IT is considered as an enabler for Malaysia to transform itself from a developing country to an industrialized nation. IT has left an immense impact on the nature and structure of higher education in Malaysia and will continue to play a prominent role in its future. This paper presents to the readers how IT utilization has enabled the country to offer quality education to its citizen in-line with the requirements of its labor market and the Net generation. The reader is first introduced to the present day youth of Malaysia and the situation faced by the country with respect to higher education. This is followed by a description of the factors that makes it conducive for IT implementation in higher education. The paper then dwells on the status of IT utilization in higher education in Malaysia. Next, we discuss how IT will be further utilized in order to realize our plan and vision of higher education for the future so as to be able to meet the needs of the country’s ever increasing student and evolving population. Finally, we conclude with the hope that by sharing the Malaysian experience of IT utilization in higher education, the less developed country could conceive new ideas of how similar efforts can be emulated and optimistically trigger off collaborative efforts with the more advanced South East Asian countries.
Keywords: IT in education, Net-generation, e-learning, virtual university, mobile learning.
As Malaysia progresses towards the higher end of developing country spectrum, its society is simultaneously changing. The traditional mode of learning is no longer suitable to its fast changing youth. The Malaysian youth of today are evolving increasingly to what is described as the e-generation or e-geners or n-geners (Wim Veen, 2002 and Wim Veen, et al., 2003). These youth possess some notably positive characteristics such as;
Efficient information seekers
Able to do multi-tasking
Able to make sense quickly out of huge visual information
Have a non-linear approach to learning.
For these youth technology is a natural and necessary part of their lives. They use mobile phones and emails to communicate. They are quite adept at using the Internet, actively involved in online communities, skillful at downloading videos and music over to their computers and locating information from electronic or virtual libraries. Many e-geners self-taught themselves to build their own website. Their natural use of technologies, unquestionably requires a change in the pedagogy of learning and teaching.
Another situation which has to be dealt with by the Ministry of Education is the ever increasing number of youth seeking higher education. Malaysia has 11 public universities and 6 newly established university colleges. On top of this, there are already more than 200 private universities and colleges. Student enrolments in Malaysian universities increases over more than 53 times from 2,835 in the 60s to about 239,845 in 2001 in the eleven public universities in Malaysia (Figure 1) (Malaysian Educational Statistics, 2002). This does not include enrolments at the private colleges and universities, which is estimated to be about 100,000 (Noran and Ahmad, 2003, 12p). Student enrolment between 1997 and 2001 indicate a large increase in 1999, which began to taper off in 2000 and 2001. By the year 2020, the Malaysian government envisions at least 21% of college bound youth should be able to receive higher education. Currently, the government emphasizes a ratio of 60:40 students in the S & T compared to the Arts and Humanities. The spread in location of the HEIs have also changed over the years from urban- based (centering in the Kuala Lumpur or Penang area) to the north and south of the main peninsular as well as to the Borneo states.
Another factor that has contributed to the high enrolment is the depreciation of the Malaysian Ringgit in 1998. Prior to the currency crisis, Malaysia sends thousands of its students to study abroad annually, mainly to the UK, USA, Australia, India and the Middle East. These students were selected based on merits and received financial assistance from the government and other agencies to study medicine, engineering, dentistry, pharmacy, accountancy, law, Islamic Studies and even Computer Science/IT. At that time, many private students study abroad too and they were supported by their affluent parents and relatives. When the currency crisis hit Malaysia, this practice stopped almost completely and the local universities and colleges have to absorb these selected students.
2.0 Contributing Factors to IT Utilization in the Malaysian Higher Education
IT utilization in both private and public higher educational institutions is widespread. This is made possible by the government’s supportive financial allocations, IT adoption policy, the level of IT awareness of the Malaysian society in general and the availability of the essential infrastructure.
2.1 Financial Allocations
The Malaysian government is serious in meeting its higher education needs. This is reflected in its budgetary allocation for this sector. The Malaysian government’s expenditure on higher education is about 20% of total expenditure in 2001 (Figure 2) (Yearbook of Statistics, 2001).
2.2 IT Adoption Policy
The Malaysian government envisions the public and private sectors to exploit S & T to improve the economic performance of the nation. S & T is expected to play a critical role in social, environmental and health care programs, to sustain development, and to create jobs. The general drive of the S & T policy is to turn public sector science towards the market place and to look for future S & T growth and applications within the business sector. Over the 20 years, Malaysia has shaped a coherent S & T policy, which have successfully;
Integrate S & T in the national development planning;
Fund and manage R & D;
Strengthen R & D infrastructure;
Popularize the use of information and communication technology (ICT) through the establishment of Internet in Malaysia, the creation of centers of excellence in science, the establishment of the Academy of Sciences Malaysia and the establishment of Malaysian Science and Technology Information Centre (MASTIC);
Establish S & T Advisory System in the shape of the National Council for Scientific Research and Development;
Promote the use of technology through the establishment of Technology Parks and incubators; and
Integrate excellence in S & T human resource though awards such as the National Science Fellowship, increase opportunities for postgraduate, post-doctoral and in-service training (National Science and Technology Policy, 2003).
The new S & T policy formulated in 2003 emphasizes the creation of the right environment that can turn ideas and creativity into competitive businesses. The expected financial quantum required to implement these proposals is estimated to be about RM9.5 billion. The new S & T policy is based on the premise that investments need to be made in the following areas in order to transform ideas into products, processes and services;
Develop the manpower capacity and capability
Increase and strengthen S & T infrastructure;
Enhance strategic linkages; and
Promote a culture of excellence in science, innovation and entrepreneurship.
The above-mentioned policy has also resulted in an increase in R & D spending on IT. The Fifth Malaysia Plan covering 1985-1989 (Malaysia, 1989) embodied this commitment with a whole section (chapter 8) on “science and technology”, in which the government unveiled her vision of an industrialized nation by the year 2020. Subsequent 5-year plans have included the government’s policy on S & T research and development management schemes. Information and communication (ICT) research featured prominently in these five Malaysia Plans (Malaysia, 1991, ). The Malaysian government’s expenditure on R & D activities based on fields of research (FOR), indicate that most government research agencies and institutions concentrated in Information, computer and communication technology (40.4%) followed by agricultural sciences (24.9%) and applied sciences (12.2%) (1998 national survey.., 1999, p.37). The drastic increase was in the total expenditure in information, computers, communication and technologies (ICCT), which grew from less than RM5 million in 1996 to about RM1, 617 million in 2000 (Table 1).
Table 1: Malaysia’s Expenditure on ICCT (F10500)
Government Research Institutes (GRI)
Institutions of Higher Learning (IHL)
% of total
Total on R & D expenditure
This pattern of R & D expenditure was similarly indicated by the private sectors. Between 1992 and 2000, Malaysia has also recorded a steady growth in its national gross expenditure on research and development (GERD) to gross domestic product (GDP) at a ratio of 0.30 in 1992, 0.34 in 1994, 0.22 in 1996, 0.39 in 1998 and 0.50 in 2000 (1998 National Survey, 1999, Fig.4.1b; 2000 Malaysian science and technology, 2002, p.5). Three fields of study with the largest share of R & D expenditure are applied science and technologies (31.6%), Information, computers, communication technologies (22.9%) and engineering science (18%).
2.3 The Level of IT Awareness of the Malaysian Society
In terms of public awareness, the results of two national surveys indicated that the Malaysian public’s level of S & T knowledge was low (Public awareness, 1997 and 2001), with a mean score of 2.29 in 1996, sliding down to 2.23 in 1998 and 2.18 in 2000. However, the surveys indicated that most Malaysians held positive views on science and technological issues. For example, in 1996, 78% indicated that science is necessary, 82.8% felt that science & technology improved lives and 58.6% have the opinion that computers created more jobs and most Malaysians surveyed in 1998 still hold similar views. This positive attitude is more pronounce among those with tertiary education (mean of 2.56 in 1996 and 2.64 in 1998). Malaysian youth generally have a higher understanding of S & T compared to adults and children. This is especially true with youth who possess a higher level of formal education. In the second national survey in 2000, the public’s perceived knowledge of S & T remained poor and it continue to drop from 2.29 in 1996 to 2.23 in 1998 and 2.18 in 2000 in the index scale of 4 as the maximum (National science and technology policy II, 2003, p.6).
Malaysians are also adept at using the mass media. The 1996 national survey indicated that 97.3% watched television, 93.6% read the newspapers, 82.5% listened to the radio, 71.1% read magazines but only 19.4% read science-based magazines (Public awareness…, 1997, p.75). This trend still prevails in 1998. A number of studies indicate high computer ownership in Malaysian homes but relatively low usage of the Internet. One such study observes the digital divide in a housing estate in the Lembah Pantai, Kuala Lumpur (Noor Bathi, et al., 2001), who sampled 231 housing units. The study revealed that 38.5% of the homes has a personal computer. Out of the 38.5%, 9.1% has 2 PCs and 4.5% have more than two PCs. Among those interviewed, 28.1% (including those already with and without PCs) indicated their intentions to purchase a PC in the near future. They intended to do this either by using monies from their savings, withdrawals from Employees Provident Fund (EPF), through hire purchase and borrowing from banks or their employers. This indicates that the majority of Malaysian citizens are aware of the need to expose their families to the use of PCs and perhaps only economic limitations prevents them from owning one. From 982 respondents, 50.6% indicated that they have used computers at various places (such as at their homes, offices, schools, cyber cafes, and friend’s houses) and for various purposes (personal use, office work, school projects, entertainment). When self-assessment were requested of the respondents, 49.8% indicated they do not know how to use computers, 34% felt that they have the basic skills, 12.6% and 3.3% assessed themselves as being at the intermediate or skilled level respectively. One curious finding is that over half (61.3%) of the users have never used the Internet and among those who have used the Internet (363), the majority used it for communication or to find information. Only a small percentage used the Internet for research, entertainment or purchasing products. A more recent study by Narimah and Zamree (2002), who surveyed 2015 respondents, explored respondent’s knowledge on information technology, the ownership, usage of computers, Internet subscription and training in ICT related courses. The results indicate that the respondents have some knowledge of IT and were less ready in terms of computer skills and Internet use.
There are no national statistics on the level of IT literacy among new undergraduates enrolled in the HEIs. However, isolated studies have indicated that the level of IT literacy among the university bound youth, are high. Recently, the Faculty of Computer Science and IT, University of Malaya carried out a survey of 383 new undergraduates enrolled at the Faculty to find out the reasons why they chose to come to UM and their level of IT literacy. The results indicate that more than 80% of undergraduates know how to word process, use the e-mail and the Internet, over 50% knows how to use presentation software, the spreadsheet and only about 30% knows how to use a database management system (Table 2). Assuming that this situation is the same for the other undergraduates, it shows that the current Malaysian students at the HEIs could easily utilize ICT facilities during their learning process and as such HEIs should capitalize on this knowledge to provide an IT based environment suitable for their teaching and learning needs.
The studies mentioned above do show that the Malaysian society in general are not ICT illiterate, are aware of the importance of IT in their daily lives, do use the Internet to search for information and communicate readily via the e-mails and cell phones. This is especially so among the younger respondents.
Table 2: IT Literacy Amongst New Enrolments at FCSIT, University of Malaya
The ICT infrastructure is in place to enable the utilization of the Internet for learning and teaching in Malaysia. The Ministry of Education has provided school teachers who are teaching Mathematics and Science with Laptops. This will enable them to use computers in their teaching activities. The Ministry has also engaged specialists to develop multimedia course contents to be used in schools. Malaysia’s Multimedia Super Corridor (MSC) is designed to create an ideal environment for ICT-related production as well as the backbone for an information highway. The telephone penetration rate as a measurement of the ICT readiness of the country rose from 16.6 percent to 23.2 percent between 1995 and 1999. Fixed lines in the rural areas rose from 5.2 percent in 1994 to 11 percent in 1999. Jaring registered users alone increase from 28 in 1992 to 0.5 million in 2002. Internet usage has grown from 1.6 million in 1998 to 6.5 million in 2001 and is expected to grow to 10 million in 2003. The total PC market in Malaysia is close to 186,000 units in 2002 (Country intelligence report, 2002; Jaring: Corporate information, 2002)).
3.0 The Impact of IT Utilization on Higher Education
IT utilization in HEI has enabled us to solve problems faced by the educational sector and at the same time it has improved the quality of education that is being offered to the Malaysian youth. The impact of IT utilization is depicted in Figure 3 below.
3.1 The Wired University
The impact of IT at institutions of higher learning and its effect on student learning and teaching can be viewed from two perspective, the management of the students academic affairs, and the management if their learning experiences. Several examples drawn for this paper are taken from the University of Malaya that exemplifies most large public and private institutions of higher learning in Malaysia, which are “wired”. The Ministry of Education sees the e-learning policy as a system that enables information gathering, management, manipulation, access and communication in various forms. The strategies taken to enhance the use of ICT in HEIs include; providing an up-to-date tested ICT infrastructure and equipment to all HEIs, emphasizing the integration of ICT in teaching and learning, the upgrading of ICT knowledge among students and teachers, increasing the use of ICT in educational management and the upgrading of the maintenance and management of ICT equipments (EU-Asia E-Learning, 2003).
3.1.1 Management of Students Academic Affairs
The e-generation students expects to enroll online, register for their courses over the Internet from their homes or elsewhere before each semester commences, able to check the schedule of courses or the time table before or at the beginning of each semester, check their examination results, submit essays, have access to electronic information, to reserve library books online, to send and receive emails, to communicate easily with their peers as well as lecturers and able to download lecture notes and tutorials online. They expect the services they receive to be customized to their needs, and that the protocols for accessing information easy, seamless, flexible and efficient. These expectations require the University to reorganize, restructure and redesign its entire administration process that is related to academic matters. Overlapping of functions need to be removed and new services developed. This need requires the integration of services to achieve more connectivity so that access to information becomes efficient and easy; developing the content needed by the university community and increasing the competencies of members of the university to locate, use and assimilate information, use IT and multimedia applications skillfully.
Most universities in Malaysia are already providing these services. For the University of Malaya like other universities in Malaysia, the centre of information lies in the university student information system and the university homepage, which acts an academic portal and through it users obtain information about academic and staff matters. Through the university homepages potential students browse through information about the university academic programs, informs current and potential students about the support services available for these academic programs (such as the library, halls of residence, medical and counseling services), and provides information about the university governance and administrative bodies.
Figure 3: The Impact of IT on Higher Education in Malaysia
Malaysian n-geners youth
Higher Education in Public and Private IHE
Policy Budget Infrastructure
The Wired University
Most universities in Malaysia provide for registration of courses online over the university Intranet or the Internet before each semester commences. Students would be informed about courses on offer in each semester, the timetable and the examination scheduled for each course from the university web portals. Potential applicants to the university are informed in more detail about the academic programs offered through each faculty’s websites linked to the university’s main homepage. The Faculty of Computer Science and Information Technology at the University of Malaya for example, embed a number of information management systems within its Faculty web portal in its attempt to be a truly e-faculty. The Faculty’s web portal displays current information about the faculty courses at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels, empowers lecturers to update information about their research, teaching as well as publications, and provide students with the facility to obtain information about the faculty’s timetable, download lecture notes and assignments online. The Faculty’s web portal, also embed a number of information management systems such as the staff’s attendance and leave management system (ALMS), the final year students project management system (E-ilmiah), and the industrial training information pages. Future enhancement would include the Meetings Minutes Management system (M3), which would handle all faculty meetings, a student discussion bulletin board and the Academic Adviser Management Information System. The Faculty web portal also provides access to an e-journal hosting system, which currently hosts 2 faculty journals, the Malaysian Journal of Computer Science and the Malaysian Journal of Library & Information Science.In future, this hosting system would host the Malaysian Journal of Science published by the Science Faculty and The Journal of Problem-based Learning. The Faculty is rapidly moving towards a paperless faculty management environment.
3.1.2 The Management of Students’ Learning Experiences
Most universities in Malaysia are also moving towards enhancing learning by using the hybrid approach of providing traditional lectures as well as tutorials and supplementing this with e-learning options. To enable this, the universities are “wired” or connected to the Internet through campus wide networks. Every university staff members as well as registered students are given e-mail accounts, making it easy for students to communicate with their lecturers, office support staff and university management. The Higher Education Department of the Ministry of Education has indicated the Malaysian Ministry of Education’s desire to see a more student-centered or interactive or problem-based learning environment used in institutions of higher learning to combat the problems of churning out students who cannot communicate or “uncreative” in solving problems (ICT manpower – issues & challenges, 2003). The use of IT tools to support such new ways of learning is encouraged.
The University of Malaya for example, provides the course online module (Kursus Online or KOL), which allows academics from all faculties to mount their notes and assignments online and can be accessed by students over the Internet. KOL is managed by the University Centre for Computing Services. This is also the approach used by Universiti Sarawak Malaysia (UNIMAS), where e-learning plays the supplementary role to the existing teaching-learning processes. The E-Learning Unit manages the e-learning initiatives in UNIMAS. The Technology University of Malaysia (UTM) uses the Australian e-learning package WebCT, where lecturers mount their courses information, schedules, assessments online and students could retrieve these information as well as submit their assignments online (Figure 1).
3.2 E-learning and the Virtual University
The virtual e-learning programs are more utilized by the private universities in Malaysia, where academic programs are tailored to the demands of mature or working students. The main players in the provision of this type of e-learning programs are the Multimedia University Malaysia (MUM), University Tun Abdul Razak (UNITAR) and the Open University Malaysia (OUM).
The Multimedia University provides e-learning programs through its campus in Cyberjaya, which offers credited academic programs such as the Bachelor in e-Business, Diploma in Information Technology and the Certificate in English Language Proficiency programs all of which are offered only recently in 2002 and 2003. Students are given online service support to online classes, real time content and electronic learning resources. The virtual learning experiences are enhanced with traditional classroom contact hours
University Tun Abdul Razak (UNITAR) began offering e-learning programs in 1998. Since then their student enrolment has increased from 162 in 1998 to over 7,500 in 2002 (Syed Othman, 2002). KUB Malaysia Berhad, a public listed company owns UNITAR. UNITAR offers courses through seven centers throughout the country. The degrees it offers are Bachelor programs in Business and Information Technology. The e-learning model, which UNITAR uses encompass 6 main supporting systems. The first is the courseware, which are multimedia CD or web-based that are accessible at all times to students and the second is the Course Management System called VOISS (Virtual Online Instructional Support System) that contains the courseware, forum, e-mail facilities, bulletin boards, assignments, quiz, time tables and examination results, which can be assessed from the Internet. The third module is the online real time tutorial meetings, which can take place either online or face-to-face. Students meet their facilitators for about 2 – 4 hours a week at assigned centers for each subject depending on the year the students are in for their tutorials or extra-curricular activities. The program is also supported by a digital library, which provides full-text access to online databases. The latest national venture in e-learning initiative is the Open University of Malaysia (Universiti Terbuka Malaysia or UNITEM).
Collaborations with Foreign Universities
The provision of e-learning does not stop with local-owned universities as Malaysia has opened its doors to foreign universities, some of whom has establish innovative partnership that uses e-learning modules. An example is the University of Nottingham (Malaysia). The International Medical University (IMU) is another example that has twinning programs with several foreign medical schools and offers students online access to courses, video lectures, links to web-based resources, self-assessments and discussion forums. Another example is MUST (Malaysia University of Science and Technology) is an online collaborative program with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
The e-learning initiatives increases access to education, enables students to share, collaborate and obtain affordable higher education (Rusnak, 2002). E-learning tools could develop independent self-learning, which is found lacking in Malaysian students who are used to a more teacher-directed and structured learning environments (Ziguras, 2001). The e-learning programs helps to make Malaysian higher education more competitive for both home and foreign students who now turn to Malaysian–based universities for education in medicine and technology-related programs. In this respect, Malaysia has achieved one of her objectives, that is, to become a global player in the provision of higher education.
In the context of the learning environment, IT is used as a tool to achieve educational ends, an enabler to the learning process, since it possesses the power of scale, allowing many individuals to learn at their own pace at the same time. This is already becoming a reality in Malaysia. However, Malaysia has far to go as the proper use of ICT for learning and teaching still needs to be perfected and the current impact of ICT usage needs to be monitored closely to ascertain whether the desired learning outcomes are achieved. Learning happens individually and in groups. Tapscott (1999) suggests that IT technologies require new ways of thinking about teaching and learning. Learning environment should move from the linear approach, such as using books as learning tools to hypermedia learning, where access to information is interactive and non-sequential. This means that the learner can go back and forth in his learning environment and the teaching environment moves from formal instructions to self-construction and discovery by the students themselves. This kind of pedagogical approach is said to suite the “e-geners” learning needs better. The most suitable pedagogical model is constructivism, which involves assimilating knowledge by doing rather than by listening or through instruction.
IT has the potential to improve the provision of higher education on a larger scale as it widens the possibility of offering education to those who wants to learn and to those who wants to apply it in their jobs. It provides the opportunities for students who could not fully participate on campus to obtain education. However, IT would fail to produce improved educational outcomes if other equally relevant factors are not given due attention. Ehrmann (2001) illustrates the successful use of IT to making bread. “You must have yeast to bake bread, but if you buy only yeast, you’ll never produce bread”. The recipe for IT success in education requires more than hardware. It would include staff development, new job design, new course design, changes in roles and rewards, and new organizational partnership. The adoption of the latest technology is not the condition for learning and teaching, since the assembling of all required elements takes time and practice before the desirable learning outcomes is visible.
To improve educational outcomes by using IT, it is essential to perhaps focus on a few selected outcomes to be worked on within a 7 to 10 year plan. It is also essential to monitor whether students skill of inquiry and research has improved; whether they are able to apply what has been learnt, whether their ability to work in teams and communicate has improved. This must be the focus of research in this new teaching and learning environment. For the future, Malaysia is still looking into the feasibility of adopting mobile learning in HEIs and its suitability for the Malaysian youth.
It is hoped that by sharing the Malaysian experience of IT utilization in higher education, the less developed country could conceive new ideas of how similar efforts can be emulated and optimistically trigger off collaborative efforts with the more advanced South East Asian countries.
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