Can Malaysia’s public universities survive with shrinking funds?
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Can Malaysia’s public universities survive with shrinking funds?

Can Malaysia’s public universities survive with shrinking funds?

In its budget for the coming year, the Malaysian government has slashed funds for public universities by just over 19 percent, or RM1.5 billion (US$356 million).

Out of the country’s 20 public universities, 10 will have to face drastic cuts to their operating budgets, ranging from 10 percent to 31 percent, reported the Malay Mail Online.

Even top-ranking institutions are not exempt – Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM), which is Malaysia’s fourth best university according to the latest QS World University Rankings, will see the biggest reduction in operating allocations, with 31 percent less funds in 2017 compared to the 2016 budget.

However, Universiti Teknologi MARA (UiTM) will lose the most in value, with RM563 million (US$133 million) cut from its budget next year.

 

The 2017 budget continues the trend of decreased government spending on higher education. When the 2016 budget was tabled last year, the Higher Education Ministry saw an RM2.4 billion reduction in its allocation from RM15.78 billion in 2015 to RM13.38 billion, while public universities suffered a drop of 16.5 percent in funds, sending shockwaves across the academic community.

According to a Malaysian academic, the budget cuts over the past few years have taken their toll on the country’s research and development (R&D) sector in particular.

In October, Dr. Ahmad Ibrahim, a Fellow at Academy of Sciences Malaysia, said in a letter to the New Straits Times that 2016 has been a challenging year for R&D in science and technology fields.

 

“It was definitely a painful year for the R&D community. The research universities were especially affected, not only by the drastic curtailment in R&D activities, but also by the cuts in funding for their contract research professors,” he wrote.

The letter, which was published prior to the tabling of the 2017 budget, urged the government to consider a turnaround in the new budget.

“Under the 2017 Budget, the science fraternity would like to appeal to the government to not only reinstate the R&D allocation according to the formula of preceding years, but also allocate more. It is in our long-term interest,” said Ahmad, citing the various negative implications any further cuts would have on the sector and Malaysia’s competitiveness on a global scale.

 

Despite the cuts, Higher Education Minister Idris Jusoh said that it should be “viewed positively”.

Idris said the reduction was part of the ministry’s overall plan to reduce public universities’ dependence on the government.

“It [the budget] is consistent with the Malaysia Education Blueprint 2013-2025, which doesn’t want public universities to be too dependent on the government,” he said, as quoted by local news wire Bernama.

 

Instead, he has urged universities to maximise the use of their assets, in addition to enlisting the help of alumni to do their part.

The ministry has even set a target to produce 60,000 PhD degree holders by 2023 under its MyBrain15 initiative.

Prime Minister Najib Razak also announced that in the 2017 budget, there would be additional funding for scholarships, with RM4.3 billion allocated compared to 2016’s RM2.65 billion, while a further RM300 million will be distributed to the top five research universities nationwide.

Image via Shutterstock

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