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Malaysia revokes free higher education claim – which could be for the best

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Should students be encouraged to study abroad? Source: Shutterstock

The cost of higher education is often cited as the main barrier stopping less wealthy international students getting to university. Governments and universities often promise free higher education by eliminating fees, but these policies rarely include the international student.

Instead, international students are left paying up to treble the fees of domestic students to help fund the university. This means while higher education gets cheaper for a few students, others are priced out of already-expensive tuition.

Malaysia was the latest country to declare it would make university free for its domestic students in the run-up to the general election. But it has since decided scholarships for low-income students is a more productive way to combat the unaffordability of university, according to Free Malaysia Today.

Free education runs the risk of devaluing the importance of education, as well as costing all taxpayers while only benefiting those who choose to study at university, according to former Prime Minister, Dr Mahathir Bin Mohamad.

“Believe me, the majority of students will not study if we give them free [higher] education. They would think it is not important,” said Dr Mahathir.

Instead, Dr Morshidi Sirat, a former director general of Higher Education Malaysia, said there is a more pressing need for Malaysians – especially those of Chinese or Indian heritage – to have access to free international education, according to Times Higher Education Asia-Pacific editor John Ross’s op-ed.

Studying internationally can mobilise student both globally and financially. Source: Shutterstock

Studying internationally has long been viewed as a positive trend for both universities and home countries. Enabling young people to study abroad at world-class universities benefits the economy and culture of their home upon their return, as well as giving students the same opportunities as more privileged young people.

Offering free or reduced tuition fees for students in countries that are still building their higher education sectors may have some benefits for the country, But funding students to study abroad mobilizes students not just geographically but also financially, infers Morshidi.

Students looking to study abroad can often find scholarships or national programmes allowing them to study on a reduced fee at world-class universities – but free or low-cost education in their home country may make this process seem less palatable.

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