Educational Trends in Malaysia

Written By Trent Lorcher

Education in Malaysia: Trends and Outlook

Although the Malaysian government has dialed back on its aggressive study abroad programs implemented in 2013, the number of outbound Malaysian students continues to increase. Malaysian Higher Education Minister Datuk Seri Idris Jusoh has cited the high quality of Malaysia's research institutions as the primary reason to keep Malaysians in Malaysia to get post-graduate degrees.

Furthermore, the decline of the Malaysian currency has raised the question of affordability, although it looks to be stabilizing. In concert with his education minister, the Malaysian government has shifted focus from study abroad scholarships to domestic scholarships.

Despite government declarations that have tried to curtail outbound study, the number of Malaysian students studying in the United States has grown for 9 consecutive years, according to the ICEF.

Education in Malaysia

Understanding the current state of education in Malaysia requires a summary knowledge of the country's educational initiatives and goals established in recent years. They include the following:

  • Universal education from preschool to post-secondary
  • Reducing the achievement gaps between rich and poor, urban and rural, and among states
  • Placing in the top third of countries in international assessments
  • Emphasizing the Malaysian identity
  • Upholding the teaching profession and enhancing school leadership
  • Increasing foreign language proficiency

The government's emphasis on improved education comes at a time when the country's economy is transitioning from traditional manufacturing and service sectors to an economy emphasizing digital technology and advanced skills.

Employment Outlook

Malaysia's transition from manufacturing and service to digital technology and advanced skills has raised the demand for better training and education. The transition leaves Malaysians straddling two economic realities: the traditional economic foundation and the one they're evolving into. This combined with the government's push to move Malaysia into the World Bank's benchmark for high income status has given Malaysian students a target.

Challenging conditions greet college graduates. The following statistics from the ICEF underlie Malaysian student uncertainty:

  • The Malaysian Department of Statistics’ Labour Force Survey Report 2016 shows that over 1/4 of Malaysians completed some post-secondary education.
  • Of the over 500,000 unemployed Malaysians in 2016, 1/3 had completed some post-secondary education.
  • The Malaysian Central Bank's annual report cites the abundance of low-skilled jobs in comparison to advanced skills job. In other words, the economic shift to digital technology and advanced skills is lagging behind the educational shift to more digital technology and advanced skills training.
  • 24% of those obtaining bachelor degrees remained unemployed after 6 months, according to the Ministry of Education's "Tracer Study."
  • The “Youth Perception on Economy, Leadership and Current Issues” survey conducted by the Merdeka Center reports that 65% of respondents felt it was difficult to enter the job market.

Malaysian students are faced with a dilemma: either get a degree in a highly competitive field or get a job in a less competitive field that might not be there in 10 years.

What does this mean for educators? Higher demand for advanced degrees. To secure quality jobs now that will still be around in ten years, a record number of Malaysians are seeking advanced degrees. Malaysia’s Ministry of Higher Education cites a 15% increase in students earning master’s degrees between 2014 and 2015.

Goals for the Future

Knowing what Malaysians want will help position your school or agency to serve the market. Education Ministry Secretary-General Dr. Zaini Ujang created an educational blueprint for the country in 2015 to be carried out by 2025. Educational goals include the following:

  • Increase post-secondary enrollments
  • Increase the graduate employability rate to 80% from the current 75%
  • Place at least one Malaysian university in Asia's top 25
  • Modernize the country's workforce through advanced training
  • Increase the number of international students studying in Malaysia

The changing educational and economic landscape in Malaysia has presented opportunities for attracting Malaysian students, despite the government's focus on prioritizing its own institutions over study abroad programs. Schools in the United States, Canada, England, and other countries are at the forefront of technical training and will attract Malaysian students looking for a competitive edge in the country's challenging job market.

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About the author

Trent Lorcher has taught high school English for 19 years. In addition to hosting a foreign exchange student from China, he's traveled extensively, including 18 months in Central America, 2 years in Italy, and additional time in Mexico, France, Morocco, and Spain. He dreams of one day retiring to Spain with his beautiful bride in a place big enough for their 5 kids to visit.

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