However, international institutions will face challenges to recruit students in the country, given only around 10% of secondary schools age students go into vocational and technical streams compared with the world average of 44%, according to the OECD.
“National economic growth requires an increase in the number of graduates in the technical and vocational fields,” Malaysian deputy prime minister and education minister, Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, said earlier this year. “Thus, there is a need to focus on improving the quality of vocational training and technical education to help the country become a high-income nation.”
Malaysia is well known for its foreign branch campuses and “twinning” colleges – which are run in partnership with Malaysian providers – but the new push for liberalisation will allow for 100% foreign ownership in technical and vocational schools and skills training centres.
Foreign vocational education professionals who see potential in the Malaysian market welcomed the reform. “It’s a real cultural change,” Matthew Anderson, Executive Director of TVET UK, the UK partnership of technical and vocational education suppliers, told The PIE News. “To open it up now is really quite good, it’s the next logical step.”
“The biggest problem would be persuading Malaysian students that vocational education is worth it”
Analysis suggests Malaysia needs at least 3.3 million skilled workers over the coming decade to meet the needs of local industry. “Increasing the offering of VET courses will hopefully result in an increase in the number of Malaysians with vocational qualifications; a necessary strategy to ensure that Malaysia can continue to prosper across various industry sectors,” Ingeborg Loon, international engagement manager and executive officer at the Australian Council for Private Education and Training (ACPET), told The PIE News.
However, Loon cautions that VET regulators must vigilantly screen operators to “ensure that standards are maintained, if not increased”.
Providers will also have to overcome the Malaysian prejudice against vocational education. “The biggest problem would be persuading students that vocational education is worth it. It’s seen as less valuable than going straight to work or not working at all. Something’s got to change there and that will take some time,” Anderson said.
Despite the lack of interest, Anderson is optimistic the country will welcome more access to foreign qualifications. “The credibility of international certificates is higher than local ones so it may be the same with vocational education. If a place like Pearson starts offering certificates it may well be valued over a Malaysian one,” he said.