New students registering to join the Otago Malaysia Students’ Association at the Otago University in Dunedin.

When Ahmad Sufi Mokhtar, 34, was looking for a place to do his postgraduate studies, the Auckland University of Technology (AUT) in New Zealand was an obvious choice.

“I have been working for eight years, and have mainly been doing technical tasks in my role as an engineer. As I progress in my career and reached seniority level, I realised that I need to advance my expertise and project management skills so that I have the necessary skills set and knowledge needed to advance in my career. I discovered that AUT is the only university in New Zealand that is offering a course that is relevant to me, and I felt that this is an opportunity that I must seize,” said the International Islamic University of Malaysia’s Mechatronics Engineering (Honours) degree holder, who is a recipient of this year’s New Zealand-Asean Scholarship Awards (NZAS).

NZAS recognises New Zealand’s close cultural, economic and geographic ties with Southeast Asia. It seeks to empower individuals with knowledge, skills and qualifications to contribute to the economic, social and political development of the region.

The scholarships are managed by the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT), and are available for those who intend to take part in a postgraduate certificate programme with the duration of six months, postgraduate diploma programme of one year, Master’s degree programme of between one and two years, and a PhD programme with the duration of up to 3.5 years.

Ahmad Sufi, who is from Gombak, is pursuing a Masters degree in engineering project management.

“The decision to study in New Zealand is mainly because of the scholarship that their government had offered to me. Furthermore, the country’s people are warm and welcoming, and the environment is clean and healthy. I hope I can explore more of the country and gain as much experience as possible,” he said.

Ahmad Sufi is also looking forward to making friends and learning about other cultures and experience New Zealand’s natural beauty.

“For the long term, I will likely use the knowledge and skills that I obtained during my studies here to get involved in the private sector and if possible, the government agencies as well. Through my experience in New Zealand, I hope I can bring fresh ideas and different perspectives with respect to engineering project management.

“Apart from that, I will participate in forums or research paper publications in Malaysia to share case studies and ideas related to engineering project management, especially in areas related to technological innovation advancement and its implementation in local projects,” he said.

Ahmad Sufi Mokhtar is a recipient of this year’s New Zealand-Asean Scholarship Awards.

New Zealand Deputy High Commissioner to Malaysia Gareth Pidgeon said NZAS had been made available to Malaysians since 2012, and18 Malaysians had benefited since then.

“There were 262 eligible applications submitted last year. We have an annual allocation of two for Malaysians, so only two preferred candidates were selected. Of the 262 eligible applications, 27 were at the postgraduate certificate/diploma-level, masters-level (171) and PhD-level (64),” he said, adding that MFAT offered scholarships for people who were interested in studying subjects that could improve the social and economic development of their home country.

“For each country/region, the ministry determines the priority sectors that support this development. Applicants who can demonstrate that their proposed study is connected to any of these priority sectors are more likely to be selected,” he said.

There were five priority sectors for Malaysia last year: Agriculture development, renewable energy, disaster risk management, public sector management/governance and private sector


Preference is given to applicants whose proposed field of study aligns with the priority sectors.

On how Malaysian applicants compare with others from the other parts of the region, Pidgeon said: “We only compare Malaysian applicants alongside each other, not alongside applicants from other Asean countries. This is because each country has its own unique needs and we consider applicants based on their own country’s needs.”

The other NZAS recipient, Wan Atikah Wan Azalah, will only be heading forNew Zealand in July. She will be pursuing a master’s degree in energy at the University of Auckland.

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