Malaysia is a constitutional monarchy with an elected federal parliamentary government. It is a federation of thirteen states in Southeast Asia. Malaysia is well-endowed with natural resources in areas such as agriculture, forestry as well as minerals and it is one of the most pleasant, hassle-free countries to visit in Southeast Asia. It’s buoyant and wealthy, and has moved towards a pluralist culture based on a vibrant and interesting fusion of Malay, Chinese, Indian and indigenous cultures and customs. Malaysia’s love of Western-style industrialization is abundantly clear in its big cities.

Area:329,847 sq km
Religion:Muslim 60.4%, Buddhist 19.2%, Christian 9.1%, Hindu 6.3%, Confucianism, Taoism, other traditional Chinese religions 2.6%, other or unknown 1.5%, none 0.8%
Languages:Bahasa Malaysia (official), English, Chinese (Cantonese, Mandarin, Hokkien, Hakka, Hainan, Foochow), Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Panjabi, Thai
Government type:constitutional monarchy
Capital:Kuala Lumpur


During the late 18th and 19th centuries, Great Britain established colonies and protectorates in the area of current Malaysia; these were occupied by Japan from 1942 to 1945. In 1948, the British-ruled territories on the Malay Peninsula formed the Federation of Malaya, which became independent in 1957. Malaysia was formed in 1963 when the former British colonies of Singapore and the East Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak on the northern coast of Borneo joined the Federation. The first several years of the country’s history were marred by Indonesian efforts to control Malaysia, Philippine claims to Sabah, and Singapore’s secession from the Federation in 1965.


Malaysia, a middle-income country, transformed itself from 1971 through the late 1990s from a producer of raw materials into an emerging multi-sector economy. Growth was almost exclusively driven by exports – particularly of electronics. As a result, Malaysia was hard hit by the global economic downturn and the slump in the information technology (IT) sector in 2001 and 2002. Growth topped 7% in 2004 and 5% per year in 2005-06. As an oil and gas exporter, Malaysia has profited from higher world energy prices. Healthy foreign exchange reserves and a small external debt greatly reduce the risk that Malaysia will experience a financial crisis over the near term similar to the one in 1997. The economy remains dependent on continued growth in the US, China, and Japan – top export destinations and key sources of foreign investment.


The two distinct parts of Malaysia, separated from each other by the South China Sea, share a largely similar landscape in that both West and East Malaysia feature coastal plains rising to often densely forested hills and mountains, The local climate is equatorial and characterized by the annual southwest (April to October) and northeast (October to February) monsoons. Putrajaya is the newly created administrative capital for the federal government of Malaysia, aimed in part to ease growing congestion within Malaysia’s capital city, Kuala Lumpur. Kuala Lumpur remains the seat of parliament, as well as the commercial and financial capital of the country. Other major cities include Georgetown, Ipoh, Johor Bahru, Kuching, Kota Kinabalu, Alor Star, Malacca Town, and Klang.


Malaysia is a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural and multilingual society, consisting of 62% Malays, 24% Chinese, 8% Indians, the rest are others and indigenous people. The Malays, which form the largest community, are defined as Muslims in the Constitution of Malaysia. The Malays play a dominant role politically and their native language is Malay (Bahasa Melayu), which is the national language of the country. The largest non-Malay indigenous tribe is the Iban of Sarawak, who number over 600,000. The Bidayuh, numbering around 170,000, are concentrated in the south-western part of Sarawak. The largest indigenous tribe in Sabah is the Kadazan. The 140,000 Orang Asli, or aboriginal peoples, comprise a number of different ethnic communities living in Peninsular Malaysia. The Chinese population in Malaysia is mostly Buddhist (of Mahayana sect), Taoist or Christian and they have historically been dominant in the Malaysian business community. The Indians in Malaysia are mainly Hindu Tamils from southern India speaking Tamil, but there are also other Indian communities. Eurasians, Cambodians, Vietnamese, and indigenous tribes make up the remaining population. Malaysian traditional music is heavily influenced by Chinese and Islamic forms. The country has a strong tradition of dance and dance dramas, some of Thai, Indian and Portuguese origin. Other artistic forms include wayang kulit (shadow puppet theatre), silat (a stylised martial art) and crafts such as batik, weaving, and silver and brasswork.


Education in Malaysia may be obtained from government-sponsored schools, private schools, or through homeschooling. The education system is highly centralized, particularly for primary and secondary schools, with state and local governments having little say in the curriculum or other major aspects of education. Standardized tests are a common feature, as in other Asian countries such as Singapore and China, which attain to high number of school dropouts.

Education in Malaysia broadly consists of a set of stages which are:

  • Pre-school
  • Primary Education
  • Secondary Education
  • Tertiary Education
  • Postgraduate

Only Primary Education in Malaysia is mandated by law, hence it is not a criminal offense to neglect the educational needs of a child after six years of Primary Education.

Starting in 2003, the government introduced the use of English as a medium of teaching in all science subjects, although this creates a discrimination between students who are and who are not fluent in English.

Attendance in a pre-school program is not universal and generally only affluent families can afford to send their children to private, for profit pre-schools.

Primary education consists of six years of education, referred to as Year 1 to Year 6 (also known as Standard 1 to Standard 6). Year 1 to Year 3 are classified as Level One (Tahap Satu in Malay) while Year 4 to Year 6 are considered as Level Two (Tahap Dua). Primary education begins at the age of 7 and ends at 12. Students are promoted to the next year regardless of their academic performance.

Secondary Education consists of 5 years of schooling referred to as Form 1 to Form 5. At the end of Form 5, students are required to take the Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) or Malaysian Certificate of Education examination, before graduating from secondary school. The SPM was based on the old British ‘School Certificate’ examination before it became General Certificate of Education ‘O’ Levels examination, which became the GCSE (General Certificate of Secondary Education). As of 2006, students are given a GCE ‘O’ Level grade for their English paper in addition to the normal English SPM paper.

After the SPM, students would have a choice of either studying Form 6 or the matriculation (pre-university). If they are accepted to continue studying in Form 6, they will also take the Sijil Tinggi Persekolahan Malaysia or Malaysian Higher School Certificate examination (its British equivalent is the General Certificate of Education ‘A’ Levels examination or internationally, the Higher School Certificate). Form 6 consists of two years of study which is known as Lower 6 (Tingkatan Enam Rendah) and Upper 6 (Tingkatan Enam Atas). The STPM is not nearly as difficult as the GCE A levels despite similar scope of its syllabus. Although it is generally taken by those desiring to attend public universities in Malaysia, it is internationally recognized and may also be used, though rarely required, to enter private local universities for undergraduate courses.

The academic independence of public universities’ faculty has been questioned. Critics like Bakri Musa cite examples such as a scientist who was reprimanded by Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak for “publishing studies on air pollution”, and a professor of mathematics at University Kebangsaan Malaysia who was reproved for criticizing the government policy of teaching mathematics and science in English at the primary and secondary levels.

Students also have the choice of attending private institutions of higher learning. Many of these institutions offer courses in cooperation with a foreign institute or university. Some of them are branch campuses of these foreign institutions.

Tertiary education in the public universities is heavily subsidized by the government. Malaysian applicants to public universities must have completed the Malaysia matriculation program or have an STPM grade. Excellence in these examinations does not guarantee a place in a public university. The selection criteria are largely opaque as no strictly enforced defined guidelines exist.

Many private colleges offer programs whereby the student does part of his degree course here and part of it in the other institution, this method is named “twinning”. The nature of these programs is somewhat diverse and ranges from the full “twinning” program where all credits and transcripts are transferable and admission is automatic to programs where the local institution offers an “associate degree” which is accepted at the discretion of the partnering university. In the latter case, acceptance of transcripts and credits is at the discretion of the partner.

Some foreign universities and colleges have also set up branch campuses in Malaysia, including:

  • Monash University, Australia.
  • The University of Nottingham, United Kingdom
  • SAE Institute, Australia
  • Swinburne University of Technology, Australia
  • Curtin University of Technology, Australia

Myanmar Connections

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List of universities selected based on high quality and/or connections to Myanmar: