The value of quality foreign education

17 May 1998

Malaysia ticked and is still ticking because of a stable and good political leadership and the high premium its people put on education both at home and abroad.

Education is a service in high demand commanding a high price. It is unknown for Malaysian parents to spend US$35,000 (RM 130,000) on a child for a year at Harvard and 12,000 pounds (RM73,200) at a top-pier English university excluding living expenses holidays and extras.

Currently in Britain, Cambridge is rated the best followed by Imperial College in South Kensington, London and Oxford according to a April 29 Financial Times (FT) survey.

I feel sorry for Oxford, once one of the earth's greatest academic institutions, famous, together with Cambridge, for their fields and country yards, dreaming spires and hallowed corridors which has slid down Britain's University League.

Once the British Empire's undisputed Intellectual powerhouse it has fallen behind not only to Cambridge, its age old legendary rival, but less famous red-brick universities like York and Warwick.

Many Malaysians had studies at Oxford; Tuanku Ja'afar, the Yang di-Pertuan Agong and Lee Kuan Yew, Mrs Lee Kuan Yew (nee Kwa Geok Choo) and their three children, I also believe, went to "other place"- Cambridge - which as the FT confirms, has surpassed Oxford in almost everything.

In Tony Blair's new Britain (Blair is graduate of Oxford) Oxbridge will suffer unless it embarks on urgent reforms. Oxford is the oldest University in Britain, founded in 1167 whilst Cambridge was established in 1209 when a group of dons and students left Oxford in search of a more liberal and intellectual environment.

In the FT survey table, Cambridge is the top university with an FT score of 78.44 beating Oxford in almost every department, with tougher entry requirements, a better teaching and research record and a higher proportion of research students. Cambridge awarded 28.1% of students first class degree in 1977 compared with 16.2% at Oxford.

Imperial College scored 77.48, nudging Oxford, on 75.25 into third place.

Imperial Colleges, according to FT boasts a more impressive teaching record than Oxford, as well as a higher proportion of first class students in the US and Britain - half of the total number of Malaysian students population overseas.

Fees and living expenses at non-elite institutions in these two nations are around US$20,000 (RM74,000) and 15,000 pounds (RM 91,000) or more respectively a year.

However, parents are far from being deterred by high fees. They struggle hard to give their children a foreign education hoping that (and in most cases they are right) their children's foreign education degrees will give them a lifetime economic and social advantages over those who study locally.

Late last month I visited the Hawaii Pacific University (248 Malaysian students), the Hawaii University and the east and West Center where there are a dozen may be less Malaysian students, the Maui Community College, the University of California at Berkeley (few Malaysian students) and the California State University of Sacramento (48 Malaysian students).

I am impressed upon the students attitude to work harder, to acquire an all round education, to watch for professions of tomorrow, to learn networking and to be flexible and upward mobile.

They should not expect - in the main - a "Rolls Royce income" unless they return home with excellent academic achievements.

No one could live in Bukit Tunku, Damansara Heights, the U-Thant Diplomatic Enclave, the Ukay Heights and other prestigious residential areas such as in the Cybercity if he or she only earns an annualincome of the price of a used Proton Perdana or Honda. I was also stressed it was pointless for them to transport their "kampung life" to New York, Boston, London or Kent.

They must mix and network with other students from all parts of Malaysia and more importantly to interact with American and other foreign students.

I felt impressed by the concept of the American Community College - an institution of everyman's route to higher education, I mean those people who, for whatever reasons, never had consolidated qualifications.

A community college such as in Maui also provides trained workers to industries like computer hardware manufacturing, teach any one to study something, be it in Japanese, Spanish, music or painting. Others such as the nine community college in Los Angeles' campaign to train welfare recipients for work.

When considering universities many friends ask me for advise or recommendations and I give them as best as I can - "if one has money and is name conscious" or wants a "name recognition" that their boy or girl is clever and highly qualified, he or she should go for an elite education...why go to an unknown university when a better education can be had for a far less than US$15,000 in an elite institution as Berkeley?