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Study in Kuala Lumpur

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As the capital of Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur — often simply referred to as KL — not only serves as a fantastic travel hub to other destinations in South-East Asia, but it offers modern amenities, good healthcare, and a generally high standard of relatively affordable living that make it an attractive destination for international students who wish to gain a globally recognised qualification, as well as experience living in the exotic Far East.

Overview of Kuala Lumpur

A myriad of ethnic groups live in Kuala Lumpur, but the main three are the Malays, Chinese, and Indians. Malaysia's capital may be fast developing, but these traditional cultures offer wide variations in religion, cuisine, celebrations, and architecture that make KL a fascinating city in which to study.

The Petronas Twin Towers and the KL Tower pierce the skyline, while colourful temples, shrines, and mosques squeeze through the gaps, serving as a beautiful reminder of the city's diversity. Crumbling coffee shops and market stalls also juxtapose the high-rise infrastructure and are tributes to KL's history before it became the modern metropolis we know today.

Why study in Kuala Lumpur?

On the QS Best Student Cities index, Kuala Lumpur has recently been ranked as the 41st best city in the world to study in, and Malaysia's Ministry of Higher Education monitors the country's institutions to ensure that they are delivering an education that meets high international standards. In 2014, UNESCO Institute for Statistics revealed that Malaysia was the 12th most preferred destination for higher education in the world, and government investment in the education sector is establishing Malaysia as a prime education hub in South-East Asia.

Malaysia continues to encourage international enrolment, and the Malaysia Education Blueprint 2015-2025, which is the government's 10-year strategy for higher education, aims to place two Malaysian universities in the Global Top 100 and to host 250,000 foreign students by 2025.

What to expect as a student in Kuala Lumpur

Teaching culture and language

Each ethnic group living in Kuala Lumpur has its own language, but Bahasa Malaysia, often referred to as Malay, is the country's official language, and is the most commonly spoken due to the majority of the population being of Malay ethnicity. That being said, most people also speak English, as it is compulsory at school and is widely considered to be the language of business.

Most courses that are available for international students are conducted in English, so you should ideally have a high proficiency in the English language to consider studying in KL. However, if you aren't very strong in English, do not despair, as many institutions offer an English Proficiency course.

Due to the mixed range of influences, language in Kuala Lumpur tends to be quite fluid and Malaysians have a tendency to mix languages while speaking, which you are likely to notice when your fellow local classmates chat with each other. Many locals also adopt a version of English referred to as 'Manglish', which is a fusion of several languages spoken in the country (with English as the base), and you'll likely pick up some key phrases and slang in no time. This evolution of language also serves to highlight the multicultural environment in which you will be studying.

Teaching methods in Kuala Lumpur may be very different to what you are used to back home, especially if you are from a western society. Some teachers in Malaysia may be more inclined to see a teacher’s main role to be “the transmission of information and demonstration of correct solutions,” rather than allowing the student to be an 'active' participant in the process of acquiring knowledge.

As in most Asian societies, many teachers in KL will expect respect rather than camaraderie, and you can expect your relationship with your teacher to be rather conventional. As Malaysia is an Islamic country, you may also notice certain formalities, especially with regards to women, even though KL is relatively progressive compared to other parts of the country.

Study options

To study in Kuala Lumpur, you will need to first select the course that you wish to study and at which institution. There are three main types of institutions for international students in Malaysia:

Universities and colleges

- Private higher education institutions consist of private universities that award their own degree qualifications, diplomas and foundation studies; foreign university branch campuses; and private colleges that award their own qualifications at diploma and certificate levels.

In 2000, The University of Nottingham was the first British institution to open a campus in Malaysia, and the number of international students at foreign branch campuses is continuing to increase, as fees and living expenses are considerably cheaper in Malaysia than at the main campuses.

- Public higher education institutions consist of public universities that offer bachelors’ degrees and postgraduate programmes, foundations and diplomas; polytechnics and community colleges that offer certificate and diploma level programmes; and public colleges that offer certificate and diploma level programmes.

Accredited skills training centres

These are institutions registered under the Department of Skills Development that enable students to pursue specialised technical and vocational skills training courses accredited by the Malaysian government. The accredited courses set students on track to go on to gain internationally-recognised qualifications.

Language schools

Students between the ages of 18 and 35 can apply at an institution that primarily offers language courses — but can also offer computer literacy training and some skills courses. Since the courses are short, students can only apply for a maximum of six months at a time.

Exchange programmes

There is also the option of a Student Mobility Programme, which enables the exchange of students between two academic institutions for between three and 12 months. This exchange also usually allows academic credits to be transferred to the student's original degree programme.

Top universities in Kuala Lumpur

University of Malaya (UM)

As the country's highest ranked institution in the QS World University Ranking 2018, University of Malaya (UM) is leading the way in improving Malaysia's reputation in the higher education sector, and is helping to establish the country as one of South-East Asia's top student destinations. In the recent ranking, the University of Malaya has been placed in 114th position, which will mean that UM has moved up 53 ranks since 2014, improving in five consecutive rankings. The acting Vice Chancellor of the university believes that three key performance markers — namely the university’s academic reputation, employer reputation, and research-related indicators — are the major contributors to this improvement.

UM has been steadfastly honing its reputation in a wide range of academic disciplines. According to QS World University Rankings by Subject 2017, it scored particularly highly in development studies, engineering (electrical, mechanical and chemical), education, and training.

The University of Malaya originally found its roots in Singapore on 8th October 1949, when King Edward VII College of Medicine and Raffles College joined forces to serve the higher education needs of the Federation of Malaya and Singapore. The university's initial growth was so rapid that an autonomous division in the south-west of Kuala Lumpur was established in 1959, and the status of that division was changed to that of a national university in 1962. As Malaysia's oldest university, University of Malaya Kuala Lumpur has continued to grow strong since then.

According to its website, UM's vision is to “be an internationally-renowned institution of higher learning in research, innovation, publication, and teaching,” and it is committed to providing “state-of-the-art resources to enrich learning and research experiences”.

It appears that UM is achieving these goals, as out of almost 14,000 students studying undergraduate and postgraduate courses at the university, over 3,500 of these are international students. This YouTube video gives great insight into why international students choose to study at UM.

Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM)

Universiti Putra Malaysia was first established to the south of Kuala Lumpur in 1931 as the School of Agriculture, and it offered just two programmes — a three-year diploma and a one-year course in agriculture. After changing its title to the College of Agriculture in 1947, it then merged with the Faculty of Agriculture at University of Malaya to become Universiti Pertanian Malaysia. In 1973 the university had its first intake of students and could boast a faculty of veterinary medicine and animal sciences, a faculty of agriculture, a faculty of forestry, and a division of foundation studies. A decade later, UPM extended its field of studies to include science and technology, and its name was later changed to Universiti Putra Malaysia as a strategic gesture to indicate its status as a higher education institution that offers various fields of study.

However, its legacy in the field of agriculture is still reflected in subject rankings and, out of the 19 internationally-ranked subjects that it offers, it appears in the top 100 for agriculture and forestry.

UPM has continued to improve in the QS World University Rankings, and most recent results show that it has moved up from 270th position to 229th, rooting itself firmly as the second highest-ranked university in Malaysia. As of December 2016, the university had 4,445 international students out of a total of 24,874, showing that its reputation is beginning to be recognised globally.

Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM)

Located approximately 30 kilometres from the centre of Kuala Lumpur, UKM was ranked 230th in the world — along with the University of Arizona — in recent QS World University Rankings and was awarded 5 QS stars for excellence. There is a wide variety of courses available for international students, in which over 2,000 foreigners from 45 different countries are enrolled.

Established in 1970 with only three faculties, UKM has since grown to consist of 13 faculties, 13 research institutes of excellence, and two commercial entities. The school boasts particularly strong programmes in the fields of education, law, politics, engineering, and mathematics, and it has forged a name for itself as a research institute in various fields of study. According to the Times Higher Education World Rankings, the university's Tun Seri Lanang Library is also one of the biggest university libraries in the country.

Entry requirements

International students are only allowed to pursue full-time courses at colleges, universities, language centres or skills training providers.

Once you have decided where you wish to study in KL, you will need to check on the institution's website or consult an official representative for the most current list of programmes offered and its entry requirements. It could also be helpful to contact the Malaysian Education Promotion Office in your home country for advice.

Admissions requirements tend to include good grades in pre-university qualifications, such as GCSEs and A-Levels, and a strong command of English. You may be required to do an English proficiency test to prove you reach the necessary standard.

There is no centralised application system for international students, so you’ll need to apply directly to the higher education institution that you wish to attend. If you do meet the requirements, you can complete the relevant International Student Application Forms for your selected course and submit it to the institution(s) of your choice at least two months before the intake date. You should be able to obtain the application form(s) from your chosen institution's website or from the institution's overseas representative in your home country. You will normally also be required to submit a non-refundable application fee, which tends to range from EUR130 to EUR210 depending on the university and course, as well as the following documents.

  • A photocopy of your passport and identity card (if applicable)
  • 4-6 recent passport photos (in colour)
  • A completed accommodation form (if required)
  • Certified copies of all relevant exam results and academic certifications (copies should be translated to English if in another language)
  • A medical health report
  • Each institution will usually take five to seven days to process an application once it has been received. If your application is accepted, you will receive an 'Offer of Place' letter from the institution, which will confirm the full-time course details, term dates, and an invoice for the various fees.

Costs

Kuala Lumpur achieved the highest score in the 'affordability' category that contributes towards determining how the city ranks on the QS Best Student Cities index. It is considered to have an ideal combination of relatively low living costs and tuition fees that increases its appeal to international students.

According to the Malaysian Government Portal, the cost of a three-year foreign Bachelor's degree programme at a private college or university can range from approximately EUR9,250 to EUR15,500, depending on your field of study. Similar degree programmes at a foreign branch campus are a bit more expensive, and you can expect the cost to rather be between EUR11,150 and EUR21,000.

Your lifestyle in Kuala Lumpur can be as extravagant or as humble as you wish it to be, but do bear in mind that Kuala Lumpur is more expensive than other Malaysian cities and it's easy to be tempted by its array of entertainment options. However, the city also offers a lot of very affordable — and even free — activities, particularly for sports and outdoor enthusiasts. For example, you can meet up with other students to go for a walk or jog through the landscaped hills and beautiful trails in the Perdana Botanical Gardens. Or you can cut costs by opting to dine at a hawker centre, 'kedai kopi' (a no-frills coffee shop that serves local dishes and drinks) or 'mamak' stall (local Malay or South-Indian restaurants around the city that usually operate 24/7) for a fraction of the price of a western restaurant or cafe. The food is usually delicious and fresh at mamak stalls and hawker centres, where both locals and foreigners can be seen enjoying a meal.

Application and tuition fees

You will need to initially pay an application fee to apply to a higher education institution in Kuala Lumpur. Once you have received your offer letter(s) and decided where you would like to study, you can accept an offer and make arrangements to pay the invoice that you will have been sent for the tuition fee, miscellaneous fees, and accommodation fees. You should request your chosen institution to issue you with a receipt upon confirmation of payment.

As well as an initial registration fee and your tuition fees, you should also budget for other costs, such as your student visa fee, a medical check-up fee, compulsory health insurance, a computer/science laboratory fee (if applicable), and a library fee.

Tuition fees and other study fees vary depending on which institution you study at, what course you choose to study, and the duration of the course. However, here is an approximate breakdown of what you can expect to pay in KL as tuition fees. For a basic idea, Study Malaysia believes the estimated total for tuition fees and living costs for international students doing a three-year Bachelor's degree to be about MYR140,000 (EUR28,000) for the duration of their stay.

Student accommodation

Your living expenses will depend on the type of accommodation you choose and your lifestyle.

Your chosen institution may be able to provide you with student housing in a residential college, but many international students choose to live in off-campus apartments that they rent privately, as there are many affordable viable options. It's relatively simple to organise housing arrangements once you are in Kuala Lumpur, and many students choose to stay at a hostel or a hotel for a few days after their arrival to compare different options and meet fellow students (and potential flatmates) before they make any decisions.

It's advisable to live relatively close to the institution where you are studying to avoid a long daily commute, or to at least find accommodation that is close to public transport. Some student apartments are not only located near to a station, but even have a direct bus connection to the campus, so it's worth discussing options with a representative of your institution once you have arrived.

Apartment shares or even room shares are possible in Kuala Lumpur for those on a tight budget.

Find work or internship in Kuala Lumpur

To study in Malaysia, you should be able to finance the entire duration of your studies, as part-time work is only allowed for up to 20 hours per week during semester breaks that are longer than seven days. Only certain jobs are permitted while your Student Pass is valid (for example, you are not allowed to work as a cashier, musician or masseur) and you will need to apply for permission to work through the educational institution where you are studying. A representative will then submit your application for part-time work to the Immigration Department, and you will be expected to be present as well.

Once you have finished your studies, it is possible for qualified graduates in critical and high technology areas to obtain an Employment Pass, which will allow you to work for up to two years in Malaysia following your time as a student. This isn't always an easy feat, but if you wish to work for a company that has met the specific conditions to hire foreign employees, and you likewise meet requirements, then the company can submit an application for the relevant category of Employment Pass for you.

Internship programmes in Kuala Lumpur are available but competitive, as lots of people who apply to intern in Malaysia wish to work in the capital. Internships are offered in different business areas, such as customer development, finance, human resources and marketing, so you should be able to find something that matches your interests after you have completed your studies. Different programmes vary in length and tend to offer stipends, but be prepared to commit to up to three months full-time and to have enough savings to support yourself properly.

If you are interested in doing an internship in Kuala Lumpur after you have finished your course, then it's worth seeking help at your university or contacting an organisation like AIESEC, which provides professional internships for students. However, do note that to complete a short-term internship, you will require a different visa to the one that allows you to study in Malaysia. You will need a Social Visit Pass – Internship (SVP-I), which is valid for 90 days and cannot be renewed.

Visa information

If you wish to study at a higher education institution in Malaysia, you will need to obtain a Student Pass from the Department of Immigration Malaysia.

Once you have submitted all required documents and payment to your chosen institution, it will begin the process of applying for your Visa Approval Letter (VAL). A Visa Approval Letter will take a minimum of 14 working days to be processed from the time your completed application, documents and payment have been received. The VAL will be delivered to the institution that has offered you a place to study, which will then send it to you in your home country. Once you have received the VAL, you can make arrangements to travel to Kuala Lumpur.

Alternatively, if you are a new student who has received an offer letter from a public or private higher education institution, you will have the option to apply for your VAL directly through the Education Malaysia Global Services (EMGS) website. Once you receive the letter, which your institution will send to you by post, you can prepare to travel to Kuala Lumpur.

Please note that the Visa Approval Letter means that the immigration department in Malaysia has granted approval for you to obtain a Student Pass. However, this letter is not the Student Pass — it merely grants you permission to enter Malaysia for the further processing of your Student Pass.

Before you travel to KL, you will need to check with the Malaysian embassy or consulate in your country about your visa requirements. If you are from a ‘visa-required’ country, you will need to obtain a Single Entry Visa before you travel to Malaysia. However, if you are a citizen of a country that does not require a visa to enter Malaysia, you will be able to enter as long as you can show your Visa Approval Letter at the immigration checkpoint in Kuala Lumpur on arrival. Once you have done this, a special pass will be stamped in your passport to allow you to stay in the country while your Student Pass is processed. This special pass can be valid for between 14 and 30 days, at the discretion of the immigration department.

At the immigration counter, you will need to present the following documents:

  • Your passport
  • Your Visa Approval Letter
  • Your original offer letter from the education institution where you will be studying in Kuala Lumpur
  • If you are coming from a country where there is a high risk of yellow fever, you will need to show proof of vaccination before you clear immigration at the point of entry.

It is worth arranging for a representative from your institution to meet you in the arrivals hall at KL international airport, to transfer you to your institution and report your arrival.

Once in Kuala Lumpur, you will need to complete a medical screening within seven days of your arrival. These clinics are linked to EMGS and medical reports are submitted online. Once you have passed, EMGS will notify your institution to submit your passport to them to endorse your Student Pass. Your Student Pass will then replace the temporary special pass that you received at the point of entry. Once your Student Pass has been issued, EMGS will issue your student identity card, known as an iKad, which will be valid for the full duration of your programme of study. You will also receive an insurance card if you have purchased insurance through EMGS. Your Student Pass will last for up to a year, or the length of your studies if less than a year, so you will need to renew this annually if you plan to study in Malaysia for longer.

Student life in Kuala Lumpur

Getting around

As a student in Kuala Lumpur, you'll be happy to know that it's easy to independently move around the city to popular student hangouts, such as Bangsar and Bukit Bintang, on a variety of developed transport networks.

If you don't need to avoid traffic, taking a taxi is a convenient way of travelling to your destination. Taxis are plentiful in Kuala Lumpur and operate around-the-clock from most busy places, and rates tend to start at about RM3 for the first kilometre and RM0.87 per kilometre thereafter, with a surcharge after midnight. Uber and Grabcar are regularly used as well.

Although much cheaper than in most western countries, taxi drivers can sometimes try to set a higher price for foreigners, so be prepared to either negotiate or ask for the meter to be turned on before you sit in the taxi.

There are five main rail services in Kuala Lumpur — the monorail, the LRT, the MRT, the KTM Comuter, and the KLIA Express, which can take you within and outside of Kuala Lumpur.

There is also a network of public and private bus services that run reasonably efficiently in Kuala Lumpur, and there are five main bus hubs in the city centre — KL Sentral, KLCC, Maluri, Titiwangsa and Pudu Sentral. Travel schedules are hard to predict due to traffic, but buses start running from 6am every day. RapidKL is the largest single bus network operator in the country and it currently runs 177 routes around the city.

You can pay for the monorail, LRT, MRT, and BRT using a MyRapid TnG card. The ticketing systems on these modes of transport have recently been upgraded to a Touch 'n Go platform to ensure passengers can travel easily on all Rapid KL services. You can purchase a MyRapid TnG card at all LRT/Monorail/BRT stations for the price of RM15, and you can reload your card at Rapid KL Customer Service Counters or any TNG reload point with a minimum amount of RM10. To save money, you can buy weekly or monthly 'smart packages' to travel by LRT, monorail or BRT Sunway, and it's worth noting that there is a 50% discount on LRT and Monorail between 6am and 7am. Concession cards that provide a half-price discount are also available for students.

Things to do in Kuala Lumpur

From its iconic landmarks to its incredible dining experiences, Kuala Lumpur can keep you busy day and night. Whether you're a foodie, a fitness fanatic, a music lover, or a shopaholic, the capital of Malaysia has something for everyone.

As a student, you can learn so much about the city from exploring its interesting museums and neighbourhoods. Chinatown (with its famous Petaling Street market) and Little India Brickfields are particularly interesting, and will be sure to dazzle you with their sights, smells and sounds. There are various night markets around the city, where you can purchase freshly made street snacks, flowers, fruits, vegetables, and random gadgets.

If you're looking for more of a party scene, then head to the centrally-located area of Bukit Bintang, which is known to be one of Kuala Lumpur’s best entertainment districts, with an extensive selection of top restaurants and vibrant nightclubs. You may also be keen to check out the atmospheric area of Bangsar. Having changed a lot over the years — from an unobtrusive residential neighbourhood, to a clubbing haven, to an arts and culture quarter — it is now somewhat considered as a café district, with a wide range of shopping facilities, restaurants, bars, and cafés.

Eating out

Kuala Lumpur is often regarded as a food lover's paradise, and there is a wide range of incredible cuisines available across the city. Malay, Chinese, and Indian food are at the heart of KL's dining culture, but you can also find high-quality Japanese, Korean, Indonesian, and Thai cuisine. Western food is also becoming more popular, but tends to come with a higher price tag, especially if imported ingredients are involved.

Kuala Lumpur also has many hawker stalls, which serve delicious dishes at a fraction of the price of restaurants. If you don't mind sitting outdoors on the pavement at a rickety table, without air-con or at a set table, this is an incredible experience in itself and is arguably one of the best ways to savour Malaysian cuisine like a local.

Events

One of the many bonuses of living in Kuala Lumpur is that the city has a particularly rich cultural, gastronomic, and sporting calendar. International bands often play on tour in the capital, and KL has its fair share of festivals, performances, exhibitions, screenings and sporting events.

As well as big arenas and a national theatre, there are also several smaller places that are perfect for live acts and a more underground scene. The city is a hub for local and international talent, so it's worth always keeping updated about what's going on. Time Out is a great way to find out what's happening each weekend in the arts, entertainment and music scenes.

Fun facts about Kuala Lumpur

  • KL Sentral is the largest railway station in South-East Asia.
  • Although Kuala Lumpur is one of the fastest growing cities in the world, it only acquired the status of being a city in 1972.
  • Between 1998 and 2004 the Petronas Twin Towers were the world’s tallest buildings.
  • The name Kuala Lumpur translates to 'muddy confluence'. In Malay, Kuala means 'muddy' and Lumpur means a 'junction between two rivers.' This name was given to the city because it is situated where the Gombak River and the Klang River meet.
We do our best to provide accurate and up to date information. However, if you have noticed any inaccuracies in this article, please let us know in the comments section below.
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See also

International students in Malaysia can choose from public or private universities. You can also work in Malaysia following your graduation.
If you wish to travel to Malaysia with your pet, whether it is a cat or a dog, conditions will vary according to your home country. No birds are permitted.
Malaysia is a cultural melting pot, and the lifestyle reflects this. Expats can expect to experience a wide range of food and festivities.
Malaysia has a highly developed telecommunications network. Though fibre broadband is limited, internet speeds are quite good. There is also 4G.

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