Malaysia - Research Quality Still Lagging Despite Huge Expansion Education Articles


Huge investment in higher education research and development in Malaysian universities since 2000 has not led to qualitative gains and increased innovation that would help boost a flagging economy and close the skills gap in the country, a new report on innovation policies by the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development or OECD has said. 

Acknowledging it takes time for research investment to translate into innovation and economic gains, Malaysia is still lagging in research quality the just released report, OECD Reviews of Innovation Policy: Malaysia 2016 said.

“Malaysia invests much more in tertiary education than its peers in the region,” the report said. “The government has increased public expenditure for higher education consistently over the years.”

Research and innovation capabilities in universities show signs of improving, but mostly in terms of quantity of publications rather than quality and impact. “Responsiveness to industry needs remains an area of concern, as is ensuring quality education in private universities,” the OECD added.

It said: “The quality and relevance of research needs to be strengthened as research impact tends to be low. Much of the intellectual property generated remains on laboratory shelves, and is un-commercialised.”

The OECD also cautioned against a slackening in the country’s emphasis on research. ”Building a well-performing innovation system requires persistent commitment,” the OECD said, sounding a warning on recent government policies to push universities to increase their share of non-government external funding for research.

This is a hot topic currently in Malaysia as the government has announced drastic cuts in higher education spending and research, saying institutions should be less reliant on government.


In recent years, regulatory reforms to increase the autonomy of institutions and improve university governance, and new monitoring and evaluation instruments have “resulted in improvements in higher education in a relatively short period of time”.

The sector has expanded significantly, which reflects growing demand for higher education.

Malaysia’s universities saw their research expenditure multiply eleven-fold between the year 2000 and 2012 and the number of researchers expand five-fold between 2006 and 2012, from 12,152 to 64,962 researchers. 

“However most of the new funding for R&D has remained concentrated in a small number of research universities, while other, more recently established higher education institutions are confined to the [teaching] mission in higher education with very limited research activity,” the report said, adding the latter had received a “varying level of funding over the last three years”.

The best performing universities have been granted more autonomy in exchange for a commitment to raise a significant share of funding externally, the report said. 

“While this is a positive development, overly tight financial constraints might create difficulties, at least for some universities – especially newer and smaller ones which lack capabilities and experience in revenue [generation]." 

Despite the huge growth, research efforts are fragmented both in the higher education system as a whole and within universities. “A lack of critical mass in many scientific areas reduces the potential impact of recent research in areas of importance to the Malaysian economy and society,” the report said. 

The country also lacks platforms and programmes that encourage inter-disciplinarity and multi-perspective approaches. 

Malaysia lacks a formal research roadmap, and should consider strengthening research through larger scale collaborations, for example, by merging or consolidating centres of excellence, the OECD recommends. 

Economic challenges

This has become more important as Malaysia has been facing challenges. “Overall the dynamism of the Malaysian economy has lessened over time,” the report says. Economic growth and productivity growth have slowed and some export market shares have declined in the past two decades. Malaysia’s comparatively low labour-cost advantage has dwindled as the economy has matured. 

“The East Asian region has been undergoing rapid change and Malaysian firms are facing new competition,” the report noted. 

“To respond to these challenges, the Malaysian economy will have to rely more on innovation-driven productivity gains.”

However, collaboration with the business sector remains underdeveloped, it said. Only a few universities have started to collaborate with industry in research and development and technology transfer activities.

“The attractiveness of university patents to industry and their practical applicability seems weak; this is in part due to the lack of relevant research to industry and communication between the two sectors.” - universityworldnews

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