Friday, December 21, 2007

Malaysian Students in the US

The US based Institute of International Education (IIE) recently published a report on foreign students in the US. I thought that a few of the findings from that report is worth noting, some of which are relevant to Malaysia.

The top 25 'sending' countries, from the IIE website, is as follows:

Rank Country Total Under Graduate
1 India 83,833 15% 71%
2 China 67,723 15% 71%
3 Korea 62,392 45% 38%
4 Japan 35,282 63% 20%
5 Taiwan 29,094 26% 58%
6 Canada 28,280 48% 44%
7 Mexico 13,826 58% 31%
8 Turkey 11,506 29% 57%
9 Thailand 8,886 26% 58%
10 Germany 8,656 37% 43%
11 United Kingdom 8,438 52% 31%
12 Saudi Arabia 7,886 43% 16%
13 Nepal 7,754 67% 26%
14 Hong Kong 7,722 67% 21%
15 Indonesia 7,338 63% 23%
16 Brazil 7,126 49% 37%
17 Colombia 6,750 45% 41%
18 France 6,704 33% 43%
19 Kenya 6,349 64% 27%
20 Vietnam 6,036 68% 22%
21 Malaysia 5,281 63% 24%
22 Nigeria 5,943 60% 31%
23 Pakistan 5,401 52% 37%
24 Russia 4,751 40% 49%
25 Venezuela 4,523 60% 26%

Some observations:

(i) Firstly, it is not surprising that the largest number of students come from India and China. What is not shown here is that the number of students from Indian have almost tripled and those from China have almost doubled since 1995. There was a small drop in the number of China students post 9-11 but have already exceeded the pre-9-11 levels in the last couple of years.

(ii) Secondly, there is no strict correlation between the level of development of a country and the breakdown between undergrads and postgrads from that country. For example, Japan sends more undergrads than grads to the US as does the UK as well as Turkey and Thailand. India and China sends a lot of grad students than undergrads even though they are developing countries but many other developing countries send more undergrads than grads, Malaysia being one of them.

(iii) Thirdly, not shown here, is the fact that the number of students from South East Asia (Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand) have decreased drastically since the Asian currently crisis. The number of students from these countries have roughly halved since the Asian crisis as students have presumably flocked to less expensive options like going to Australia and for many Malaysians, choosing to to 2+1 or 3+0 programs (many of which send students to the UK and Australia). There is one exception which is Vietnam where the number of students going to the US has more than tripled since 1998/1999.

What we can glean from this information which might be useful for Malaysian policymakers?

(i) Firstly, I can't help but notice, especially after my time here in the US, that the many graduate students from China and India will form the backbone of research efforts only only here in the US but also in their respective countries as these researchers return home or form collaborations which researchers in their respective home countries. Malaysia cannot compete in absolute terms but what it can try to do is to target some of the researchers who might not be able to find attractive enough jobs in the US to do research or to teach in Malaysia. Now, I know that many of you are going to say that we end up recruiting 'rejects' but I would probably prefer to hire a so called 'reject' with a US based PhD compared to someone who doesn't have a PhD, as is the case with many of the lecturers in Malaysia. You can be sure that Singapore, either NUS or NTU or SMU or some of the biotech firms, are reaching out to many of the researchers, who might for whatever reason, not want to remain in the US after they complete their PhDs. (Fulbrighters like myself for example who have to leave the US after we obtain our degrees)

(ii) Secondly, the statistics show that there are approximately 1300 Malaysians who are doing some sort of graduate degree here in the US. Many of these are doing their MBAs and other Masters programs but there is also a significant number who are doing their PhDs. Why not try to recruit some of these students to go back home to Malaysia? As I understand, there is some effort being undertaken by the MOHE to interview Malaysian graduate students, mostly in the West Coast. I think this is a good start but I think the the universities should be given more autonomy and incentives to have recruiting efforts themselves. It would be difficult for a MOHE bureaucrat to recruit a biochemistry PhD especially if the PhD holder is interested in the research environment of the specific field in specific Malaysian universities.

Recently, I discovered that many Taiwanese academics who studied in the US (for their PhDs) actually returned to Taiwan to teach in the public universities. As a result, many Taiwan universities have excellent political science departments (my field) with many academics who publish prolifically. I would not be surprised if such is the case for many other departments in Taiwanese universities as well. If Taiwan seem to be able to attract back many of its native sons and daughters, perhaps Malaysia can learn from their example.

(iii)Lastly, I don't think we should be too concerned that the number of Malaysian students going to the US is decreasing (from a high over well over 10,000 students to just over 5,000 not. At one point in time, Malaysia was probably a top 5 'sending' country to the US, especially in the mid 1990s when the economy was booming and the exchange rate was 2.5RM to 1USD). I've said this before and I'll say this again - that it's probably more economical for the Malaysian government to send sponsored students to Australia and perhaps the UK compared to the US where it's more expensive and where it takes a longer time to finish a PhD.

I also don't think that it's a problem if more Malaysian students are choosing 2+1 programs which let them go to the UK or Australia since many of the 2+1 programs do not involve the top tier universities. In other words, it doesn't really matter whether you go to the University of Queensland (Australia), Sheffied University (UK) or the University of Western Michigan (US). It's probably more important, through initiatives like the US education fair, to emphasize quality over quantity i.e. getting into good liberal arts programs which have good financial aid policies.

Don't get me wrong, the US is still a great place to study. But I think where the US education system has an edge is in the liberal arts colleges (no other equivalent in the UK or Australia) and in the top tier colleges (both state and private). And if you can get into a sponsored PhD program here in the US, I would also encourage you to come here. All or any of the top 100 research universities (state or private) in the US are great research institutes. The challenge is to get into such a program.


Anonymous said...

It is not surprising to see that most of the graduate students are from India and China. Most US graduate schools receive most of their applications from India and China. Many of the graduating students from top Chinese universities would go to the U.S. for graduate studies. All of them will have graduate assistantships, which means that they don't have to pay from their own pockets. Although I have seen Indian students coming without assistantships, I have not seen any Chinese students arriving with no assistantship. When these students return home, their countries benefit because they are getting highly-trained manpower whose education was subsidised by the U.S.
Unfortunately, Malaysian students are not competitive enough for these assistantships and not many can afford the costs of graduate studies on their own. Probably most of this 24% are govt scholars. As for the non-Bumis who should be taking advantage of the available graduate assistantships in the U.S., their poor English proficiency and lack of rigours in their academic programs in Malaysia are the main reasons for their setbacks.
Also, I wouldn't be surprised if many of these private (i.e. non govt sponsored) Malaysian graduate students are actually those that got their BS from US universities. Many would be from 2+2 programs, who remain in the US to continue with their graduate studies.
It would be tough for any students to get admission into US graduate schools with assistantships if they apply from Malaysia. That is why if anybody plans to go to the US for graduate studies, he/she would be better off to start with one of the 2+2 programs in one of the local colleges.

Anonymous said...

It is true that Malaysia students graduated locally will be tough to gain assistantship, the main reason is Malaysian school reputation is not known at all by the Professors. Indeed very few Malaysian students seek to further study in US grad school, obviously the main hurdle is the notorious GRE test. Many will back off when they knew they have to take GRE. For those who seek entry in to top US PhD programs, you might consider take extra step like going Singapore or HK for master study first. For example Singapore-MIT alliance is good plan for Malaysian to reach US top school.

Anonymous said...

The decline of Malaysian students entering US universities is because of the opening up of OUM, where everyone can enter the university and get a degree. Even though its a " Pos Laju" university.
Malaysians love the "fastest and cheapest and easiest" way to get a degree!

Unknown said...

No lah! US girls not pretty enough to attract our very capricious and demanding Malaysian students! He he he he

Anonymous said...

There will come a time that most universities will follow the Pos Laju route because ultimately you are paying dollars and cents to the staff. Secondly, it will also become apparent that a doctorate no longer holds any weight as many universities are becoming materialistic and machevillian in their approach towards easing entry standards. Soon if you throw a stone you will hit more PhDs than non PhDs and doctorates may hold no more weight than a BA use to carry. Sad but that is the truth of education where there isn't much honour left in the industry nor profession. It is just the arena for the rich and famous and for those who are willing to fork out money to get their child there. Oxford and Harvard cannot claim that they are immune to these practices as heads of state with little IQ are let in with ease so long as the predecessor in the family has made an application.

Anonymous said...

"Soon if you throw a stone you will hit more PhDs than non PhDs.."

Correct, correct, correct.

"Hundreds of master's and PhD students are getting "professional thesis writers" to pen their theses." reported by Azura Abas and Minderjeet Kaur (NST Online 2007/12/22).
..and the govt said "..little could be done to put a stop to this shameful practice."

No wonder Malaysia's higher education is in such a mess. When they hire these graduates to work at the IPTAs, is it so surprising if they cannot publish and cannot teach?
Soon, there will be more Master or PhD per capita in Malaysia compared to other countries.
Seriously, why bother paying hundreds of thousands of RM to get a degree in the US when they can get it cheap in Malaysia, without the stress.
Soon Malaysian degree diplomas tak pakai.
Semua pun boleh.

Anonymous said...

How much does a PhD "pos laju" style from OPEN UNIVERSITY MALAYSIA costs?

Chen Chow said...

For the trend in Cornell, the graduate students, are as mentioned, majority are from China, India and Russia.

For undergraduates, over these few years, the number of students from China has grown significantly. When I first got to Cornell, very few students from China who went there for undergraduate. But now, the number of students from China for undergrad has increased significantly.

For Malaysians, we would need to strengthen undergraduate research, at least for students to take up a research program during summer, to significantly increase their chances for PhD.

Anonymous said...

As the first anon mentioned, one would be hard pressed to find a 2nd year Phd student who does not have assistantships in the USA due to the long duration of study and expensive cost of education. It just does not make economical sense.

Following up on this argument, the government should stop subsidizing post graduate work to any country. Some could argue that imposing a bond would mean the return of a good professor. This may not be true as it does not guarantee the quality of the graduate nor his/her intention to stay after the bond is up. It also takes up a spot from more eligible candidates. The free market dictates that the best and brightest will flock to places that provides the best opportunities. That is what the government should spend their limited funds on: recruiting the best.

A pessimist will point out that it will take forever before Kian Ming is recruited to the prestigious University Malaya. Then again, stranger things has happened.

ailsa said...

As it turns out, I am one of the very few minority graduate students that anon#1 alluded to: I'm non-government sponsored, completed my BSc from UPM, MEd from UM, applied to graduate school from Malaysia, and I'm currently doing my PhD in the US on a graduate assistantship.

Anonymous said...

If you ever got a good GRE and got an assistantship in the US applying from Malaysia, you should feel good about yourself.
I know many people failed to get assistantships, even Singaporeans.

Hana Charles said...

erm, i wish to study at malaysia for my diploma & degree at USA. do you know which college gt dis kind of programme? exclude american degree transfer program.

Anonymous said...

The quality of a Ph.D. also depends on the research group you are in.
As a Ph.D. holder from a US institution myself with an RA (just to note I am a Malay if that REALLY matters), I find that YES it is hard to obtain an RA and a Ph.D. from US top schools, but to acquire knowledge is a struggle, not just a free ride, ya know what I mean? :)
I chose a US graduate program in a US good institution over UK and Australia. Why?, Well personal preference and I feel I received a complete training to be able to conduct independent research, to be able to write and communicate effectively, ect. At least my Ph.D. advisor really taught me these essential skills to become an independent educator and researcher. BTW what are Ph.D. rejects from US? I am working as a researcher here in US, most I know who went back home is not because they are not good, but because of contracts with the local universities back home. I am thankful I don't engage in such obligation.