‘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-nasser.jpg

    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