An interview with UPM’s Director of the International Centre

Universiti Putra Malaysia is one of the leading research universities in Malaysia with excellent international rankings. The top-notch University has been in partnership with Asia Exchange for five years and the numbers of international students studying at UPM is increasing. We interviewed Dr. Zelina Zaiton Ibrahim, the Director of the International Centre, to hear her thoughts about our collaboration and why UPM in Kuala Lumpur is an excellent study abroad destination.

A woman with grey hair and glasses is sitting in an office at an university in Malaysia.
Dr. Zelina Zaiton Ibrahim is the director of the International Centre at UPM. Photo by Fabian / CC BY

Good afternoon, Dr. Zelina Zaiton Ibrahim! Can you please give us a brief background about your role at UPM?

My name is Zelina and I’m the director of the International Centre at UPM. We take care of the international students full time and we also look after the international staff coming to work at the university. In addition, we also help the university to participate in international projects like Erasmus Plus project. These projects include the mobility of students and staff and also capacity building programs. This means we work with many Universities around the world – we basically help their students and staff when they come to our University.

The International Centre also wants to encourage our own students to study overseas. We think that citizens of the future need to be able to understand different cultures and the social experiences of others. We aim to encourage the development of a global outlook.

A group picture of students at an university in Malaysia.
The International Centre works hard to get more students from all around the world. Photo by Fabian / CC BY

How long has UPM been collaborating with Asia Exchange?

We started the collaboration 5 years ago and over the years we have witnessed an increase in international students studying at UPM. This has enriched the student community on our campus a lot. Previously we had international students mainly from Asia. We are very excited to see the increasing numbers of European, American and Australian students coming in through Asia Exchange.

I believe that UPM needs students from all around the world in order to become more international. We are also working on opening the opportunity for mobility students to not only take part in undergraduate courses but also in more graduate level courses. We are looking forward to a long-term partnership with Asia Exchange because it helps increase our mobility activities.

A group of students is walking on a path with palmtrees next to it in Malaysia.
UPM offers several numbers of internationally accredited degrees. Photo by Fabian / CC BY

How has the collaboration been?

I think it has been very good. Of course, in the beginning, we needed to understand each other’s processes and we experienced some visa issues as well. However, these difficulties have improved during the last five years. In the last year, there were tremendous improvements and simplifications.

This year we have managed to overcome all of the problems we faced previously. In fact, by the end of this year, we are hoping that Education Malaysia Global Services (EMGS) and the Malaysian Department of Immigration will become fully responsible for processing the student pass (visa) applications. This will further simplify the process for our students from the EU and other countries. By extending the visa facility we have seen an increase in students from Europe. I think this has to do with the increased visibility of UPM in Europe. Furthermore, we gain a big benefit when students choose our courses: when their home universities accept the credit transfer, our courses automatically become comparable with the European standards. Currently, UPM offers several numbers of internationally accredited degrees.

I also think that Asia Exchange does a really good job in promoting Malaysia and our university as an attractive study abroad destination. I would like to read even more blogs by students who have studied with us to see how their experience has been and what we can improve in order to provide excellent services for our students. The partnership with Asia Exchange also makes us more aware of our own processes in managing student mobility. It has helped us to improve managing our own services and our services with other partners as well.

Malaysian women are standing in front of a yellow wall with the words respect and passion written on it at an university in Kuala Lumpur.
Teamwork, respect, passion and motivation are leading words UPM strives to work after. Photo by Fabian / CC BY

How is it different to collaborate with an agent compared to direct university partnerships?

By collaborating with Asia Exchange, we have managed to reach a wider audience of students. Asia Exchange offers students the opportunity to study at universities which are not partners with students’ home universities. So thanks to Asia Exchange we are seeing a higher number and a more diverse population of students.

When we work with partner universities, the students often come to UPM for only one or two types of bachelor’s degrees. For example, the faculty of engineering may partner up with another university, and the few students who come will mainly focus on the engineering courses. But with Asia Exchange, we see students opting for a variety of courses. The advantage is that the students are not restricted to courses from only one faculty but instead they have the opportunity to choose courses from several faculties. If a student applies to study through Asia Exchange, they can be assured that UPM will try to place them at the faculties most suitable for their studies.

The Petronas Towers are illuminated and surrounded by other buildings during night in Kuala Lumpur.
When you’re going to study at UPM, this might be a view that you will see more often! Photo by Azlan Baharudin / CC BY

Why should international students come to study at UPM? What are the competitive advantages of UPM?

I think when students decide that they want to study abroad, they mainly worry about two things: how will the living conditions in the country be like? And: will the courses be accepted by their home university? I think Malaysia is in a place between, shall I say, an overdeveloped and an underdeveloped country. In Malaysia, you have this range of nature and urban settings. I think UPM is the personification of these two extremes.

I think Malaysia is the center of the fast-growing Southeast Asian region. This results in tremendous opportunities for our students to experience different cultures and societies in the Asian region.

You might also be interested in: An Evening At The Finnish Ambassador’s Residence

Coming to the campus you may think you come to a natural, rural setting. Ninety percent of our land is green but then you’ll also have ten percent of urbanized area. The University is located only thirty minutes from the capital with its iconic twin towers. So, you can have both the luxury of the developed world as well as the natural setting. I think Malaysia is the center of the fast-growing Southeast Asian region. This results in tremendous opportunities for our students to experience different cultures and societies in the Asian region.

We are also home to Air Asia, one of UPM’s partners. Air Asia has made traveling from Kuala Lumpur to the rest of Asia really affordable – flying is almost the cheapest mode of travel. Furthermore, our university is highly ranked worldwide. Our students can be assured that the courses they study with us are of global standard. In conclusion, I think these two main worries mentioned before – environmental and academic conditions – are not an issue for students coming to UPM. I think that’s the unique selling point of UPM: we are a high standard university in a garden setting.

UPM is recognized by recognised by the independent government assessments as one of Malaysia’s leading research universities.

Find out more about studying abroad in Kuala Lumpur

Asia Exchange is a Finnish company providing study abroad opportunities in Asia Pacific for students from all around the world. Want to get travel tips and new blog posts straight to your inbox? Subscribe to our monthly newsletter! If you have any questions about studying abroad, feel free to contact us! We’ll get back to you as soon as possible.

This interview was made by our Digital Marketing Coordinator Fabian.

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