and even food.

With joint commitment from the private sector, we can certainly create a higher education environment that is conducive for the development of academic and institutional excellence in the Asian region. By doing so, it will potentially become another major income earner for Malaysia to compete sustainably in the region.

Stalwart Malaysian