Monday, June 9, 2008

Only Malaysian students should be subsidized

I agree with the Khaled Nordin, the new Minister of Higher Education, that only Malaysians studying at our public universities should be subsidized in terms of school fees and not foreigners. He said this in conjunction with a remark that the school fees of foreigners at our public universities will be reviewed.

Let me say why I think only Malaysian students should be subsidized and not foreigners. The subsidies come from Malaysian taxpayers and hence should be used only for the sons and daughters of Malaysian students. I don't see why foreign students, whose parents have not contributed anything into the system should benefit from these subsidies.

A related argument is the fact that Malaysian students who are educated in our public universities will be able to 'give back' to the country in the form of taxes paid as well as providing a more skilled work force. It is less likely that foreign students in Malaysia will remain in Malaysia and do the same.

Foreign universities in the US, UK, Australia, NZ, Canada, have made it part of their business model to charge more for overseas students partly because of the profit motive, partly because govt subsidies are being reduced and partly because of the principles I discussed above. In the US, state universities charge students who are out of state more also based on some of these principles.

Is it ironic that I advocate for this position at the same time as I'm receiving a scholarship from my US university? Not at all. Duke is a private university and is funded by a combination of fees and endowments, none of which comes from the state or from taxes. If there was a private university in Malaysia who wanted to be as generous to foreigners as they are to Malaysians, I would have no problems with that.

I just have a little bone to pick with the minister. He said that fees in public universities cannot be too high because that would dissuade foreign students from coming. I think he should make it a point to improve the standards of our public universities so that higher fees can be justified and won't dissuade foreigners from coming to our public universities.

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