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:

1 International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM) Universiti Islam Antarabangsa Malaysia
2 Islamic Science University of Malaysia (USIM) Universiti Sains Islam Malaysia
3 MARA University of Technology (UiTM) Universiti Teknologi MARA
4 National Defence University of Malaysia (UPNM) Universiti Pertahanan Nasional Malaysia
5 National University of Malaysia (UKM) Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia
6 Northern University of Malaysia (UUM) Universiti Utara Malaysia
7 Putra University of Malaysia (UPM) Universiti Putra Malaysia
8 Sultan Idris Education University (UPSI) Universiti Pendidikan Sultan Idris
9 Sultan Zainal Abidin University (UniSZA) Universiti Sultan Zainal Abidin
10 Technical University of Malaysia (UTEM) Universiti Teknikal Malaysia Melaka
11 Tun Hussein Onn University of Malaysia (UTHM) Universiti Tun Hussein Onn Malaysia
12 University of Malaya (UM) Universiti Malaya
13 University of Malaysia, Kelantan (UMK) Universiti Malaysia Kelantan
14 University of Malaysia, Pahang (UMP) Universiti Malaysia Pahang
15 University of Malaysia, Perlis (UNIMAP) Universiti Malaysia Perlis
16 University of Malaysia, Sabah (UMS) Universiti Malaysia Sabah
17 University of Malaysia, Sarawak (UNIMAS) Universiti Malaysia Sarawak
18 University of Malaysia, Terengganu (UMT) Universiti Malaysia Terengganu
19 University of Science Malaysia (USM) Universiti Sains Malaysia
20 University 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 41 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).

University World University Rankings 2019 Asian University Ranking 2019 Research Output QS WUR by Subject (highest) Graduate Employability Ranking
University of Malaya 70 19 Very high 31 66
Putra University of Malaysia (UPM) 159 34 Very High 51-100
National University of Malaysia (UKM) 160 41 Very High 101-150
University of Science Malaysia (USM) 165 43 Very High 51-100
University of Technology Malaysia (UTM) 217 47 Very High 51-100
UCSI University 442 178 Medium 51-100
Taylor’s University 511-520 135 High 14 201-250
Petronas University of Technology (UTP) 482 99 Very high 151-200
Monash University * 58 Very high 3 59
University of Nottingham * 96 Very high 8 66
University of Southampton * 97 Very high 5 111-120

* 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.

University QS WUR by Subject ** – by Main Faculties
Arts & Humanities Engineering & Technology Life Sciences & Medicine Natural Science Social Science
University of Malaya 99 38 182 137 55
Putra University of Malaysia (UPM) 253 142 326 231 166
National University of Malaysia (UKM) 168 135 360 294 134
University of Science Malaysia 212 123 326 223 144
University of Technology Malaysia (UTM) 393 85 289 226
International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM) 451-500 401-450 376
MARA University of Technology 383 290 324
Monash University * 50 50 34 86 32
University of Nottingham * 119 146 77 185 149
University of Southampton * 187 109 100 130 245

* International branch campus

University Subject ** QS WUR Subject Ranking
University of Malaya Library & Information Management 31
Putra University of Malaysia (UPM) Agriculture & Forestry 51-100
National University of Malaysia (UKM) Education and training 101-150
University of Science Malaysia (USM) Architecture 51-100
University of Technology Malaysia (UTM) Engineering – Civil and Structural 51-100
UCSI University Performing Arts 51-100
Taylor’s University Hospitality & Leisure Management 14
Petronas University of Technology (UTP) Engineering – Chemical 151-200
Monash University * Pharmacy & Pharmacology 3
University of Nottingham * Pharmacy & Pharmacology 8
University of Southampton * Nursing 5

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