Home to more than 30 million people, Malaysia has achieved extraordinary economic growth in the past decades. According to the World Bank, the country was among the few nations worldwide to have enjoyed average growth of over 7 percent a year for 25 years or more. Once called “the peninsula of gold”, nowadays Malaysia has managed to turn its natural wealth of oil, gas, tin, and fertile land, into competitive advantages in a diversified economy.
The Rapid Economic Development
The country has quickly turned into one of the most open economies across the globe, with trade representing about 150 percent of GDP in 2014. The liberalized investment regime and the modernized infrastructure in the 80s boosted the foreign investments in the domestic economy. The rapid economic growth resulted into one of the most impressive poverty reductions ever seen. The absolute poverty in the country declined form nearly half of the population in the last 40 years to just one percent of households today. In order to successfully combat the poverty, the government invested in human capital development though health and education. The economic boost combined with the Malaysian ambition to become a leading economy in the region have brought many global businesses and top-tier education institutions in the country.
The Boost in Education
Malaysia’s strong drive to turn into a real world-class knowledge economy has led to significant reforms in the education system. Over the course of the last ten years only, the country has made significant progress in its global recognition as a centre of academic excellence. In addition to that, the statistics showed a giant leap in students’ enrolment in higher institutions. The local and the Western universities in the country quickly became a desired destination for degree-seeking overseas students.
According to the Ministry of Education, in 2012, Malaysia the gross higher education enrolment rate reached 48 percent, representing a 70 percent increase in enrolment over the last ten years. Between 1990 and 2010, there has been a six-fold increase in Bachelor-level admissions and a tenfold rise in Masters and PhD enrolment. As a result, the country ranks third among ASEAN neighbours in Masters and PhD admissions, just a step behind Thailand and Singapore. In addition to that, five local universities currently rank among the continent’s top 100 academic institutions.
Besides that, many Western Universities set foot in Malaysia: Monash, Reading, Newcastle, Nottingham , etc. In early 2015, Malaysia welcomed the 9th international university which established a brand in the country – the British Heriot-Watt University. It is well-known for its business and finance curriculum, as well as its programs in actuarial science, construction and development, etc.
The University of Malaya has been included in the top 200 global universities, and it is also among the pioneers in the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation. In the field of environmental studies, The University of Science, Malaysia, took the 28th place in the QS World University Rankings.
The Malaysia Education Blueprint
Following this trend, in 2013, the Malaysian academic community joined forces with the government and the private sector to develop a long-term strategy in the field of education. The Ministry of Education started preparing the Malaysia Education Blueprint 2015-2025. Throughout the next two years, the Ministry Education worked closely with 2,300 focus groups, renowned education experts, World Bank and OECD consultants to create the new education strategy of the country. In an interview with the New Straits Time, the Malaysian High Education Minister, Datuk Seri Idris Jusoh, commented: “Knowing how important education is, my first promise is to deliver the best education Malaysians can get locally which means that we have to keep increasing the quality of our higher education.”
The proposed ten-year transformation of the education system is complex and ambitious. It emphasizes on developing local talents and reaching as many smart international students as possible. In addition to that, it changes the focus of education to encourage the active participation and students’ engagement in the classroom. One of the blueprint’s main aims is to develop students’ analytical thinking and communication skills, as well as to improve their proficiency in English. Next to that, the government will work hard to improve the connection between the business and the academia in the fields of research, development, and commercialisation. As Assoc. Prof. Dr. Sakina Sofia, Vice Chancellor of UNITAR International University noted in an interview: “In the blueprint, there are 10 shifts – one of those in on producing holistic education. That requires a mind-set change from only delivering information to engaging one’s students. I tell our teachers that they are no longer the embodiment of knowledge as nowadays you can learn anything yourself. They are necessary as facilitators and curators who will shape and mould our students’ ideas.”
Research is also a key aspect of the blueprint. University Putra Malaysia is one institution that has tasted considerable success. Dr Aini Idris, the Vice Chancellor was proud of UPM’s achievements: “Most of our commercialisation comes from our research. Our university has always had the highest number of products being commercialised and we now have 36 start-up companies, which is also the highest number in the country.”
To improve tertiary education, the Ministry of Higher Education has launched the Soaring UpWards initiative that aims to boost students’ employability, self-confidence, and also polish their communication skills. Higher Education Minister Datuk Seri Idris Jusoh has been at the forefront of the changes which includes turning towards technology to improve service delivery. Under this program, the Higher Education Ministry has recently recognized Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) and Accreditation of Prior Experiential Learning (APEL) – allowing students to use job experiences and completed online courses to apply for degrees from local universities. It is a major shift from the traditional perception where degrees are earned in the classroom through text-book based learning – and a sign of the flexibility of Malaysia’s education sector.
The 2025 Goals
The most ambitious goal the blueprint aims to achieve is to significantly improve the higher education enrolment and to increase it to 70 percent. One of the suggested ways to do it is to open more vacant spaces in the technical and vocational institutions, as well as in the private universities. Furthermore, the government is planning to increase the graduate employability from the current 75 percent to more than 80 percent in ten years.
At the forefront of the changes which includes turning towards technology to improve service delivery. Under this program, the Higher Education Ministry has recently recognized Massive Open Online Courses(MOOC) and Accreditation of Prior Experiential Learning(APEL)-allowing students to use job experiences and completed online courses to apply for a degrees from local universities. It is a major shift from the traditional perception where degrees are earned in the classroom through textbook based learning- and a sign of the flexibility of Malaysia’s education sector.
Because of the strong education reforms, Malaysia hopes to attract more than 250,000 overseas students and strengthen the local universities to be able to qualify among the top 25 in 50 countries worldwide. The country strives to have one university in Asia’s Top 25, at least two in the Global Top 100, and four or more in the Global Top 200 rankings. In a recent interview, Assoc. Prof. Dr. Sakina Sofia, Vice Chancellor of UNITAR International University said: “At the moment, there is work being done to make ASEAN a more collective voice and to me, the bigger the group is, the stronger it will be. One way to unite people is always through culture and education.”
Mr. Andrew Pang from Malvern International Academy was also optimistic about Malaysia being a destination of choice for international students: “We have an edge over other ASEAN countries in education because Malaysia is a role model for Islamic countries. Middle East and North African countries like the idea of sending students to Malaysia. Having a 26% ethnic Chinese population makes Malaysia appealing for Chinese students as well.”
Soon after the blueprint was officially presented, in mid-2015, the tech giant Samsung launched its Internet of Things Academy within the Universiti Teknikal Malaysia Melaka. The company donated nearly $100M to the teaching academy to expose Malaysian students to the latest Android and Samsung innovations and to inspire them to pursue careers in software engineering.
Besides that, in the summer of 2015, the CEO @ Faculty Programme was officially launched by Dato’ Seri Syed Zainal to about 30,000 UiTM students. In his interview with the BFM , the Minister of Education confirmed that the reform goes as planned and although there is a lot to be done, the first results can already be seen.