MALAYSIA: Many private colleges have quality issues

An audit of private colleges in Malaysia has unearthed serious quality issues, with only one in three colleges evaluated doing well in a quality assurance process that could be used by the government to approve or deny them licenses to recruit international students.

The Malaysian Quality Evaluation Scheme (MyQuest) has audited around half of the country's 403 private colleges but has found only 60% of them could be ranked as 'satisfactory' under its non-mandatory audit scheme.

Only three of the 210 colleges that agreed to the audit, including a medical school, received scores of over 90%.

The 403 private institutions were invited to the audit carried out for the first time this year. However, not all of the 300 or so who agreed were ready to be inspected, according to the ministry, explaining why only 60% of institutions had been audited.

Presenting the audit results last Tuesday 8 November, Higher Education Minister Mohammed Khaled Nordin said he was not satisfied with the performance of around one in three of the colleges audited - those classed as 'satisfactory' (two-stars under the MyQuest system) or 'poor' (one star). The audit showed that there were still private institutions that were unable to provide quality education.

MyQuest supplements the existing rating system for universities and applies to colleges, including design colleges, medical colleges and other vocational and professional training institutions.

Tightening laws

The audit results come as the ministry is amending the laws governing private institutions, under a Private Institution of Higher Learning Act that will include sterner penalties for private institutions that do not meet certain criteria. The amendments are expected to be presented in parliament in 2012.

The legislation is part of the government's attempt to crack down on sub-standard or even fraudulent private providers, not just by tightening up the law but also by ensuring the regulations are properly implemented.

All courses must now be approved by the registrar general after being given a quality stamp by the Malaysian Qualifications Agency.

In April the higher education ministry said it had cancelled the setting up of 59 private colleges and deregistered 28 others between 2009 and 2010 over quality issues. Some 47 institutions were fined in the first half of this year compared to same number during the whole of last year and just nine in 2009, the ministry said.

"The ministry is very serious [about] ensuring that students, whether in public or private institutions of higher learning, receive quality training and education," said Deputy Higher Education Minister Hou Kok Chung in July.

Hou said that since may May, the ministry's enforcement and inspectorate division had stepped up fines for offences such as unauthorised relocation of premises, hiring academics without a permit and conducting courses before obtaining approval.

The ministry said that while it hoped the private higher education sector would continue to grow, it was important to ensure institutions provided quality education. Applications for new institutions would be based on whether they met quality criteria and whether proposed programmes were geared towards the areas "needed by the country," the ministry said in a statement.

Poor performers must change

Under the latest audit, figures showed that 20 colleges or 10% of those audited were rated 'excellent' (five star), 60 'very good' (four-star), 55 'good' (three star) and 35 'satisfactory', with the rest described as poor.

Private colleges needed to improve to remain viable and become institutions of choice for local and foreign students, Nordin said.

"If they continue to be below the three-star category, eventually the market will determine their fate and future. This rating will help them in making the right decisions for their own good," the minister said, adding that less viable institutions might be advised to merge or be acquired by other colleges.

The audit is based on the college itself, the fields of studies offered and internationalisation efforts. Around 40% of the score looks at students and facilities, 30% is based on how well the colleges' courses and graduates are regarded and recognised, and another 30% is based on the quality of the institution's management.

"The greatness of a learning institution is not founded on how nice the building or its premises look. A college must have integrity at all levels. They must be respected and revered by the public," said Nordin.

"Not only must the learning institutions be committed in providing education and knowledge but more importantly they should also contribute to the development and progress of the country."

Although the audit is not mandatory, the government has said it could be used by the National Higher Education Fund Corporation in deciding whether to approve loans for students applying to colleges. It could also inform government decisions to upgrade colleges to university status.

Malaysia has around 485 private institutions, including 26 private universities, 23 private university colleges offering courses at bachelors level, and five foreign universities with Malaysian campuses.

Around 540,000 students are enrolled in private institutions, according to the ministry, accounting for 54% of the country's student body.