Gone were the days when parents sit and worry about saving enough to provide their children with an education overseas.
A huge number of Malaysian institutions have spread their wings far and wide to incorporate academic qualifications from established universities all over the world through collaborative programmes.
Some of those foreign institutions have also set up their campuses locally, providing accredited international qualifications with a Malaysian experience.
This visibly positions Malaysia as a well-established regional hub in the global education network while providing Malaysians and international students the opportunity to study at renowned global institutions at a lower cost.
This aspiration has led to the launch of EduCity@Iskandar Malaysia, marking a significant milestone for the Education National Key Economic Area (Education NKEA).
The Education NKEA focuses on four prioritised segments, namely early childcare and education; basic education (primary and secondary); technical education and vocational training; and tertiary education (both domestic and international students).
On the tertiary education front, Malaysia aims to be the sixth largest education exporting country by 2020 with 200,000 international students studying here.
"This is achievable, considering that we surpassed our target in 2011, just a year after the implementation of this NKEA. We targeted to have 85,000 international students studying in Malaysia in 2011 but the records showed 93,300. Last year, the numbers increased to more than 97,400 students. We aim to have 150,000 by 2015 and 200,000 by 2020," said Education NKEA director Tengku Azian Tengku Shahriman.
Since its inception, EduCity@Iskandar has attracted several renowned institutions, namely Newcastle University Medicine Malaysia (NUMed), Netherlands Maritime Institute of Technology (NMIT), Raffles University Iskandar, Marlborough College Malaysia, University of Southampton Malaysia (USMC), Reading University Iskandar and Raffles American School, who have all pledged their operations at the hub.
The EduCity@Iskandar is a major flagship development in the Iskandar Growth Region in Johor, encompassing approximately 283ha of fully integrated education hub with an International Student Village and dedicated sports complex and a stadium.
"NUMed and NMIT commenced operations in 2009 and 2011, respectively. Marlborough College Malaysia, Raffles American School, Raffles University and USMC commenced operations last year. In fact, Marlborough College exceeded its student intake target with 352 students (50 per cent Singapore domiciled). A Student Village complex was also completed last September," said Tengku Azian.
This year, Reading University and Management Development Institute Singapore (MDIS) have pledged to start their operations and the government is also looking at the completion of a stadium, a sports complex and a student centre at the Multi-Varsity Complex this year.
Prior to breaking even, the EduCity project faced multiple challenges, such as licence and visa approvals that require the involvement of various agencies, immigration issues and student recruitment process.
However, an Iskandar Education Taskforce was set up to address issues concerning red tapes and issuance of visas and licences. In the case of some institutions such as Marlborough College, approval was given by the Cabinet to have a dedicated immigration green lane clearance for students commuting daily from Singapore.
University of Southampton Malaysia (USMC) chief executive Professor John McBride said being in the strategically-located Iskandar area, the education enclave will make world-class education more accessible to students in the region.
"It is poised to be a regional education hub offering world-class education within a six-hour flight radius of major Asian cities. To maintain the highest standards for EduCity, only top-notch universities would be selected to be part of the educational hub. Therefore, it is a huge honour for the University of Southampton to be recognised as among the top universities in the world," said McBride.
The establishment of the campus has enabled the university to reach out to students who may or may not have enough financial capacity to study in the United Kingdom but otherwise meet the educational excellence required for the courses offered.
He points out that more than 1,000 Malaysian students have graduated from the university over the past 60 years.
Within the first six months, USMC recruited its first cohort of 22 students who are currently completing their first academic year in Mechanical Engineering.
"They arrived with excellent entry qualifications and are very committed to the programme. We are optimistic that they will perform well throughout their study years, particularly when continuing the third and fourth year of study at our campus in Southampton.
"As an international university with globally renowned expertise in engineering and research, our students will benefit from a world-class education, helping to meet Malaysia's demand for exceptional engineering graduates," said McBride.
Reading University Malaysia vice-provost Professor Martha Marie Kleinhans said the decision to make Malaysia the home of the university first overseas campus was easy as it had enjoyed a long and successful association with Malaysia.
"Having received our first Malaysian student in 1934, we now have more than 1,400 alumni from Malaysia, with 114 Malaysian students graduating in the last two years in subjects such as Law, Finance and Quantity Surveying," says Kleinhans.
Its campus at EduCity Iskandar is scheduled to open in 2015 with a capacity to host 2,000 students.
"Undergraduate and postgraduate degrees planned include Built Environment; Business and Law Science and Pharmacy. The choice of courses to be offered in Malaysia has been made with great care.
"Extensive research has been done on the needs of Malaysia and the region for the programmes that the university can offer.
"Apart from the world-renowned Henley Business School programmes, the university also hosts the largest school in the UK for the teaching of and researching real estate and planning.
"With the ministry's permission, we will continue to offer successful undergraduate Law programme in Malaysia, but at our own campus in EduCity. We will also add some of our commercial law programmes, including LLMs in Corporate Finance Law and Oil & Gas Law," she said.