UN special representatives and UNESCO, the US government’s own educational assessment teams and other multilateral bodies beholden to the west or running  western agendas have in recent years written highly unfavourable reports about Malaysia’s education system. These reports have been highly critical of Malaysia’s education system often unfairly and unrealistically comparing it to the education systems of places like the UK, US and Australia where many middle class Malaysian students go to study.

What all of these reports without exception have avoided mention of are the deteriorating and incredulous standards of many universities in the US, the UK and Australia and how they have deteriorated over the past few decades into shadows of their former selves.

Universities in each of these countries have virtually become degree factories for those from places like Malaysia who are able to afford their fees and meet the most basic (as opposed to stringent) requirements for entry into these institutions.

There are those amongst Malaysia’s opposition who are most vociferous in their condemnation of the Malaysian system quoting generously from these selective and doctored reports from abroad condemning Malaysia’s education system.

How could anyone forget the University of London’s awarding a PhD in engineering to Saif Al Islam Ghadaffi in return for a 1.5 million euro donation to the university. The scandal caused the resignation of amongst others Lord Patel from the board of the UoL.

There are many more examples of the decadence, the corrupted standards at universities in the UK, the US and Australia Malaysians and other Asians tend to look up to as pillars of knowledge, education and higher learning.

Not long ago an FBI investigation into education fraud discovered a thriving  business of “ring ins” for foreign students sitting the GRE (Graduate Record Examination) and the GMAT (Graduate Management Aptitude Test), the benchmark for entry to America’s best business, finance and law schools.

The scam run out of New Jersey works in a way whereby experienced and educated individuals are paid a fee to attend and sit the GRE and GMAT exams at various centres throughout the US using fake ID’s to represent a registered candidate.

The FBI believes up to 23% of entrants to top US business schools have gained entry to schools of their choice through this method. A question that arises then is how do they manage once admitted to these institutions?



“Moi Pak Choong, Mandy Wong and Lim Kok Lin poured $100,000 into Australia’s burgeoning education industry but are ashamed to admit they have degrees from one of our major regional universities.

The Malaysian students have been labelled cheats, potential employers are demanding proof that their masters degrees are legitimate and the students are desperate to distance themselves from Australia.

They turned their backs on Malaysia’s university system, convinced they would receive a superior tertiary education in Australia – and the students were prepared to pay thousands of dollars for that education.

International students are cash cows for funding-starved institutions and are estimated to be worth more than $2 billion to Australian universities each year.

Earlier this year, the students completed their Master of Business Administration degrees through the University of Newcastle. But they fear their qualifications will soon be worthless as the university that awarded them plunges deep into an administrative crisis.

On line opinion an e-journal of social and political debate reported the following a little later”

Adeline Lee Zhia Ern, a Malaysian writer  was caught plagiarizing Jack Canfield’s ‘Chicken Soup for the Soil IV’ in her first book ‘Lethal Lesson and other stories’, where her book was withdrawn from the market and destroyed. She is not alone in this regard. Perhaps one of few who was caught out.

An editor working for the New Straits Times, Brendan Pereira was dismissed because of plagiarizing the work of US journalist Mitch Albom. Last year, the Malaysian national news agency Bernama suspended a journalist for plagiarizing an article from the Jakarta Post.

Plagiarism is difficult to avoid especially where styles of writing have now evolved into smart short sentences, stock phrases and cliches. But that’s not the point of this article. It is about a mindset of what in south east Asia the Chinese call “Kiasu”. Achievement at any cost or better still ‘chutzpah’ from the Yiddish, meaning something similar. The results of this form of chutzpah or Kiasu as others like to call it are devastating and morally corrosive. The practice being pervasive and dangerously infectious it has become hard to police. Money it is said lies at the core of this problem.


A leaked report citing observations from a ministry of education report in  Australia dating back to 2013 reinforces earlier findings from internal investigations and individual assessments from many of Australia’s 40 odd universities highly critical of Malaysian students at Australian universities.

The report appears to confirm what is known, that not much has changed amongst Malaysia’s elite and wealthy middle class students who come to Australia for what they believe is a more robust, reliable and credible education. Not so according to the leaked report.

The number of international students enrolling at Australian universities is steadily increasing, with 15.5 per cent more students choosing to study in one of Australia’s 40 universities, according to IDP Education Australia.

Monash, RMIT and Curtin University of Technology have the highest number of international students. Malaysian students (mainly wealthy Chinese Malaysians) dominate the professional faculties of law, engineering, medicine and architecture at Melbourne, Sydney, UNSW, UQ, Adelaide and UNWA.

The numbers of Malaysian students caught cheating and the numbers whose results are distinctively at variance to their performance in class raises doubts about the credibility of the results these students obtain at the end of their terms as the scandal grows exponentially each year.

Monash university would not comment or co-operate when we called to verify certain allegations about the number or percentage of Malaysians caught or suspected of cheating. Monash university was at one time around 1998 embarrassed by a revelation that their vice chancellor Dr. Robinson had admitted to plagiarism.

Newcastle university and the scandal involving 15 students is no isolated case it seems. The Newcastle university scandal instead appears to be the tip of a very large iceberg according to some.

Newcastle is not the only institution to be plagued by allegations of cheating, cover-ups and corruption. An inquiry was held at Perth’s Curtin University after it was alleged that an overseas student was twice caught plagiarising essays yet still received a degree, and University of Wollongong academic Ted Steele was sacked, and later reinstated, after claiming he was told to upgrade marks for honours students.

More recently an investigation into plagiarism at Murdoch university raised suspicions over the work of a Malaysian PhD student there. The outcome of any investigation into suspected irregularities into the student/ academic’s work has not been made public.


A leaked internal report said to have been authored from within the University of Tasmania  about a decade ago identified amongst others, a now prominent Malaysian opposition politician member of state parliament and born again Christian at that, under suspicion of having had her work done for her by other students and possibly a tutor whilst at that University. The graduate obtained a law degree from the University of Tasmania.

Similar reports including strong anecdotal evidence emerging from Melbourne University, Sydney University, Monash and UNSW all indicate a strong consistent pattern of Malaysian students paying for their assessable take home assignments and take home examinations to be undertaken by others (paid professionals usually) on their behalfs without any personal effort on their part.


The difficulty for universities in policing the misconduct of students lies in the structural and systemic flaws that opens the doors to such misconduct. The dangers of take home exams coupled with the high percentage of overall grades and scores attributed to each term assignment in unsupervised conditions lies at the core of this problem. It is a test of a student’s honesty. And it is easily recognizable that ‘Kiasu’ and honesty are not complimentary concepts.

Final year exams are made more easy because in most Australian universities these are ‘open book’ exams where students sit exams with a variety of texts and materials available for them to take into the exam halls during an examination. And out of that final year examination is a total of 40% of the final assessment. The remainder of student assessment 60% of it comes from their assignments which is a take home unsupervised effort.


The conduct of Malaysian students at universities in the US and UK offers little comfort to the more honourable and honest amongst them.

Two former Malaysian students, one in Washington DC, the other in Texas who claim to be “consultants” and “academics” on Malaysian and Asian political and social affairs were recently outed as being frauds with a very vivid imaginations making false claims to impress their friends in the old country.

In the case of the “consultant” in Washington DC the university did admit that an individual bearing the name of the identity we inquired about was part of a Malaysian NGO casually admitted to their humanities department. As to whether that individual was a consultant, the administration officer we spoke to referred to his lack or paucity in academic credentials to warrant such a position with their university. The man continues on his LinkedIn page to claim to be a consultant, lecturer and a lawyer in Washington DC.

It is widely known that many students at English universities from the privileged and connected families from Malaysia tend to be ‘assisted’ and ‘tutored’ to a standard acceptable to the university they are enrolled in. What this means is those from this privileged class in residence, apart from receiving personal tuition, enjoy a certain degree of personal attention where their academic pursuits are concerned. It is a special kind of attention not available to the ordinary fee paying student.


There was a time when Indian degrees were denied recognition for the same reasons in Malaysia. Malaysian students who paid capitation fees to study medicine, economics and engineering were usually students who did not qualify to enter into these courses on merit or at the more competitive and expensive universities of the west.

Today Manipal University in south India formerly the by word for capitation fee medical degrees has cleaned up its act to become one of the foremost centres of educational excellence in Medicine in not just India but the world. Much like it, the Indian Institute of Technology too has become a world class institution whose former students now occupy positions as lecturers, tutors and researchers at some of the world’s best known institutions from Harvard and Yale to Cambridge and MIT in Massachusetts.

Education standards everywhere require a commitment and effort on the part of the student as much as it does on the reputation of the educational institution.  One cannot survive without the other. Because after all reputations are always about good reputations. The rest gets swept under the carpet till discovered or coated in sugary unworthy public relations gloss for those students from Malaysia at Australian universities seeking to acquire for themselves an expensive brand instead of a good education.




  1. IT.Scheiss says:

    Dear Kumar,

    Whilst there could well be some truth in these international and western institutions’ criticism of Malaysian university education and Malaysia’s education system in general, I would agree with you that they have ignored declining educational standards within their own institutions of higher learning and their respective education systems, or simply put – in their own back yard.

    I was a student at a UK university in the 1970s and we whilst we overseas students enjoyed paying a subsidised tuition fee, the then Labour government was gradially reducing the subsidy, resulting in us having to pay a higher tuition fee each year and we protested against this.

    The argument being promoted by the government and media back then was that overseas students were taking places from British students and that overseas students were being subsidies by the British taxpayer, which was true.

    The counter argument by more progressive leaders of overseas students’ protest was that the British government planned to cut funding of universities overall and began by cutting subsidies of overseas students first and promoted the argument that overseas students were takingthe places of British students as a divide and rule tactic to split opposition by the student body overall.

    Soon after Margaret Thatcher and her Conservatives won the elections in 1979, her government rasied to fees paid by overseas students from the around 650 pounds annually to 2,000 pounds annually, which was regarded as the unsubsidied fee back then. It is more like 7,000 pounds or more today.

    Soo after in the early 1980s, British universities began to hold education fairs – i.e. roadshows (more like cattle markets) in Malaysia and other Asian countries to get overseas students to come to study in Britain at the full fee.

    I learned from lecturers and senior administrators of my former university that the Conservative government had been reducing funding of universities, which were expected to market themselves more aggressively, hence the move to woo more overseas students to study there.

    And, I thought to myself, “So Comrade Zulfi was so right, now British universities are holding these cattle markets in Asia to find overseas students who pay the full fee to subsidies British students and to keep the universities going”.

    Also under the Thatcher government, many British polytechnics and colleges of education were elevated to university status. Previously, polytechnics offered a university-level education based upon sylabi specified externally by what then was the Council of National Academic Awards (CNAA) and they set examinations set by the CNAA and were awarded degrees by the CNAA, not the polytechnic.

    My British student friends and some former lecturers told me that such an increase in the number of universities which had to compete commercially for students both British and overseas, resulted in them lowering their entry requirements and academic standards.

    Also, when I visted my university in 1999, 20 years after graduation, my former physics lecturer told me that the standard of A-Level qualifications of fresh students entering the first year had declined and these students would have reached the same standard of A-Level holders in the 1970s only at the end of their first year at university.

    I understand that the same changes also took place at universities in Commonwealth countries such as Australia and perhaps also New Zealand, so I do not doubt what you have revealed in your article, since I have independent confirmation of the fact that standards of university education in the west, well in the UK have decline due to the commercialisation of education, even at government universities due to the increasing adoption of neo-liberal policies by western governments, has resulted in universities and colleges having to compromise on their educational standards to survive in the face of competition from their peers in a race to the bottom.

    We have seen a similar process take place in Malaysia, with the explosion of private university colleges in the past 20 or so years, many of doubtful standards, and some even dismissively denounced as “China Doll Universities” for giving places to overseas students from other parts of the world who use the place to get a student visa to come to Malaysia and do something else here (such as prostitution) instead of attending courses.

    The October 2010 edition of the ICT Human Capital Development Framework by the National ICT Human Resources Task Force, blames the unemployability of the majority of information and communication technology (ICT) graduates from Malaysian institutions on the lack of standardisation of the ICT course currilculum and standards of qualification, especially across private educational institutions.

    For example, this report contains a shart which shows that of the total of 29,957 ICT graduates overall in 2012, only 2,995 qualified to meet the employers’ demand for 22,663 ICT graduates that year, resulting in 19,668 graduates who did not meet employers’ requirements. So just over 10% of ICT graduates from Malaysian institutions in 2012 met the requirements of employers.

    This resulted in a glut of unemployable ICT graduates, which in turn resulted in a decline in interest amongst students to take ICT courses, so turned to more traditional courses such as law, accountancy, engineering and medicine, a concern this task force comprised of representatives from the Ministry of Education, academia and a professional ICT body was set up to attempt to rectify, especially when Malaysia wants to build up her ICT industry through initiatives such as MSC Malaysia.

    Whether or not this task force can achieve its objective is left to be seen but the bottom line is that education is not something which can be commercialised and regarded as a money making business, and this applies whether in Malaysia or in the western countries.

    There are those who will hold up universities in Singapore such as NUS, NTU and SMU in Singapore in comparison to Malaysian governement universities. Well one should ask as to what extent NUS, NTU and SMU, the three largest public universities in Singapore have been commercialised compared to public and private universities elsewhere.

    Sure, there are issues in Malaysian public universities and schools today compared to 30 or 40 years ago but you are right that similar problems have happened in educational institutions inthe west as well.

    As for plagiarisation, well I have seen that amongst several Malaysian authors of books, who regurgitate material cut, paste and edited from other sources and pass it off as their own work. In the late 1990s I had to review a book on the MSC Malaysia initiative by a Malaysian management consultant and caught him out when he wrote that we would be able to remotely turn on the heater in our Malaysian smart homes from our phone whilst driving home from work.

    Except for homes up Cameron Highlands and Frasers Hill, how many Malaysian home use heaters! So it was pretty obvious that he had cut, paste and edited this detail from a book by some western technology futurist.

    I also caught this guy out when he wrote that “Bill Gate’s home is made of silicon”. Sure, it may contain plenty of high-tech devices containing silicon chips but a home made of silicon!!!!

    Anyway, how many smart homes do we have in Malaysia 20 years later, the facilities in which Malaysians remotely control. The closes we have come are remotely controlled automatic gates and home remote surveillance systems. I’m sure not many Australians have such smart homes either and all this is just a fantasy promoted by ICT industry marketers, just like those Hanna-Barbera cartoon TV series The Jetsons I used to watch on TV way back in the 1960s. Sure, we may soon have robotic humanoid maid like Rosie but nothing much more, especially not with property prices many young Malaysians cannot afford.

    I kind of think it’s more likely that the world is heading towards becomining more like that other Hanna_Barbera series, The Flintstones.

    The bottom line is that the Internet and the increasing adoption of “progressive” educational practices especially in the west has only aided and encourages copy and paste.

    Like when I was writing a column on the Y2K “millennium bug” resulting from the year being represented by its last two digits in computers, in the run up to 1 January 2000, I came across the same thing being said about the issue by “Y2K experts” and “consultants” around the world and it became obvious that they were just repeating what another had said, thanks in no small measure to the global nature of the Internet.


    • grkumar says:

      Thank you. A very useful an informative addition to the issue. The point I was trying to make is that the very classes of people who are able to afford a “better foreign” education (by virtue to their subscribing to the same “foreign criticisms of Malaysia’s education) are unable to see or remove the speck in the other fellows eye for the beam in their own to use a biblical phrase. Their readiness to criticise Malaysia’s education system because some foreign body as incredulous as the UN representative for education thinks so.

      Singapore’s universities produce great engineers and economists and doctors as well (defining the quality of the last one is very subjective). Their tie ups with top foreign universities is also impressive. Singapore’s education system has sadly though not raised the overall level of consciousness of the “educated Singaporean” who still languishes in a parochial straight jacket mindset degree parchment in hand and all.

      Like everything else Singaporean today it is an effort by government to attract the “best and brightest” whatever that means. Judging from the mass migration of the super rich to the island state, I think it is to attract an exclusive wealthy enclave of rote learners instead of creative minds.


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