What is the current dynamic between public and private sector education institutions in Malaysia?

MOHAN: The private sector plays a very important role in education in Malaysia. There are currently only 21 public universities, and the government is not investing in any more. The government wants the private sector to play an important role in educating both Malaysians and international students. There are about 50 private universities in Malaysia. This does not include the seven foreign-branch campuses, or the ones in the pipeline. We also have about 400 colleges that do not have the university status. The difference is universities and colleges in Malaysia have the ability to award degrees. The rest simply hold training programs for branding, helping Malaysia become the education hub of the region.

What are your projections for growth in private education in the future?

MOHAN: There are very strong prospects for growth. I was involved in the committee responsible for designing the 10th Malaysia Plan, as well as the Economic Transformation Programme (ETP). There is a great deal of opportunity for education to grow in Malaysia. The Ministry of Higher Education wants the private sector to play a strong role in providing education. In this respect, there are good prospects for growth. Twenty years ago, the investment into private education was very minimal. An investor with a couple hundred thousand Ringgit could set up a college. Now it takes several million Ringgit, or potentially a billion Ringgit, to start a private college. This is the evolution of private education in this country. It is now becoming challenging, as it is a very big investment to make. Universities need to attract more students. This is one of the reasons why Malaysia is targeting the international market.

What role does the private sector play in medical education in Malaysia?

MOHAN: The private sector plays a very big role in producing doctors for Malaysia. Previously, the government was responsible for producing doctors, but now with a large number of private universities and colleges offering medical degrees, we will be able to meet the demand for doctors. The World Health Organization’s (WHO) ratio is 1 doctor for every 600 people. I think we are very far behind this figure. In the past, the government has sent many students overseas for their medical degrees, but now we have the ability to train them locally. Several prominent foreign universities, such as John Hopkins University, have come to Malaysia. We are moving in the right direction. If Malaysia wishes to become a developed country, it must have enough practicing doctors. More providers have also been coming into Malaysia to provide degrees, but we need to see an increase in postgraduate degrees as well. There is a large market for universities and colleges who offer postgraduate studies in the medical field.

What are local schools doing to fill the demand for postgraduate medical education?

MOHAN: There is a great demand for doctors. There are long waiting periods for doctors in all government hospitals. We need to produce doctors, and reduce the waiting time. There are not enough medical practitioners. The private sector’s ability to produce doctors can help. Patients have spent all day waiting for treatment, and this is not fair to them. Doctors must also be willing to serve outside the city. Most of the doctors concentrate on the cities where their clients are located, but there is a great demand for doctors in rural areas.

What are the main challenges that private education institutions are facing today?

MOHAN: The main challenge is enrollment. Public universities accept students of all levels, but the number of students able to join private universities is very small. We have about 400,000 students every year, but only 15,000 are eligible. Not all of them enroll into the tertiary level either. With so many private institutions competing for numbers, enrollment is quite a challenge. This is one of the reasons why many universities have targeted the international market to brand Malaysia as an education hub. We have attracted a number of foreign students with our quality education. The Board of Engineers, the Malaysian Medical Council, and many other professional bodies have helped improve the quality of our education. Foreign students have confidence in Malaysia’s education. There are more than 100,000 foreign students studying in our universities. Our goal is to have 200,000 students by 2020. The Malaysian government is very supportive of this. Universities have been given funds to promote education. Malaysia is the eleventh ranked country in the world for global education, in terms of attracting international students.

How does Malaysia compare to other countries in Asia involved in similar education initiatives?

MOHAN: We need to identify Malaysia as an education hub. Singapore, Thailand, and all other neighboring countries want to excel in education, and attract international students. It is a challenge. We are studying the regional market to see how we can become competitive. Quality is one of our focus areas. If our graduates are employable, then we have solved the problem. In the private education sector, our employment rate is very high. Most of our students are employed immediately because our education standards are quite high. The skills employers are looking for are embedded into our programs.

What is your outlook for the future of education in Malaysia? Which indicators are showing positive trends and which represent challenges?

MOHAN: When private sector education began in Malaysia, most colleges were very small. Today, we have many large campuses. As a result, many of the small colleges will have to merge with other colleges to survive. The Ministry of Higher Education is supporting these mergers, so that we will eventually have about 100 universities providing quality education. The merger process is a challenge. In terms of investment, this will cost a lot of money. If we are able to provide quality education, students will not have a problem paying for it. At the end of the day, they will be able to get a good job and pay back the loans. The government funding system is very supportive. We are encouraging universities to offer scholarships to students. Profit should not always be the number one motivation.