University-college status is the “in thing” now. A handful of private colleges are on the verge of getting it while several others are working towards it, reports GAVIN GOMEZ.
No longer a second choice among students, private colleges welcome this recognition from the government. Though Kolej Universiti Teknologi dan Pengurusan Malaysia (KUTPM), an offshoot of Pusat Teknologi & Pengurusan Lanjutan or PTPL College was the first private institution to be offered university-college status two years ago, there had been none since. Until recently.
Malaysian Association of Private Colleges and Universities (Mapcu) secretary-general Datuk Teo Chiang Liang says it is a natural progression for colleges to seek university-college status, especially for long-time players that have been in the industry for over 10 years now.
The colleges expected to be upgraded soon are Ikram College of Technology, Sedaya International College and L&G Twintech Institute of Technology.
Sunway College, Inti College Malaysia, Help Institute, KDU College and Apiit (Asia Pacific Institute of Information Technology), on the other hand, have passed the initial stages of application.
In the past, colleges were hesitant to seek a status upgrade as they would have to give up their staple of franchised degree programmes and offer their own degrees instead. However, it is learnt, a recent change in policy which allows a university-college to offer franchised programmes in addition to the institutions own degrees became the catalyst for many to seek a higher status for their colleges.
“Previously, once a college obtained university-college status, they had to give up their twinning programmes and only offer their own courses. Last year, there was a policy change that not many knew about. Those that did and were ready, submitted their applications for university-college status,” says a source.
Those that did not know about it failed to join the bandwagon, for now anyway.
To college operators, not being able to offer foreign degree programmes means a big blow to their income as foreign students come to Malaysia to obtain Australian, British, Canadian, American and New Zealand degrees – not Malaysian.
Many places, few takers
Deputy director-general of Education (private education) Datuk Hassan Hashim says the ministry is monitoring the supply and demand of places for tertiary education in the private sector.
He says more universities can only be set up if there is indication that more places are needed and the number of Malaysians opting to further their studies locally instead of abroad (about 105,000 currently) increases.
“The general guideline adhered to internationally is to have one university per half million people. That applies to developing countries, so for us it would mean one university for more than half a million people,” he adds.
Supporting Malaysia’s current population of more than 24 million are 16 public and 21 private universities (including foreign university branch campuses) in the country.
“If we look at things literally, it would mean we need 48 universities. But that is not the case. At present, I would say we need under 10 more universities.”
He adds that new universities like the MCA’s Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman (Utar) and Universiti Kuala Lumpur still have under 1,000 students, so the ministry would have to see if enrolment in the existing universities increase before upgrading more colleges.
The second private college after KUTPM to be upgraded recently is the Limkokwing University-College of Creative Technology (LUCCT). After 22 years in the industry, it has 3,000 students, including foreign students from 45 countries.
“There are still thousands of places in our local private universities. We cannot just be opening more universities for the sake of having more universities. The demand has to be there. There is no point in having empty universities,” Hassan adds.
Prior to KUTPM and LUCCT, one private college managed to secure university status – the International Medical College that was upgraded to the International Medical University (IMU) back in 1999.
It now offers its own medical degree programme that can be completed entirely in Malaysia in addition to medical degrees in collaboration with its 24 partner universities from seven countries.
For the eight private colleges being considered by the ministry now, the road to securing university-college status is a seemingly never-ending one.
“The process is thorough and detailed – there are just so many areas to be looked into,” Sedaya's chief executive officer and president Peter Ng says.
“And until all the criteria are met, they will not even consider an application,” adds Ikram's director Tan Swee Kee.
All the operators interviewed by Star Education shared that the standards set by the ministry were high and nothing short of meeting the standards would be accepted.
“We want to be known as Sedaya International University-College and because we want ‘international’ in our name, the ministry wants us to have at least 75% of out academic staff to be PhD qualified. I would assume then the others don't have to meet that criterion,'' shares Ng.
He adds that Sedaya has only taken in academics with post-graduate qualifiations ever since it opened its doors to students in 1986 and that at present close to 30% of its lecturers are PhD holders.
Having highly qualified academic staff is, however, only part of the many requirements stipulated by the ministry. Others include having a purpose built campus (or at least plans for one), details on financial security, quality assurance procedures, organisational structure, facilities and so on.
“We cannot be a centre of education if quality is lacking in our education system. The requirements are high because quality must be kept high,” Hassan says.
Once a college feels it is ready to obtain university-college status, it must “apply to be invited” (see chart).
If successful, the institution would have to make a presentation on its readiness for university-college status to senior Private Education Department (JPS) officials. If the JPS is happy with the presentation then it will recommend the college to the Education Minister.
Next, the minister will visit the campus to check its facilities and see for himself the institution’s readiness to be upgraded. The college will have to make another presentation during the visit, this time for the minister and senior ministry officials.
After that only will an invitation to be upgraded to a university-college be given.
“I must stress that being invited does not mean a college will be upgraded to university-college status. It just means eligibility,” Hassan says.
L+G Twintech president Datuk Dr Ismail Md Salled adds that a detailed application would then have to be submitted before the minister makes a final decision.
“This is a long process as we have to work with the ministry to continuously check if we are meeting all the requirements as planned,” Ng adds.
As a gauge, Tan says Ikram received its invitation letter in January and was given a whole year to fulfil all the requirements.
“If all goes well, we hope to be known as KL Infrastructure University-College in a year’s time,” he shares.
Whether a college is “ready” or not to apply for university-college status is subjective. The common reaction from operators is: “We felt that we were ready so we applied.”
This does not say much considering there is no measure for readiness. However, going by ministry standards, it would mean colleges feeling confident enough to fulfil all requirements.
Experience is certainly no gauge as LUCCT, which first opened its doors to students in 1981 only recently secured university-college status while Kolej PTPTL, which was established in 1996, managed to do so in 2001. The latter was also the first to receive accreditation from the National Accreditation Board (LAN) for three of its programmes.
Campus too is not too great a gauge. Tan says Ikram is lucky as it took over the Public Works Department’s training institute and with that obtained a 100-acre campus in Kajang.
“From day one our plan was to obtain university-college status,” he says.
Twintech, on the other hand, still operates in an industrial area although it has plans for a purpose built campus in Lembah Beringin.
Enrolment also cannot be used as a gauge considering larger colleges like HELP Institute with about 7,000 students and Inti College Malaysia with 20, 000 students still have not been upgraded.
“The X-factor is something that is not revealed to us. I would imagine that it is a whole bunch of factors put together,” Ng opines.
At present, Ikram, Sedaya and Twintech are closest to securing university-college standing.
“We hope to be known as the Twintech International University-College of Technology by the end of the year,” Dr. Ismail says.
With 37 universities in the country now and a couple more in the works, the quota for universities in the country will soon be filled. Whether or not students find the new university-colleges more appealing, only time will tell.