Success of blueprint depends on buy-in and politics

The Malaysia Education Blueprint (Higher Education) 2015-2025, or MEBHE, was launched on 7 April 2015. This blueprint consists of 10 key areas that are intended to spur continued excellence in the higher education system of Malaysia to achieve five system-wide aspirations of access, quality, equity, unity and efficiency, as well as six student aspirations of ethics and spirituality, leadership skills, national identity, language proficiency, thinking skills and knowledge.

The 10 key areas in the MEBHE include:
  • • Holistic, entrepreneurial and balanced graduates;
  • • Talent excellence;
  • • A nation of lifelong learners;
  • • Quality technical and vocational education and training graduates;
  • • Financial sustainability;
  • • Empowered governance;
  • • An innovation ecosystem;
  • • Global prominence;
  • • Globalised online learning; and
  • • Transformed higher education delivery.
However, the understanding of MEBHE needs to be put into context by connecting it to the previous strategic plan, the National Higher Education Strategic Plan Beyond 2020, or NHESP.

NHESP was the first strategic plan developed when the Ministry of Higher Education was established, and was launched in 2007. The strategic plan consists of seven strategic thrusts, and is accompanied by a four-phase action plan where Phase 1 (2007-10) and part of Phase 2 (2011-15) have been implemented.

In early 2013, the Ministry of Higher Education commissioned a committee to review the NHESP and before the completion of the review, the Ministry of Higher Education was merged to form the Ministry of Education following the general election in May 2013.

Prior to the merger, the Ministry of Education had begun the drafting of the Malaysia Education Blueprint (Pre-school to Post-Secondary Education) 2013-2025 which was subsequently launched in September 2013.

Taking into account the global and national challenges confronting Malaysian higher education, as well as the need to provide a seamless plan that covers the entire spectrum of education – given the fact that education is now put under the purview of a single ministry – the MEBHE was created.

Philosophy, approaches and implementation

The MEBHE provides a comprehensive articulation of the goals for Malaysian higher education in the form of student and system aspirations. The 10 key areas highlight issues that are critical to the development of individuals as well as the ecosystem of higher education.

In each of the areas, strategies and initiatives are proposed to enable the objectives of the shifts to be achieved. Each strategy and initiative is sequenced across three successive phases – Phase 1 (2015), Phase 2 (2016-20) and Phase 3 (2021-25) – which are the implementation processes that include planning, execution and monitoring.

However, unlike the NHESP that has been accompanied by a detailed action plan, the implementation of strategies and initiatives in the MEBHE may be considered rather brief. The action plan of NHESP has specific deliverables and gives ownership for each initiative with quarterly deadlines across the four-year implementation period.

In addition to the lack of details about implementation, MEBHE has not articulated the underlying philosophy and ideology of the plan. In other words, the ‘soul’ of the plan has not been clear.

For instance, while there is strong influence of neoliberalism and new public management in the plan in a similar way to the NHESP, the focus and use of the term ‘talent’ as opposed to ‘human capital’ may indicate some philosophical and ideological shifts that have not been made explicit.

The lack of articulation of the philosophical and ideological underpinnings of the MEBHE has also contributed to the lack of explicit discussion of the overarching approaches of the plan.

Private HE institutions

One of the major criticisms of the NHESP was the absence of the role of and emphasis on private higher education institutions. In this regard, the MEBHE can be considered a significant improvement since it has specific initiatives to address the private institutions.

Private higher education is now a major part of the sector since 47% of higher education students are enrolled in private institutions. While the MEBHE envisages a harmonised public and private higher education sector, more coherent and comprehensive strategies and initiatives than those outlined in MEBHE are needed to achieve this aspiration.

Public HE institutions

Apart from the lack of articulation of the implementation and approaches, the success of MEBHE is highly contingent upon the extent to which public higher education institutions embrace and respond to the plan.

Although MEBHE places some emphasis on private institutions, public institutions remain the most crucial part of the plan. Since the NHESP, public institutions have undergone structural changes to accommodate the plan. For example, Project Management Office has become a crucial part of the institutional set-up to ensure the institutions move in line with the aspirations of NHESP.

Hence, with a new plan in place but with a seemingly less elaborate implementation process, the success of the plan will be subject to the response of these public institutions and the availability of resources for undertaking changes according to the MEBHE.

A fundamental shift

Furthermore, the 10 key areas in MEBHE and the plan itself must be seen in the context of a more fundamental change in Malaysia – that is, from dynamic higher education policy to dynamic higher education politics.

It is politics that merged the two ministries (Education and Higher Education) into one in the first place (immediately after the 2013 general election). It is also politics that saw the need for a blueprint for Malaysian higher education when the NHESP was still in the second of its four implementation phases.

It is crucial that politics, in particular higher education politics, should not be interpreted as purely party politics; rather, it is about the decision-making process in particular with respect to resource distribution, the locus of power and the government bureaucratic hierarchy or power play within the policy-making circle and administrative machinery.

It is important to note that, with the launch of the MEBHE, a Putrajaya Higher Education Delivery Task Force was established to oversee the implementation of the MEBHE. This is yet another layer of decision-making that adds to the already heavily layered decision-making process with respect to higher education in Malaysia.

Ideally, redundant councils, committees and panels should have been rationalised in the first instance before a new entity such as the Delivery Task Force was established. Arguably, this multi-layered higher education policy-making in Malaysia will further distance academics from policy-making and relegate them to policy implementation.


The MEBHE is indeed an interesting blueprint that charts the development of Malaysian higher education. It has clearly articulated the direction for development and aspirations of the country for its higher education in the next decade.

However, the success of the plan will depend not only on the Ministry of Education, universities and higher education institutions and on the communities of academic and support staff and students – the social, economic and political developments of the country will also play a crucial role to ensure the realisation of aspirations of the MEBHE.

It is important for the implementation stage of MEBHE to take serious cognisance of the more fundamental shift that is taking place in Malaysia.

Morshidi Sirat is director of the Commonwealth Tertiary Education Facility, or CETF, Penang, Malaysia; and CD Wan is with the National Higher Education Research Institute, or IPPTN, Universiti Sains Malaysia, Penang, Malaysia.