Taking Malaysian Higher Education, Higher
Education is one of the key focus areas of many countries, Malaysia included, as it is crucial to economic and social progress. In line with its goal of becoming a high-income nation, the country aims to achieve the enrolment of 250,000 international students by 2025, as outlined in the Malaysia Education Blueprint 2015-2025.
Since its formation in 2012, Education Malaysia Global Services (EMGS) has been instrumental in driving Malaysia’s aspirations of becoming a preferred education destination. As it embarks on its 10th year of operations, the organisation is set to help Malaysia meet the growing demand for quality tertiary education in a post-pandemic landscape, and in doing so, elevate Malaysian higher education to greater heights.
According to UNESCO, over 6 million people travelled abroad to study in higher education institutions (HEIs) outside their home countries in 2019. The onset of the pandemic disrupted education systems around the world, leading to what was dubbed by the World Bank as the worst education crisis on record. However, as the world enters endemicity, international student mobility is also expected to recover.
Over the years, Malaysia has been a top contender among students who plan to further their studies abroad. The country boasts 434 and 20 public and private universities respectively alongside language centres, polytechnics, schools, skills and accredited centres within its network of HEIs, and is hosting students from over 160 countries.
“In 2020, Malaysia hosted 131,300 international tertiary students, which is a testament to its robust education system and infrastructure, and world-class education,” Mohd Radzlan Jalaludin, CEO of EMGS, states.
The 10th anniversary of EMGS, therefore, marks a new beginning both for the organisation and the education sector. “With borders fully reopened, hopes are high for international student enrolment to return to and even exceed pre-pandemic levels. Moving forward, our role in promoting Malaysia as a prime destination for higher education is more important than ever,” he affirms.
Established on 13 April 2012, EMGS is a company under the purview of the Ministry of Higher Education, mandated to promote Malaysia as a top 10 education destination. It executes marketing and promotional activities for Malaysian education institutions and products including organising tours and participating in international exhibitions and conferences. EMGS is also responsible for managing the movement of international students in Malaysia as the principal body facilitating international students’ visa applications and processing.
“EMGS operates as a one-stop-centre for international students pursuing higher education at Malaysia’s public and private HEIs, language and training centres. We are also responsible for the issuance of the international student identity card, or i-Kads, renewals of student visas and i-Kads and facilitate any change in programme or institution for international students,” Mohd Radzlan explains.
In addition, EMGS is also responsible to provide feedback to relevant Ministries and agencies on policies relating to international students.
Celebrating a Decade
As a one-stop-centre, the company is committed to the continuous upscaling of its service delivery and processes. For instance, to facilitate student visa applications, EMGS introduced the Student Application Registration System (STARS) in 2013 and the Multinational Academic Recognition System (MARS) in 2015.
Mohd Radzlan explains, “Once international students receive an offer letter from a university based in Malaysia, they need to apply for a student pass or visa through the STARS system. Students also need to submit relevant documents like their examination certificates as part of the application process. Through MARS, EMGS will verify the documents’ authenticity before their applications are submitted to the Department of Immigration Malaysia for endorsement.”
Accessible to both applicants and HEIs, the status of applications can be tracked via the website and the EMGS mobile app. He adds, “Both systems are continuously being updated and improved to ensure greater transparency and data security and privacy.”
Another of EMGS’s milestones include the ‘Discover Education Malaysia’ portal which was launched by the Minister of Higher Education, YB Datuk Seri Dr. Noraini Ahmad in November 2021. The portal enables students, parents and agents to search the universe of courses offered by Malaysian universities, particularly those which have been accredited by the Malaysian Qualification Agency (MQA) and licensed by the Ministry of Home Affairs.
“Choosing which universities to enrol in can be overwhelming as there are so many universities and programmes offered in Malaysia. The portal aims to ease the selection process. It is comprehensive and user-friendly. Results can even be filtered according to cost, location, ranking and more,” he states. To date, the portal has been accessed by 300,000 visitors from 132 countries.
Mohd Radzlan also notes that through these value-added services, EMGS aims to enhance the customer journey and make it more convenient for international students to pursue their studies in Malaysia.
Navigating the Pandemic
In 2020, EMGS faced its biggest challenge yet. On the evening of 16 March, it was announced that a Movement Control Order (MCO) would be enforced throughout the country, starting 18 March. On 17 March, the recently appointed Mohd Radzlan gathered his team to discuss EMGS’s next course of action.
“It was crunch time, we had a day to plan and implement new working arrangements that were effective and functional. Our focus was ensuring that operations would not be affected, particularly the processing of student visa applications,” he recalls. He clarifies that although classes were held virtually for most of 2020 and 2021, students from abroad were still required to apply for visa as part of their enrolment into Malaysian institutions.
EMGS also had to continue driving its marketing and promotion initiatives in the new normal. Mohd Radzlan saw this as an opportunity for the company to diversify its marketing strategies. As a result, EMGS intensified its digital marketing efforts, delivering fresh and interactive content to reach out to a wider audience. “Since 2018, we have been very active in exploring digital marketing, particularly utilising social media to promote Malaysian higher education. It is also a useful, more effective tool to connect with students from all around the world, especially during the pandemic,” he shares.
At the same time, he saw it imperative for EMGS to explore the potential of virtual marketing activities such as organising virtual education fairs. Like most things during the pandemic, many of the education fairs and exhibitions were either cancelled or held online.
“Education fairs are an effective platform for HEIs to promote their programmes and for EMGS to promote Malaysian education institutions and products. So when travelling was no longer an option, EMGS organised our first-ever 360 virtual fair Study in Malaysia: Premier Edufair Showcase 2021. A total of 26 public and private institutions participated in the event and it even received positive feedback from students as well!” Mohd Radzlan beams.
An Ambitious Target
As the saying goes – every cloud has a silver lining. For Mohd Radzlan and his team, the pandemic was a learning experience. “The biggest takeaway for us is that we need to be one step ahead and have contingency plans to ensure business continuity in times of crises. The pandemic was a catalyst for us to move out from our comfort zone, be proactive and more creative in dealing with the business-as-usual.”
Now, EMGS is looking to the future. For the year 2022, it has set an ambitious goal of 50,000 international student applications, using the year 2019 as its benchmark. This is in line with the EMGS Strategic Plan 2022 launched earlier this year. The number also aims to contribute to Malaysia’s aspirations of reaching 250,000 international students enrolment by 2025.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, international student mobility was severely affected. As a result, EMGS was dealt a blow due to sluggish international student applications, particularly in the first few months following MCO. “During this period, many students were in a ‘wait-and-see’ mode as they were unsure how the pandemic situation would pan out and how long it would last,” he elaborates.
Despite this, 30,000 applications to study in Malaysia were received that year, thanks to EMGS’s consistent digital marketing efforts. In the following year, the number increased to 40,000.
Mohd Radzlan highlights, “If 2021 was the year of recovery, then 2022 should be the year we get back on track. Our target is for international student applications to return to pre-pandemic levels. Based on past trends and data, 47,000 is a good number to target for this year.
However, I challenged the team to aim higher, to achieve and even breach the 50,000 mark.”
As of 29 June 2022, EMGS is already more than 40 percent into achieving its target, slightly ahead of its performance in the same period in 2019. “The intake season for most Malaysian universities starts in July, so how we perform in the coming months will be pivotal. We are on a good trajectory, but we cannot afford to be complacent,” he states.
The Game Plan
To achieve this goal, EMGS is pulling out all the stops. It has identified 38 countries and are developing strategies targeting each country. This includes Malaysia’s top five markets for education which are China, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Nigeria and India. “We are also trying to boost enrolment from Yemen, Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Japan and Saudi Arabia as they have consistently been part of our top 10 markets,” Mohd Radzlan states.
This year, EMGS has its eyes set on new horizons, aiming to explore potential markets such as Germany, the UK, Australia, France and the US.
“Malaysia has a robust Halal industry that can appeal to Muslim students and parents around the world. However, many of them are not aware that they can consider Malaysia as an option. So it is our responsibility to create awareness of Malaysia’s value propositions as an education destination,” he adds.
As part of its strategy, EMGS is also increasing engagement with focus groups such as international students’ associations in Malaysia and alumni of Malaysian HEIs.
“The members of these international students’ associations are very active in promoting Malaysia to their friends in their respective countries. For instance, the Indonesian Students Association in Malaysia is organising its own Malaysian Education Fair in the next few months. Students in the Japanese Students Association in Malaysia also regularly organise webinars to introduce Malaysia to their friends back home and even invited EMGS to be a guest speaker,” he reveals.
Another initiative spearheaded by Mohd Radzlan last year is the Alumni Networking Session. “Whenever we go abroad to attend education fairs, we will invite alumni of Malaysian universities in these cities for a networking session. It is a platform where we can foster opportunities for continuous learning and long-lasting relationships between all parties,” he states.
The first few networking sessions were held in Jakarta, Istanbul, Dubai, London, Lahore and Islamabad, Muscat, Sydney, Jordan, and recently in Japan and Iraq, and met with a good turnout.
He highlights, “Having a strong alumni network is also valuable marketing. Graduates often feel a connection with their universities and the countries the universities are located in, and are often their biggest ambassadors. These alumni are now professors, business people and even high-ranking members of the government in their respective countries. In their own capacities, they are also promoting Malaysian education to their students, relatives and acquaintances.”
Malaysia’s Value Proposition
For Mohd Radzlan, this serves as a testament to the trust these former students have in the Malaysian higher education system, further reinforcing that the country’s competitiveness as world-class education destination. In fact, a total of 24 Malaysian HEIs is listed in the QS World University Rankings 2023 by global higher education analysts Quacquarelli Symonds, with four Malaysian universities ranking in the top 200.
More than 10 Malaysian higher education institutions were featured in the QS World University Rankings by Subject 2022, in all five broad subject areas. Universiti Malaya (UM) had the highest number of entries in the ranking among other universities in Malaysia and is listed in each broad subject areas. Taylor’s University is also listed as the nation’s top-ranking private institution in the Social Science Science and Management category.
In addition to quality education, Malaysia also offers unique value propositions to international students. When meeting students abroad, Mohd Radzlan often stresses the affordability of studying in Malaysia compared to Australia, the UK and the US. “We have ten foreign branch campuses in Malaysia. Students will study the same curriculum but at 1/3 of the cost if they were studying in the country that the university is originally based in.”
He adds that the cost of living in Malaysia is also relatively affordable. “In the QS Best Student Cities 2023, Kuala Lumpur was ranked first in the Affordability indicator among the countries in Asia and third in the world.”
Being a multiracial country, Malaysia also offers international students with the unique opportunity to experience diverse cultures and also get acquainted with other students from various countries.
“Students will gain a global perspective by interacting, working and living with people of different backgrounds and at the same time, lead an exciting and dynamic student life – travelling to the different islands, celebrating various festivals and enjoying the various delicacies unique to Malaysia,” he states.
Mixing the Old and the New
Moving forward, EMGS plans to strengthen its relationship with other stakeholders within the Malaysian higher education ecosystem. This involves strategic cooperation with the Ministry of Higher Education and the HEIs.
In addition, EMGS also looks to increase its participation in education fairs abroad as part of its efforts to enhance Malaysia’s presence as an education hub. “The post pandemic landscape allows us to diversify our promotion efforts, which over the past two years, have been limited to online mediums,” Mohd Radzlan explains.
With travel restrictions lifted, the EMGS team are travelling abroad almost every month to participate in various international education fairs. Recently, EMGS also held a tour in Indonesia, specifically in Jakarta and Pekanbaru which attracted 2,000 and 1,000 visitors respectively. “We saw how excited students were to visit booths and receive first-hand information from university representatives,” Mohd Radzlan shares.
He adds, “We do believe online classes and webinars are here to stay. But being on-the-ground, greeting students and their parents makes the experience more personal for them, so we try to be physically present where opportunity arises. Organising more tours in other countries is definitely in the pipeline.”
The Road Ahead
Mohd Radzlan believes that there are more challenges ahead in EMGS journey. “Although the worst of the pandemic is behind us, we believe that it will continue to influence many students’ decision to study in another country, at least in the foreseeable future. We must play a role in creating a conducive and safe environment for international students studying in Malaysia.”
In five years, Mohd Radzlan wishes for EMGS to be on par with British Council in the UK and IDP Education in Australia. “We have big shoes to fill, of course. These organisations have really established themselves as the go-to for international students’ services in their respective countries. Staying complacent is simply not on the cards”. This is in line with his philosophy: Do not wait for the world to change, we need to change the world.
“Go above and beyond. Always ready to take calculated risks – this is the mindset that EMGS has adopted as a team as we strive to ensure that interest to study in Malaysia can be sustained over time,” he affirms. “We have done it a decade ago, and will continue doing so in the future. Together, EMGS can achieve anything it sets its mind to.”
Having carved a name for itself in various key sectors like electrical and electronics, oil and gas, tourism and healthcare, Malaysia is vying to cement itself as the destination of choice for higher education. No doubt, the country has made valuable inroads in this space thanks to EMGS’s decade-long efforts in promoting Malaysia and its HEIs globally. As the company embarks on its next phase of development, EMGS is committed to working hand-in-hand with Malaysian HEIs, and assisting the country in its climb to the top.