Malaysia Country Profile - Education System

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System structure

Education in Malaysia is primarily the responsibility of the Ministry of Education, although each state also has a local education authority which can operate with a degree of autonomy. The system consists of six years of primary school for children aged 7 to 12 and five years of secondary school for those aged 13 to 18, followed by an optional sixth year of secondary school and potentially higher education at university.

Academic year

The Malaysian academic year runs from January to November, with each state authority determining the exact dates. Most schools operate a two-term system: the first from January to May with a holiday during March and the second from June to November with a break in August. State schools tend to start before 8:00am and finish soon after lunch for compulsory sports or other extracurricular activities, but private and international schools may keep different hours. International schools may also operate term dates more akin to their parent country.

Higher education

Higher education in Malaysia is growing due to ambitious targets and generous funding on the part of the state. Malaysia has recently attracted several world-renowned universities to set up international campuses in the country, resulting in three major types of university:

  • Public institutions of higher education – state-run and publically funded institutions which can be further categorised as research, comprehensive or focused institutions
  • Private institutions of higher education – institutions established by private sector companies with the backing of the Ministry of Education's Department of Private Education
  • Foreign university branches – universities that are part of an institution based in another country

Some Malaysian higher education establishments also have ‘twinning’ agreements with foreign universities to enable students from both institutions to take part of their course at each university. Malaysian students require a Malaysian High School Certificate to gain entry to university, but other international qualifications will be considered for foreign nationals.


The Malaysian government offers generous subsidies for higher education so while Malaysians who study at public universities do pay tuition fees, the cost is greatly reduced compared to students at private institutions who usually pay full fees. There are also a number of public and private sector scholarship and loan schemes for Malaysians and international students. For more information, visit the Ministry of Education website.


The choice of university courses in Malaysia is vast, with undergraduate and postgraduate courses available at most institutions. Course durations and assessment types depend on what kind of university it is, as international institutions tend to follow the structure of their parent system. Applications are usually made directly to the individual university, but websites like Study Malaysia enable prospective students to search more broadly for courses.


Research opportunities are gradually increasing in Malaysia and funding is available from several public and private sources. The Department of Higher Education is a good place to start, but it is worth doing some homework as many funding bodies are specific to a particular subject or niche.

Primary and secondary education

Although there are many different types of school in Malaysia, the majority fall into one of three categories: public schools, private schools and international schools. Qualifications are laid out by the Malaysian Qualification Framework, although international schools usually offer foreign equivalents. Public schools are free to Malaysians and do allow some access for the children of foreign nationals, but the language barrier and differences in curriculum mean that many prefer their children to go to the more expensive private or international establishments.

Preschool and childcare options

Although preschool is not compulsory in Malaysia, it is popular and so access to Ministry of Education preschools is restricted to Malaysian families only. However, there are plenty of privately-owned nursery and preschool options for foreign nationals, as well as a considerable number of private nannies who can be employed at a fairly reasonable cost.


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