Many Malaysian students who are pursuing studies abroad are finding that their dreams are permanently marred by the impact of currency fluctuations in the corridors of higher education.
Students like Kaushna Rajendran and Zarith Sofea Ann Abdullah say they are struggling with the reality of rising education costs and the difficulties that accompany it in light of the ringgit’s recent downward spiral.
In her last year at the University of Hertfordshire in the United Kingdom, Kaushna, a 23-year-old law student at BAC University, reported that the cost of her twinning program has significantly increased since she first enquired in 2019.
“I remember when I first inquired about the twinning programme back in 2019 at BAC, the prices were definitely lower than what they are now.
Even three years ago, when my brother completed the same course through a twinning program, it was far more affordable. The amount that the fees have increased in only a few years is shocking, the speaker told Malay Mail.
She added that her parents are under more stress now that the value of the ringgit has decreased and the cost of schooling has increased.
“In order for me to continue with the same program, my parents now need to spend more money. She continued, highlighting the larger financial difficulties facing families, saying, “It’s not easy, especially with the current economic conditions and the currency depreciation.”
Zarith echoed the sentiment, stating that there is more financial strain than just tuition.
“Everything seems more expensive, including daily expenses, books, and lodging. The 22-year-old student from Taylor’s University, who is presently enrolled in her second year of business management at Queen’s University Belfast, United Kingdom, said, “It’s making me reconsider some aspects of pursuing this twinning program.”
Zarith has taken up part-time work in an attempt to lessen the financial blow, which has been difficult for her to balance with her academic obligations.
“We must pursue education, but it is exceedingly difficult given the expenses and time commitments. I have a part-time job at my university because of this, she admitted. The uncertain economic climate has also cast a shadow over her future plans.
“Initially, I was planning to do my master’s programme here, but with the economic uncertainties, it feels like we are constantly on edge about how much more the fees might increase in the future. It’s hard to plan for the long term,” Zarith said.
The effects of currency depreciation on education costs is not just a financial matter but a crossroads where dreams and economic realities intersect.
Recent research by the UK-based foreign exchange financial service Wise indicates that Malaysian students studying overseas have to pay over RM69.9 million in total transfer fees each year.
The study, which included almost 60,000 Malaysian students enrolled in international programs, found that transfer-related fees cost each student an average of RM1,183 annually.
The global technology company’s research also revealed that, each year, overseas students overpay approximately RM5.3 billion in hidden transfer fees when transferring money between countries.
According to the study, Malaysian students in the US spend more on their education than any other country in the world, averaging RM130,470 annually. According to Wise’s internal data, Australia and the UK—two of the top five countries for Malaysian students to pursue higher education—were also found to be costly places to study, with annual tuition fees ranging from RM65,665 to RM77,221.
Increased operating costs at private higher education institutions are also causing a domino effect on students, institutions, and the education industry at large.
Speaking to Malay Mail, Teh Choon Jin, secretary general of the National Association of Private Educational Institutions (Napei), stated that students’ plans have been affected by higher costs as a result of the ringgit’s depreciation, which has resulted in a noticeable decrease in the number of students seeking education overseas.
“There has been a supply and demand paradigm shift in terms of outbound where fewer students are opting to go overseas because parents have to pay more due to depreciation of our currency and their plan for overseas education is becoming unaffordable. “Many who have planned to go overseas are now opting to stay in Malaysia for their higher education,” he said.
He said in contrast, there has been a surge in international students enrolling in Malaysian higher educational institutions, attracted by the perceived affordability, partly attributed to the depreciating value of the ringgit. He also said that for students enrolled in twinning programmes in Malaysia, fees remain in ringgit, but when they go abroad to complete their programmes, they are required to pay in the host country’s currency, leading to increased financial strain.
He said that private higher education institutions are working with foreign universities in the Asia region to offer study abroad and exchange programs at reasonable costs in order to address the difficulties caused by currency depreciation.
Students pay their respective home universities’ tuition fees for the exchange programs under such agreements. Students now bear the main financial burden of covering incidentals like living expenses, travel, and lodging.
“For instance, programmes designed to align with summer holidays in overseas universities for Malaysian students to study abroad programme provide a more manageable timeframe and cost for participation.
“These initiatives are strategically implemented to ease the financial burden associated with currency depreciation, ensuring that Malaysian students can still benefit from valuable international educational experiences,” he said.
The ringgit ended trading yesterday at 4.67 against the US dollar.