Ed­u­ca­tion evo­lu­tion

We’ve come a long way from pro­vid­ing short cour­ses to de­vel­op­ing in­ter­na­tion­al­lyrecog­nised de­grees, say pri­vate ed­u­ca­tion pi­o­neers. In con­junc­tion with Malaysia Day, StarE­d­u­cate looks back at the coun­try’s pri­vate ed­u­ca­tion jour­ney, and what lies ahead.

The Star Malaysia - - Nation - ed­u­cate@thes­tar.com.my Sto­ries by CHRISTINA CHIN

We’ve come a long way from pro­vid­ing short cour­ses to de­vel­op­ing in­ter­na­tion­ally recog­nised de­grees, say pri­vate ed­u­ca­tion pi­o­neers.

PRI­VATE ed­u­ca­tion in Malaysia is at its peak.

To­day, half of our ter­tiary stu­dents are grad­u­ates of pri­vate in­sti­tu­tions, Malaysian As­so­ci­a­tion of Pri­vate Col­leges and Uni­ver­si­ties (Mapcu) pres­i­dent Datuk Dr Par­mjit Singh said.

“Pri­vate ed­u­ca­tion was born out of ne­ces­sity. Our growth was de­mand-driven. Now, even for­eign­ers are flock­ing here be­cause they know that with our de­grees, they can get jobs when they go back home,” he said, adding that the best in­di­ca­tor of a good pri­vate ed­u­ca­tion, is em­ploy­a­bil­ity.

Dr Par­mjit, who’s also the founder and ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Asia Pa­cific Univer­sity of Technology and In­no­va­tion (APU), of­fered a glimpse into the rise of pri­vate ed­u­ca­tion in the coun­try:


In its in­fancy, pri­vate ed­u­ca­tion catered to stu­dents who didn’t qual­ify for pub­lic univer­sity. Col­leges of­fered short cour­ses for skills like short­hand, and book keep­ing, to those who wanted to earn for­eign cer­ti­fi­ca­tions from pop­u­lar in­sti­tu­tions like the Lon­don Cham­ber of Com­merce and In­dus­try and City & Guilds of Lon­don.


Pri­vate ed­u­ca­tion rein­vented it­self when a grow­ing num­ber of qual­i­fied stu­dents couldn’t get into pub­lic uni­ver­si­ties be­cause of the lim­ited ca­pac­ity, nor could they af­ford to go abroad. Higher level cour­ses by es­tab­lished pro­fes­sional bod­ies like the As­so­ci­a­tion of Char­tered Cer­ti­fied Ac­coun­tants (ACCA), In­sti­tute of Char­tered Sec­re­taries and Ad­min­is­tra­tors (ICSA), and Univer­sity of Lon­don (UOL), were of­fered. These qual­i­fi­ca­tions are equiv­a­lent to de­grees.


Col­leges started de­vel­op­ing their own qual­i­fi­ca­tions that were val­i­dated by for­eign uni­ver­si­ties, and of­fer­ing credit trans­fer pro­grammes. Some col­leges es­tab­lished re­la­tion­ships with these for­eign uni­ver­si­ties which led to the de­gree cour­ses be­ing par­tially taught here. This was the start of twin­ning pro­grammes. The num­ber of stu­dents qual­i­fied for uni- ver­sity grew, and they wanted more op­tions from the pri­vate sec­tor.


Twin­ning and credit trans­fer pro­grammes re­mained pop­u­lar un­til the fi­nan­cial cri­sis hit in 1997. Fam­i­lies who could af­ford to send their chil­dren for twin­ning pro­grammes sud­denly couldn’t. Prime Min­is­ter Datuk Seri Na­jib Tun Razak, who was the then Ed­u­ca­tion Min­is­ter, ap­proved the 3+0 de­gree pro­grammes, al­low­ing stu­dents to earn a for­eign de­gree with­out leav­ing the coun­try. Only 10 in­sti­tu­tions were al­lowed to run the 3+0 pro­gramme then. But it was such a suc­cess that the 3+0 pro­gramme – which also gave stu­dents the op­tion of go­ing abroad if they wanted to, even­tu­ally su­per­seded twin­ning de­grees.


The birth of pri­vate univer­sity col­leges and pri­vate uni­ver­si­ties of­fer­ing their own qual­i­fi­ca­tions.

Sun­way Group founder and chair­man Tan Sri Jeffrey Cheah was among those who re­sponded promptly to the gov­ern­ment’s call for the pri­vate sec­tor to jointly de­velop higher ed­u­ca­tion here.

The call led to the found­ing of Sun­way Col­lege, which even­tu­ally grew to become the Sun­way Ed­u­ca­tion Group com­pris­ing Sun­way Univer­sity, Monash Univer­sity’s first branch cam­pus in Malaysia, the Jeffrey Cheah School of Medicine and Health Sciences, Sun­way In­ter­na­tional Schools, and Sun­way Col­leges.

Sun­way Ed­u­ca­tion Group (SEG) and Sun­way Univer­sity se­nior ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor El­iz­a­beth Lee said the main chal­lenge in the early years was es­tab­lish­ing the rep­u­ta­tion and stature of pri­vate ed­u­ca­tion.

From of­fer­ing sec­re­tar­ial and vo­ca­tional cour­ses to se­ri­ous univer­sity pro­grammes, and from be­ing in­sti­tu­tions for dropouts to higher ed­u­ca­tion in­sti­tu­tions which could ri­val the pub­lic uni­ver­si­ties, Sun­way, like other pi­o­neers, had their work cut out.

“Sun­way Col­lege pi­o­neered twin­ning de­gree pro­grammes in the 1990s to give lo­cal stu­dents an op­por­tu­nity to ob­tain a highly ac­cred­ited for­eign univer­sity de­gree mi­nus the high cost of liv­ing over­seas. Back then, there was less than a hand­ful of pri­vate col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties of­fer­ing such pro­grammes.”

Now, stu­dents are spoilt for choice. The chal­lenge to­day is to pro­vide holis­tic qual­ity higher ed­u­ca­tion that isn’t solely fo­cused on text book knowl­edge, she shared.

In 1986, HELP Univer­sity vice-chan­cel­lor and pres­i­dent Prof Datuk Dr Paul Chan and its CEO Datin Chan-Low Kam Yoke laid the foun­da­tion for the HELP Group. It was an am­bi­tious, back-break­ing dream pow­ered by pas­sion.

“We didn’t have fi­nan­cial means, a huge tal­ent pool, or part­ner­ships. What we had, and still have, is a con­vic­tion to help Malaysians get equal ac­cess to higher ed­u­ca­tion,” Prof Chan shared.

So, with just a shoplot as a cam­pus and no fa­cil­i­ties, the small team did ev­ery­thing them­selves, in­clud­ing clean­ing the toi­lets.

Much has changed since. HELP grew, as did the in­dus­try. Technology, he said, changed the en­tire ed­u­ca­tion eco-sys­tem.

Cred­it­ing Higher Ed­u­ca­tion Min­is­ter Datuk Seri Idris Ju­soh’s in­no­va­tive spirit for digi­tis­ing the sec­tor, he said Malaysia was among the world’s first to achieve that sta­tus.

“I’ve spent 52 years in ed­u­ca­tion. It’s vi­tal that we have qual­ity ed­u­ca­tion not just for the young stu­dents but also for adults. Many

need re-skilling.”

De­scrib­ing the sec­tor’s ex­pan­sion as multi-faceted, he said the Malaysian Qual­i­fi­ca­tions Agency (MQA) is highly re­garded glob­ally.

Ev­ery decade since the be­gin­ning, has been sig­nif­i­cant in our story of suc­cess, said Dr Par­mjit.

“In­sti­tu­tions rein­vented them­selves to re­spond to stu­dent needs. The evo­lu­tion process was nec­es­sary be­cause it led to us de­vel­op­ing our own cour­ses – which I strongly be­lieve, are on par, if not bet­ter, than for­eign de­grees.”

Elab­o­rat­ing, he said lo­cal pri­vate in­sti­tu­tions have vast ex­pe­ri­ence of­fer­ing 3+0 de­grees from coun­tries like Aus­tralia, the United King­dom and the US. We with­stood scru­tiny from their ac­cred­i­ta­tion boards and that ex­pe­ri­ence has helped us de­velop our own de­grees.”

Pre­dict­ing a brighter fu­ture for pri­vate ed­u­ca­tion, he ex­pects more for­eign stu­dents to en­rol here.

“We’re at the pin­na­cle of pri­vate ed­u­ca­tion now. Mov­ing ahead, we must be ac­tive in re­search ac­tiv­i­ties,” he said.

Ad­vis­ing pri­vate in­sti­tu­tions not to rest on their lau­rels, he stressed on the need to keep at the fore­front of de­vel­op­ment.

“Con­tinue in­vest­ing in the best team, strengthen your rep­u­ta­tion, and make sure you’re gen­er­at­ing grad­u­ates that the in­dus­try wants.”

Ed­u­ca­tion is a ne­ces­sity for the de­vel­op­ment and progress of any na­tion, Lee added. And while it seems like a lu­cra­tive busi­ness, cost is high as it’s hugely de­pen­dent on highly qual­i­fied and skilled pro­fes­sion­als. Aca­demic rep­u­ta­tion comes at the high cost of re­search, she noted. Pri­vate ed­u­ca­tion to­day, she opined, is more im­por­tant than it’s ever been.

The dawn of the dig­i­tal age means that the world moves at a much faster pace. And, the young gen­er­a­tion must learn to adapt, think fast and cre­atively on their feet, and keep up with what’s go­ing on around them and glob­ally.

The pri­vate sec­tor, said Prof Chan, cre­ates op­por­tu­ni­ties for Malaysian youths to pur­sue qual­ity ed­u­ca­tion while cre­at­ing jobs and wealth in aux­il­iary in­dus­tries like ac­comm-oda­tion fa­cil­i­ties and sup­port ser­vices. And, with­out a solid ed­u­ca­tion sec­tor, other in­dus­tries will strug­gle with the lack of qual­ity hu­man re­sources.

“Mar­ket forces eval­u­ate us, so all of us must con­stantly im­prove. We in­vest and build the hu­man cap­i­tal of the na­tion. Our fu­ture is as­sured if we have a ro­bust and fu­ture­ori­ented ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem.”

Dr Par­mjit says for­eign­ers are flock­ing to Malaysia be­cause its de­grees can get the stu­dents jobs in their home coun­tries.

With­out a solid ed­u­ca­tion sec­tor, other in­dus­tries will strug­gle with the lack of qual­ity hu­man re­sources, says Prof Chan.

The chal­lenge in the early years was es­tab­lish­ing the rep­u­ta­tion and stature of pri­vate ed­u­ca­tion, shares Lee.

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