I. A Brief Description of Malaysia’s Higher Education System
Higher education in Malaysia is divided into 2 sectors: public and non-public. In the public sector, there are 20 universities and 6 university colleges (the term ‘university college’ is used to for those tertiary level education institutions that are able to confer their own degrees but have not achieved university status). In the non-public sector there are 559 institutions of varying types including: universities and university colleges and foreign university branch campuses. The term ‘non-public’ refers to the broad category of institutions not funded by the state. A division between private and for-profit institutions exists within this category, but is not entirely clear. Outside of these categories are polytechnics (24) and community colleges (37), which will not be dealt with in this profile.The Higher Education Department within the Ministry of Education co-ordinates and monitors the activities of public and private universities and colleges.The Malaysian government has made tremendous efforts to improve the higher education system as a whole in recent decades. Nevertheless, the system faces many challenges including financing and access.
In terms of access to higher education, there were significant improvements in the higher education gross enrollment rate between 1965 and 2005 from less than 5 percent of the university aged cohort to more than 30 percent. By 2010, the Ministry of Higher Education hopes to increase tertiary education enrollment to 40 percent of young people (ages 18-24). This increase will push enrollment form 650,000 students in 2005 to 910,000 in 2010.
There are several issues facing Malaysian higher education financing including its ongoing ‘corporatization,’ which on the one hand has allowed for public institutions to gain autonomy, but on the other hand treats the university as a business, implying complete financial independence from the state.
In recent decades, Malaysia has been in the process of transforming its economy from one based on mass production and relatively unskilled labor to one based on knowledge and creativity. In implementing this change, the state has allocated 8 percent of total governmental expenditure or (RM 11.3 billion) to higher education. In terms of Gross Domestic Product, Malaysia allots 2.7 percent of its GDP to higher education. This relatively high percentage is due to the subsidization of tuition and oftentimes on-campus accommodation.
Currently, students are assigned to specific universities based on their cumulative grade point averages, faculty members are essentially civil servants with highly fixed salaries, and vice chancellors and deans are appointed by the state.Issues of access to higher education continue to cause contention among the various ethnic groups in Malaysia. Racial quotas were eliminated in 2002 with access to public universities