Why are so many countries pushing to increase their number of foreign or international students? For one, it has been proven that the services industry, especially in relation to education, is the biggest contributor to a country’s economic growth.
In Australia, the largest services exports are from education-related travel services. This is similar in the UK, where the number of international students grows exponentially each year.
With the realisation of the positive impact this industry has to the economy’s growth, Malaysia also aims to increase its GDP through education services.
This was highlighted in the Malaysia Education Blueprint 2015-2025 (Higher Education) by setting a target of 250,000 international students by the year 2025.
But is this achievable?
Looking at Australia and the UK to draw a comparison, Malaysia may not be able to achieve its desired target in the near future. The numbers have been stagnant for the past few years despite the many benefits of studying in Malaysia.
These include a quality education, reasonable cost of living, language and lifestyle. So, what could be the cause for the slow increase in the number of international students?
One reason could be the policies implemented on international students regarding working while studying.
The limitations of part-time or full-time work for international students can discourage them from considering Malaysia, especially when countries such as Australia and the UK have friendlier policies.
Working while studying in Australia
Australia is one of the top countries that Malaysians choose to study in, and statistics show that it is not only popular among Malaysians.
The number of international students in Australia has grown significantly from 381,383 in 2018 to 423,34 in 2019. This can be linked to their international student policies on working while studying.
In Australian universities, international students have the opportunity to work up to 20 hours a week while studying. This is a common standard in most countries, including the UK.
There is also no limit to the number of hours they can work during school vacations. This means that international students are be able to work longer hours and earn more during their holiday breaks.
What’s also appealing about Australia’s policy is that students’ dependants have the opportunity to work in the study duration as well.
Undergraduate students’ dependants can work up to 20 hours a week, while the hours are unlimited for those of postgraduate students.
Among the options are retail work, administrative and clerical work, as well as childcare and tutoring services.
Working while studying in the UK
In 2018, British universities educated approximately 460,000 international students. Over the next decade, the UK government aims to increase this number to 600,000.
Recently, the UK has considered making a change in their international student policies by extending the period of time that graduates are allowed to stay in the country upon completion of study, providing them with more time to look for work.
Commenting on this, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said, “The important contribution international students make to our country and universities is both cultural and economic. Their presence benefits Britain.”
The previous policy allowed graduates to look for work for only four months after completing their studies. The government’s immigration white paper has since proposed to extend this period to six months.
Job options for students to work part-time or full-time in the UK are also wide-ranging, from research assistant to cashier.
Malaysia’s approach to international student policies
The short-term target set by the Malaysian government is 200,000 international students by 2020. Currently, there are 130,110 international students in Malaysia from 136 countries, mainly in Asia, Europe, the Middle East and Africa.
The policies implemented on international students in Malaysia can be considered somewhat strict when compared with Australia and the UK.
Unlike Australia and the UK, the working hours for international students in Malaysia are limited to 20 hours a week even during semester breaks and other holidays exceeding seven days.
What’s more, the dependants of international students are not permitted to work in Malaysia.
Part-time work is only permissible in restaurants, petrol kiosks, mini markets or hotels, and cannot involve the financial aspects of the company.
Duration of work may be extended only by the immigration authorities, subject to receipt of good academic reports on the student from their respective institutions.
International students are also not authorised to look for a job immediately upon graduation. The employer is responsible for obtaining an Employment Pass on the student’s behalf, valid for a maximum of five years depending on the situation.
Policy changes have benefited Australia and the UK
With the suggested changes and implementation of policies, the number of international students in Australia and the UK have significantly grown.
Comparing Malaysia with these countries may not provide any certainties on how the country should improve in terms of international student policies. However, it does give some insight into one of the many factors that may cause a slump in the number of international students coming into Malaysia.
If Malaysia implements similar international student policies, there may be a chance yet to increase the current number and achieve the long-term goal of 250,000 by 2025.
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