If one has been reading the Chinese press in Malaysia over the past few weeks and is, like me, very interested in higher education matters, one will not have missed two stories detailing foreign universities (from Taiwan & China) collaborating with Chinese non-governmental-organizations (NGO) in delivering academic degree programmes partially in Malaysia.

The sudden interest by Taiwanese universities to establish a foothold in Malaysia is understandable, given the excess capacities that they collectively had. In fact this author, through the grapevine has been informed to “expect more to come”.

However, the law of the land (that is the Private Higher Education Institution Act, ACT 555) will only permit a foreign university to offer its academic programme here under two circumstances:

  1. It is an approved branch campus such as Monash University, Nottingham University, Curtin University etc. under the ACT 555; or
  2. It is collaborating with a private higher education institution in Malaysia that is approved under ACT 555.

Thus, if you are responsible for bringing a foreign institution into Malaysia to deliver, even partially, an academic programme, and your organization or the foreign institution does not fall into either of the circumstances above, you are then committing an offence or offences under ACT 555!

Teaching in an unapproved institution is also an offence

Article 81 (1) (c) of ACT 555 states, “Where – (c) any person is working or is a teacher in a private higher educational institution which is not approved and registered under this Act;… such private higher education institution or chief executive or person shall be guilty of an offence and shall, on conviction, be liable to a fine not exceeding ten thousand ringgit or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding one month or to both.”

Although I have not been to law school, but my reading of ACT 555 over the last 20 odd years tells me that Article 81 (1) (c) specifically requires that anyone teaching in any academic programme, be it a diploma, bachelor degree or Master’s must make sure that the said programme is offered by a private higher education institution that is approved under this Act. Under Article 51 of ACT 555, a teaching permit is mandatory for anyone delivering a higher education class. Thus any foreign professors delivering their classes in Malaysia will violate not only Article 81(1)(c) but also Article 51.

It also implies that any foreign institution which is not approved under ACT 555 to operate in Malaysia and conducts a course of study leading to an academic award, whether to be conferred in Malaysia or not, is deemed have violated this act.

You may teach in English or Arabic ONLY with special approval!

Further, Article 41 (1) and (3) (a) place restriction on the medium of instructions where it states, “41 (1) All private higher educational institutions shall conduct its courses of study in the national language.
…(3) Notwithstanding subsection (1), the private higher educational institution may, with the approval of the Minister— (a) conduct a course of study or a substantial part of a course of study in the English language; or (b) conduct the teaching of Islamic religion in Arabic.”

Any veteran of the private higher education industry will tell you that it will be a “matter of course” for a private higher education institution to obtain the approval to conduct a course of study in English or Arabic.

Delivering academic programme in Chinese is a different kettle of fish all together. There are only five private higher education institutions among close to 500 in Malaysia that have obtained approval to offer academic programmes that are delivered in Chinese. And these are all in the area of Chinese studies which, has been argued successfully, must be delivered using the Chinese language. Thus offering programmes such as sport science, management, MBA etc. that are fully conducted in Chinese, will contravene Article 41(1) of ACT 555.

Providing your premise to unapproved institution is an offence!

Further, Article 80 which states, “Any— (a) person who, being the owner or occupier of any house, building, premise or place, has failed to take all reasonable steps to prevent the same from being used as a private higher educational institution in contravention of this Act…….shall be guilty of an offence and shall, on conviction, be liable to a fine not exceeding two hundred thousand ringgit or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years or to both.”

Essentially, Article 80 means that any organization, NGO, persons who let their premise to be used as a private higher education institution that is not approved under ACT 555 will be deemed to have committed an offence. Thus the use of the premises of Chinese guilds and clan associations for this purpose is illegal.

There are some amendments to ACT 555 that have been passed by the upper house of the Parliament (Dewan Negara) which will further tighten the rule books. More amendments to ACT 555 can be expected in the near future.

What about the Malaysian learners?

For learners, they should be made aware by these foreign universities and their local collaborators who are not approved under ACT 555 that any qualifications earned, even though these are conferred overseas, will not received any accreditation and recognition by the Malaysian Qualifications Agency. Thus any local learners who aspire to use such academic qualifications for career advancement, or for higher level academic studies stand a chance of being disappointed. Furthermore if such academic qualifications are to be used for admission to professional bodies and for licensing purposes, the relevant bodies or agencies which often require a detailed career information will discover that the qualifications offered (which was partly delivered in Malaysia) were not awarded in accordance to ACT 555. These learners will have the option then to seek legal redress from the foreign university and its collaborator for having misinformed them! Hence foreign universities which deliver academic programme fully or partially in Malaysia without adhering to ACT 555 should also be aware of the legal risks that they are exposed to, which will extend beyond being pursued by the authorities in Malaysia!

What can foreign universities do?

It is necessary for any foreign higher education institutions (especially Taiwanese & Chinese universities who are the newbies to the Malaysian market) to respect the law of the land and only collaborate with approved private colleges and universities and do so within the confine of ACT 555!

Setting up your teaching centres in Malaysia without adhering to ACT 555 is like you setting up a barbecue party at someone’s backyard without the owner’s consent and without inviting the owner!

For those who are interested, a copy of ACT 555 (in Bahasa Malaysia) is available here  with the approved amendments  in 2012.

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