Choose to study on cheapest or low tuition in Malaysia and you’ll discover that the country’s natural beauty is way beyond its ancient forest trees, national parks and sandy beaches. In the cities too, there’s plenty to keep all the senses occupied, from colorful and varied markets to the nicely built mosques, Buddhist temples and Hindu shrines that are often found side by side, and the profusion of annual festivals celebrating both traditional and modern aspects of Malaysian culture.
One of the world’s most politically stable countries, Malaysia is only second to Singapore in terms of regional economic strength, but it offers a much more organic lifestyle than its city-state rival. One half of the country, situated on the southern tip of the peninsula below Thailand, is called Peninsular Malaysia. This is where the highest ranked and affordable universities in Malaysia are found, along with the most diverse and vibrant urban areas. The other half, Malaysian Borneo, shares an island with Indonesia and is the quieter of the two halves, offering solitude, authenticity and beautiful jungle life.
Applications, fees and visas
Already the world’s 11th most popular study destination according to UNESCO figures, Malaysia has even mightier ambitions, aiming to be the sixth-largest education provider by 2025 with a target of gaining 250,000 international students by this time.
Among the development initiatives introduced to achieve this is a new agency called Education Malaysia Global Services (EMGS), which will provide much needed assistance for foreign students applying to study in Malaysia. As of 2013, students who wanted to apply to private universities in Malaysia should apply using EMGS with a ‘one stop application’, intended to make the process more efficient and allowing students to apply for multiple programs and institutions at a go. International students interested in studying in Malaysia at a public university, however, will apply for their desired program directly through each individual university.
Note that English is the language of Instruction of private colleges and some government universities in Malaysia, and is spoken widely by Malaysians. For those less proficient in the language, most of the colleges offer English proficiency classes for your benefit.
Student passes and visas for Malaysia
All international students will require “Student Pass” and student visa. Gaining your Student Pass is simple and, once you are accepted onto a program at an accredited university in Malaysia, the school will directly apply for the pass on your behalf. Among the documents they will submit for you is a Personal Bond, for this you will need to pay a fee of around MYR200-2,000 (US$50-US$500), depending on your country of origin.
Once both your acceptance and Student Pass have been approved, all students (for both private and public universities), will be required to apply separately for a single-entry student visa through the Malaysian embassy or high commission in their home country. For this you will need to provide evidence of your offer of study and your Student Pass, have proof of financial stability to meet tuition and living fees, show that you are “in good health and of good character”, and confirm that you intend to live in Malaysia solely for study. Depending on where you’re from, you may also be asked to submit more info and documents.
Note that tuition fees differ between universities in Malaysia, with the prevalence of international branch campuses and private institutions bringing the overall average up. In general however, living in Malaysia is so much cheaper than many countries, with average tuition fees currently standing at approximately US$3,950 per year.
Surprisingly, the highest ranked university in the country, Universiti Malaya (UM), as a public institution, has an average which again is so much lower, standing at as low as US$2,534 per year for international undergraduates.
Although the costs of programs at Malaysia’s international branch campuses tend to be higher, they are still very much cheaper than their international counterparts, while offering the same value. To provide context, if you were to take a bachelor’s degree in computer science from Monash University’s Malaysian branch campus it would cost MYR41,900 (US$10,000) a year, while at the original Monash University in Australia the cost would be more than double, currently A$32,500 (~US$23,400) a year.
The cost of living for international students in Malaysia is as low as MYR 14,400 (~US$3,440-4,600) per year, and covers food, travel and accommodation. While this is quite low compared to many destinations, it is of course still important to plan your budget as early as possible, especially as your visa application will require proof of available funds.
Please also bear in mind that international students are unable to work during term time. The only permitted times students can work are during semester breaks and school holidays of more than seven days, for no more than 20 hours a week and on a restricted category of jobs. This means that earning your tuition and living expenses as you go is not the way to go.
Scholarships and grants
Scholarships and grants are nice avenues for international students to find funding to study in Malaysia. Individual universities in Malaysia usually offer scholarships or fellowships to international as well as domestic students, and information on these is available on all their websites.
The Malaysian government has funds for international students, one such fund being the Malaysian Commonwealth Scholarship and Fellowship Plan (CSFP), available to postgraduate students with a 2:1 degree or higher, or equivalent.