AROUND 80 per cent of Malaysian government-sponsored students who intended to go abroad this year are to go to local universities instead. More than 20,000 government-sponsored students are on degree-level programmes overseas, many in Britain.
Education minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, who made the announcement, said the reduction in government-sponsored students going abroad did not mean the total number of scholarships would be decreased - students would simply be going to local universities instead.
The government-funded and controlled MARA Institute in Kuala Lumpur, the largest agency preparing and sponsoring thousands of Malaysian students for home and overseas higher education every year, said that "only the cream of its outstanding candidates" would be sent to study overseas this year.
Idris Jusoh, deputy minister of entrepreneur development, said the number of placements would also be limited to universities which have achieved a high degree of excellence. "Our choice will probably be universities such as Oxford, Harvard, Cambridge, Yale, Cornell, London and Surrey."
Another criterion would be whether or not courses were available locally. The move will also affect many Malaysian students on twinning programmes, who will not now spend their final year in twinned universities abroad. MARA will send 130 students on twinned programmes abroad this year compared with 230 last year. This is a considerable reduction on the numbers that were planned.
The government will save around M$15,000 (approximately Pounds 2,2) per student, about two-thirds of the cost, by sending students to local private universities.
Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak said the cabinet had recently given approval to allow reputable foreign and local universities to franchise their degree programmes to local private institutions. He added that more than M$2 billion was lost annually in foreign exchange from the 50,000 Malaysians on overseas first-degree programmes.
Malaysia's latest move will be a further blow to universities in Britain and elsewhere who are already to lose large numbers of self-funded Malaysian students following the decision to cut tax concessions from this month for the parents of students abroad.
Malaysia was estimated to have around 100,000 self-funded and government-sponsored students studying on higher education courses abroad at the end of 1997.