Malaysia Higher Education in Brief

Malaysia Higher Education in Brief

With more than 30 years of experience in international education, Malaysia’s unique, well-structured higher education system offers you the opportunity to purse an international qualification at competitive rates. Malaysia hosts more than 100 institutions – both public and private – including foreign branches of reputable universities from the United States, United Kingdom, Australia and Ireland. The latter are offered either at their own overseas branch campus or in partnership with a Malaysian institution. You can choose US, UK, Irish, Australian or Malaysian academic qualifications designed with flexibility and affordability in mind.

1. Public Institutions

Public institutions are government-funded higher education institutions under the purview of the Ministry of Education Malaysia. They can generally be divided into three major categories as follows:

  • Public universities offer undergraduate and postgraduate programmes, and sometimes pre-university foundation year and diploma courses. They can be divided into 3 major groups i.e. Research Universities, Focused Universities and Comprehensive Universities. There are currently 20 such institutions.
  • Polytechnics and community colleges which offer programmes at certificate and diploma.
  • Public colleges which offer certificate and diploma level programmes.

20 Public Universities in Malaysia:

1International Islamic University Malaysia(IIUM)Universiti Islam Antarabangsa Malaysia
2Islamic Science University of Malaysia(USIM)Universiti Sains Islam Malaysia
3MARA University of Technology(UiTM)Universiti Teknologi MARA
4National Defence University of Malaysia(UPNM)Universiti Pertahanan Nasional Malaysia
5National University of Malaysia(UKM)Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia
6Northern University of Malaysia(UUM)Universiti Utara Malaysia
7Putra University of Malaysia(UPM)Universiti Putra Malaysia
8Sultan Idris Education University(UPSI)Universiti Pendidikan Sultan Idris
9Sultan Zainal Abidin University(UniSZA)Universiti Sultan Zainal Abidin
10Technical University of Malaysia(UTEM)Universiti Teknikal Malaysia Melaka
11Tun Hussein Onn University of Malaysia(UTHM)Universiti Tun Hussein Onn Malaysia
12University of Malaya(UM)Universiti Malaya
13University of Malaysia, Kelantan(UMK)Universiti Malaysia Kelantan
14University of Malaysia, Pahang(UMP)Universiti Malaysia Pahang
15University of Malaysia, Perlis(UNIMAP)Universiti Malaysia Perlis
16University of Malaysia, Sabah(UMS)Universiti Malaysia Sabah
17University of Malaysia, Sarawak(UNIMAS)Universiti Malaysia Sarawak
18University of Malaysia, Terengganu(UMT)Universiti Malaysia Terengganu
19University of Science Malaysia(USM)Universiti Sains Malaysia
20University of Technology Malaysia(UTM)Universiti Teknologi Malaysia


  • Student who are enrolled at public universities and selected private universities are eligible to apply for a one-off visa (for the whole duration of study)

2. Private Universities

There are currently many private universities you can choose from that offer programmes at every level of studies, comparable to their public counterparts. Compared to university colleges and colleges, universities often have bigger campus and student facilities, conduct extensive postgraduate research programmes, and award degrees in their own names.

3. University Colleges

Compared to universities, university colleges usually have smaller-sized campuses and lower student numbers. Private university colleges usually run programmes at all levels, although they usually have fewer faculties and have a stronger focus on undergraduate programmes compared to postgraduate ones. Students who choose to obtain a degree awarded by a reputable foreign university usually have the flexibility to spend their time either fully in Malaysia or spend a year abroad at the awarding university’s home campus.

4. Accredited Training Centres

Accredited skills training centres are institutions registered under the Department of Skills Development that run training courses to equip students with specialised technical and vocational skills. Accredited by the Malaysian government, such courses provide pathways that enable students to gain internationally-recognised qualifications, such as by City and Guilds (UK), Confederation of Tourism, Hotel and Catering Management (UK), LCCI (UK), TAFE (Australia), and other international and professional bodies

5. Language Centre

Education institutions that fall under this category primarily offer language courses, although some of them also offer computer literacy training and other skills training.


  • Since the courses covered by language centre are short, student passes issued will only be for a 6-month period for a new application.
  • Please note that student passes for a language centre are currently subjected to an age restriction. Students who enrol must be between 18 and 35 years old.

6. International Branch Campuses

Get the best of international education in Malaysia by enrolling at the Malaysian branch campus of a foreign university! Malaysia took a step forward in internationalisation of higher education by opening its doors for reputable foreign universities to set up their campuses in Malaysia. Currently there are 10 foreign branch campuses that originate from Australia, United Kingdom, Ireland and China. These universities – some of which are in the top 100 of QS World University Rankings – offer programmes identical in structure and content to those at their home campuses. Enrolling at a foreign branch campus in Malaysia is good value for money where despite saving up to 40% on tuition fees and living costs, you will still get the same qualification as those studying at the home campus abroad.

10 International Branch Campuses in Malaysia:

  1. Curtin University, Sarawak
  2. Monash University, Selangor
  3. Swinburne University of Technology, Sarawak
  4. The University of Nottingham Malaysia, Selangor
  5. Heriot-Watt University Malaysia, Putrajaya
  6. Newcastle University Medicine Malaysia, Educity, Johor
  7. University of Southampton – Malaysia Campus, Educity, Johor
  8. University of Reading Malaysia, Educity, Johor
  9. Xiamen University Malaysia Campus, Selangor
  10. Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland and University College Dublin Malaysia Campus, Penang

7. College

Colleges in Malaysia are usually privately-owned institutions that do not have their own degree-awarding power. Even so, they are usually allowed to award qualifications from other institutions, including via twinning programmes with reputable foreign universities from the UK, Australia and USA. Some colleges also offer qualifications from professional bodies such as CLP, ACCA, ICAEW, CAT, and GCE A-Levels. Whilst the campus size and student numbers might be smaller, colleges usually come with excellent facilities comparable to that of universities and university colleges. Just like universities, colleges can only offer programmes accredited by the Malaysian Qualifications Agency.

Quality Assurance

When deciding the merit of each institution, you may want to look into its SETARA and MyQuest ratings. Each ratings employ a comprehensive and rigorous methodology to assess an education institution’s core functions or quality criteria. Compared to international rankings which are more outward-looking, SETARA and MyQuest ratings do not provide ranking but rather detailed quality assessment following visits and in-depth inspections by auditors.

SETARA rating was developed under the Malaysian Education Blueprint 2015-2025 for Higher Education for institutions of university and university college status, with the earlier category being further divided into mature and emerging universities. Each institution category is given its own weightage for core functions – namely teaching, research and services – so that unique strengths and challenges which are specific to each category’s niche are fairly represented.

MyQuest rating, on the other hand, is an instrument to evaluate the performance of institutions of college status in Malaysia. Developed in 2009, it focuses on 5 quality criteria which are students, programmes, graduates, resources and governance.

Both SETARA and MyQuest ratings are necessary to ensure students have the necessary tool to make an informed decision when choosing their education path. You can also read more on SETARA rating and MyQuest rating to know more.

Malaysian Qualifications Agency

Known as the MQA, it is a statutory body established under the Malaysian Qualifications Act 2007 to accredit academic programmes offered by all higher educational institutions, which is compulsory. This provides another level of comfort of the quality of a course especially in terms of its content and teaching materials, delivery mechanism and teaching staff experience.

Malaysia and World University Rankings

The Government of Malaysia spends around 5% its GDP on education – which is above the world and regional average – as a way to demonstrate the country’s highest regard for it. With the society’s unwavering belief in outstanding education, Malaysian school teachers are among the world’s most dedicated educators. The government also commissions the Higher Education Leadership Academy (AKEPT) to develop a solid talent pipeline for higher education institutions, to produce high-calibre academics or the top leaderships alike, as well ensuring good governance of institutions.

Other than grants from the government, Malaysian universities raise funds from industry collaboration which further enhances their research profile and their graduates’ employability. Investments from the private sector also led to the establishment private institutions and international campuses of foreign universities, some of which are also award-winning universities.

Coupled with a strong culture of excellence, Malaysia has a youth literacy rate of above 97%; gross enrolment ratio in tertiary education of 44.1% – higher than the global average; and proudly boasts 10 universities among the world’s top 500 of universities (a total of 23 in the top 1,000) according to Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) World University Rankings (WUR).

UniversityWorld University Rankings 2022Asian University Ranking 2022Research OutputQS WUR by Subject (highest)Graduate Employability Ranking 2020
University of Malaya658Very high32141-150
Putra University of Malaysia (UPM)14327Very High80
National University of Malaysia (UKM)14433Very High145301-500
University of Science Malaysia (USM)14735Very High75301-500
University of Technology Malaysia (UTM)19138Very High41
Taylor’s University33253High17201-250
Petronas University of Technology (UTP)4147223
Monash University *58Very high266
University of Southampton *77Very high5101-110
University of Nottingham *103Very high3362

* International branch campus

Malaysian universities also feature in the Top 500 of the Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU), a research-focused ranking by CWCU of Shanghai Jiaotong University, as well as the Times Higher Education World University Rankings. The Ministry of Education also introduced its own quality assurance measure in the form of a rating system – you may want to read on SETARA rating and MyQuest rating to know more. All these contribute towards putting Malaysian institutions at the top of over 25,000 universities in the world.

UniversityQS WUR by Subject Subject 2020** – by Main Faculties
Arts & HumanitiesEngineering & TechnologyLife Sciences & MedicineNatural ScienceSocial Science
University of Malaya1054314516685
Putra University of Malaysia (UPM)343251-200301-350244232
National University of Malaysia (UKM)258145358396243
University of Science Malaysia (USM)304101-150301-350327225
University of Technology Malaysia (UTM)72601-650272267
International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM)401-450351-400601-650451-500
MARA University of Technology351-400401-450340
Monash University *4958357646
University of Nottingham *13713782182155
University of Southampton *239102108127252

* International branch campus

UniversitySubject **QS WUR Subject Ranking 2020
University of MalayaLibrary & Information Management32
Putra University of Malaysia (UPM)Agriculture & Forestry80
National University of Malaysia (UKM)Engineering – Electrical & Electronic145
University of Science Malaysia (USM)Pharmacy & Pharmacology75
University of Technology Malaysia (UTM)Engineering – Petroleum41
Management and Science University (MSU)Hospitality & Leisure Management51-100
Taylor’s UniversityHospitality & Leisure Management16
Petronas University of Technology (UTP)Engineering – Petroleum21
Monash University *Pharmacy & Pharmacology2
University of Nottingham *Pharmacy & Pharmacology5
University of Southampton *Statistics & Operational Research33

** Not all universities include their departments and subjects in the ranking application, but the subjects are still on offer.

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Sarah Azreen Abdul Samat

Sarah has over 22 years of experience in corporate finance transactions involving equity issuance, mergers and acquisitions, fundraising, corporate restructuring, and corporate valuation, amongst others. She began her career in investment banking with Malaysian International Merchant Bankers Berhad in 2001 after obtaining her professional qualifications from PricewaterhouseCoopers.

Later in her career, she joined other investment banking institutions in Malaysia such as AmInvestment Bank Berhad, Maybank Investment Bank Berhad and RHB Investment Bank Berhad.

Presently, Sarah sits as Non-Independent Non-Executive Director of Reneuco Berhad and Independent Director of Pharmaniaga Berhad. She is currently the Executive Director of 3p Capital Advisers Sdn. Bhd., a company licensed with the Securities Commission Malaysia to provide advisory services to the capital market players.

Tuan Haji Ismail Bin Mohamed

Tuan Haji Ismail Mohamed sits on the Board of Director for Education Malaysia Global Services (EMGS). He obtains his Bachelor Degree in Business Administration from Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM).

Prior to sitting on the EMGS Board, he was also appointed to be the Board of Director to KEJORA from 2013 to 2018, and several companies such as Permodalan Darul Takzim Sdn Bhd, Perbadanan Usahawan Johor Sdn Bhd, PIJ Holding and Ranhil SAJ Sdn Bhd. Tuan Haji Ismail Mohamed also co-founded Pertama.

He started his career by setting up a company and being the founder of JYBB Enterprise. His career came to prominence when he became the co-founder and the Chief Executive Officer of Pertama Polyerethane Technology (M) Sdn Bhd and subsequently became the Special Officer to the Minister of Education in 2013.

Ismail Mohamed is acknowledged for his expertise in Agriculture and Agro-based industry, landing him being appointed as the Chairman of the Agriculture and Agro-based Industry Committee of the Johor State, the Chairman of Agro KEJORA and the Chairman of the Johor State Agriculture, Agro-based industry, Entrepreneurial Development and Cooperatives Committee.