Southeast Asia is undergoing a groundswell of economic development as the world adjusts to a shift in global economic power from west to east. In Malaysia where national identity is strongly rooted in tradition, the country nonetheless has embraced cultural diversity and western-style modernization. The Malaysian government has embarked on an ambitious program of technological development and educational reform as a national priority. The challenges which Malaysians face and the ambitions they hold are not unlike those of their neighbors in Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam and elsewhere. The forces of tradition and modernity and of culture and religion collide and divide and morph to shape the future of this dynamic region like the massive tectonic plates upon which these countries rest.
Malaysia’s developmental efforts have required lengthy study, policy making, implementation and governance. Leaders in both the public and private sectors have made critical decisions at the top, while a mobilized populace sustains the effort of rapid development through its labor and capital. To ensure that the supply of skilled manpower is available at the scale necessary to realize its national potential, the Malaysian government has mandated the modernization of its educational system as a cornerstone of its national program.
The Ministry of Higher Education (MOHE) drafted the “Strategic Plan for Higher Education: Laying the Foundation Beyond 2020” as its policy of educational reform and modernization. MOHE has set as its top priorities the transformation of Malaysia into a center of educational excellence and the internationalization of higher education. To this end, foreign students are being actively recruited from abroad to enter Malaysian colleges and universities. The Ministry set a goal of 100,000 international students as its enrollment target for 2010.
To accommodate the bulk of this student influx, the Malaysian government is looking to private institutions to increase their enrollment capacity. There are several notable private colleges and universities in Malaysia which have risen to prominence since the 1970s. The largest have several campuses across the country, and many have partnered with overseas universities to further their reach and award internationally recognized degrees to students completing the majority of their studies within Malaysia. With the cost of living at comfortable levels, these partnership agreements known as ‘twinning’ programs offer local students considerable cost savings. Malaysian private universities and colleges provide good value to local and international students alike.
Malaysia’s modernization efforts and the expanding role of education are being closely monitored and studied. Despite recent setbacks in the global economy and uncertainty over the economic future, prospects remain encouraging. Along with China and India and its Southeast Asian counterparts, Malaysia faces a sense of urgency to keep pace with its planned developmental course all the while maintaining a grip of its cultural heritage and national identity.