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Malaysia and the Knowledge Economy: Building a World-Class Higher Education System

Sound macroeconomic and human resource development policies have underpinned Malaysia’s strong economic performance in recent years, making it one of the most rapidly developing economies in the world. The Government of Malaysia fully recognized the need to sustain its growth prospects in the long-term, to maintain its competitiveness and move up the technology chain to produce higher value-added technology-intensive products. Noting their important contribution to producing future leaders and developing high-level technical capabilities, Malaysia has successfully invested in universities and other institutions of higher learning. The Government of Malaysia is considering new policy directions to make the country an even more competitive player in the world economy. Such a strategy will require bold innovations in many sectors, including the university system whose contribution to greater value-added production should come from the generation and diffusion of relevant knowledge and the production of a critical mass of graduates with appropriate skills.  alaysia is thus attempting to transform its universities into dynamic and responsive institutions which can hold their place internationally.In this context, the study Malaysia and the Knowledge Economy: Building a World Class Higher Education System was prepared at the request of the Economic Planning Unit to help develop a strategic vision for the evolution of the country’s universities towards becoming world class. This work was co-financed by the Economic Planning Unit. The study, which seeks to add value by sharing international experience with relevant strategies and policy measures, provides practical recommendations for the government’s consideration, and served as an input into the Ninth Malaysia Plan (2006-2010).

In responding to the request to contribute to an analysis of the higher education sector, we sincerely hope that this report will help facilitate the ongoing policy debate and the development of Malaysian university system. Published in March 2007. Human Development Sector Reports, East Asia and the Pacific Region, The World Bank 

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Making ethnic citizens: The politics and practice of education in Malaysia

This paper examines the politics and practice of education in Malaysia within the context of ethnicity and nation-building. Public education in Malaysia – particularly, but not exclusively, at the pre-university level – is promoted as a nation-building tool, seeking to inculcate a sense of Malaysian-ness and patriotism. Simultaneously, however, public education – particularly, but not exclusively, at the university level – is used as a tool for the promotion of ethnic Malay interests. These two objectives are not necessarily contradictory; indeed the assertion that a vital ingredient in the creation of a ‘Malaysian nation’ is the eradication of inter-ethnic economic disparities has been at the heart of the Malaysian regime’s discourse on nation-building since the ethnic riots of May 1969. Hence, in this view, preferential policies for the economically disadvantaged but numerically dominant Malays are a necessary component of the nation-building project. Nonetheless, there are at least clear tensions between these two functions of education – tensions which, I shall argue, help explain both the particularly sensitive politics of education in Malaysia, and the discursive stance the Malaysian regime has adopted within the educational field. Through an analysis of the dynamics of the politics of education, I argue that non-Malay educationalist activism has been characterised by a broad acceptance of the regime’s strategic objectives, whilst simultaneously seeking to ensure that educational opportunities for non-Malays do not suffer as a result of these policies. I argue that whilst the expansion of private tertiary education during the 1990s has largely ameliorated non-Malay concerns on this level, pre-university schooling remains a politically sensitive issue on all fronts, which continues to threaten precisely the inter-ethnic harmony it seeks to promote. Here, I argue that the Malaysian regime has sought to resolve the tensions between nation-building and ethnicity through a didactic and pedagogical approach to educational development, which promotes a concept of nationhood that, rather than transcending ethnic allegiances, is explicitly based on ethnic stratification. I argue that these ‘ethnic citizens’ are encouraged to participate in the Malaysian nation uncritically through the virtual worship of development symbols and unquestioning deference to political leadership.

By Graham Brown. CRISE WORKING PAPER No. 23, October 2005. Centre for Research on Inequality, Human Security and Ethnicity, CRISE, Queen Elizabeth House, University of Oxford.

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