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Malaysian student boycott to cost UK universities up to pounds 50m a year

THE DECISION by the Malaysian government to refuse to send its students to Britain could cost British universities up to pounds 50m a year in desperately needed income.

Malaysia sends more students to UK universities than any other overseas country. In 1991-2, the last year for which figures are available, it sent 7,506 students, which amounts to 9 per cent of all our overseas students.

The Malaysian government, angered over trade corruption charges in the British press, has decided not to send its students to study over here. It also intends to terminate a contract with a British consortium that places Malaysian students in British universities.

Nazri Abdul Aziz, chairman of the Malaysian Trust Council, a government-backed agency which assists students and small businesses, said yesterday: 'We are not sending our students to Britain for fear of their safety in case of retaliatory action from the British public.'

Malaysian students study a wide range of subjects but the most popular courses are accountancy, law and engineering. They pay the full overseas fee, which varies according to university, but the average is pounds 7,000 per year.

Many courses which recruit heavily in the overseas market may have to close as a result of the decision. Rhodri Phillips, director of research and strategy for the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals, said last night: 'Clearly there must be substantial numbers at some universities, and courses which are dependent on Malaysian students will be in some difficulty. Some courses will consist almost entirely of overseas students and they are more vulnerable.'

After Malaysia, the next largest group of overseas students in British universities is from Hong Kong, with 6,642 students, and then the United States with some 5,000.

The consortium believed to have been targeted by the Malaysian government is known here as the M62 consortium, because it involves up to a dozen universities in the North of England, in Leeds, Sheffield, Manchester, Hull and Liverpool.

The Malaysian students spend their first year in their home country, on courses validated by British academics. The second and third years are spent at British universities and the students leave with a UK degree.