In just five years, 79 private colleges were ordered closed. This is an astounding 20 per cent of the 398 private colleges registered in the country. — NSTP file pic

IN just five years, 79 private colleges were ordered closed. This is an astounding 20 per cent of the 398 private colleges registered in the country.

This is not the first time private colleges have let Malaysia down. In October, Oman banned its citizens from attending four Malaysian universities for what the embassy called “administrative and academic reasons”. Earlier, some fly-by-night and obscure colleges were shut down for smuggling unsuspecting Bangladeshis into Ma-laysia on the pretext of offering college degrees for a fee. It was not like this before.

It began raining private colleges when the Private Higher Educational Institutions Act 1996 opened the floodgates to the private sector. With more players in the lucrative market — some genuine, some just in for the money — quality began to take a hard hit. Unsurprisingly, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development’s (OECD) 2016 review of Malaysia’s innovation policy said while the number of postgraduates and graduates had increased, the overall quality of education in private universities “remains a concern”.

The report pointed out that between 2000 and 2012, Malay-sian universities grew 11-fold while the number of research-ers expanded only five-fold. The OECD review was also not complimentary at all to some universities’ research publications. While the quantity of publications improved, the quality of the articles were heading elsewhere, the study pronounced.

The problem, it must be said, does not lie in the number of higher education institutions as such, but in the pedagogy and its quality, course content and the reputation of the faculty. Private higher education institutions depend heavily on tuition fees, and cater for disciplines that are in great demand. As these institutes chase the ringgit, quality is at times compromised. What can the government do? Plenty, in fact. It should introduce stricter regulations for opening private institutions, with the necessary enforcement bite. The amendment to the Private Higher Education Act is one way to enable better regulatory practice. Another is to star-rate them as we do hotels and restaurants. This seems to be the aim of the Malaysian Quality Evaluation System For Private Colleges, or MyQuest, a performance-based system to rate the quality of the institutions.

However, the latest rating results are bound to raise parents’ concerns. Of the 336 colleges, which participated in the 2016/2017 exercise, only 110 colleges were rated “good” (three stars) to “outstanding” (six stars). Sadly, eight colleges were rated poor (one star), while 22 colleges were rated “satisfactory” (two stars) .

And, we have not even considered the 52 colleges which gave MyQuest a pass and the 70 colleges that were not rated. The numbers are not pretty, even if we include the two-star colleges in the quality bunch.

If only 132 (and we are being generous here) of the 398 registered colleges have the stars worth going for, what is the raison d’etre for the rest? It is time for the Higher Education Ministry to be in the driver’s seat.

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