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Higher Education

At the time of Malaya's independence in 1957, there was no university in the country. There was, however, a university in Singapore established in 1949 called the University of Malaya, which was established as a result of merger of two well-known institutions in Singapore. The only academic institution that offered courses leading to a degree was the King Edward College of Medicine in Singapore, which had been recognized as a full-fledged medical college since 1915. The second institution was the Raffles College, established in Singapore in 1928, which offered courses in English, history, geography, and some other subjects leading to a diploma. In 1959, a campus of the University of Malaya was opened in Malaya's capital, Kuala Lumpur.

Since the birth of the Malaysian Federation in 1963, higher education institutions (HEIs) have expanded phenomenally in number, student enrollment, and the range of specialties they offer. In 2000, there were 11 universities in the public sector, besides 6 private universities and 283 private colleges. The demand for higher education was so high that all six private universities were established in just two years in 1996 and 1997 in response to public demand for admission to the HEIs and the inability of the government-funded HEIs to meet the need. In 1996, enrollment in the HEIs was 17,589; in 1997, it jumped to 28,344 students. Even so, in 1997, only one-third of the total of 86,384 applicants could be admitted. Consequently, in 1996, more than 15,000 students went overseas for higher education. The affluent conditions in the country have accounted for an exponential demand for higher education; in 1998, there were about 60,000 Malaysian students studying overseas—a large number in the United States and The Nanyang Chinese University.

The growth of higher education in Malaysia had a Chinese dimension, which affected the Chinese not only in Singapore but also people of Chinese origin in Malaya. Thus, in 1956, those who believed in Chinese education instead of Western established the Nanyang University in Singapore primarily for students from Chinese secondary schools in Malaya and Singapore. The low academic standards, inadequately-trained faculty, and an "inwardlooking concentration on all things Chinese" at the Nanyang University in its early years were so inadequate that they failed to establish credibility among many of the forward-looking citizens. The governments of Malaya and Singapore refused to recognize the degrees of the Nanyang University as qualifications for entrance to the civil service; the industrial and business sector followed the government practice. Not wanting to allow the Nanyang University to lapse into a reactionary stronghold of Chinese nationalism, the government of Singapore reinstated in 1962, one year before the birth of the Federation of Malaysia, grants-in-aid to the Nanyang University. After Singapore pulled out of the Federation two years later, the fate of the Nanyang University remained no longer the responsibility of the Federation of Malaysia.

Admission to national universities in Malaysia for undergraduate education is determined by examination and selection. The minimum requirement is passing the SPM and STPM certificate examinations. Students must apply through the Universities Central Admissions Unit. Each university, however, has the option of deciding which students to admit. To help students from rural areas who may not have adequate preparation at the primary and secondary levels, some places are reserved in some national universities. There are also special facilities for students in the form of pre-university training programs and special incentives such as government fellowships.

The government shows the high importance it attaches to university education and its immediate relevance to the country's yearning for economic betterment in the days of increasing globalization. Thus, a Ministry of Education statement states:

In the 21st century, the young person entering the workforce will be judged not so much on the knowledge and skills acquired, but on the capacity for lateral thinking, creativity, and an integrated approach to learning. The university system is expected to bridge the fundamental shift from an information-based society to a knowledge-based one. Malaysia is putting in place the hardware and software to equip students to take advantage of the opportunities offered by an increasingly interconnected world.

In late 2000, the government announced major plans to promote a "K-economy" or "knowledge-based economy" in which technology education would play a major role. This would aim at reducing the digital divide in the country in which the lower classes and rural population had been left out of by the revolution in Information Technology. The immediate plans, for which the Finance Minister provided $316 million in the 2001 budget included opening 4 new universities besides 167 new schools and funds for putting computers in all schools. If the plans are continued and there are positive prospects for such a development, Malaysian institutions of higher education will have new success not only in the field of computer technology but in its impact in the fields of politics, economics, sociology, social behavior, business management, and many others.

The Ministry of Education's Higher Education Division coordinates policies for university education although the universities are considered autonomous. Most of the work with the universities is done by a 10-member National Accreditation Board for higher education. The Board formulates policies on the quality of courses and the accreditation of certificates, diplomas, and degrees. The Board's goal is to ensure high academic standards on par with the best universities in the world. In order to provide equity and a balanced representation of various disciplines and programs, the membership of the Board is drawn from faculty of the various public universities.

Unlike academics in many non-Communist developing countries who try to keep distance from business and industry, the Malaysian universities and research institutions have been very open about the desirability of building cooperative and cordial bridges with government and industry. The government encourages the researchoriented department of universities and research and development institutions to interact with industry. Such collaboration is promoted through the National Council for Scientific Research and Development. This includes joint research projects with multinationals who are a large part of Malaysia's economic landscape. A separate government organization, the Malaysian Technology Development Corporation, promotes linkages among companies, innovators, entrepreneurs, and financial institutions for industrial exploitation of university research projects. The "purpose-built" construction of high-tech parks close to major universities enable effective interaction between academia and industry and the optimum utilization of resources and capabilities of both. As the Ministry of Education proclaims, "the emphasis is on matching research and development efforts with market needs within a dynamic and flexible environment. This provides students with a unique learning opportunity where classroom knowledge can be immediately tested in a real-life business environment."

Malaysia has taken several steps to bring its education in line with the developed world. It claims to have entered into "strategic alliances" between Malaysian universities and selected overseas universities known for specific areas of expertise. There is a discernible urge to "internationalize" the curriculum particularly in the areas of technology, business management and accounting. For this purpose, a number of public (called "national" in Malaysia) and private universities and colleges offering education packages were put together in collaboration with "the most reputable academic institutions in the world." Additionally, several accounting firms have been registered as training organizations for "chartered accountants" offering "articleship" to aspiring candidates.

Additional topics

Education - Free Encyclopedia Search EngineGlobal Education ReferenceMalaysia - History Background, Constitutional Legal Foundations, Educational System—overview, Preprimary Primary Education, Secondary Education