Thursday, August 23, 2007

The Story of Private Higher Education

The Story of Private Higher Education

More has happened in the last 10 years for Malaysian higher education than in the previous 40, although the waves of change began in the mid-1980s.
The 1980s global recession and the 1997 currency crisis were the two major events that helped the government relax its grip on higher education and liberalise it through privatisation.

Higher education is now so democratised and commoditised, that even a PMR school leaver, as long as he is 21-years-old, can enter a university to get his degree.

But before the 1980s, things were very different. Higher education was elitist because there were only public universities and places were few.

Enthusiastic implementation of the bumiputra affirmative policy led to a drastic drop of the number of Chinese in Malaysian universities, from 49% in 1969 to 30% in 1985, while bumiputra enrolment rose from 29% to 63% during that period.

In 1985, 15,000 Malaysian students were studying in local colleges and 68,000 in foreign universities, mostly in Britain, United States and Australia. Most of those studying overseas were privately-funded Chinese and Indian students.

But higher education became too expensive by the mid-80s because of the recession. Things worsened when the UK and Australia imposed full fees on foreign students.

As a result, the government asked local colleges to explore twinning programmes with foreign universities. Malaysia is a pioneer of this model of transnational education.

Metropolitan College (known as Taylor's College of Advanced Education) was set up in 1986, and became the first college to have a twinning programme with Australia (with RMIT). Kolej Damansara Utama offered the first British twinning programme (with Middlesex University). More colleges with more twinning programmes followed suit.

In the meantime, the government steered the economy to maintain an 8% to 9% growth rate from 1988 to 1995. Between 1987 and 1991, Malaysia was said to be one of the top recipients of foreign direct investment.

With that, the manufacturing, services and industry sectors grew, leading to an increased demand for skilled workers. The labour market tightened, and foreign labour and expatriates were recruited to meet these needs.

The New Development Plan replaced the New Economic Policy in 1991 to turn Malaysia into a developed state by 2020. Along the way, the Multimedia Super Corridor was launched towards the same ends.

Meanwhile, private higher education provided the human resources needed for growth, while public universities were accused of being slow.

By 1996, the government decided that Malaysia should be both education and IT hubs.

The Private Higher Education Act was passed in 1996, allowing for the privatisation and liberalisation of higher education on a bigger scale, in sync with on-going privatisation in other sectors of the Malaysian economy.

When the Asian financial crisis hit, the government withdrew undergraduate scholarships for overseas studies. Exit visas were made more expensive and tax rebates for parents supporting children studying overseas were cancelled.

The government pressed local institutions to expand places. Private universities were set up, and foreign universities were invited to set up campuses.

Self-funded twinning students were instructed to stay back. Public universities were asked to expand from 45,000 places in 1997 to 84,000 in 1999. To do this, these universities had to franchise their matriculation programmes involving 15,000 students, which provided a ready market for private colleges. Nineteen colleges were allowed to offer the final year of their twinning programmes locally, starting the trend for "3+0" programmes.

To be an education hub, the Education Ministry went on road shows to attract foreign students. As a result, more than 10,000 foreign students studied in Malaysia in 1998. Two years ago, the number rose to more than 35,000.

From the primary objectives of meeting the demands for higher education caused by affirmative action in the 1980s, to stemming the currency outflow during the financial crisis of 1990s, private higher education institutions became providers of human resource needs in the country and service exporters.

There are however limitations to private higher education. Malaysia needs more than just industry-driven (money-making) programmes. Most institutions are teaching institutions with little involvement in research, with some even being accused as being no more than vocational schools.

On the students' end, fees remain steep. Private entities charge between RM50,000 to RM270,000 for a degree when public universities charge only RM5,000 to RM10,000.

The government, however, has set up the National Higher Education Fund to give out loans, instead of scholarships, to needy students, paving the way for a change from "government pays" to "user-pays". This has helped democratise education.

But it is open universities and their liberal entry requirements that have truly revolutionised university education for all.

Source: TheSun, Thursday, August 23, 2007
Related link: Plagiarism in Universiti Putra Malaysia

No comments: