For Malaysian students seeking to study abroad, executive orders signed by United States President Donald Trump have raised concerns about their educational options.
The change in perception comes at a time when two other forces are driving change in international student mobility trends: shifting currency exchange rates, and the improved ranking and accessibility of global higher education institutions outside of the US.
Under such conditions, the best strategy is to focus less on national destination and more on which universities, degree programmes and environments are best suited to meet the needs of students.
The US higher education system is the world’s best, according to the 2016 QS Higher Education System Strength Rankings, but this does not mean that, despite the remarkable diversity of Ame-rican institutions, it is the best fit for everyone.
Not only students and families, but also Malaysian universities, should be research-oriented and selective when it comes to choosing their future educational partners.
In higher education circles, there are concerns that Trump’s entry ban will have a chilling effect on international study in the US.
There is also the perception that more and more Americans oppose globalisation and are divided along racial and class lines.
The reality is that globalisation of the workforce, not international study per se, is the main dilemma faced by many governments. This is a trend that is also evident in other developed countries besides the US.
Students and families for whom international employment considerations loom large should look at changes in work visa lottery systems and the types of pathways available to student visa holders.
In this area as well, the US seems to be holding up albeit with mild perturbations: modifications are expected to the H1-B lottery system, for example, and, last month, leaked plans appeared that seemed intended to reduce the number of Optional Practical Training programmes available to foreign students, to protect American workers and foreign workers in the US from competition.
These are complicated, but knowable and manageable, scenarios.
Those of us responsible for advancing international higher education are invested in providing the best options possible for students in Malaysian university and degree transfer programmes.
The world’s higher education landscape has become incredibly diverse and, in this landscape, institutions outside of the US, including several in Malaysia, are on the rise.
This is a positive development that we should embrace.
However, it also means that conventional wisdom, which sees higher education systems in rigidly national terms, no longer applies.
As mobility, internationalisation, entrepreneurialism and collaborative problem-solving increasingly define for all of us what higher education means, issues of choice and “fit” will come to the fore as well.
How we approach these issues, whether as individuals or institutions, will shape future outcomes, making this an opportune moment for Malaysian students to take a broad and informed view of the range of universities, locations and pedagogical models available.
DR MATTHEW D. JOHNSON, Head of School, School of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Taylor’s University