The Malaysian government has scaled back plans to train 100,000 doctoral students by 2023, a conference has heard.
The MyBrain15 scheme, which offers scholarships at master’s and doctoral level for Malaysian students, is now aiming to create 60,000 PhDs over the next nine years.
Aini Ideris, professor of avian medicine at Universiti Putra Malaysia and former deputy vice-chancellor for academic and international, said that the changes came during the initial phase of the programme after government analysis found that it was “almost impossible” to reach the 100,000 target.
Speaking at the European University Association’s annual conference on doctoral education in Liverpool last week, Professor Ideris said that it was difficult to get Malaysian students to continue into postgraduate education.
After completing undergraduate degrees, students want to work to earn money, she said. “Some of them have to pay off their loan and others need to support their families,” she added.
The programme, launched in 2008, helps to cover tuition fees for master’s students and offer fully funded PhD scholarships for doctoral students and those working in industry. Each stream of funding is provided by the Ministry of Higher Education and is open only to Malaysians.
The aim is to increase the skills level of the workforce to create a new knowledge economy in the country.
Before the scheme was introduced, almost 60 per cent of doctoral candidates at Malaysian universities were international students, mostly from the South East Asian region, she said. “The need for our country is our [own] students because the international students come to us and then they leave,” she added.
At the same time, Malaysian students go abroad on scholarships to pursue PhD study but then “several” do not come back, said Professor Ideris. “That becomes an obstacle to some of the changes that we want to [make to the economy],” she added.
Professor Ideris said that the industrial PhD part of the scheme is designed to bolster businesses’ engagement with institutions. “In Malaysia it is very difficult to get industries to work with higher education,” she said. She added that many of the industries that do research in Malaysia are not staffed by PhD holders.