Is a UK degree still worth it for Malaysians?

uk education
Director of the British Council Malaysia Jazreel Goh with the Alumni UK Challenge Fund finalists at the Alumni UK Symposium 2023. Source: British Council Malaysia

For many, a UK education is an extremely viable prospect. Its universities are prestigious.

The graduates they produce, as a long track record shows, are capable and career-ready graduates — with many going on to achieve many feats. 

A UK education is, however, becoming more expensive by the day. Besides tuition fees, students have to pay rent, food, books, and more.

This isn’t helped by the fact that the cost of living in the UK is rising significantly every year. 

Why, then, do students keep choosing a UK education? British Council Malaysia director Jazreel Goh says it has everything to do with the quality and worth of a UK education in today’s world. 

“Whenever I engage with any UK alumni, I see that their education has helped them become innovative and inspirational as individuals in their own right,” she tells Study International.

“I think that sums up the spirit of a UK education.”

Organisations like the British Council are instrumental in helping students before, during and after their journeys to the UK.

It’s one that students tend to rely on when planning for their university education — and acts as a much-needed bridge between the UK and their country of origin. 

The British Council Malaysia is active in hosting events and activities for UK alumni, as well.

Recently it held an Alumni UK Symposium — a gathering where UK graduates in Malaysia were invited to network, discuss new ideas, and talk about the future of work and any other opportunities. 

We spoke to Goh about the support offered by the British Council in advancing Malaysian students’ journeys to the UK, how it supports them after they’ve graduated, and what students should be concerned about with the rising costs involved. 

Jazreel Goh, Director of the British Council Malaysia, is one of many helping make UK education more accessible. Source: British Council Malaysia

How does a UK education help students achieve their goals?

For me, going overseas is not just about getting a qualification. It’s about going through the experience and growing up, learning who you are, and knowing that you can come back and actually make a difference. 

This is what the UK Alumni global community has a lot of. Whenever I listen to all of these people’s achievements and exceptional work once they’re back from the UK — it’s amazing. We have one, for example, who set up a women and girls association to support their individual goals, to increase their access to education to widen their opportunities. That’s absolutely amazing. 

A lot of them could have just gone on to just lead their own life, but they do give back to the community. So I think that to me, the most rewarding aspect of a UK education is the fact that all these people who go to the UK as young students come back with individual experiences that shape their own personal journeys. And how they then turn those experiences into something really, really significant to support the Malaysian community. 

How does the British Council help individuals to further their studies in the UK? 

It starts off by providing students with a very comprehensive website where they can do their own research. Then, we provide them with support in terms of specific testing requirements, such as the IELTS. 

Lastly, we supply them with pre-departure information, which will help them not only understand what they need to do before they leave but also help them understand more about visas. During this time, we link them with peers who may be leaving, as well as alumni who have had the experience of living and studying in the UK. 

British Council’s Chief Executive Scott McDonald had a student engagement session with Sunway University students in February 2023. Source: British Council Malaysia

For many Malaysians, the weakening ringgit has made affording a UK degree very difficult. What does the British Council do in terms of closing that gap?

We work with UK universities to look at opportunities for students. At the moment, students are able to work a minimum of 20 hours a week whilst in the UK, so we ensure that UK universities do provide them with the support to identify opportunities locally. 

There are also scholarships. Of course, we have the GREAT scholarships, as well as Women in STEM scholarships, which we launch every year. Students are able to look at that and hopefully apply for those scholarships. 

We also encourage students to look out for individual UK universities, as they do give out a lot of bursaries. Whilst these might not be full scholarships, there are opportunities, at least to support our students. So I would encourage students to make make sure that they check out all of these opportunities before they apply.

What financial commitments should students be aware of before going to the UK?

Three main things. Firstly, there are costs prior to leaving the living for the UK, which are your visa costs, your application, or any examinations. 

The second is understanding the fee structures of UK universities, as well as how much your average living expenditures might be. We provide a student calculator for them to work out how much they need annually. This is really important because you can’t go without understanding the costs involved. 

The third thing, of course, is understanding that there are scholarships and bursaries available that students should endeavour to look into. We provide some information on these on our website. Students should also know that when you’re in the UK and if you perform well, bursaries might be available. So always be on the lookout for this. 

British Council’s Chief Executive Scott McDonald with the student council of Sunway University in Malaysia. Source: British Council Malaysia

How are British Council alumni given support once they return to Malaysia?

UK alumni in Malaysia are really the bedrock of our relationship between the UK and Malaysia. It’s a really strong network where they come back and then register online to become an alumni member for free. 

The aim of this network is it allows all UK graduates to connect with each other from anywhere in the world. They can regularly attend activities that are held in their country, can share experiences and insights through user-generated content, and use this platform to explore new opportunities for their careers and build their own network. 

So for example, if you are a civil engineer, you can set up your own group of civil engineers on our platform. And that will mean you have a global network of civil engineers that you can connect with if you want to.