Education in Malaysia

About Malaysia


Malaysia is a federal constitutional monarchy located in Southeast Asia. It consists of thirteen states and three federal territories and has a total landmass of 330,803 square kilometres (127,720 sq mi) separated by the South China Sea into two similarly sized regions, Peninsular Malaysia and East Malaysia (Malaysian Borneo). Peninsular Malaysia shares a land and maritime border with Thailand and maritime borders with Singapore, Vietnam, and Indonesia.

Malaysia is ranked 11th in the world and 2nd in Southeast Asia for tourist arrivals. In an effort to diversify the economy and make Malaysia’s economy less dependent on exports, the government pushed to increase tourism in Malaysia. As a result, tourism has become Malaysia’s third largest source of foreign exchange income, and accounted for 7% of Malaysia’s economy as of 2005. The country is multi-ethnic and multi-cultural, which plays a large role in politics. About half of the population is ethnically Malay, with large minorities of Malaysian Chinese, Malaysian Indians, and indigenous people. The constitution declares Islam the state religion while allowing freedom of religion for non-Muslims. The government system is closely modelled on the Westminster parliamentary system and the legal system is based on common law. The head of state is the king, known as the Yang di-Pertuan Agong. He is an elected monarch chosen from the hereditary rulers of the nine Malay states every five years. The head of government is the prime minister.

Since its independence, Malaysia has had one of the best economic records in Asia, with its GDP growing at an average of 6.5% per annum for almost 50 years. The economy has traditionally been fuelled by its natural resources, but is expanding in the sectors of science, tourism, commerce and medical tourism. Today, Malaysia has a newly industrialised market economy, ranked third largest in Southeast Asia and 29th largest in the world. It is a founding member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, the East Asia Summit and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, and a member of Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, the Commonwealth of Nations, and the Non-Aligned Movement.


Malaysia has a multi-ethnic, multicultural, and multilingual society. The original culture of the area stemmed from indigenous tribes that inhabited it, along with the Malays who later moved there. Substantial influence exists from Chinese and Indian culture, dating back to when foreign trade began. Other cultural influences include the Persian, Arabic, and British cultures. Due to the structure of the government, coupled with the social contract theory, there has been minimal cultural assimilation of ethnic minorities.



The overall infrastructure of Malaysia is one of the most developed in Asiaand ranked 8th in Asia and 25th in the world. Malaysia is ranked 19th in the world for its quality roads, quality of port infrastructure and quality of air transport infrastructure but ranked 39th in quality of electricity supply. Its telecommunications network is second only to Singapore’s in Southeast Asia, with 4.7 million fixed-line subscribers and more than 30 million cellular subscribers. The country has seven international ports, the major one being the Port Klang. There are 200 industrial parks along with specialised parks such as Technology Park Malaysia and Kulim Hi-Tech Park. Fresh water is available to over 95 per cent of the population. During the colonial period, development was mainly concentrated in economically powerful cities and in areas forming security concerns. Although rural areas have been the focus of great development, they still lag behind areas such as the West Coast of Peninsular Malaysia. The telecommunication network, although strong in urban areas, is less available to the rural population.


Malaysia is a relatively open state-oriented and newly industrialised market economy. The state plays a significant but declining role in guiding economic activity through macroeconomic plans. Malaysia has had one of the best economic records in Asia, with GDP growing an average 6.5 per cent annually from 1957 to 2005.  Malaysia’s economy in 2014–2015 was one of the most competitive in Asia, ranking 6th in Asia and 20th in the world, higher than countries like Australia, France and South Korea. In 2014, Malaysia’s economy grew 6%, the second highest growth in ASEAN behind Philippines’ growth of 6.1%. The economy of Malaysia (GDP PPP) in 2014 was $746.821 billion, the third largest in ASEAN behind more populous Indonesia and Thailand and the 28th largest in the world.

International Mobility


Malaysia is both a big sender and big receiver of international students, although inward and outward mobility numbers have been heading in opposite directions in recent years. In 1995, for example, 20 percent of all Malaysian students at the higher education level were studying abroad, mainly on government scholarships to the tune of an estimated US$800 million annually. Prior to the Southeast Asian financial crisis of 1997-98, there were more than 100,000 Malaysian students abroad, mainly in the UK and the U.S, but funding for scholarships was cut dramatically after the crisis, and in 2010 there were fewer than 80,000 Malaysians studying internationally (World Bank, 2013). In the United States alone, there were less than half the number of Malaysian students in 2010 than the 13,617 who were here in 1996, and while the numbers have crept up slightly since 2010 they are still less than half the 1996 total.

In response to the financial crisis, the Malaysian government redirected funding to domestic provision, significantly increasing the number of universities and colleges – both public and private – and introducing initiatives designed to transform the country into a developed knowledge-based economy. The government also encouraged the building of partnerships with foreign institutions of higher education. The goal of this internationalization strategy was twofold: to offer more educational opportunities for Malaysians domestically through transnational education programs and to attract international students. Ultimately, the government wants to establish the country as a regional hub for higher education in Southeast Asia, with a goal of attracting 200,000 international students by 2020.

Today, Malaysia is among the biggest markets for transnational education (TNE) provision and the biggest overall for UK providers with some 48,225 students studying towards a UK qualification in Malaysia in 2010, almost four times the number of Malaysian students in the UK. According to the Malaysian Qualifications Authority, there were a total of 563 accredited foreign programs (15 percent of all programs in Malaysia) in 2012. The top three countries providing TNE programs are the UK, Australia and the United States.

Currently, there are close to

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100,000 international students enrolled in Malaysia-based institutions of higher education, more than double the 2007 total. The top five places of origin in 2010 were Iran (11,823), China (10,214), Indonesia (9,889), Yemen (5,866) and Nigeria (5,817). The large number of students from Islamic countries and Africa is due in large part to cultural and religious similarities and lower fees compared to universities in Europe and the United States. The appeal of Malaysia as an international study destination among Muslim students has also picked up significantly since the beginning of the ‘Arab Spring’ in 2010.

Among Malaysian students abroad, the top destination countries in 2010 were Australia (20,943), the United Kingdom (13,796), Egypt (8,611), the United States (6,100), and Indonesia (5,588), according to information supplied to the Institute of International Education by the Ministry of Higher Education.


Why study in Malaysia

1.    Market potential

The Malaysian education and training market is a priority market for UKTI Education owing to:

2.    Large-scale education and training opportunities in 2015/16

Malaysia is a UKTI Education priority market and a Malaysian high value education and training opportunity has been identified based on the following areas:

  1. Supporting capacity building in the higher education (HE) sector
  2. Improving the quality and quantity of industry-led TVET provision
  3. English language training for graduates and for business
  4. Increasing private and international school provision in areas of urban development and supporting the transformation of the school system

3.    Additional market information

Economic context

Malaysia is a rising regional and international player economically and is seen as a model of growth and stability with a vibrant economy. In 2013, GDP was $313.2 billion with an average annual GDP growth rate of 4.7%. Malaysia presents opportunities for both trade and investment and is a good entry point to the wider Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) market.

Education sector overview

Malaysia’s goal is to reach developed nation status by 2020 and it has published an Economic Transformation Programme (ETP) to support this. Education and human capital development feature heavily in the ETP, which targets the creation of 3.3 million jobs with the aim to ensure 50% of the workforce is recognised as skilled.

Malaysia has also published The National Education Blueprint (2013-2025), covering pre-school to upper secondary education and identifying 11 operational and strategic shifts to transform the education system. Under the national education system, the government provides 11 years of free primary and secondary education via a common national curriculum. Further education is subject to the individual’s academic performance and financial capability with school leavers choosing to continue their education in schools to obtain a pre-university qualification, or further their education at public or private tertiary or higher institutions. The UK is already contributing to Malaysia’s education goals, with a number of highly-regarded UK schools, colleges and universities having opened campuses in Malaysia.

Education System in Malaysia

Education plays an important role for Malaysia in building a resilient nation, encouraging the creation of a just society, and maintaining sustainable economic growth. It is also through education that a country can develop global competitiveness, build a K-economy, and maintain sustainable environmental development. 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.

Under the Malaysia Education Blueprint 2013-2025, the education system will focus on making changes to structural elements that are in line with international best practices of high- performing education systems. In preparing students for the demands of the future, structural adjustments across each phase of education will be made and resources maximised to provide the very best to Malaysians of all levels. To realise the aim of becoming a centre of educational excellence, the government has allocated more than 20% of the national budget for education and training. Among the nation’s goals are to: ensure that 40% of the 17-24 years age group will have tertiary education; provide primary school education for all children; ensure that 60% of public university lecturers possess PhD qualifications; and have 150,000 international students studying at higher educational institutions by 2015. Currently, Malaysia is already a popular destination for international students with a world ranking of 11th place in terms of the enrolment of international students.