• ‘Over 80% of schools say the COVID-19 pandemic has affected students' choices on going to university’, finds Cambridge International's annual Destinations Survey 
  • Malaysian students now prefer to further their studies in local universities, followed by the United Kingdom and Australia  

The global pandemic has caused huge disruption to education in Malaysia and throughout the globe, directly impacting students' decisions about where to study once they leave school, according to Cambridge International's annual Destinations Survey

The research, gathered from 300 Cambridge schools worldwide, found that the turbulent past year has significantly influenced student choices. 84% of schools in the survey reported that many of their students changed their minds about their first-choice destination or university – largely due to general uncertainty, difficulties with travel or financial hardship caused by the pandemic – with another three out of five (62%) choosing to delay or defer their studies for the same reason. 

 

Malaysia the Preferred Study Destination

Interestingly for Malaysia, 60% of students around the globe nominated the country as a study destination with good value for money. This also indicates that due to the global economic downturn, more students are looking for more cost-efficient solutions for university study. Furthermore, for Malaysian students themselves, most are opting to remain in the country to pursue their higher education. 

Ben Schmidt, the Regional Director Southeast Asia & Pacific, Cambridge International shared: "Before the pandemic, Cambridge International AS and A Level students in Malaysia would progress to traditional destinations such as the United Kingdom (UK), United States (US), Australia and Singapore. Now, Malaysia has become the number one destination country.  Many students are avoiding universities in the US due to high COVID-19 rates. We can see that the decisions are driven both by safety concerns and financial considerations, and it remains to be seen whether these are temporary changes during the pandemic or indications of a more sustained trend.”

Findings from the survey also highlight the subjects generally chosen by Malaysian students, with many electing to further their education in Engineering, Medicine, Mathematics and Law, with a small portion of students preferring to pursue subjects such as Accounting & Finance, Mathematics and Psychology. The high interest for students to follow a path in Engineering is also a positive sign for Malaysia, as the country advances towards Industrial Revolution 4.0, increasing the need for more engineers to meet the upcoming challenges. Statistics from the National Council for Scientific Research and Development indicates that Malaysia currently only has 70,000 registered engineers1

 

Opportunities in the United Kingdom and Australia 

Whilst the impact of the pandemic significantly influences the decisions students took for their next educational steps, the research also found that students are becoming more aware of the wide range of study options available to them internationally. Many cite a greater awareness of international education and a perception that overseas study can offer a greater choice of courses and wider career opportunities when asked why. 

Kevin Ebenezer, Head of Global Recognitions at Cambridge International said: “We know the pandemic has created a huge amount of pressure on education globally, and this is reflected in the findings which clearly showed it has affected students’ university choices. However, despite such a challenging year, it is positive to see that an estimated 70% of Cambridge students went on to attend a top-500 globally ranked university in 2020, compared to 68% in 2019”.  

The UK and Australia, which respectively hosts 24 and 13 of the top-500 globally ranked universities2, complete the top three destinations of choice for Malaysian students. In addition, the UK is also a destination of choice for students from Europe and China as well, with results from the survey indicating that over a quarter (26%) of Cambridge students who chose to go abroad to university took up places in UK universities. 

The student destination survey was conducted in July 2021 on 300 schools from 55 countries.

 

[1] Realizing Industry 4.0 Through STEM Education: But Why STEM Is Not Preferred?

[2] Ranking Web of Universities