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The basics
Malaysia: Applying to University - Must read

The Malaysian higher education system... simplified

Our overview of the Malaysian Higher Education System for international students

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An emerging international hot-spot for business and education, higher education institutions in Malaysia welcome thousands of foreign students each year. In 2011, 93,000 international students from over 100 countries completed higher education courses of study in Malaysia, with the amount of foreign students enrolled in Malaysian institutions increasing notably from 1997 to 2003. The nation’s overall higher education sector experienced a 36.8% growth in the same period.


With a multitude of international partnerships, study arrangements and unique degree options, understanding the Malaysian higher education system can be a bit tricky. Luckily, we’ve laid it out for you to make planning your studies that much easier.


Types of institution

All higher education is managed by the Malaysian Ministry of Education, with institutions owned either publicly or privately. The government subsides approximately 60% of Malaysia’s tertiary education, with the difference accounted for via the private sector.


Colleges and University Colleges

Malaysian colleges help prepare students for entry into university, either via courses that prepare them to sit as external candidates for university or through bridging qualifications.  University colleges are independent institutions that do not have university status, but have the power to award degrees at undergraduate level that are held in the same regard as those awarded by universities. Courses are available across most general study areas and are retrievable via institution websites.



Both public and privately owned Malaysian universities award students a number of qualifications across undergraduate and postgraduate levels. There are also eight branch campuses of foreign universities in Malaysia established by nations such as the UK, Ireland and Australia that each offer students unique degree and credit-transfer options.


Malaysian academic year

Important dates in the Malaysian academic year vary from institution to institution. As a rough guide, the Universiti Teknologi Malaysia outlines the following rough dates:


The year is split into 2 semesters. Semester one ranges from September until the middle of January. Semester two runs from end of February until end of August/early September. Final exams run for 3 weeks, are in end of Dec/middle Jan and in the middle of until the end of June.



Bachelor degrees in Malaysia are typically between 3-5 years in length for full time students. A Bachelor degree in a general area of study such as a Bachelor of Arts (B.A) will usually take three years to complete. Most programmes at private universities are taught in English, whilst Bachelor programmes at public institutions are primarily taught in the Malay or Bahasa Melayu languages, expect studies in science or mathematics.


Students must complete a course load equivalent to at least 120 credits in order to be awarded a Bachelor’s degree. Whilst undergraduate degrees are offered in general areas such as Arts or Science by some universities, there are also a number of more specific programmes that enable students to focus more directly on their subject area. Major and minor options vary between programmes and should be pursued directly with the host institution.


A student’s ‘major’ is a specific area they have chosen to focus on within their general field of study. Students must complete a certain quota of subjects in this area in order to be gain the title. A ‘minor’ is a secondary area of focus within a general study field with a lower requirement quota.


Some universities offer students the chance to gain an Honours (Hons) qualification as part of their Bachelors. Entry criteria are unique to each programme, but will always require a high academic standard and typically add a year onto the student’s Bachelor degree. Honours students will often need to complete a long-form research task in their final year such as a thesis or independent research project. Students need to apply separately for an Honours programme, and should research separate application dates and deadlines thoroughly.  



Entry requirements to specific postgraduate courses of study differs substantially across study are and institution, and should be confirmed directly with your host. Very broadly however, most programmes will require that you have a recognized undergraduate degree at the very least.


Programmes are offered across both Masters and Doctoral levels, completed via taught coursework, a long-form dissertation or research project, and/or by completing a thesis. Taught courses comprise the majority of programmes postgraduate level, and are structured in a similar way to those in the UK and Australia. Students will attend lectures, seminars, tutorials or workshops and complete assessments in the same format as in undergraduate study.


Malaysian Masters programmes can take between 1-5 years to complete for full time students, depending on particular credit requirements. PhDs may take up to four years.  Most postgraduate programmes across all institutions are taught in English.



Twinning programmes

Malaysian universities offer students the unique opportunity to complete their Bachelors degree across two partnering institutions in different countries. In the ‘2+1’ twinning programme, students may choose to gain course credit from a reputable university in countries such as the UK, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, France or Germany. Twinning students wishing to complete their studies in the US will participate in the ‘2+2’ programme, in which transferable coursework is first completed in Malaysia before travelling to the States to complete the degree programme. Students also have the option to complete a ‘3+0’ foreign Bachelors programme, in which foreign study programmes are conducted by institutions in Malaysia.


Students pay Malaysian tuition fees throughout their entire undergraduate programme, regardless of host country or nature of twinning programme.

Read our full guide to Twinning Programmes in Malaysia



Academic culture

Malaysia’s higher education sector is highly international, and so depending on where students complete their studies they are likely to encounter teaching styles and academic environments influenced by a number of different cultures (which is an added bonus of studying in Malaysia). Generally however, the Malaysia academic culture is loosely modelled upon that of the UK: students are expected to follow coursework independently, and manage their own academic progress.


Malaysian communication is subtle, and relies on extreme politeness and diplomacy. Where some students may be used to expressing their opinions overtly in class as a means of demonstrating their engagement with course content, in Malaysia, this may be seen as abrupt and even rude. Students are assumed to maintain a sufficient academic independently that will be reflected through their grades. Nature of assessment is specific to the course of study and should be confirmed directly by the institution.



Now that you’ve got a better idea of how the higher education system in Malaysia works, start browsing courses in Malaysia now and plan your study abroad adventure!



Useful links

'Student living costs in Malaysia'

'Applying for a Malaysian student visa'

Study in Malaysia


'Study in Malaysia' eBook

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