29 Jun 2019





1.0     INTRODUCTION                                                                   2

2.0     CURRENT SITUATION OF HIGHER EDUCATION IN MALAYSIA                                                                            4

MALAYSIA                                                                            8

4.0     RECOMENDATIONS                                                             11

5.0     CONCLUSIONS                                                                     15

          REFERENCES                                                                        17                                           

1.0              INTRODUCTION

Education in Malaysia is overseen by the Ministry of Education (Kementerian Pendidikan). Although education is the responsibility of the federal government, each state and federal territory has an Education Department to co-ordinate educational matters in its territory. The main legislation governing education is the Education Act of 1996 (Wikipedia, 2015).

The education system is divided into preschool education, primary education, secondary education, post-secondary education and tertiary education. Education may be obtained from the multilingual public school system, which provide free education for all Malaysians, or private schools, or through homeschooling. By law, primary education is compulsory. As in many Asia-Pacific countries such as the Republic of Korea, Singapore and Japan, standardised tests are a common feature. Currently, there are 37 private universities, 20 private university colleges, seven foreign university branch campuses and 414 private colleges in Malaysia (MOHE, 2015).

Tertiary education is heavily subsidised by the government. Before the introduction of the matriculation system, students aiming to enter public universities had to complete an additional 18 months of secondary schooling in Form Six and sit the Malaysian Higher School Certificate (Sijil Tinggi Persekolahan Malaysia, STPM); equivalent to the British Advanced or 'A' levels. Since the introduction of the matriculation programme as an alternative to STPM in 1999, students who completed the 12-month programme in matriculation colleges (kolej matrikulasi in Malay) can enrol in local universities. However, in the matriculation system, only 10% of the places are open to non-Bumiputra students. Excellence in these examinations does not guarantee a place in a public university. The selection criteria are largely opaque as no strictly enforced defined guidelines exist.

The classification of tertiary education in Malaysia is organised upon the Malaysian Qualifications Framework (MQF) which seeks to set up a unified system of post secondary qualifications offered on a national basis both in the vocational as well as higher educational sectors.

In period of 2004 till 2013, the government formed the Ministry of Higher Education to oversee tertiary education in Malaysia.

Although the government announced a reduction of reliance of racial quotas in 2002, instead leaning more towards meritocracy. Prior to 2004, all lecturers in public tertiary institutions were required to have some post-graduate award as a requisite qualification. In October 2004, this requirement was removed and the Higher Education Ministry announced that industry professionals who added value to a course could apply for lecturing positions directly to universities even if they did not have postgraduate qualifications. To head off possible allegations that the universities faced a shortage of lecturers, Deputy Higher Education Minister Datuk Fu Ah Kiow said;

"This is not because we are facing a shortage of lecturers, but because this move will add value to our courses and enhance the name of our universities...Let's say Bill Gates and Steven Spielberg, both [undergraduates but] well known and outstanding in their fields, want to be teaching professors. Of course, we would be more than happy to take them in."

He went on to offer as an example the field of architecture whereby well-known architects recognised for their talents do not have master's degrees.

Malaysia aims to become a regional centre for education (Knight & Morshidi 2011). This has resulted in aconsiderable increase in the number of public higher-education institutions through the establishment of new polytechnics, universities and university colleges. The private education sector has also seen an increase in the number of private universities and other institutions.


Education is the responsibility of the federal government. The national education system encompasses education beginning from pre-school to university. Pre-tertiary education (i.e. from pre-school to secondary education) is under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Education (MOE) while the tertiary education is the responsibility of the Ministry of Higher Education (MOHE). The vision of the government is to make Malaysia a center of education excellence.

Primary education (a period of 6 years) and secondary education (5 years which encompasses 3 years of lower secondary and 2 years of upper secondary) are partially free. The admission age to the first years of primary education is seven. Primary schooling is mandatory for all children between the ages of 7 and 12. Students sit for common public examinations at the end of primary, lower secondary and upper secondary levels.

Upon completion of secondary education, students can opt to pursue 1 to 2 years of postsecondary education, which is the university entrance preparatory course.

At the tertiary education level, institutions of higher learning offer courses leading to the award of Certificate, Diploma, Degree and postgraduate qualifications. Certificate, Diploma, first Degree, higher Degree programs (at academic and professional fields) are adequately provided for by both the public and private education sectors.

The objective of Malaysian Higher Education System is to produce professionals as demanded by the nation for human resources and also to provide facilities for research and consultant services (MOHE, 2015). Currently Malaysia has 72 public tertiary education institutions, which comprises of 12 universities (Figure 1), 6 university colleges (Figure 2).

Figure 1: Public University

Figure 2: University Colleges

The government provides complete funding to all public higher education through budget allocations as well as lump-sum funding for development and capital expenditures. Furthermore, the government offers scholarships and loan to low-income students. Malaysia has been able to improve its education standard with the support of its private sector over the last couple of decades. Large industrial and service organizations have come forward to provide all university students the required job training facilities. The government emphasizes this practical training as compulsory.

In the early 1990s, there were approximately 200 private colleges but no private university yet in Malaysia. At present, there were 11 universities, 11 university colleges, 5 branch campuses and 532 colleges (Table1). In the late 1990s, following the amendment of the Education Act in 1995, and in the introduction of the new Private Higher Education Act 1996, several major corporations were licensed to run private universities including Telekom’s Multimedia University, Petronas Universiti Teknologi and Universiti Tenaga Malaysia. Two distance learning universities were also created: Universiti Tun Abdul Razak and the Open University of Malaysia.

Figure 3: Private universities

Four ‘branch campuses’ of foreign universities were established: Monash University, Curtin University, Swineburne University and Nottingham University. Several university colleges were allowed to grant their own degrees, apart from continuing to run the twinning programs which awarded foreign university degrees. Students can do their foreign bachelor’s degree programs at these colleges in Malaysia, which have an inter-institutional collaborative arrangement with host-universities from overseas. The common collaborative arrangement that these Colleges have with host universities leading to a foreign degree qualification is either the Split Degree or the Entire Degree (3+0) arrangement. In collaboration with foreign universities, these Colleges offer students a wide range of foreign master’s degree qualifications and postgraduate studies at relatively cheap cost of tuition fees combined with international standards of education. The tuition fee is very competitive ranging from RM24,000 (USD6,300) to RM34,000 (USD9,000).

Students can either study full-time or part-time at these universities to earn their qualifications awarded by the universities at both bachelor’s degree and post-graduate levels. The relatively cheap course fees combined with worldwide recognized qualification make these campuses much sought-after places by local and international students. The areas of study range from business, computer science, engineering, IT, medicine, services to languages. For example, the estimated education cost for a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science (course duration:3 years) awarded by the Branch Campus of an Australian in Malaysia is about USD 17,000.

More than five hundred other colleges prepared students for matriculation into local universities or foreign universities, and various diploma courses including in IT and computer skills, English and other languages. The government is regulatory control powers over all private education institutions in the country. Approval must be obtained from the Ministry of Higher Education to established a private institution or introduce new programs. In 1997, the National Accreditation Board was created to formulate policies on standards and quality control as well as accreditation the certificates, diplomas and degrees awarded by private institutions.

The total number of students registered in tertiary institutions was only about 170,000 in 1985, increased to about 230,000 in 1990, and hit about 730,000 in 2005. UiTM was the largest with 80,000 students enrolled in its various campuses. The five older universities, each, enrolled more than 20,000 by 2000. The increased especially in the private universities and colleges was staggering rising from about 15,000 in 1985, to about 35,000 in 1990, to about 350,000 in 2015.

The objective of Malaysian Higher Education is to produce professionals as demanded by the nation for human resources and also provide facilities for research and consultant services. Nowadays all universities in Malaysia are urged by the government to focus more on the fields such as science and technology. As it seeks to achieve the goal of the becoming a developed nation by the year 2020, Malaysia needs to create a better educated and more highly skilled population.


Malaysia’s higher education policy is aimed at developing a ‘world-class’ higher education system that would help transform its production-based economy into a knowledge-based economy to achieve ‘developed nation’ status by 2020 (Mustafa & Abdullah, 2004). To this end, the public higher education institutions (HEIs) are being geared to increase the output of skilled manpower, particularly in science and technology (S&T). The private sector has been enlisted to help meet the burgeoning demand for higher education, which would be too costly for the Government alone to meet, even if the public HEIs had the capacity. To facilitate private sector participation, the Government relaxed the previously stringent control over higher education by liberalizing the regulations governing the operation of private HEIs and passing the appropriate legislation to strengthen the necessary legal framework to support private education.

The promotion of the country as a center of educational excellence and a regional hub for high-quality tertiary education is clearly intended to develop higher education for the international as well as the domestic market. Making higher education a business was a logical outcome of ‘Malaysia Incorporated’, launched in 1983, which projected the image of the country as a public–private corporation that would undertake business enterprises as part of national development. Under the ‘Incorporated’ concept, which stressed the essential public–private sector interdependence and the need for collaboration between them for national prosperity, the Government would set the policy framework and direction for the private sector in various activities. The 1990s witnessed the privatization of key government organizations dealing with public utilities and services: water supply, electricity, telecommunications, postal, railways and highway construction. During the same period, public universities were corporatized, with the expectation that they would adopt appropriate business practices in their institutional management and become less dependent on government subsidies. To enable private HEIs to play a larger role, the Government passed the Private Higher Education Act 1996, which opened the door to the expansion of private higher education.

To support the higher education policy, the Eighth Malaysia Plan (8MP), 2001–2005, prioritized expanding the output of S&T graduates to help grow a knowledge-based economy and strengthen the country’s competitiveness. To meet this objective, the 8MP devoted to the higher education sector RM 13.4 billion or 35 per cent of the RM 37.9 billion allocated to education. The expansion of the existing public universities and establishment of new public institutions under the 8MP were expected to serve as a catalyst for similar private higher education sector expansion. The recently launched Ninth Malaysia Plan (9MP), 2006–2010, has a development budget allocation for higher education of RM 16.1 billion, or 40 per cent of the total RM 40.4 billion allocated to the education sector.

The passage of the Private Higher Education Act 1996 was pivotal to the growth of private HEIs during the last decade. In the mid- 1980s, there were fewer than 50 private HEIs. The number expanded rapidly during the 1990s, reaching 640 in 2000 but dropping to 559 in 2005.3 The number of public HEIs increased more than three-fold, from 22 in 2000 to 71 in 2005 (see Table 1).

Education Act 1996. Reinforcing government policy are the various measures to ensure the orderly development and provision of higher education and the maintenance of education quality through two key quality assurance agencies: Lembaga Akreditasi Negara (LAN), or ‘National Accreditation Board’, established in 1997, and the Malaysian Qualifications Agency (MQA), whose establishment was approved in December 2005.

Student numbers increased in step with the expansion of HEIs. Enrolments in public institutions are projected to double from about 313,400 in 2000 to 653,600 in 2010. In private institutions, enrolments are forecast to increase by 80 per cent from about 261,000 in 2000 to about 473,000 in 2010 (see Table 2). On the basis of these figures, public HEIs had an average of about 14,300 per institution in 2000, and about 5,500 in 2005, the reduction in 2005 reflecting the dispersion of students to the newly established institutions.

Table 1: Tertiary Institution

Of special interest is the fact that, in 2005, Malaysia had 50,380 foreign students, mainly from East Asia and the Pacific region, of whom about 82 per cent were in private HEIs.4 With Malaysian promotion offices in Beijing, Dubai, Ho Chi Minh City and Jakarta, the foreign student population is expected to reach 100,000 in 2010. The increasing numbers of foreign students in Malaysian HEIs would suggest that Malaysia is nearing its goal of making the country a regional hub for higher education, able to attract international students from Africa, the Middle East and Eastern Europe, as well as from Asia.

From the explanation above, we can analyze that the education policy in Malaysia is always being changed from time to time in order to meet the current and the future demands. We also can observe that such policy will be effectively implemented through collaboration among races and also through enforcing it by legal binding.

4.0       RECOMENDATIONS       

The current education system in Malaysia is too examination-oriented and over-emphasizes rote-learning with institutions of higher learning fast becoming mere diploma mills. We need to evaluate the objectives and purpose of education, especially in light of Vision 2020, the New Economic Model (NEM), the challenges of globalization and modernization, as well as changing societal demands.

In this age of information technology and knowledge explosion, there is a limit to how much content or knowledge teachers can impart to their students. Any knowledge imparted stands a good chance of becoming obsolete as soon as students step out of schools. However, if students are equipped with thinking and learning skills, there is no limit to their learning. Therefore, the curriculum (content/ syllabus and teaching methods) in schools and universities should be revamped to focus more on learning to think rather than coming to know. Education at all levels should promote the development of higher-order thinking skills such as critical and creative thinking, problem-solving and decision-making skills as well as learning skills. These skills are pre-requisites for continuous and life-long learning in a rapidly changing world.

In addition, Education reform must be based on what is clearly stated in the Falsafah Pendidikan Malaysia (1987). Contrary to common perception, there is nothing inherently wrong with the education philosophy, neither is it outdated or irrelevant. What is crucial is the interpretation and implementation of the policy. The National Education Policy (1987) states that:

“Education in Malaysia is an ongoing effort towards further developing the potential of individuals in a holistic and integrated manner, in order to produce individuals who are intellectually, spiritually, emotionally and physically, balanced, based on a firm belief in and devotion to God. Such an effort is designed to produce Malaysian citizens who are knowledgeable and competent, who possess high moral standards and who are responsible and capable of achieving a high level of personal wellbeing to contribute to the betterment of the nation, family and society.”

Base on the statement above there are three recommendations on the aspects that need to be emphasized for next higher education plan namely:

1)      Raising Soft Skills for Higher Education Students
English proficiency will continue to be strengthened by increasing its usage. Students will be required to attain a higher band than that obtained at entry level in Malaysian University English Test (MUET) in order to graduate. MoE and IHEs will develop a standardized and objective method to assess students’ soft skills competencies including in psychomotor, communication, English language command, leadership, ethics, spirituality and emotional intelligence. All IHEs will incorporate programme learning outcomes to evaluate students’ attainments.
2)      Creating Higher Education Massive Open Online Courses
A roadmap for MOOCs will be established to set a clear direction and coordinate actions to ensure compliance with the Globalized Online Learning (GOL) ecosystem. This initiative will increase access to higher education and lifelong learning. IHEs will create more content, which will be constantly updated. Teaching techniques, materials and aid will be changed to be more interactive and entertaining. In addition, more flexible modular programmes will be introduced where learning can be done independently, anytime and anywhere.

3)      Raising Entrepreneurship Education at Tertiary Level
Entrepreneurship education will be embedded as an essential component across all tertiary curriculums to inculcate entrepreneurial mindset and equip students with business skills. This will also include professional courses, such as engineering, architecture, pharmacy and medicine. At the same time, IHEs will create a conducive entrepreneurial environment for students. This will be done through the introduction of a green lane policy for students to run businesses within the campus. This will develop students’ interest in business as well as their organisational and business skills

4)      Raising Industry Involvement in Higher Education Curriculum Development and Practical Training
The entrepreneurship education curriculum will be revamped by having the right balance between theory and practical components. The new curriculum will include real life case studies, opportunities to learn hands-on from industry masters and be involved in business activities. In addition, industry experts will be sought, including from the network of alumni, to participate in formulating curriculum as well as teach in IHEs.

Practical training will be strengthened to cover all fields of study and also by lengthening the training duration. Supervisors at work place and from IHEs will ensure the outcome of such attachments is achieved. An Academia-Industry Graduate Development Centre (AIGDC) will be established in every IHE to enable students to obtain work environment experience. In addition, more IHE-industry partnerships will be established.
Academics will be facilitated by IHEs to acquire and further strengthen their entrepreneurial skills through internship, sabbatical, secondments or public-private sector cross-fertilization programmes in the relevant industries pertaining to the subjects they are lecturing on. A structured Academia CPD and Academia Attachment Framework (AAF) will be developed to enable all academic staff to be updated with skills and knowledge to teach more effectively.

Industry professionals will be recruited into IHEs to enrich and strengthen the academic reputation of IHEs. Flexibility will be allowed to harness current talent in industries through new scheme of service where industry professionals will join the academic fraternity. Through this initiative, Malaysian IHEs will be able to leverage global talent and hence gain recognition from professional bodies and industry locally and abroad. This will also result in higher quality of graduates from Malaysian IHEs.

Graduate employability will be raised to more than 80% by 2020. This will be achieved by raising entrepreneurship education and incubation support, industry involvement in curriculum development, increase practical training and enhancing soft skills for tertiary level students. This will also enable local graduates to secure employment in both the domestic and international labour markets or become successful entrepreneurs.

5)      Academic programme and curriculum review
All IHEs will review their programmes periodically to eliminate redundancy and phase out programmes, which are irrelevant to industries and undersubscribed. These continuous quality upgrading efforts will be institutionalized and introduction of new programmes will undergo stringent evaluation to ensure its relevance to market needs, content superiority and other added value. In addition, to curb over supply of programmes by discipline, approval of new programmes will be limited. Meanwhile, redeployment or exit plan for academics will be undertaken to ensure quality in the delivery of higher education and eliminate complacency. Temporary prohibition or moratorium, especially for some professional programmes will be imposed while more effective intervention will be implemented to phase out nonperforming IHEs.


With over 50,000 foreign students in Malaysian institutions in 2005, and expected to increase to 250,000 in 2015, it is reasonable to assume that the demand for quality higher education by foreign as well as local students will continue to rise through the next 10 to 20 years. This presents a unique opportunity for Malaysian HEIs to widen and deepen their market share and be part of the Government’s strategy to make higher education an export industry. Opportunity, however, also brings with it implications and challenges, which may be avoided with the recommendation as earlier in this paper.

Malaysia’s private tertiary education has achieved a high level of sophistication, as reflected in the wide range of institutions and the variety of academic and professional degree programmes they offer. Many HEIs have built up their reputation through the demonstration effect of their successful graduates, and have achieved effective branding of their programmes through collaboration with well-known foreign universities. As an example, about 30 universities in the United Kingdom and 20 in Australia award their degrees under their respective twinning programmes with Malaysian private HEIs.

Furthermore, Malaysia needs to realise that the success of the current policy and related policy initiatives lie in the collaboration of all stakeholders. Both academics from public and private universities and politicians (government and opposition) must work collaboratively. Some quarters note that for far too long now, higher education in Malaysia has viewed private and public universities as two very different entities, which has resulted in private institutions being left out of the loop of development.

The good news is that there is now a document that charts a clear and systematic direction for the future of higher education in Malaysia. More importantly, there is also great political commitment and funding from the upper hierarchy of higher educational management, and a Project Management Office (PMO) has been established to ensure that what has been put on paper will be translated into practice to achieve both short and long-term goals in the quest for excellence in higher education.



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Knight, J., & Morshidi, S. (2011). The complexities and challenges of regional education hubs: Focus on Malaysia. Higher Education, 62(5), 593-606.

Mustapha, R., & Abdullah, A. (2004). Malaysia Transitions toward a Knowledge-Based Economy. Journal of Technology Studies, 30(3), 51-61.

MOHE (2015). Ministry of Education Malaysia's Official Portal (MOE ... (n.d.). Retrieved November 4, 2015, from http://www.moe.gov.my/en/home

Selvaratnam, V. (1988). Ethnicity, inequality, and higher education in Malaysia. Comparative Education Review, 173-196.

Sidin, R. (1994). Pendidikan di Malaysia: cabaran untuk masa depan. Penerbit Fajar Bakti.

The National Education Policy (1987)

Wikipedia (2015). Education in Malaysia. (n.d.). Retrieved November 4, 2015, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Education_in_Malaysia

Wilkinson, R., & Yussof, I. (2005). Public and private provision of higher education in Malaysia: A comparative analysis. Higher Education, 50(3), 361-386.

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