Let foreign students in

 The world has been shaken by the Covid-19 pandemic, and global higher education has not been spared. - NSTP file pic, for illustration purposes onlyThe world has been shaken by the Covid-19 pandemic, and global higher education has not been spared. – NSTP file pic, for illustration purposes only

LETTERS: The world has been shaken by the Covid-19 pandemic, and global higher education has not been spared.

Favourite destinations like Australia, the United Kingdom, New Zealand and the United States saw a decline in their overseas student enrolment.

We are fortunate. The infection here remains under control.

Foreign students have benefited us economically and last year, their contributions surpassed RM40 billion. The amount will be lower this year as a result of lockdowns and travel restrictions.

Since Malaysia is viewed as a comparatively safe destination, a survey has revealed that many foreign students are interested to study here.

Another country that the respondents have expressed interest in is South Korea. Still, Malaysia has an edge because our courses are conducted in English. Even South Korean students come here to learn English. So, we need the right strategy to start bringing in students again.

I recently watched a TV discourse on the issue. There are two opposing views. 0n one side, the Higher Education Ministry has decided to extend the ban on foreign students because it is feared that their return may exacerbate the Covid-19 situation.

That concern has basis. At the moment, many new daily cases are imported. So the argument is that if there is an influx of students entering, there is a possibility that some of them may become the source of new infections.

When asked, the Education Malaysia Global Services, the agency tasked with promoting Malaysia as an education destination for international students, agreed with the decision.

On the other hand, a spokesman of the National Professors Council said the pandemic has offered the opportunity to strengthen our long-term dream of making Malaysia an international hub of higher education.

So we should capitalise on this rare chance to increase the intake of international students. Of course, he argued we should not be blind to the fact that there is a risk of more virus infections.

The need for stringent standard operating procedures is undeniable and should not be compromised. But since we have done well, there is no reason why we cannot apply the same measures to screen incoming students.

I tend to agree with the spokesman. Our exemplary handling of the pandemic has given us an opportunity to raise the nation’s profile as a destination for higher education, which has always been our ambition.

Now that we are presented with the chance, we should take it. We are aware that that chance comes with risks.

But we also know there are measures we can take to reduce those risks. And we have had a lot of experience in applying them. The assurance of safety is not the only reason why overseas students choose to come here.

Universities in the country have also established themselves as internationally-recognised institutions.

It is also for this reason that many high-calibre universities from abroad have set up branch campuses in the country.

The Higher Education Ministry should rethink its decision in the coming semester.

There is a lot to lose not only in terms of economic returns, but also missing out on the excellent opportunity to enhance our reputation as a preferred destination for higher education.

by PROFESSOR DATUK DR AHMAD IBRAHIM.

Read more @ https://www.nst.com.my/opinion/letters/2020/08/620720/let-foreign-students

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