Private colleges see international enrolment drop by half

Slow visa approvals and student worries over the pandemic contribute to uncertain future


MALAYSIAN universities are allowed to enrol foreign students since January, but slow visa approvals and student worries over Covid-19 have put a brake on a valuable revenue source for hardhit private colleges.

The National Association of Private Educational Institutions reported that international students already accepted for enrolments have problems getting visas approved by Immigration Department of Malaysia.

Association president Assoc Prof Elajsolan Mohan said the bottleneck for approval seems to be at Immigration even after students have been accepted for studies by Education Malaysia Global Services.

Elajsolan said the visa approval delay is another hurdle for local colleges that are already suffering a drop in enrolment numbers this year, due to travel restrictions as well as pandemic concerns.

“International students are in a wait-and-see attitude, but some have already enrolled for online classes. They are a bit more cautious. We also hope the immigration can speed up the process for students to come in,” Elajsolan told The Malaysian Reserve (TMR).

Effective Jan 1, 2021, all international students, except those from the UK, may enter Malaysia to continue their studies.

They are required to undergo a Covid-19 screening test within three days before their departure to Malaysia and again upon arrival, followed by quarantine procedures.

This year, Elajsolan said large private higher learning institutions could see such enrolments down by between 500 and 1,000 new students.

He said private universities are looking at a 50% reduction in international students this year and even the intake for local students is uncertain whether can match the previous year’s numbers.

There is concern that any further delay to the school’s certificate examinations, as well as the reduced willingness of parents to pay for private education due to Covid-19 impact will affect enrolment of local students.

Malaysian Association of Private Colleges and Universities president Datuk Dr Parmjit Singh said the picture for local enrolment will be clearer at the end of March when major schools exams are completed and international student applications have stabilised.

He said the visa approval situation had been affected by the Covid-19 restrictions, but has improved since.

“It has improved a lot. It is normal when something was shut down and now started again. Give the system a chance to pick up,” Parmjit told TMR.

Malaysia University of Science and Technology’s business school professor Dr Geoffrey Williams said accommodation is becoming one of the issues now for foreign students due to physical distancing rules imposed on hostels. He said some of them may find their accommodation a bit more expensive this time.

Williams said the industry may recover slightly, but the situation remains very uncertain for the year.

He added that a private university may see a drop in international students’ headcount by 25% this year.

Read our previous report here

Another bad year ahead for private colleges and universities