The price for tertiary education

Escalating cost for tertiary education abroad and exposure to currency fluctuation make seeking a degree from a university abroad less worthwhile than before


It has been a boom time for Malaysia’s tertiary education sector. Over the last two decades, the number of such institutions has risen at a phenomenal rate.

The sector has been thriving on population increase, rising demand for quality education and limited seats at public universities.

However, escalating cost for tertiary education abroad and exposure to currency fluctuation make seeking a degree from a university abroad less worthwhile than before.

Almost 1,000 of such institutions operate in Malaysia — ranging from private higher education institutions, universities, colleges and university colleges to foreign university branch campuses.

Foreign students are also flooding into Malaysia, seeking cheaper alternatives compared to Western and Europeans universities. This has further fuelled the growth of the sector.

It is estimated that there are about 150,000 foreign students in the county. The authorities are aiming for international student enrolments to rise to 250,000 by 2025, generating millions in foreign income into the country.

But higher education costs are becoming costly. A Cambridge GCE A-Levels, UK pre-university course could cost between RM19,000 and RM38,000, while an International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme for 24 months would cost RM115,000.

Tuition fees and living expenses for a three-year engineering degree would set a student back about RM140,000. The tuition fee for medicine could be as high as RM450,000 — not inclusive of living expenses. And these fees are slowly inching higher.

Rising Cost for Tertiary

Education, especially good tertiary learning, is pushing parents to dig deeper into their savings and other avenues like retirement funds.

Loans to further education are as common as applying for car financing. But the rise is unavoidable, as education — like other sectors — is evolving and that evolution is what’s driving the price.

Colleges and universities are reinventing their pedagogy to be relevant to 21st century learners and to be equipped with the right technology.

Quality teaching professionals, who are equipped with the know-how of the 21st century, are becoming a key asset for such learning institutions and to increase the value of their degrees.

Taylor’s University president and vice chancellor Prof Michael Driscoll said one of the reasons why tuition fees have increased is because the university has reinvented their pedagogy to be relevant, as well as adopt- ing new education technologies.

“This is not a unique situation in Malaysia — the increasing fees of tertiary education are happening in other parts of the world too.

“Our goal is to provide the highest quality education for our students. New technologies are widely adopted to enable students to learn independently, anytime anywhere.

“All these add value to students’ education and increase the value of their degree. These value-added services and the ever increasing cost of living have contributed to the rise of tuition fees,” he told The Malaysian Reserve.

He does not see the rising cost deterring students enrolments as options are aplenty.

“Students may opt to study at a public university or a vocational college. At the same time, they can also decide to study part-time via online learning platforms such as Open Learning while working,” he said.

Driscoll said education is the enabler for a better future and as such, parents would want to provide their children quality education — although it may not come cheap.

Cheaper Still in Malaysia Than Abroad

Over the last few years, more Malaysians have opted to further their studies within the country compared to the UK, US or Australia.

The setting up of foreign university branch campuses in Malaysia offers students similar quality and education standards.

Examinations mimic the ones given at the home-base universities. Lecturers are brought in from abroad. The campus life is created to be almost identical to the home campus.

Ringgit fluctuations against major currencies have also spared parents’ pain in managing their children’s education budget.

INTI International University and Colleges CEO Tim Bulow said there has been a significant rise in tuition fees in countries like the UK, US and Australia.

“With government funding being reduced for most institutions in those countries, the cost of pursuing an international qualification abroad has increased tremendously.

“Thus, it is significantly more affordable for students to pursue similar qualifications here in Malay- sia,” Bulow said.

He added that a student who opted to study a degree programme in Australia could potentially pay about RM385,000.

A student will need to pay more than RM115,000 a year on tuition fees alone in the UK and is still exposed to current exchange rates, higher cost of living and miscellaneous expenses.

Bulow said a student pursuing the University of Wollongong (Australia) programme at INTI would be paying less than RM80,000 for the full three years and about RM81,000 in total for a full programme with the University of Hertfordshire (UK).

“The rising cost of tertiary education may deter students from considering overseas placements and instead choose local institutions,” he said.

Stressful Times for Parents

Stanley Lim, a 59-year-old business owner, said he would have had to fork out about RM1 million if his son had decided to study medicine in the UK.

“Private tertiary education has become really expensive over the years but as parents, we want to provide the best for our children’s future.

“I am thankful that my son decided to study medicine locally instead.”

Although it is about 50% cheaper, Lim feels the tuition fees are still quite costly.

He added that sacrifices have to be made, as he has been travelling less and eating in more often.

“At the same time, my son has taken on a part-time job to help support his own expenses.

“Additionally, it was a good thing that I had made good returns in some investments in the past to support his education,” he said.

But costs are rising indeed, and parents are trying to cope with the hike. Meanwhile, Joanne Lian said the university where her children are studying had raised the fees for its foundation programme by 5%-10%.

“Within the span of five years, I have to pay an extra RM1,600 for my youngest son’s foundation programme (not including college admission fees).

“I can understand prices of things going up, but not as high as this,” she said.

She said the discounts and assistance given by the institution for students who achieve and maintain a certain CGPA (Cumulative Grade Point Average) has helped to support her three children through their tertiary education.

The changing landscape, heightened competition for talents and demand for quality graduates would further see the rise in tertiary education cost.