Student Info & Guide

Studying Abroad - Where to Next? : Your Higher Education Options in Malaysia

by on July 6, 2015 | Why Study in Malaysia

Duscover Malaysia


Now that you have completed (or are about to complete) your secondary schooling, you probably want to know what higher education options there are out there. The process of deciding on the right higher education options can be full of overwhelming decisions. Along with what to study, you will need to consider which country and institution to choose, and think about the type of qualification you would like to acquire.

Why Choose Malaysia?

Studying abroad doesn't have to be just a dream anymore. Malaysia welcomes all international students from primary to tertiary levels, offering quality education that is more affordable than you may have thought. Besides home-grown schools and universities, Malaysia has world renowned international schools and universities setting up branch campuses in the country to provide world-class education opportunities to bot Malaysian and international students.

The Malaysian government has placed every effort in ensuring that the quality of education in Malaysia, offered both by higher educational institutions and international schools, are of global standards. Our well structured higher education system offers you the opportunity to pursue an international qualification that is recognised, reputable and affordable.

In addition, the multicultural community of Malaysia supports the institutions' aim to make its students global citizens. International students are exposed to multiple languages, cultures and traditions as well as a wide variety of culinary treats and places of interest to explore. There are not many countries in this world can offer the type of learning environment that Malaysia offers to international students.

Malaysia is ranked the world's 11th most preferred education destination in the world among international students by UNESCO. This shows that Malaysia has definitely won the confidence of international students for its quality education and enriching student experience. Here are some key reasons why you should choose Malaysia when deciding to study abroad.

  1. Malaysia offers a wide range of internationally recognised qualifications such as:
    • Home-grown international qualifications - international standards, affordable fees
    • "2+1" twinning degree programmes - a value-for-money "cross-border" experience
    • "3+0" foreign bachelor's degree in Malaysia - an affordable international qualification
    • Foreign university branch campuses in Malaysia - get the best of the east and west
  2. Low cost of living and affordable tuition fees
    opening opportunities to study abroad to more students
  3. Simple visa and student pass application process
  4. Malaysia's advantage:
    • A multi-ethnic population - living and learning in harmony
    • Safe, stable and peace of mind
    • Vibrant and open economy
    • Quality education - assured by legislation
    • A food haven - your gastronomic adventure begins here
    • Friendly and hospitable Malaysians of whom many can speak English

Another reason why Malaysia is an excellent choice as a study destination is that it has had years of experience with international students.

For those who wish to know more about what study opportunities Malaysia has to offer, please visit our Course Search Function.

Academic Qualifications in Malaysia

For those of you who have chosen to come to Malaysia to study and have decided on your career choice, figuring out your next step in education could be quite easy.

Once you have narrowed down your options for a particular subject, field of study or type of programme in Malaysia, check the website of institutions that offer this programme to get a better picture of the course structure. A good list of information to find out would be the required entry qualifications, study duration, modules offered, methods of study (e.g. lectures, workshops, work placements, projects, etc.) and study mode, i.e. part-time or full-time study, or even distance learning.

In the following section, we will examine the different qualifications available to international students like you in Malaysia.

A. Pre-university Qualifications for school leavers with O-level qualifications 

At pre-university level, students who have completed 11 years of education (e.g. O-level) can continue with pre-university studies such as GCE A-levels, IB Diploma, or Australian Matriculation, just to name a few, which are offered by many private higher educational institutions (HEIs). A pre-university qualification is the basic entry requirement for a bachelor degree at HEIs and takes about 12-18 months to complete.

B. Academic Qualifications at Higher Education Level

Higher education includes qualifications at certificate, diploma, undergraduate as well as postgraduate levels. The providers of higher education are colleges, polytechnics and universities. Undergraduate studies consist of bachelor degree programmes and professional studies while postgraduate studies consist of master and doctoral degrees.

B1. Bachelor Degree Qualifications - for school leavers with A-levels or its equivalent qualifications

Education in Malaysia

Malaysia offers many options of bachelor degree programmes that are affordable and reputable. Higher educational institutions, especially private higher educational institutions (PHEIs), provide a wide spectrum of quality study options for students at bachelor  degree level. Among some of these options include:

Acquiring foreign degree qualifications via:

  1. Courses offered by foreign university branch campuses located in Malaysia that lead to the award of these universities' degree qualifications
  2. Courses conducted by Malaysian home-grown private higher educational institutions that lead to foreign degree qualifications. Examples include:
    • Private colleges/universities that offer twinning degree programmes (such as 2+1 and 3+0 arrangements) that lead to foreign degree qualifications awarded by universities from various countries
    • Private colleges/private universities that offer credit transfer programmes (such as American degree programme, UK/Australia credit transfer programmes) that lead to foreign degree qualifications awarded by universities from various countries
    • Private colleges/ private universities that offer diplomas with 'advanced standing' status recognised by foreign universities for their bachelor's degree programmes
    • Private colleges that offer external degree programmes that lead to the award of a bachelor's degree from foreign universities
    • Private universities that offer home-grown bachelor degree with 'advanced standing' status recognised by foreign universities for ther bachelor degree programmes

Acquiring Malaysian degree qualifications via:

  1. Malaysian home-grown private universities and university colleges that offer home-grown degree qualifications
  2. Joint degree qualifications and dual-award degree certification offered by universities that collaborate with partner foreign universities (students graduate with two degrees, one each from both universities).

Collectively, PHEIs in Malaysia offer you many choices that suit your interest, budget, academic needs and career aspiraion. Students also can acquire the qualification from Malaysian public universities but seats are limited.

B2. Qualifications via Transnational Education (An international pathway that leads to the acquisition of a foreign bachelor degree qualification)

Malaysia is a pioneer in this region in the development and promotion of transnational bachelor degree programmes. Since the early 1980s, Malaysia has collaborated with reputable universities from countries like the UK, the US, New Zealand and Australia. Transnational education allows students to have the experience of studying in two countries in their pursuit of a bachelor degree qualification. This split-degree arrangement has enabled many students to acquire qualifications in countries like the UK, Australia and the US at significantly lower costs.

This unique international pathway that leads to the acquisition of a foreign bachelor degree qualificatin is offered at several PHEIs. They include '2+1' twinning degrees, Australian degree transfer programmes, UK degree transfer programmes, and American degree transfer programmes.

B3. Foreign Degree Qualification via Degree Pathway

Many Malaysian private university degree programmes (Year 1 and Year 2 curriculum) are recognised by partner universities overseas with 'advanced standing' entry status. As such, students who have completed Year 1 or Year 2 of a degree programme in PHEIs can be accepted as second or final year students of the degree programmes of respective partner universities overseas. This arrangement allows students the option of graduating with a foreign degree qualification abroad.

B4. Postgraduate Studies

If you are thinking of furthering your education at graduate level abroad, Malaysia's postgraduate studies can be a worthwhile investment and wonderful experience.

The quality of the programmes conducted is assured by the national quality assurance agency, namely, the Malaysian Qualifications Agency (MQA), which was established under the Malaysian Qualifications Agency Act 2007.

Postgraduate courses in Malaysia are unique and varied in discipline. Besides Malaysian qualifications, postgraduate qualifications from countries such as the UK and Australia are also offered here.

B5. Certificate and Diploma Qualifications

Higher education at certificate and diploma levels is mainly for students with IGCSE or O-level qualifications. A certificate usually takes a year to complete while a diploma qualification takes 2 to 2.5 years.

For a list of certificate and diploma programmes, please refer to the our course search function.

C. Levels of Educations and Entry Requirements

The general entry requirements and duration of study at certificate, diploma, undergraduate and postgraduate levels (academic) can be grouped as below:

Table 10.1: Higher Education Qualification Levels, Its Entry Requirements and Duration of Study

Academic Qualification Level Type of Students Estimated Age Group Duration of Study
Certificate level For students with
secondary school
qualifications such as
17 and above 1 to 1.5 years
Diploma level

For students with 
secondary school
qualifications such as

17 and above 2 to 2.5 years
Bachelor's degree 
For students with pre-
university qualifications
such as GCE A-levels, IB
diploma, etc.
19 and above 3 to 5 years
Master's degree For students with a
bachelor's degree 
Any adult 1 to 3 years
PhD (Doctor of
For students with a 
master's degree
Any adult 3 to 5 years

Source: StudyMalaysia Research Team

The qualifications awarded by all HEIs (both public and private) in Malaysia are registered under laws related to Malaysian education and are governed by the Malaysian Qualifications Framework (MQF). The framework specifies that a programme is required to achieve a minimum number of credits before an academic qualification can be awarded, e.g. certificate (60 credits), diploma (90 credits), bachelor degree (120 credits) and taught master degree (40 credits). Master and doctoral degrees obtained by research do not have credit values (see Table 10.2).

Table 10.2: Malaysian Higher Education Qualifications, Levels and Minimum Number of Credits

Education levels Higher education
Minimum credit required for
the award of qualification
8 Doctoral No given credit value
7 Research master degree No given credit value
7 Fully or partly taught master
7 Postgraduate diploma 30
7 Postgraduate certificate 20
6 Bachelor degree 120
6 Graduate diploma 60
6 Graduate certificate 30
5 Advanced diploma 40
4 Diploma 90
3 Certificate 60
1-3 Skills certificate According to the skill and levels

Source: Malaysian Qualifications Agency

D. Types of Higher Education Providers in Malaysia

Once you have a short list of the courses you would like to study, the next thing to do is look at the universities or colleges that offer them.

Education in Malaysia

Before you decide, let us take a closer look at the types of HEIs in Malaysia. You may be surprised at what you thought you knew (or didn't).

Higher education providers in Malaysia can be grouped into two major categories, viz. public HEIs (government funded), and private HEIs.

In Malaysia, higher education in the academic and professional fields is provided by: 

  1. Public-funded HEIs which include public universities and public colleges; and
  2. Privately-funded HEIs which include private universities, private colleges and foreign university branch campuses.

The Ministry of Education (MOE) is directly responsible for the operation and performance of public HEIs, whereas private HEIs are guided by MOE's policy guidelines and objectives.

D1. Public Higher Educational Institutions

Public HEIs consist of universities, polytechnics, community colleges and colleges. There are 20 public universities, 32 polytechnics and 72 community colleges. In addition, there are 27 teacher education institues which prepare candidates to become teachers at primary and secondary schools in Malaysia.

Public universities offer bachelor degrees and postgraduate programmes, with some offering programmes at diploma level and university foundation programmes. Polytechnics and community colleges offer certificate and diploma level programmes.

D2. Private Higher Educational Institutions

Private HEIs come under the jurisdiction of MOE and comprise universities, university-colleges and foreign university branch campuses which award their own degree qualifications (at bachelor degree and postgraduate levels), diploma programmes and foundation studies. In contrast, private colleges award their own qualifications at diploma and certificate levels, and offer 3+0 degrees, split-degrees, tutorial support for professional qualifications, and franchised postgraduate programmes from foreign universities.

At the beginning of 2014, there were 40 private universities, 24 private university-colleges and about 427 active private colleges in Malaysia. In addition, there are currently eight foreign university branch campuses in the country. Students who wish to obtain a degree from a foreign university have the option of enrolliing at a branch campus of these foreign universities in Malaysia. Students can also choose to pursue a 3+0 degree programme which allows them to complete a degree entirely in one of Malaysia's many private colleges and still earn a foreign university degree qualification.

By now your list should be a concise one, ideally narrowed down to four or five programmes you would like to apply for. There is no time to lose. Unless you plan on taking some time off before you start the next chapter of your life, it is time to start creacking on all those applications.

The most important thing you need to ensure before applying is that your qualifications meet the minimum requirement for a particular programme. Every programme or HEI will have requirements that differ slightly - nonetheless, Table 10.3 shows the general requirements for pre-university studies, certificate, diploma and a bachelor degree programmes at private HEIs in Malaysia.

Table 10.3: General Entry Requirements for Pre-University, Certificate, Diploma and Degree Programmes at Private HEIs 

Education Level General Entry Requirements
University foundation programme  O Level with 5 credits, or its equivalent
Certificate O Level with 1 credit, or its equivalent
Diploma O Level with minimum 3 credits, or its equivalent
Year 1 bachelor degree GCE A-Levels+English Proficiency or its equivalent

Applying to Study in Malaysia

ImmigrationAs an international student, you can apply DIRECTLY to the educational institution of your choice. You are advised to apply only to institutions that have been given the approval by the relevant authorities to accept international students.

For courses at public universities - bachelor degree and postgraduate programmes - international students have to apply directly to the university of their choice for full-time mode programmes only.

For courses at private higher educational institutions e.g. pre-university studies, diploma, bachelor degree and postgraduate studies, students have to apply directly to the institution of their choice, which must have the approval of the Ministry of Home Affairs Malaysia to enrol international students. International students are only allowed to study for full-time programmes.

To facilitate the entry of international students coming to study in Malaysia, the government has set up a one-stop agency known as Education Malaysia Global Services to assist in expediting the issuance of a Student Pass to international students as well as preparation of I-Card for international students, and to provide other services that ease their transition to live in this country.


With more than three decades of experience in providing educaiton to international students, Malaysia has now become a regional education hub offering world-class education. Our well structured higher education system offers student like you the opportunity to pursue an international qualification that is reputable and affordable.

Study in Malaysia Handbook 9th Ed.Source: Study in Malaysia Handbook 9th Ed.

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