The Ministry of Higher Education has established a national-level task force to promote the development of private higher education as an industry. This was announced by Dr Zubaidah Aman (see picture), Director of Governance of the Private Higher Education Sector at a meeting held on 25 June 2020 at the ministry’s premises in Putra Jaya.
Members of the task force include the highest-level officials from ministries and agencies whose functions impact on the private higher education sector. Ministries represented include Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI), the Prime Minister’s Office, the Ministry of Internal Affairs (KDN), the Ministry of Finance, Malaysian Investment Development Authority, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Human Resources, and the Ministry of Trade and Culture. The task force is chaired by the Secretary-General of the Ministry of Higher Education, YBHG. Datuk Seri Mazlan Yusoff.
The National Taskforce is supported by four working committees covering governance, finance, quality of education, and internationalization. There is a significant representation of the private sector of higher education in the working committees with eight members appointed in each committee.
The Private Higher Educational Institutions Act passed in 1996 has been in force now for 25 years. As Dr Zubaidah noted, the private sector has grown from a fledgeling position to a mature industry. The private sector is led by very eminent academics and supported by businesses and businessmen who are committed to education.
Tremendous advances have been made during the period. Dr Zubaidah’s paper shows there are 440 private institutions offering higher education. Of that number, 101 are universities or university colleges. The remaining 339 are classified by law as institutions without degree awarding powers. However, many of the colleges offer courses to the postgraduate level in affiliation with local and foreign universities. Ten of the universities are classified as foreign university branch campuses, which means they are offshore extensions of foreign universities with governance and quality structures that lead back to those universities.
Almost 50% of the students in higher education are enrolled in private higher education institutions. In 2019, these institutions hosted 92,000 foreign students or 75% of the total foreign students studying in this country. The private sector’s contribution in the area of foreign students ranks Malaysia No. 10 in the list of countries attracting foreign students to their shores. This last fact has not been seriously understood in this country. International students inject huge amounts of money into host countries in the west and support hundreds of thousands of jobs. Financial benefits also pale in comparison to the access these countries have to a rich and selected pool of young talent from across the world. They pick from the best with no costs incurred in creating that talent. Malaysia must start regarding international students as a valuable group of people to be cared for and not treated in the criminal system designed that is for illegal entrants into the country
The setting up of a strong task force to develop the sector should perhaps, have been done at least a decade ago. But, nevertheless, the establishment of the National Level Taskforce is an important move that will have a strong impact on the development of education in the country. Even if late in its formation, the task force should be able to rectify past omissions and neglect, and move the whole of the Malaysian higher education system to new heights through the current plan to treat the private sector of higher education as an industry.