Broad­en­ing choices and per­spec­tives

New Straits Times - - Higher Ed - ROZANA SANI

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

Aca­demic con­sul­tant

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.

Adleen Su­raya

Rudy Jo­han

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.

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