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Masters in Malaysia

by Mark Bennett

Why study for a Masters degree in Malaysia?

Studying a Masters in Malaysia will give you the chance to benefit from one of the world's fastest growing economies and higher education systems. Malaysia is one of several South-East Asian nations taking a prominent place on the world stage in the early twenty-first century. This is reflected in Malaysia's expanding higher education system and the expanding range of opportunities to study a Masters degree at one of its universities. The economic success of Malaysian business and high-tech industry has been re-invested in higher education and research, and the Malaysian Ministry of Higher Education (MOHE) is keen to attract more postgraduate students from overseas to enhance the international success and recognition of its academic research and training. As a result, many Masters degrees in Malaysia are taught in English and over 60,000 overseas students already study at the country's universities.

Opportunities for cutting-edge postgraduate education exist in all of the high-tech science and engineering fields in which Malaysia is becoming established. Other programmes take advantage of Malaysia's natural resources; some of the oldest tropical rainforest in the world is in Malaysia, and the country's universities are busy exploring this outstanding biodiversity with innovative research in ecology, medicine and natural sciences. If your interests are in arts and humanities subjects you'll also find plenty of opportunities to study Masters programmes that explore the region's unique cultural history.

Masters degrees at Malaysian universities

Malaysia's rapidly developing higher education system has led a variety of institutions to become established in the country. They include public and private domestic universities, as well as a number of international campuses set up in collaboration with foreign institutions. All can potentially offer postgraduate programmes, but the majority of Malaysian Masters degrees are awarded by public universities.

Malaysia's public universities receive funding and investment from the government, but are autonomous higher education providers with the freedom to administer their own teaching and research. It is these public universities that have so far been most successful in regional and international rankings.

Private universities are a more recent phenomenon in Malaysian higher education, having been established following an act passed in 1996. They are established and funded by independent organisations, but the overall quality of their programmes is still monitored by branches of the Malaysian government.

The increasing number of international branch campuses in Malaysia is evidence of the country's interest in collaborating with overseas research institutes, attracting international students and contributing to a global research agenda. The Masters programmes they offer may be accredited by the Malaysian host institution or the overseas partner, depending on the specific arrangement for each individual campus. You can read more about studying a Masters degree at an international branch campus on FindAMasters.com.

Accreditation of Malaysian Masters degrees

Overall quality control at all of Malaysia's higher education institutions is the responsibility of MOHE, with a specific body - the Malaysian Qualifications Agency - monitoring postgraduate degrees. You can read more about accreditation and quality assurance for Malaysian Masters degree programmes at the MOHE website.

Structure and content of Masters degrees in Malaysia

The Malaysian academic year involves two teaching semesters, running from January to May and from June to November. Short holiday periods break up these terms, with a longer vacation between November and January. The length of a Malaysian Masters degree is measured in individual semesters, but, in practice, programmes run for between one and three years depending on the specific course and subject area. Students registered for part-time or distance learning programmes may take slightly longer.

The course content and assessment of Malaysian Masters programmes varies. Some follow a familiar international format, with semesters of teaching and assessment followed by independent research on a dissertation project. Others do not include the dissertation, but instead focus on a broader range of taught units. They do incorporate independent study and group project work however, making them attractive for students intending to pursue a range of career paths. Malaysia also offers MPhil and PhD programmes, which are almost entirely research based.

Whatever form of Malaysian Masters degree you choose to study, you will be expected to earn a defined number of credits in order to receive your qualification. Most Masters programmes will require you to complete units to the value of at least 42 credits, each of which corresponds with between 20 and 30 hours of formal study. On programmes with a dissertation component, this part of your programme will be worth six or more credits.

Applying for a Masters in Malaysia

Malaysia does not operate a central admissions service. Instead you should apply for a Masters degree in Malaysia by contacting universities directly. Individual institutions will have varying admissions requirements for postgraduate programmes, but all will require you to either hold an undergraduate Bachelors degree in a relevant subject area. If you do not hold a Bachelors degree or its equivalent, you may be admitted if you can demonstrate substantial professional experience.

Other entry criteria for Malaysian Masters programmes will be set by individual universities. Most will want to see some evidence of your enthusiasm and aptitude for postgraduate study. This will usually involve providing a personal statement, covering your existing academic experience and research interests as well as providing information on any relevant professional or work experience. In some cases you may need to support this statement with academic transcripts and references.

You may also need to have your existing degrees recognised and accredited by your prospective university in Malaysia. This will usually be a quick and simple process for undergraduate qualifications awarded by well-known higher education systems.

Language requirements

The official language of Malaysia is Malay, but a drive to increase the recruitment of foreign students has seen large numbers of English-language Masters programmes being set up at Malaysian universities. If English is not your first language, you may be asked to take a test of academic English. Common international language tests such as the TOEFL and the IELTS are usually accepted by Malaysian universities. Minimum required scores are usually in the region of 550-700 for the TOEFL and 5-7 for the IELTS. You can read more about international language tests for Masters study at FindAMasters.com. Individual Malaysian universities will also be able to provide specific information about the language requirements and other criteria for their postgraduate programmes.

Visas and immigration for Masters students in Malaysia

All international students seeking to study a Masters in Malaysia will need to go through an immigration procedure. This is a relatively simple process, designed to make the country attractive to international postgraduate applicants. The equivalent to a visa for international students in Malaysia is known as a 'Student Pass' and is usually applied for through Malaysian educational institutions before being processed by the Malaysian Immigration Department.

In order to acquire a Student Pass you will, of course, need to officially qualify as a student in Malaysia. This can be done by providing evidence that you have been accepted at a Malaysian university, are able to meet course fees and living expenses, and are in good health. Bear in mind that Student Passes are only valid for study at a single institution; if you transfer to another Masters programme or cease studying you will need to apply for a new Student Pass or make alternative visa arrangements to remain in Malaysia.

Application for a Malaysian Student Pass will incur a small processing fee - usually between MYR50-60 ($15-19) - in addition to a variable fee for the issuing of the Student Pass itself (dependent on your country of origin). In some cases you may also be asked to pay a small personal bond. This is to ensure students only enter Malaysia for the purpose of genuine academic study and it will be refunded in full upon the completion of your degree programme.

Different criteria apply to students of some countries. If you are a national of Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nigeria, Bhutan, Sri Lanka or India you will need to seek formal approval from the Malaysian Immigration Department before entering Malaysia. If you are a citizen of the People's Republic of China, you will need to apply for your visa through a Malaysian embassy in China. You can find more information about visas and immigration for Malaysian Masters degrees at the website of MOHE.

Fees and funding for Masters degrees in Malaysia

Tuition fees for Malaysian Masters programmes are generally affordable in comparison to other opportunities for international postgraduate study. A range of funding packages are also available for Masters courses in Malaysia, with the Malaysian government particularly keen to increase research outputs and international prestige through investment in its universities.

The exact costs will vary between universities and subject areas. As a guide, MBA programmes will be the most expensive with annual fees in the region of MYR13,000 to 25,000 ($4,000-7,800); fees for other Masters programmes may be lower with some subjects costing as little as MYR 1,800 ($560) per year.

Funding for Masters programmes in Malaysia takes various forms. Universities may offer fellowships and scholarships from their own funds and endowments in order to support postgraduate students. These will usually cover full fees and maintenance, but will be awarded on the basis of merit and can be very competitive. In some cases you may also be able to take up an assistantship within your department, being paid in return for undertaking teaching, demonstrating and administrative duties. These opportunities are more likely to be offered to PhD students, but may be available to sufficiently advanced Masters students in some cases.


Our own postgraduate funding website provides a comprehensive database of small grants and bursaries available to support postgraduate study around the world, including travel bursaries, living cost support, fee waivers and exchange programmes. Click here to start searching for funding to study a Masters in Malaysia, or elsewhere.

Careers and employment prospects with a Malaysian Masters degree

Though Malaysia is a relatively recent arrival in the global higher education arena, its universities are already performing well in Asian league tables and are beginning to receive recognition in major international league tables. The country’s fast-moving high-tech industries and businesses are also acquiring international renown. All of this means that a Masters degree from a Malaysian university will equip you well for international professional opportunities as well as offering an excellent preparation for further postgraduate study in Malaysia or elsewhere in South East Asia at PhD level. In addition, your time studying abroad in a different cultural environment will demonstrate adaptability and independence – attributes that will enhance your CV for future employers.

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