The coronavirus crisis has forced many industries to rapidly reshape how they do business, including the higher education sector that is facing challenges and demands operationally and financially.

With prediction that it could take five years before global student mobility recovers, universities face a difficult task in attracting new international students from key markets around the world.

Insights from a report of an ongoing QS Quacquarelli Symonds survey on prospective international students established in February stated that 57 per cent of the undergraduate prospects agreed that the crisis had affected their study plans to study abroad.

The survey on “How Covid-19 is impacting prospective international students at different study levels” has attracted more than 30,000 respondents. It aims to better understand students’ responses to how the crisis would impact their decision making.

At a session with the media recently, Education Malaysia Global Services (EMGS) chief executive officer Mohd Radzlan Jalaludin said similarly, the education industry in Malaysia contributes significantly to the economy.

“The target for 2025 is to attract 250,000 international students, in line with Malaysia’s aspiration to be a global education hub. Without a doubt, the presence of international students helps the higher educational institutions and revitalises the nation’s economy.

Despite it all, Radzlan is positive that all is not lost for the country.

“Malaysia, which has become an attractive study destination, can also seize the new opportunities presented from this crisis. For starters, we are already in the Top 10 list in choice for higher education,” said Radzlan, who is set to lead EMGS through the next phase of growth.

Newly appointed in January, Radzlan brings on board a proven track record of building business and engagements as an outstanding entrepreneur.

He received a Bachelor of Law (Hons) and pursued for Diploma in Shariah Legal Practice at International Islamic University Malaysia. He was then called to the bar in 2007. Since then, he practiced for over 13 years under his own law firm in Shah Alam, focusing on litigation.

Radzlan said affordability is a strong factor to attract international students to study in Malaysia.

“Kuala Lumpur is the second most affordable student city in the world for the second year running according to QS Best Student Cities 2019. And our tuition fees and costs of living are cheaper compared with Australia and the United Kingdom.

“English is also widely spoken with most university courses offered in this language. According to EF English Proficiency Index 2019, we are also the third most proficient in Asia.”

The mass move to digital platforms and tools by universities across the globe as a result of the pandemic has also invited extensive debate on the benefits and pitfalls of online learning. Some argue that online education does not offer value for money in comparison to traditional campus education.

The same QS survey also revealed that a significant portion of students would not be interested at all in online learning, with those in postgraduate levels (43 per cent) who prefer taught courses are less likely to want to study online.

With more parents fearing their children leaving homes to study in foreign lands for their tertiary education, a country’s approach in fighting the pandemic and its statistics in Covid-19 cases would now be a factor for study destinations.

“So, we very much welcome the government’s decision to allow international students attending universities here to resume their studies. In fact, EMGS has also drafted the standard operating procedures proposal to the Higher Education Ministry (MOHE) for all returning international students.”

In an announcement earlier, Senior Minister (Security Cluster) Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob said that international students would only be allowed in the country after registering with MOHE for verification and not required to apply for a special pass with the Immigration Department.

Students from countries categorised as a Covid-19 red zone must be placed under the 14-day quarantine at their residence and download the MySejahtera application.

Those from green zones only need to be screened for Covid-19, but are not required to be under quarantine for 14 days at home (should they test negative).

Radzlan believed it was more important now for EMGS to play a pivotal role in acting as the bridge between the government and the industry.

He pledged to grow EMGS and create more value to both international students and stakeholders through strategic and consistent branding, as well as introduction of new services to cater for the international students’ entire lifecycle journey.

“We have developed eight key Unique Selling Propositions that will be consistently broadcasted throughout our promotion and awareness creation campaigns.

“In fact, we have also conducted a virtual education fair recently that has attracted as many as 90,000.

“With these initiatives, we believe we can attract a higher number and quality of international students to our country.”