‘More or better?’ : finding the balance between equitable access and quality of higher education in Malaysia


Student thesis: PhD Thesis (Lingnan)


Education in Malaysia has gone through several different phases since gaining independence in 1957. The National Education Policy, spawned from the Razak Report (1956) and the Rahman Talib Report (1960), aspires for Malaysia to be a developed nation. However, the 13 May 1969 racial riot incident marked an important turning point for education in Malaysia, mainly because it magnified the oppressive poverty, the widening socio-economic gap between different races and ethnicities as well as the urban-rural disparities. Since then, considerable efforts to develop and improve the national education system to eradicate poverty and bridge the gaps between races, ethnicities and urban-rural areas have been a key policy objective in Malaysia. Clearly reflected in significant financial investments in education throughout the years, the agenda to widen access to education further became one of the central aspirations in the Malaysia Education Blueprint (Higher Education) 2015 – 2025. Through this, diverse initiatives and strategies have been provisioned to increase the number of students, particularly from low-income families and underprivileged groups, to access higher education. Despite its commendable success, surprisingly, there is also an increasing trend of secondary school leavers demonstrating low awareness and aspiration to access higher education in Malaysia. Whilst it is certainly crucial to double the effort to widen access to higher education, as several previous studies have indicated, this study focuses on what and how access to higher education is perceived from the individual level. Inspired predominantly by Tomasevski’s 4-A Scheme Framework, the theoretical perspectives for the current study also draw on the extensive works of Bourdieu’s Social Reproduction, and Baker et al.’s Equality of Conditions. Utilising mainly qualitative methods to gather data from multiple stakeholder perspectives, with 73 conveniently selected participants from six public universities across different regions in Malaysia, the current study extends the important work of Tomasevski. The limited reach of the semi-structured qualitative interview further encouraged the adoption of a multi-method qualitative strategy including document analysis, systematic online video review, and secondary data. The findings are threefold. Stemming from the affirmative policies that privilege the Bumiputera (son of soil), the current study reveals the structural rigidity and institutional discrimination in the Malaysian higher education. Regardless of the ‘luxury’ of support to access higher education, the current study reveals the bitter truth of secondary school leavers deciding not to pursue higher education. Furthermore, departing from the 4-A Scheme Framework that has largely concentrated on the national and institutional levels, the findings of this study emphasise the individual level, demonstrating how awareness and aspiration can have a huge impact in accessing higher education, which is often abandoned in the voluminous body of literature. The novel contributions of the 6-A Scheme Framework can provide a holistic and robust framework to better tailor appropriate mechanisms to widen access to higher education, particularly for low-income families and underprivileged groups in Malaysia.
Date of Award27 Jul 2023
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Lingnan University
SupervisorKa Ho Joshua MOK (Supervisor)

Cite this