The RSIS Centre for Non-Traditional Security (NTS) Studies' Blog

Hubs for Cross Border Education: Singapore and Malaysia Carve out their Niche

Posted in ASEAN-Canada Partnership by NTSblog on May 10, 2013

Cross border education refers to the movement of people and research across national borders for academic purposes. Within the Southeast Asian region, Singapore and Malaysia have actively promoted themselves as hubs for cross border education.

While these two countries aim to attract foreign students and academics, their strengths, strategies and motivations differ.

Singapore holds an enviable reputation for providing quality tertiary education. In the 2012 QS ranking of Asian Universities, the National University of Singapore came in 2nd while Nanyang Technological University came in 17th. Comparatively, the University of Malaya was ranked 35th.

The Singapore government plays a very active role in promoting Singapore as an education hub. It enjoys a healthy budgetary surplus and can afford to invest in human resource, infrastructure, and advertising. Under the Global Schoolhouse programme, the Singapore Economic Development Board (EDB) forms partnerships with leading foreign institutions and recruits foreign talent. The Singapore government also monitors closely, entry criteria, degree requirements, and remuneration for academics.

Singapore seeks explicitly to develop academic programmes that serve the needs of its economy, and to retain foreign talent on home soil.

While Singapore may enjoy a better reputation for quality education, Malaysia edges out on affordability. As an indication, the National University of Singapore charges foreign students approximately 9,500 USD per annum for its BA programmes. The University of Malaya on the other hand, charges a significantly lower rate of approximately 2,000 USD.

The Malaysian government has spearheaded the supply of lower cost education. Its investment arm established Educity in Johore, a 350 acre campus that would eventually house 8 foreign linked universities. Cost savings are gained through the sharing of facilities, as well as teaching and administrative resources.

Notably, Malaysia has built up a unique reputation in the education of Islamic finance. Unlike conventional banking, Islamic banking complies with Muslim shariah law and abides by two key principles: the avoidance of usury, and the fair division of risks and returns. The Financial Times reports that Islamic finance is growing at remarkable speed. This has fuelled demand for knowledge and expertise in this area, which the Malaysian tertiary education system is able to meet.

Similar to Singapore, Malaysia aims to focus on academic fields that serve national socioeconomic goals: banking and finance, engineering, and health sciences. One nuanced difference is that while the Singapore government has announced that student numbers and GDP share are not its emphasis, the Malaysian government has made no such statement.

Singapore and Malaysia have each carved out a niche in the market for cross border education. The former’s selling points include: quality education, sound infrastructure, and job opportunities. Dissimilarly, the latter’s selling points include: affordability and specialised knowledge in Islamic finance.

As the two countries appeal to different demand needs, they do not appear to be in direct competition with each other. Besides as the market pie for cross border education continues to expand, each is likely to have its fill.

This blog post has been written by Diane Lek. Diane is a PhD candidate at the London School of Economics and Political Science, and is a  Junior Fellow for 2012 under the ASEAN-Canada Research Partnership.

For more information on the ASEAN-Canada Research Partnership, please click here.


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