Broadening choices and perspectives
LIMITED seats and a highly competitive environment is making it increasingly difficult for prospective undergraduates to find places in degree level programmes of their choice at universities in Malaysia.
Hence, many are looking for alternative destinations in which they can pursue their ambitions without compromising on education quality or job marketability upon graduation.
Universities in the Middle East countries — namely Egypt, Morocco and Jordan — are fast becoming viable choices for degree programmes in the fields of medicine, dentistry, pharmacy and Islamic studies among school leavers.
“After completing foundation studies or matriculation programmes, students often find themselves in fierce competition to find places at university — particularly in public universities. Their competition is not only among themselves but also with Sijil Tinggi Pelajaran certificate holders and those with equivalent qualifications for the same places,” said academic consultant Dr Ahmad Rodzi Mahmud.
Citing medical degree programmes as an example, Ahmad Rodzi said those with near 4.0 cumulative grade point average (CGPA) upon completing foundation or matriculation studies often find their ambition of becoming doctors dashed when they are only granted some other course to pursue despite fulfilling the criteria of taking up medicine.
Thus, applying to study medicine, dentistry, pharmacy or Islamic studies in Egypt, Jordan and Morocco right away after Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia may help them to be a step closer and faster to achieving their ambitions.
“In the case of doing medicine in Egypt, it is far cheaper than Russia, India and Indonesia with an annual tuition fee of US$8,000 (RM34,220). About RM500 per month is adequate for cost of living per student. Studies are conducted in English 100 per cent and there is no requirement to be skilled in the Arabic language,” he said, adding that studying in Egypt has an added advantage as it has a steep history in medicine.
Ahmad Rodzi, who runs Medic Mesir, a placement agency for Malaysian students at Egyptian universities, said applicants and their parents can choose to apply for degree programmes in the middle east straight via the Ministry of Higher Education (MoHE) or through agents like them.
“For us, what we offer is not only assistance in submitting applications to the respective universities, we also offer pre-departure orientation programmes including academic preparation, housing service in Egypt as well as academic support and counselling service for students abroad which makes studying less stressful and relatively fuss-free for students,” he said.
Adleen Suraya Rudy Johan, who is a first-year Bachelor of Medicine student under the MansouraManchester Programme at Mansoura University in Egypt, found the decision to take up medicine via this route the correct one for her. The programme adopts the curriculum of the University of Manchester under the supervision and training of the English side while the teaching and evaluation by the Egyptian side.
“Growing up, my father has always wanted me to become an accountant like him.
But I never had an interest in that field. I was also surrounded by cousins who study medicine. Some have even graduated and are serving in hospitals. Yet I was still undecided. While waiting for my SPM
After completing foundation studies or matriculation programmes, students often find themselves in fierce competition to find places at university — particularly in public universities. Their competition is not only among themselves but also with Sijil Tinggi Pelajaran certificate holders and those with equivalent qualifications for the same places.” AHMAD RODZI MAHMUD
result, I had to take care of my grandfather who had undergone bypass surgery at the National Heart Institute. During this period I realised that I have a keen interest in medicine. It was also then that I had the chance to meet a cardiologist who told me that I should do what I love,” said the 19-year-old from Shah Alam.
Once she decided she wanted to pursue medicine, Adleen Suraya’s parents attended several meetings and briefings by student placement agents.
“They finally decided on Mansoura University due to, among others, the study fees and the programme, which is a collaboration. They had chosen a student placement agent with good track record in handling middle east placement. The agent conducted a preparation programme called premed to prepare students furthering their studies in Egypt. We were introduced to the various subjects that we will be studying in our medical degree programme. We were also given a crash course in Arabic language. Several seniors from Mansoura met us during this time and shared their experiences studying in Mansoura,” she said.
The Mansoura-Manchester is a problem-based programme that runs for six years where students learn through medical problems from year one. The problem will highlight certain inter-related topics that can include subjects from both pre-clinical sciences
(Anatomy, Physiology, Histology, Biochemistry, Pathology, Microbiology, Parasitology and Pharmacology) as well as clinical sciences (Internal Medicine,
Surgery, Paediatrics, Obstetrics; Gynaecology, Ophthalmology, ENT, Forensic Medicine and Community Medicine). There is no such division of topics into single field.
“The most challenging aspect for me so far is adapting to life in Mansoura and mastering the Arabic language. The most rewarding — like most students — passing my exams,” said Adleen Suraya.
Mas Nasyrah Kamal, 24, a final-year student under the same programme, decided to apply for a place at Mansoura University after completing two years in the Foundation Science programe at Universiti Teknologi MARA (UiTM) Puncak Alam campus. Although she had good results, she was offered a course in actuarial sciences despite her passion in medicine.
“Every learning classes in the course has been taught in English and the lecturers there are exceptionally willing to guide and teach us.
“As for the content of schedule such as lectures, practicals and clinical sessions, it is similar to programmes in Malaysia. I think the main difference between learning in Malaysia and Egypt — here, I experienced shorter study hours than back in UiTM Puncak Alam.
“To be honest, of course I would deduce that the clinical sessions in the hospital in Malaysia is much more comfortable and well-equipped compared to in Egypt. However, in terms of handson skill and the engagement with the patients, I think Egypt is much more conducive,” she shared.
“Throughout the years, there were no problems in conversing with lecturers and fellow Arabic students as they could also speak English, though some of us might have an initial problem when it comes to conversing with the patients in the hospital,” she said.
Similarly, for Mas Nasyrah’s coursemate, 24-year old Malaccan Muhammad Azfar Adam’s route to Mansoura University was triggered by being offered a place to study geography instead of medicine after completing foundation studies in science at the University of Malaya.
“I accepted the chance of going to Egypt, doing medicine as I didn’t get the place to do so in Malaysia and the cost of doing medicine elsewhere is beyond our means. Even though at first I was only doing so after being persuaded by my parents it has turned out to be the best decision I’ve ever made,” he said.
Muhammad Azfar managed to be among the top five for year one students in the programme for his batch that earned him a sponsorship by JPA, which eased some burden on his family’s part.
“Also, living in Egypt gives us Malaysian students the opportunity to travel to countries nearby during our study breaks and if you save enough, you may even get to travel around Europe,” he said.
But the experience is not entirely smooth sailing. “You must have the grit and be sure of your capabilities to commit to your goals. Like everyone else, I need to complete my housemanship to actually be certified as a doctor in Malaysia but my long term plan is to become a lecturer to future medical aspirants,” he said.
Nusaiybah Ahmad Shazili, 22, who recently graduated with a degree in Arabic Language and Literature from Al-Albayt University in Mafraq, Jordan, said there’s nothing like gaining first-hand exposure to a certain language and culture than actually studying in its native country.
“My father was a student at Al-Azhar University in Egypt and my mother is an English lecturer who loves Arabic, I’ve been exposed to both languages for as long as I could remember. I also learned a little Mandarin for a year. But I didn’t have much luck with Mandarin because I didn’t have Chinese friends to practise the language with. So after completing SPM, I wasn’t quite sure of the language I wanted to pursue for my first degree.
“I knew I had to pick either English or Arabic. But after listening to an indie band from Egypt called Cairokee, I fell in love with Arabic. I took my father’s advice to accept the offer to study in Jordan because I would be exposed to the language directly,” she said.
Nusaiybah managed to secure a scholarship from Lembaga Zakat Selangor (LZS) for her studies and it was LZS that assisted Jordan-bound students to clear their university applications with MoHE.
“After a briefing, we were told that the annual amount that we would be receiving was in Ringgit Malaysia. This meant that I had to closely monitor my expenses because the exchange rate kept changing throughout the years. LZS scholarship holders had to pay the tuition fees ourselves,” she recalled.
As for studying in Jordan, Nusaiybah said in contrast to Malaysia, her programme didn’t have tutorials.
“We only attended lectures by the professors and we hardly had to do any assignments. Since our time was not packed with classes and assignments, most of us really put full effort in learning by ourselves and sometimes we held study groups with Arab friends to help us out. Most of the evaluation was done through examinations held three times per semester plus attendance.
“My personal strategy to understand better during classes was to only listen to the lecturers and avoid taking heavy notes at the same time. To improve my standard Arabic and the Jordanian/ Levant dialect, I made sure I met people from different walks of life.
My housemate was a Korean; I got involved in volunteerism and taught young Syrian refugees; I stayed over at my professor’s home and got to know his wife from Azerbaijan,” she said.
For Nusaiybah, the most challenging aspect of her studies was to understand literature in another language and the most rewarding was when her professor acknowledged her efforts to learn those subjects even when her marks were not as high as compared to the native speakers.
“My advice is to keep an open mind because the culture, the people and especially the education system are different from us. For now, I’m interested in a few areas such as education, language and volunteerism. I hope I can do something within those areas,” she said.
After studying for five years at Sekolah Tinggi Islam As-Sofa in Rembau, Negri Sembilan, Sheikh Affan Haziq Sheikh Obid went on to pursue Diploma Syariah Islamiyyah at Kolej Islam As Sofa (KIS) which is located at Ampang, Selangor.
Now 21, Sheikh Affan Haziq is a first-year student studying for a degree in Islamic Studies at Muhammad V University in Rabat, Morocco after performing well at KIS.
“I was offered by KIS to further my studies in Morocco. KIS has memoranda of understanding agreements with the university as well as several others in countries like Tunisia and Jordan for student placement,” he said. The young man from Subang Jaya discussed the offer with his family and decided to take it up due to his interest in the field of study.
“Upon arriving at the university, I didn’t immediately start on my degree programme but instead had to take a six-month Arabic Language course. Programmes at the university are taught 100 per cent in Arabic. Apart from Malaysians, I have friends from countries like Italy, Korea, China and of course, Moroccans as my coursemates,” said Sheikh Affan Haziq.
He remarked that the style of learning in Morocco is pretty much the same as in Malaysia except that lectures, tutorials, assignments and presentations are all conducted in Arabic.
“The most challenging part for me in Morocco is their language and food. The four-season weather does not really affect me as a student — in fact, it is quite pleasant. But the language is a different matter. Lecturers teach in formal Arabic while daily communication requires colloquial Arabic, which is hard to learn. People in Morocco generally do not speak English well as their second language is French. So for us students in Morocco, we learn French at university and outside, too,” he said.
For students who plan to study in Morocco, Sheikh Affan Haziq has this advice: Master the Arabic language while still in Malaysia.
“The mastery of the language is the critical determiner in doing well during the degree programme. Also you have to be physically and mentally strong as the local culture is different from Malaysia’s.”
As for his plans, Sheikh Affan Haziq dreams of studying up to PhD level. “I would like to share the knowledge earned from my studies with other people. I do not plan to be an ustaz. My ambition is to be a professional motivator one day.” he said.
Mas Nasyrah Kamal (second from left) with coursemates during a clinical at a hospital in Mansoura, Egypt.
Muhammad Azfar Adam
Sheikh Affan Haziq playing football on campus in Morocco.
Nusaiybah Ahmad Shazili with a young Syrian refugee during her volunteer work in Jordan.