Problems Faced By Foreign Students: The Ukm Experience

Khamis, 06 Mei 2010 10:17 By : Ali Salman PhD
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11 May 2010

In its quest to become an educational hub, Malaysia is getting an increasing number of foreign students ranging from Africa and the Middle East to China and Indonesia to study in its institutions of higher learning both public and private.

However, at the same time it is also experiencing a massive influx of foreign workers mainly from the neighbouring countries but also including those from China, India, Pakistan and Nepal and also some African countries. And a big chunk of these foreign workers, now said to be in the region of 1.5 million, are in the country illegally, including those who overstay and those without any permit to enter let alone to work.

In addition there are also foreigners who enter this country as students enrolling in various private colleges including some questionable ones.

These colleges are only out to cash in on these foreigners who want to stay in Malaysia ‘legally’ by providing them with letters confirming their students status thus enabling them to get student visas.

Unfortunately these so-called students are here not to study but to get the permits to enter and then get themselves involved in various illegal and criminal activities including cheating and frauds. Most of these foreigners are from Africa which resulted in even the bona fide students especially those from Africa facing problems.

With all these developments, life for the genuine students has become quite difficult as the authorities and society view them with suspicion especially those from Africa as most of those involved in fraud and cheating cases happened to be from Africa.

Some of the foreign students also faced a culture shock as Malaysia consists of different races with different cultures, outlook and environment.

Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) has its fair share of these students and currently has students from 35 countries with Indonesians constituting the largest number followed by Iran. Currently of the 9,725 postgraduate students in UKM, just over 30 percent (2,214) are international students. UKM is targeting an enrolment of 15,000 postgraduate students with international students accounting for 40 percent by 2015.

With all the problems faced by the foreign students staying here plus the cultural shock, the issue is how to make them feel at home so that  they can have a conducive environment to study.

As part of the efforts to make their stay in UKM comfortable, the Centre for  Graduate Management conducts brief familiarisation tour by bringing the students around the campus to places like the library, health centre, deanery etc. But one complaint is that they are not getting enough orientation and enough briefing to carry them through life in Malaysia as well as in the campus.


Afsaneh Zamani Rad from Iran, thinks the orientation needed to be improved. “Orientation for International students is very crucial. Knowledge about the culture and life of Malaysians is lacking”. Others say that there is also the need to get the foreign students to be more familiar with the facilities available and their locations. The idea is to make them feel at home and wanted. “As it is some at the beginning regret coming because at times the unnecessary hindrances make us feel not welcomed”, said the Iranian.

The students suggested that the orientation programme should be in two parts i.e. cultural and academic. The foreign students need to know some of the nature and idiosyncrasies of the various races and their culture in addition to the academic environment and facilities.

Apart from the orientation issue, in settling down to begin their quest for knowledge, the international students face problems with various requirements to enable them to start their new life in Malaysia and particularly in UKM.

One that they have to contend with is the procedures over immigration requirements, which according to the director of Centre for Post Graduate Management, Prof. Dato’ Laily bin Din, is invariably different from that of their home country. Darfizal an Indonesian PhD. student agreed saying that UKM needed to improve the quality of its student visa arrangement to be more representative, fast and effective.

Another  problem they faced is accommodation. Prof Dato’ Laily said: “It may not be up to the mark but we do try to provide for them”.

For Tete Eni, a Nigerian postgraduate student, the problem of adapting to different cultures and environment is quite onerous. The master’s student at the Department of Environmental Management said, “Its quite a challenge in most situations to live outside one’s culture. In the midst of the unknown it’s only social values that count”. 


Having lived in Malaysia since December 2007, the Nigerian said Malaysia is generally a comfortable place to live. “I enjoyed the diversity of cultures in Malaysia as well as the peaceful atmosphere which beyond doubt is a sign of unity”, said Tete. UKM News Portal
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