Education Systems in Malaysia

The Malaysian education system is largely modeled on the British education system. Most public higher education institutions use the Cumulative Grade Point Average (CGPA) system whilst others use the grading system.

Education is the responsibility of the Government and it is committed to providing a sound education to all. The Malaysian education system encompasses education beginning from pre-school to university. Pre-tertiary education (pre-school to secondary education) is under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Education (MOE) while tertiary or higher education is the responsibility of the Ministry of Higher Education (MOHE). The vision of the Government is to make Malaysia a center of educational excellence.

Primary and Secondary Education

Primary education (a period of 6 years) and secondary education (5 years which encompasses 3 years of lower secondary and 2 years of upper secondary) make up 11 years of free education.

The admission age to the first year of primary education is seven. Primary schooling is mandatory for all children between the ages of 7 and 12. Students sit for common public examinations at the end of primary, lower secondary and upper secondary levels.

Post-secondary Education

Upon completion of secondary education, students can opt to pursue 1 to 2 years of post-secondary education. This is the university entrance preparatory course. In total, the 12 years of school education serves as the basic entry requirement into Year One of a bachelor’s degree programme in higher educational institutions.

Tertiary Education

At the tertiary education level, institutions of higher learning offer courses leading to the awards of the certificate, diploma, first degree and higher degree qualifications (at academic and professional fields). The duration of study for a basic bachelor degree programme is 3 years and the courses of study at this level are provided by both the public and private education sectors, attracting many international students.

Tertiary education providers consist of two major groups:

 Public (government-funded) institutions of higher learning, for example, public universities, polytechnics, community colleges, and teacher training institutes.

 Private (private-funded) higher educational institutions (PHEIs), for example, private universities, private university colleges, foreign branch campus universities and private colleges.

Government-funded Educational Institutions

The Government provides a fund to more than 95% of primary and secondary education as well as about 60% of the tertiary education, with the private sector providing the balance.

Private-funded Educational Institutions

The private education providers in Malaysia can be broadly grouped into 2 categories, depending on the levels of education offered, ranging from pre-school to tertiary education. These two categories of private institutions are:

Private Educational Institutions (PEIs) which provide education at preschool, primary and secondary levels. They comprise private schools and foreign system schools.

Private Higher Educational Institutions (PHEIs) which provide tertiary education leading to the awarding of certificate, diploma and degree qualifications.

Academic Qualifications (Higher Education) under MOHE
Higher education in the academic and professional fields is provided by:

 Public-funded higher educational institutions which include public universities, polytechnics, community colleges, and public colleges; and

 Private-funded higher educational institutions which include private universities, private colleges, and foreign university branch campuses

MOHE is directly responsible for the operations and performance of public HEIs, whereas private HEIs are guided by MOHE’s policy guidelines and objectives. The general entry requirements and duration of study at certificate, diploma, undergraduate and postgraduate levels for higher education (academic) can be grouped as below :

Higher Education Qualification Levels, Its Entry Requirements, and Duration of Study
Higher Education (Academic qualification levels) Type of Students Estimated Age Group Duration of Study
Certificate Level For students with secondary school qualifications such as SPM 17 and above 1 to 1.5 years
Diploma Level For students with secondary school qualifications such as SPM 17 and above 2 to 3 years
Bachelor's Degree Level For students with post-secondary or pre-university qualifications such as STPM, GCE A-levels, etc. 19 and above 3 to 5 years
Master's Degree For students with a bachelor's degree Any adult 1 to 3 years
Ph.D. (Doctor of Philosophy) For students with a master's degree Any adult 3 to 5 years

(NOTE: The SPM (which is equivalent to GCSE ‘O’ levels) and STPM (which is equivalent to GCE ‘A’ levels) are the two recognized secondary and post-secondary qualifications awarded by the Malaysian government examination syndicate/board for further study in government-funded tertiary institutions.)

Academic year

The academic year differs from one institution to another. Each university has its own timetable, but generally, the year is split into three semesters/trimesters of 12 weeks each, with a two-week break during the semester, and a longer six-week break in the middle of the year.

The university year generally begins in late February or early March and ends in October. Most courses are ‘full year’ courses, but some courses can be completed in just one semester. It is sometimes possible to start university in July.

Classes are held from Monday to Friday, with libraries and some other support services open on weekends. Examinations are sometimes conducted on a Saturday.

Various universities also offer weekend classes for those who are working. Some conduct ‘summer school’ courses from November to February, allowing students to complete their degrees within a shorter time.