What it takes to study in Malaysia

KL is in the 28th place in QS Best Student Cities Ranking 2023 and the 6th city in Asia as the most affordable study destination 


MALAYSIA is a popular tertiary studies destination among foreign students due to its lower cost of living, programme selections and affordable tuition fees. 

Instead of studying in Western countries which would cost a fortune, they can study in Malaysia which also offers top-ranking universities globally. 

The QS Ranking 2023 indicated that Universiti Malaya (UM) is comfortably placed 70th out of 200, although it’s a slight decline from 65th previously. This is followed by Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM) which is at 123rd, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (129th), Universiti Sains Malaysia (143rd) and Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (203rd). 

Private universities also made it to the list namely Taylor’s University and UCSI University, which equally placed 284th. 

Moreover, Kuala Lumpur (KL) is ranked 28th in QS Best Student Cities Ranking 2023 and the sixth city in Asia as the most affordable study destination. 

In KL, one can acquire a three-year UK engineering degree through a 3+0 foreign university franchised degree programme which costs roughly RM68,000. 

The tuition fee for the same programme at the UK’s host university can cost approximately RM175,000. 

By studying in Malaysia, students are able to save up to an estimated RM180,000 if they take into account their living expenses. 

The Cost of Studying in Malaysia

Depending on the higher learning institution and the course, the cost of studying in the country may vary. 

The cheapest options would be public universities where a three-year Bachelor’s degree can cost between RM6,500 and RM19,500 per year. 

For those looking for cheaper options to continue their Masters, Universiti Teknologi Mara, UM and University of Kuala Lumpur’s Master’s courses start from RM2,400, RM2,900 and RM4,800 per year respectively. 

On the other hand, Universiti Utara Malaysia’s Bachelor’s programmes start from RM5,445.98 per year. 

Private universities in Malaysia usually cost between RM6,300 and RM43,400 per year for a Bachelor’s degree while a Master’s degree would cost around RM7,000 to RM14,000. 

Private universities also offer twinning programmes where students can study for a few years here and later abroad at another university within that programme. 

Taylor’s University and Sunway University are popular choices for students who want to study hospitality and business while UCSI University is known for its research and innovation programme. 

Students can opt to stay on campus or rent a room or house off-campus. 

The on-campus cost of living usually ranges from as low as RM600 to RM3,000 per semester and some of them even offer rental deals that include meals for about RM10 to RM20 more per day. 

A basic on-campus bedroom would usually be between RM100 and RM1,100 per month, depend- ing on the type, size and amenities of the rooms. 

Furthermore, an off-campus shared flat would cost between RM350 and RM500 per month while a studio flat would cost about RM1,500 to RM2,500 per month. 

UCSI University is known for its research and innovation programme (pic source: ucsiuniversity.edu.my)

Loans and Scholarships 

Malaysians can apply for a Public Services Department (JPA) scholarship if they want to pursue their studies at either local or foreign higher educational institutions at Diploma and Bachelor’s degree levels. 

However, they must meet certain criteria such as being well-rounded (participating in co-curricular activities), passing the interview and it also depends on their family’s socioeconomic status and background and pass- ing their Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia results with flying colours. 

Applicants will also need to undergo a locally conducted preparatory course for about one to two years. 

The JPA scholarship also fully funds overseas studies to selected universities in the US, UK and Australia, as well as provides loans up to a maximum of RM200,000 per student for tuition fees abroad through a “cost-sharing” concept. 

Furthermore, the National Higher Education Fund Corp (PTPTN) provides loans to students who want to pursue their undergraduate and postgraduate studies. 

For public universities, the loan allocation can be between RM1,000 and RM5,000 per year for Diploma programmes and RM1,100 to RM6,500 per year for Degree programmes while an additional RM500 will be allocated for Science students. 

For those who want to further their studies in postgraduate programmes, the maximum allocation for a Master’s degree is RM10,000 per year, RM26,000 per year for doctor in philosophy (PhD) and up to RM6,000 per year for a professional course. 

On the other hand, private university students will receive more funds as their allocation for a Bachelor’s degree can range between RM10,000 and RM16,000 per year while they can receive up to RM8,000 per year for a diploma. 

Since their courses are more expensive compared to others, medical students and allied science 

students will receive a maximum loan funding of RM30,000 and RM20,000 per year. 

Majlis Amanah Rakyat (Mara) also offers student loans called the Tertiary Education Sponsorship Programme (TESP) to selected higher learning institutions but unlike PTPTN, Mara loans require guarantors. 

Still a Challenge for Malaysian Students

Despite affordable tuition fees, many Malaysian students are still struggling to pay them. 

Farah Nadiah Mahmud, a full-time account executive who is currently pursuing a Master’s degree in Business Administration (MBA) at Unitar International University is having challenges meeting the financial requirements with a low salary. 

“It is difficult, especially for us who want to level up our skills for career advancement,” she told The Malaysian Reserve (TMR) recently. 

Chai says choosing private universities could take the students into a long debt (Pics: AZALEA AZUAR)

Monash University graduate with a Bachelor of Science, Bioinformatics and Genomics, Crystal Chai felt that her tuition fees were too high, even for a private university. 

She had to pay RM20,000 a semester, which led to a total of RM130,000 for the entire course. 

“While the quality of the education was good, it still does not justify the extremely high expense of RM20,000 per semester, especially when most lectures were recycled and not up to par during the lockdown. 

“I did have a partial scholarship which took off RM30,000 from the entire fee, but it required me to maintain an average grade of 75% to keep the scholarship going. There was no other assistance provided to students otherwise,” she explained. 

In order to sustain her living costs, Chai took up an internship programme while studying to learn and gain extra income. 

Unfortunately, she was required to work late into the night and even in the wee hours, leaving her with little time to study. Despite all these challenges, she managed to get by. 

“I have had friends suspend their studies during the pandemic to help with their families finances. 

“It was heartbreaking to see and also set the students back a few years from graduating. They will enter the job market much later than their peers, and would need to work harder to climb the ladder,” she added. 

Chai hoped that private universities would reduce their fees and that the government could re-look at their quota system for public universities, adding that most non-Bumiputera students did not stand a chance against the quota system and had to choose private universities. 

She also noted that choosing private universities could take the students into a long debt, especially if their parents are unable to support them. 

Another recent graduate, Fatin Nursyahirah used to work full-time despite taking up full PTPTN loans. 

The Management and Science University (MSU) engineering graduate explained that there are a few additional programmes that were compulsory for the students which also required additional fees of between RM20 and RM150. 

“For some, it could be more than that. Moreover, we had to pay room rentals, utilities and WiFi, which for me was about RM400 per month. 

“The living cost is quite high, too. Daily food expenses were about RM15 per day, so that is RM450 per month on meals alone. Therefore, my monthly commitment as a student was around RM850 excluding university programme fees,” she said to TMR. 

After her classes, Fatin had to work part-time from 7pm to 11pm to sustain her living expenses. 

“It was a very exhausting period for me and I am still not sure if it was worth it or not,” she said. 

Working late hours had caused her Cumulative Grade Point Average (CGPA) to drop to below 3.50. 

“I was often late for morning classes and sometimes I would skip them altogether. I thought I could get my PTPTN fee waived because I studied at a public university but when I realised that I could not do so, I just aimed to graduate with whatever grades I could get,” Fatin said.

  • This article first appeared in The Malaysian Reserve weekly print edition