Higher Education Year in Review: Soaring Upwards Part 2: July – December 2015


The Return of the Higher Education Ministry.

Following Prime Minister Dato Sri Najib Razak’s cabinet reshuffle, the Ministry of Higher Education was re-established on 28th July 2015. 2nd Education Minister, Dato’ Seri Idris Jusoh was appointed as Minister of Higher Education while Deputy Minister of Education Datuk Mary Yap Kain Ching, was appointed Deputy Higher Education Minister.

The first order of business was to form a manifesto to spur the new ministry forward. Soaring Upwards became the official tagline of the Ministry. The spirit behind the motto lies in aiming for continual improvement, no matter big or small, in our country’s higher education landscape.

Yayasan Sukarelawan Siswa (YSS) volunteers (left) and UniMAP students doing the "Soaring Upwards" pose


On 24 August 2015, 17 students were honoured at the Community Colleges – MMC-Gamuda Internship Programme Convocation Ceremony. The ceremony marked the completion of a two-year internship programme for students of the Sabak Bernam and Kuantan Community Colleges who received qualifications as Tunnel Mechanics and Tunnel Electricians.

As interns, they received skills training and hands-on experience at the MMC-Gamuda Tunnel Training Academy. All 17 students have since received employment offers to utilize their expertise at MRT project sites in the Klang Valley – just 2 years after SPM, with relatively lucrative starting salaries.

This is one of many success stories that prove the future of the market lies with Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET).

It is predicted that 600,000 new TVET related-jobs will be created by 2020, making skill-based professions a viable and lucrative alternative to more conventional academic-focused careers. In time to come, TVET will no longer be seen as the second choice, but will be on par with any other educational pathway.


Idris Jusoh, Higher Education Minister (7th from left) with the Kolej Komuniti-MMC-Gamuda interns and VIPs doing the now-famous “Soaring Upwards” pose.


Early September, 14 Malaysian researchers from our public universities were recognised by world renowned organisation Thomson Reuters as recipients of its Rising Stars Award.

The accolade was given because these 14 individuals were deemed to be in the top 1% percentile most cited researchers in the world based on publications in high impact journals. 

The recognition was awarded based on data extracted from Thomson Reuters’ Essential Science Indicators, Web of Science database for the period between 2005 to 2014. The data also showed that Malaysian researchers excelled in 6 out of 21 fields, with energy, engineering and environment standout research areas.

Malaysia’s research output had grown almost six-fold in this nine-year period and it is heartening to see that the government’s injection of RM3.53 billion (with an ROI of RM5.33 billion) to propel Research & Development in our local universities are paying off.

Link to a piece I wrote on some research achievements: http://www.thestar.com.my/opinion/online-exclusive/whats-your-status/2015/02/05/many-higher-education-success-stories-are-overlooked/

Prof. Ir. Dr. Noor Azuan Abu Osman, University of Malaya, fixes a bionic prosthetic on Azman Yeop Akil, who becomes the first Malaysian handicapable person to cycle more than 1000km across the country. 


October marked another important juncture in our academic calendar as the official Ranking Fever Month (for better or for worse).

This year, Universiti Malaya (UM) did the country proud by breaking the top 150 barrier to rank the 146th best university in the world according to the 2015 QS World University Rankings.

Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) and Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM) have also seen continuous improvements in their world rankings, rising to the 289th and 331st spots respectively.

While we have some way to go to break into the top 100 in the world and match our Singaporean counterparts (whom we love to compare ourselves with), five of our research universities have performed commendably and can stand tall in the world arena.

According to the Higher Education Blueprint 2015-2025, Malaysia aims to have two local universities break the Top 100 barrier by 2020. I believe we are on track.

Aside from the QS rankings, Malaysian universities have also participated in various other rankings such as Times Higher Education (THE), Universitas 21 Ranking of National Higher Education Systems (U1), Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU).

Personally, I’m not the biggest fan of rankings and I’ve mentioned this in previous writings. So I’ll just reemphasize the view that rankings are important to enable us to benchmark against other institutions, but are not the be all and end all, as we must also remember that student development, values and other intangibles, such as the learning experience also counts.

How Malaysian universities rank in relation to other universities worldwide. Source: Ministry of Higher Education.

So, how do these rankings impact our nation?

One indicator is that our performance in the higher education sector was cited as a contributing factor in Malaysia’s rise by two places to 18th out of 140 economies in the World Economic Forum 2015 Global Competitiveness Report, consolidating our position among the world’s top 20 most competitive economies. Not bad.


History was created when debaters from Universiti Teknologi MARA (UiTM) won the main category of the 2015 Cambridge Intervarsity debate aka Cambridge IV, known as one of the toughest debate competitions in the world.

Mifzal Mohammed and Jasmine Ho Abdullah, both 22, defeated top universities including Oxford and Cambridge en route to the championship.

To add to the joyous occasion, debaters from the International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM) emerged champions of the English As Second Language Category. Speakers Ameera Natasha Moore, 22, and Sara Rahim, 20, defeated teams from Tel Aviv and Netherlands.

UiTM and IIUM have made the nation proud with this victory and have shown that our students can take on the best in the world.


4 Left to Right: Sara Rahim, Jasmine, Ameera and Mifzal


Calvin Woo, 20, who holds a diploma in English from Universiti Pendidikan Sultan Idris (UPSI) and is currently an Academic Fellow at the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative and Head of Programme at SASTRA Education Development emerged as one of the winners of the Queen’s Young Leaders Award for his role in transforming the lives of others.

He will be receiving his award from Queen Elizabeth next year. It is refreshing to read about young Malaysians who are creating a difference in their communities, for it gives us hope for what the future holds.

With regard to international students, according to UNESCO Malaysia is the 12th most popular education destination in the world for international students. Malaysia also aims to be a regional education hub and attract some 200,000 international students by 2020 – we are currently at 132,000+.

With this in mind, the Higher Education Ministry announced that international students can apply for their student passes online directly with Education Malaysia Global Services (EMGS) and that students passes will be eligible for the entire duration of their studies without having to renew it yearly. A small but significant change to bring Malaysia’s higher education system in line with international best practices.


The second half of 2015 began ceremoniously with the reemergence of the Higher Education  Ministry, followed by many encouraging achievements in the advancement of TVET, Research & Development, world university rankings and in co-curricular fields.

No doubt, there have been challenges and problems that will need to be faced. Combating extremist ideologies, managing international students, raising funds for higher education, and ensuring that students are able to meet the needs of the global economy… these are just some of them.

Be as it may, 2015 has been quite a year. In my personal opinion, we enter the new year on a strong footing, with more successes and achievements to look forward to. Here’s to 2016. Have a Happy #SoaringUpwards New Year.


Part 1: http://www.thestar.com.my/opinion/online-exclusive/whats-your-status/2015/12/24/higher-education-year-in-review-soaring-upwards/

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Danial Rahman

Danial Rahman

Danial Rahman has education close to his heart. He tweets at @danial_ari and welcomes feedback at danialrahman0330@gmail.com.


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