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Higher Education and Socioeconomic Development in Malaysia:
A Human Resource Development Perspective


Noran Fauziah Yaakub (PhD)
School of Languages and Scientific Thinking
Universiti Utara Malaysia (1999)
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Ahmad Mahdzan Ayob (PhD)
School of Economics
Universiti Utara Malaysia (1999)
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A definition may be in order at this point. The Khir Johari Report of 1967 defines higher education as any professional or academic study that "requires as a prerequisite the minimum academic qualification of a Higher School Certificate or its equivalent for admission into an institution at university level, and a Malaysian Certificate of Education or its equivalent for admission at college level". Based on this definition, a person needs 13 years of schooling before he/she can be admitted into a university, or eleven years to enter a college or polytechnic. However, we confine our discussion only to university education as defined above.

One of the early government publications to document the overall and long term objectives of education in Malaysia was the Second Malaysia Plan (2MP, 1971). These objectives, which focus on four areas, have been used to guide all national development plans. They are to:

  1. Consolidate the education system to promote national integration and unity;
  2. Orientate and expand education and training programmes towards meeting the manpower needs of the country;
  3. Improve the quality of education for the building of a progressive society oriented towards modern science and technology; and
  4. Improve research, planning and implementation capability to meet the above objectives.

Based on the above guiding principles, the objectives of Malaysia's higher education system may be summarized as follows:

  1. To promote national integration and unity;
  2. To meet the high-level manpower requirements of the country; and
  3. To build a progressive society, oriented towards modern science and technology.

The focus of this paper is on the second and third objectives of higher education, viz., meeting high-level manpower needs for the country's socioeconomic development, and building a progressive society, oriented towards science and technology. The last forty years saw dramatic growth of higher education, measured in many ways: physical infrastructure, faculty and student enrolment, and the diversity of curricula, reflecting a diversity of objectives or directions to take in the next millenium.

Since political independence in 1957, when Malaysia1 had only one university, the country has adopted nine 5-year economic development plans, reflecting a philosophy that economic development should not be left entirely to free market forces. The initial phase of socioeconomic development (in the sixties and seventies) emphasized the rural or agricultural sector, aimed at uplifting incomes, employment and educational opportunities. During the eighties and nineties, emphasis shifted to the development of manufacturing, industrial and service sectors. In the next millenium, there are clear indications that Malaysia wants to develop and apply information technology and produce more knowledge workers. For example, the development of the Multimedia Super-Corridor2 is intended to move the country in this direction. Furthermore, there are now eleven public universities and three private ones, besides scores of private colleges (564 altogether), to propel the country towards this goal. Almost all of these institutions make information technology a required subject of study.

The objectives of this paper are to: (1) trace the development of higher education in Malaysia since independence; (2) trace the path of socioeconomic development in the country; (3) establish the interdependence between growth in higher education and socioeconomic development, and (4) highlight the specific role of universities in the human resource development in the country.

Last Page: Abstract Next Page: Development of Higher Education
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1 Malaysia was actually formed in 1963 when Sabah and Sarawak joined with then Malaya to form a new nation. However, to simplify, we only use Malaysia to mean both Malaya and Malaysia.

2 In launching Cyberjaya new city, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad announced: "We are now standing at the site of the cybercity, a city that would bring us to the next generation and beyond....not just a place where companies involved in information and multimedia technology can operate in, but one in which creativity and innovation can thrive" (http://www.cyberjaya-msc.com/).

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