‘Malaysia Education’: strategic branding leads to growth in international student numbers 2006-8?

Several months back in our round-up of the global higher education student mobility market, we reported that Malaysia might be viewed as an emerging contender with 2% of the world market in 2006 (this was using the Observatory for Borderless Higher Education figures which reports only on the higher education sector).

Last week, Malaysia’s leading newspaper The Star reported that figures had increased between 2006 and 2008 by 30%, bringing the overall numbers of international students in Malaysian international schools and higher education institutions to 65,000. According to the following calculations by industry analyst (see pamjitsingh.ppt) the Malaysian government is well on target to realise its 2010 goal of 100,000 international students.

Taking into account the forecast in world demand by 2010, the Malaysian government estimates that their market share would need to grow from its current world share of international students (schools and higher education) of 3.9% in 2004 to 6.6% in 2010. In comparison to the global average annual growth rate of international students which is around 7.4% p.a, the Malaysian target growth rate would need to be in the order of 24.0% per annum to achieve the 2010 target.

In order to realize this goal, a new Higher Education Ministry Marketing and International Education Division was created.


    Dr Mohamed Nasser Mohamed Noor took on the post of Division Director in January 2006. According to Dr. Nasser, the success of this rapid increase can be attributed to Malaysia’s ‘branding’ of its education sector – ‘Malaysia Education’. It would seem that Malaysia is not far off course to realize their 2010 target if they maintain their current progress of 30% increase over two years (2006-2008).

    Branding has emerged as an important strategy for governments seeking to strategically develop their higher education markets. Nick Lewis’s entry on Brand New Zealand carried on GlobalHigherEd late last year illustrates how cultural re/sources, such as ‘clean’, ‘safe’, ‘green’ New Zealand, are being drawn upon to realise value and to reposition New Zealand in a highly competitive market.

    Similarly Europe (see this report destination-europe.pdf) has been casting around for an identifiable ‘brand’ to market itself as a significant player with an identifiable ‘product’ in the global higher education market. This means finding a combination of distinctive elements that enable the country or region to position themselves in relation to the competition.

    The ‘Malaysian Education’ brand draws on deep cultural, religious and political resonances to promote its product – one that emphasizes lifestyle, culture and quality of education. This includes the value to be gained from its unique multicultural population of Malay, Indian and Chinese; its Islamic religion; and its experience of colonialism. Despite the contradictions inherent in this new form of neo-colonialism, these cultural values and symbols are being (effectively?) mobilized to open up the African, Arab, Chinese and Indonesian markets.

    Malaysia’s story demonstrates the high level of fluidity in globalising the higher education market. It requires players to be highly competitive, constantly utilize intelligence, be attentive to strategies as to how to open new markets, and have a way of representing the sector as an attractive and unique brand.

    Will Malaysia leave behind its ’emerging contender’ crown and don the mantle of a major player in the region? Much depends clearly on what the other players in the region do – Singapore, China and Australia. Let’s see what 2010 reveals.

    Susan Robertson

    7 thoughts on “‘Malaysia Education’: strategic branding leads to growth in international student numbers 2006-8?

    1. Malaysia is looking strategically at the Middle East and the Gulf Region markets to meet the 100,000 foreign students mark by 2010. But, Malaysia must not forget that the Gulf countries are spending a hefty sum of money to upgrade infrastructure and increase capacity/capability. They are inviting reputable universities from the USA to provide USA-style education in the Gulf Region. If Malaysia is relying on similarity in religion (Islam) as one of marketing/branding tag, Malaysia may be off the mark here. For students from the Middle East, Islam within the Middle East context is considered more appropriate for their situation. Gulf region students are also thirsty for US-style education (no matter what). The Gulf Countries know this, and it is high time for Malaysia to acknowledge this too and plan accordingly. I would not be surprise that by the time investment in infrastructure and capacity in the Gulf Region is underway, the number of students from the Gulf Region would decrease drastically. Unless, the Ministry of Higher Education Malaysia has other brilliant ideas and act pro-actively. I hope the people in the ministry read the article in the Observatory of Higher Education to realize what is going on in the world of international higher education.

    2. Pingback: ‘Branding’ global higher education services in the Netherlands « GlobalHigherEd

    3. Generally the Malaysia education ministry fail to conduct a benchmarking study and develop its very own unique selling proposition.

      Education soon to become commodity, its need to add values via other form of innovation. Currently Malaysia university still score badly in term of international quality and truly a joke when its degree require more 36 subjects for a three years programmes.

      Until the day that the MOE is being staff by people that know what is happening globally its impossible to position right. Just by being cost competitive is insufficient, the country university is suffering from having too many student from African continent that main objective to be in Malaysia is not education.

      Time to rethink what are the Malaysian education brand stand for.

    4. Pingback: Canada’s new branding effort: “Education in/au Canada” « GlobalHigherEd

    5. While it’s great that Malaysian education is somewhat setting a mark of sorts in the world, I think they shouldn’t rest on these positive figures, because like what Morshidi Sirat said above, “by the time investment in infrastructure and capacity in the Gulf Region is underway, the number of students from the Gulf Region would decrease drastically”
      —-unless Malaysia starts some innovative education trend like how Singaporean education is making itself known effective to the world.

    6. What is the government policy to bring international students to Malaysia Universities?

      If it is only a share market in the world, I think that a research record should be prepared to answer to below questions:
      -What are the approaches of international students for studying at any University?
      -Why have they chosen Malaysia Universities to study?
      -How many have the graduated international students from Malaysia Universities achieved some goals in their life after graduating?
      After analyzing of the answers to above questions, we will provide a very good presentation of Malaysia Universities in the world.
      On the other hand, if the target of government is to produce of the new science and new think by obtaining the new ideas for reaching to the stable development, it is important to encourage only postgraduate international students for coming to Malaysia Universities and to study by research no course work. Of course, both parties should trust together.

    7. Can some one advise me on the comparison of higher secondary education between malaysia and new zealand.As i am thinking of sending my children to do their upper secondary there.

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