Seeking new insights on the ‘Evolving Regulatory Context for Private Education in Emerging Economies’

Discourses on private higher education, and the role of private higher education in spurring on the globalization of higher education process, are emerging in a variety of contexts: informal discussions, classrooms, workshops and conferences, publications, protests, websites, and structured and unstructured policy dialogues.

is designed to help shed light on where thinking about the construction of new knowledge spaces takes place, and when possible what the content of such thinking is.

ifcbrochureOn the former role, it is worth noting that there are some ongoing on-line deliberations between now and 14 November about the “Evolving Regulatory Context for Private Education in Emerging Economies”. The deliberations are being sponsored by the International Finance Corporation (IFC), and more specifically the IFC’s EdInvest. The IFC is an institution that is part of the World Bank Group. Our brief entry in October (‘”Frontier markets”, the International Finance Corporation, and development’) explains a little more about the IFC, and provides a variety of links to this increasingly important global higher ed institution.

An introduction to the forum can be found here. The general discussion thread can be accessed by following the link along the right margin to Private Education Forum, or by following this link.

Key questions in the discussion include, according to the IFC:

Week 1 – November 3 to 7: What are the major challenges in regulating private education and how might they be overcome?

Week 2 – November 10 to 14: Should government involve private providers in policy and decision making relating to the role of the private sector? If so, what are the most effective mechanisms for doing this? If not, why not?

The online discussion that is underway now is an outcome of an earlier (May 2008) international conference that was attended by a small group of government representatives, accreditation officials, private providers, and World Bank Group officials. According to Svava Bjarnason, Senior Education Specialist of the IFC, the purpose of the May event was to:

begin a dialogue between the various players concerning how the regulatory context is evolving in relation to private sector providers. At the close of that event we agreed to continue the dialogue and to host an online discussion to engage the wider community in the debate.

This two week long dialogue is underway until 14 November so check it out now if you want to contribute.

Apart from the content, it is worth noting that this IFC-sponsored event, like the broader (more ‘open’) national policy dialogues that have been occurring in Australia and the UK (see our entry ‘Higher education policy-making, stake-holder democracy and the economics of attention’), is an experiment in the use of digital technology to facilitate (it is hoped) debate, innovative thinking, and new insights.  Yet as we noted in our previous entry:

new technologies operate within an ‘economy of attention’ – a point well made by Richard Latham in his influential 2006 book The Economics of Attention: Style and Substance in the Age of Information.

Now the essential point Latham is making is that we live in an information economy, and information is not in short supply. In fact, argues Latham, we are “drowning in it”. What is in short supply is ‘attention’! To grab attention, we need stylistic devices and strategies so that what Latham calls ‘stuff’—like debating the future directions for higher education—moves from the periphery to the center of attention.

Thus the IFC’s on-line discussion is worth tuning into and contributing to for obvious content-specific reasons, while the nature of the forum (on-line, open, two weeks long) can also be assessed as a vehicle to enable geographically dispersed voices to engage. The IFC’s hope is, we are guessing, that the discussion enables the generation of some new insights on a topic (the “Evolving Regulatory Context for Private Education in Emerging Economies”) that clearly needs to be thought about, and with considerable care and attention.

Kris Olds & Susan Robertson

UBV celebrates 5 years of “education revolution”

The Bolivarian University of Venezuela (UBV) – which refers to itself as the “House of Knowledges” – is celebrating its first five years, as the Bolivarian News Agency ABN reports. According to the report, the UBV is key to the revolutionary commitment of “constructing a Venezuela for all Venezuelans, in which social justice and equality rules”. The democratisation of higher education is envisaged as being achieved through the strategy of municipalisation, which means that the state-funded university is operating in all 335 municipalities, as well as in prisons and factories, to facilitate equal access opportunities.

A related article cites Education Minister, Héctor Navarro, stating the Venezuela has already achieved the Millennium Development Goals with respect to education, as well as Venezuela being one of the countries with the highest participation in higher education relative to its population. UBV’s teaching body is currently participating in an integral programme for the “education of educators”, which is centred around the politico-ethical education of the teacher in the construction of the new subjectivity, radical pedagogy, critical epistemology, and strategic planning. UBV’s director Yadira Córdova is quoted saying:

Making revolution in a university that takes pride in being revolutionary implies constructing the revolutionary subject, a political subject capable of taking up the project of this university as part of the national revolutionary project. As part of the Latin American transformation project, as part of the project of the liberation of the oppressed peoples of the world.

Indeed, there appears to be some reason to share the Venezuelan optimism. The graphs shown here, produced from data obtained from the World Bank and the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), confirm that under Chávez, participation at all educational levels has substantially increased (including nursery, not displayed in the graphs).

Source: Produced from Education Trends and Comparisons, at (accessed 20/05/2008).

Source: Produced from Social Indicators and Statistics (BADEINSO). Last accessed 20/05/2008,

Nevertheless, there is reason for concern with respect to justice and equality. While under the Bolivarian government all social strata have gained in access to higher education, the very large gap between the poorer and wealthier sectors remains wider than in the early 1980s. One conclusion, then, that we might draw is that the wealthy, in fact, remain the absolute winners of the past decades.

Thomas Muhr

Incorporation of State-controlled universities in Malaysia, 1996-2008: flirting with the market

All State-controlled universities in Malaysia are by definition statutory bodies and their setting up is governed by laws. Statutory bodies are established with the objective of implementing certain duties and responsibilities in line with government objectives. When statutory entities such as universities are incorporated the objectives of this exercise is different from the incorporation of other State body such as the National Electricity Board. In the case of the latter, the objective is to transform this entity into an independent commercial company. In the context of higher education services, in particular universities, incorporated universities, according to Bostock (1999), are expected to raise a much greater proportion of their own revenue, enter into business enterprises, acquire and hold investment portfolios, encourages partnerships with private business firms, compete with other universities in the production and marketing of courses to students who are now seen as customers, and generally engage with the market for higher education. But in the case of State-controlled universities it does not necessarily mean that these universities will be privatised eventually. At least this is true in the case of Malaysia. It is interesting to examine why the flirtation with the market, but the unwillingness to leave everything to the market.

Incorporation of State-Controlled Universities in Malaysia

The World Bank (see Wall 1998) and OECD (see Marginson 1997) are the two most influential supra national bodies that have had an influence on the incorporation of State-controlled universities in Malaysia. In the early to mid nineties the changes in the global higher education landscape have exerted new demands and pressures on Malaysia’s higher education system. In order to be competitive and relevant to the global and regional changes Malaysia’s state-controlled universities in particular have to respond accordingly, specifically to the emerging challenges arising from globalisation era and the internationalisation of higher education. Mok (2007, 440) reported that technocrats in the Ministry of Higher Education (MoHE) itself felt that the old higher education governance model would never prepare public universities for facing new challenges. Thus, the incorporation of State-controlled universities is meant to make them more proactive to changes and to do these they need more resources and a governance system that is quick in its response to changing needs and demands.

In this context, State-controlled universities in Malaysia were hard pressed to accept the impending reform, which was aimed at diversifying funding sources through a range of means, including the policy of incorporation. Another important development in Malaysia at that time was the apparent success of several corporate-style universities, operated by major state-owned companies in the areas of telecommunications, petrochemicals and electricity (UNESCO 2003). The reform is seen as an attractive proposition for these State-controlled universities, as presented by the State to them, in that they are allowed (albeit under strict treasury guidelines) to generate additional revenue through university-owned companies, which generate income for these universities through the sale of services and use of university facilities.

The Government has introduced corporate governance for State-controlled universities in 1996 by amending the University and University Colleges Act, 1971. This amendment allows for the incorporation of these state-controlled universities, which sets the tone for a new way in running universities in Malaysia. It is argued that with incorporation public universities should be operating as an efficient, transparent, and most importantly, financially able (if not independent) entity. It is now up to individual universities to face up to these challenges and generate revenue equal to thirty percent of their annual running cost. Neville (1998) appropriately observed that the Malaysian government has adopted a policy of incorporation, making universities more accountable for some areas of their operations, and seeking to increase entrepreneurial activities. He argued further that in this, universities are expected to adopt management systems similar to those of the corporate sector, although the government will still retain explicit control.

Universiti Malaya was the first state-controlled university to be incorporated in 1997/8. To date, all state-controlled universities, in particular the 4 more established ones, have (in line with incorporation objectives) established their private holding companies to generate income for the universities concerned through the sales of consultancy services, medical and health (private) services and joint venture activities with the industry. While active in commercial activities, to date none of these commercial arms of the incorporated State-controlled universities have managed to generate sufficient income to be financially independent from the State. But the issue here, will the State ever allow these universities to be independent? Will the World Bank, UNESCO and other supra agencies pressure the State to let go or follow the example of Japan where national universities have been incorporated and become very competitive.

Incorporation of State-controlled Universities: Will the State Let Go?

Neville (1998) noted that incorporated universities are expected to adopt management systems similar to those of the corporate sector, although the government will still retain explicit control. Arguably, in this sense, state-centrism in higher education policy is still strong in Malaysia, but at the same time neo-liberal policies are being implemented. At the core of this irony is the statement made by the then Minister of Education (now the powerful and influential Deputy Prime Minister and Prime Minister-in-waiting) that the Cabinet of Ministers has decided that the Government will still maintain control and autonomy over the public universities once they were incorporated (Bernama News Service for Malaysian Students 1995). The then Minister of Education was quoted as saying to the effect that incorporation means that the universities will remain non-profitable but will be managed as commercial and competitive entities. More importantly, he said that the Government would have the last say in the operation and administration of universities and its administrators would have to refer to the ministry before implementing any changes. There have been no significant statements from the government so far giving the incorporated universities a sense of ‘independence’ from the State.


Barr (1993) distinguishes between two main types of marketisation in so far as higher education is concerned: the introduction of performance-related funding mechanisms (quasi-market element) and the introduction of tuition fees and loans (the privatization of higher education). The incorporation of state-controlled universities gave rise to an interesting phenomenon in Malaysia’s higher education landscape: a financing mechanism for incorporated universities which tie public funds to specific targets (in particular student numbers at the undergraduate level). The government set the tuition fees for students at this level for all incorporated universities. This in effect means “using the logic of the market without actually letting the market in”. At the same time, all private higher education institutions and incorporated State-controlled universities offering postgraduate qualifications are allowed to set their own tuition fees. In this sense, the price mechanism begins to operate and this is when a market in higher education is in place.
In Malaysia’s case there is clearly the unwillingness on the part of the State to let go of state-controlled universities. This situation arises, and following Levidow’s (2002) argument, because universities represent the needs of the State. Morshidi and Abdul Razak (2008) have alluded to the “national interest’ argument in the case of Malaysia. It is in this connection that the Malaysian Government continues to support and finance incorporated universities. Under incorporation set-up university staff are supposed to be delinked from the civil servants scheme of service, but to this day university staff are still paid through state-funded emoluments. However, because of incorporation, they are allowed and are increasingly driven into entrepreneurial competition for external funds for research and extra income. Slaughter and Leslie (1997) rightly observed that under central government and university pressure, staff devise ‘institutional and professional market or market-like efforts to secure external monies’.

It is also interesting to relate and connect Levidow’s (2002) observation to the case of Malaysia in that beyond simply generating more income, higher education in Malaysia has increasingly become a terrain for marketisation agendas. This is particularly pertinent in relation to Malaysia’s ambition of becoming a regional education hub with education export accounting for a substantial figure in its national account. Since the incorporation of state-controlled universities in 1997 and more so beginning 2000, affected universities have been urged to adopt commercial models of knowledge, skills, curriculum, finance, accounting, and management organization. Strategic planning becomes an important instrument for charting university’s direction. More importantly, and there is a great debate on this, university education has become more synonymous with training for ’employability’ at the local and international level. Marketisation policy of higher education in Malaysia is already in place in the system, but it is hidden under the heavy presence of State-centrism and control.


Barr, N. (1993.) ‘Alternative Funding Resources for Higher Education’. Economic Journal. 103 (418): 718-28.

Bernama News Service for Malaysian Students, Thursday, July 13, 1995. ‘Najib: We’ll Maintain Control over Varsities’.

Bostock, W. W. (1999). ‘The Global Corporatisation of Universities: Causes and Consequences’. In: Antepodium, Victoria University of Wellington. (accessed 15 May 2008)

Levidow, L. (2002). ‘Marketizing Higher Education: Neoliberal Strategies and Counter-Strategies’. In: K. Robins and F. Webster, eds, The Virtual University? Knowledge, Markets and Management, Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp.227-48.

Mok. K. H (2007). ‘Questing for internationalisation of universities in Asia: critical reflections’. Journal of Studies in International Education, 11; 433. URL: (Accessed 15 May 2008).

Morshidi, S. and Abdul Razak, A. (2008). ‘Policy for Higher Education in a Changing World: Is Malaysia’s Higher Education Policy Maturing or Just Fashionable?, Forum on Higher Education in a Globalising World: Developing and Sustaining an Excellent System, Merdeka Palace Hotel and Suites, Kuching, 11 January 2008.

Marginson, S. (1997). Markets in Education. Sydney: Allen and Unwin.

Neville, W. (1998). ‘Restructuring tertiary education in Malaysia: the nature and implications of policy changes’. Higher Education Policy 11: 257-279.

Slaughter, S. and Leslie, L.L (1997) Academic Capitalism: Politics, Policies and the Entrepreneurial University. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (2003). Higher education in Asia and the Pacific 1998-2003. Regional report on progress in implementing recommendations of the 1998 World Conference on Higher Education. Adopted at the Second Session of the Regional Follow-up Committee
(Bangkok, Thailand, 25-26 February 2003). (Accessed 15 May 2008).

Wall, E. (1998). ‘Global Funding Patterns in Higher Education; the role of the World Bank’. Paper presented at the International Conference of University Teacher Organisations, Melbourne, February.

Morshidi Sirat

Policy for higher education in a changing world: is Malaysia’s higher education policy maturing or just fashionable?

malaysiaplancover.jpgIn many developing countries, and Malaysia is no exception, the national government has seen fit to steer higher education policy in a direction that is in the ‘national interest’. This notion of ‘national interest’ is best exemplified by the changing relationship between the state, higher education institutions and the market. We would like to think that after independence in 1957 the state facilitated the growth of universities appropriate to both national and regional circumstances at that time. While serving the ‘nation interest’ public universities were also pursuing objectives that are some semblance of the “idea of a university” right up to the late eighties. However, during the 1990s, the government began to intervene in the higher education system and there were many policy changes that higher educational institutions have found to be increasingly complex and unmanageable. We would like to assume that these changes, as explicitly outlined in the National Higher Education Strategic Plan 2020 and detailed out in the National Higher Education Action Plan, 2007-2010, are Malaysia’s responses to fast changing global landscape of higher education and the rise of the ‘Asian Century’.

We need to explicate higher education policy changes in Malaysia and then answer one specific question: are these changes indicative of a higher education policy that is going through a maturing process or are these changes nothing more than an attempt to be current and fashionable in the light of neo-liberalism tendency and its associated new public management practises, which is widespread in the developed world. The recently released World Bank Report on higher education in Malaysia has a profound impact on the way higher education policy is being framed in Malaysia.

Using both neo-liberalism model/new public management concepts and state-centric model of higher education as analytical framework to analyse the plans documents, we conclude that Malaysia’s higher education policy has characteristics of both neo-liberal and state-centric models. Many new public management concepts and ideas are adopted to translate policy to actions, without meaningful or significant ‘retreat of the state”, which is typical of neo-liberalism. Arguably, Malaysia is still holding on to the state-centric model of higher education (because of the ‘nation interest’) but would like also to ‘embrace’ fashionable European and American models. Reports from the World Bank on neo-liberalism, as well as successful examples of the USA, UK and Australia are too attractive for Malaysia to ignore. Thus, Malaysia’s higher education policy is clearly an attempt to be current and fashionable to face the new challenges in higher education based on the same state-centric approach. Time will tell whether this approach will work.

We are tempted to conclude that, following Readings’ (1996) The University in Ruins, the likely scenario for Malaysia is as follows:

historically the integrity of the modern University has been linked to the nation-state, which it has served by promoting and protecting the idea of a national culture…now the nation-state is in decline, and national culture no longer needs to be either promoted or protected. Increasingly, universities are turning into transnational corporations, and the idea of culture is being replaced by the discourse of ‘excellence’.

And in relation to the two blueprints on Malaysian higher education, Jermadi and Disney writing in the latest issue of Prospect Malaysia (a higher magazine in Malaysia) caution us as follows:

Those with long and cynical memories will recall numerous previous strategies; those who glance at the more recent past will find blueprints and studies upon which the ink is barely dry. So what’s new about these recent proposals? Are they necessary, are they original, and are they workable? The short answers to these questions are: ‘yes, no, and yes’.

Morshidi Sirat

Producing the global knowledge economy: the World Bank and the KAM

What it means to either talk about, or indeed ‘produce’, a knowledge-based economy (KBE) is a bit like nailing jelly to the wall; it is dam slippery stuff! Part of the problem, of course, is that like all powerful metaphors, the KBE has a lot of political work to do, and it is powerful precisely because it can do that political work. It has something in it for everyone, whatever one’s politics.

Over 2008, GlobalHigherEd will run a series of analytical pieces making sense of the various players, projects and politics who seem to be involved in the production of a knowledge-based economy–from programs being developed by the World Bank, OECD and World Economic Forum, to knowledge spaces that include knowledge incubators such as Futurelab, local art spaces and cyberspace. Contributions to this theme from fellow bloggers out there, as always, are more than welcome.

We begin this series with the World Bank who, since 1998, have been busy undergoing a major ‘makeover’ – re-representing itself not as a ‘development bank’ but a ‘knowledge bank’. This move, under the leadership of Bank President James Wolfensohn, took seriously the idea that how we managed knowledge was important, and that knowledge was a key factor in technological creation, adoption and communication.

One outcome of the Bank’s move was the Knowledge For Development (or K4D) Program aimed at helping developing countries capitalize on the ‘knowledge revolution’. Specifically, developing (and also developed) countries are challenged to plan appropriate investments in human capital, effective institutions, relevant technologies, and innovative and competitive enterprises.

These challenges are then translated into the four pillars of a knowledge-based economy comprising:

  • an ‘economic and institutional regime’ which values efficiency and entrepreneurship
  • an ‘educated’ population
  • an efficient ‘innovation’ system
  • an ‘information and communication technology’ infrastructure

The four pillars feed into the Bank’s Knowledge Assessment Methodology – or KAM – an interactive benchmarking tool which now consists of 83 structural and qualitative variables for 140 countries around the globe to measure performance on the KE pillars against an imagined perfect score.

A Knowledge Economy Index (KEI) is generated giving an overall score, though scores can be broken down around each of the four pillars. Development advice is then fed out around a series of ‘product lines’.

The simplest ‘product line’ is a ‘do-it-yourself’ assessment of your economy in relation to either; all countries, others in the region, income, and so on. The user is also able to either generate a Basic Scorecard using around 14 key variables, or move to more complex representations that are based on respectively combinations of the 81 variables, the performance scores of all countries, comparisons over time, cross country comparisons, and so on. us-china-india.jpg

Other ‘product lines’ include the Bank doing policy reports for specific countries (for example, El Salvador, Turkey, Morocco), comprehensive assessments (for example India, China, Korea, Chile, the African region), and running learning events to exchange best practice. GlobalHigherEd’s blog on the reform of the Malaysian higher education system following a World Bank’s 2007  review is a good example of how the KAM is being used to reshape higher education policy and practice.

At one level this is fun. However this is a very serious business – as the benchmarking works like a learning tool. You learn where you are in this imagined perfect knowledge economy, and then strategize as to how to get to your preferred position using the pillars as policy guides and levers. top-ten-country-comparison.jpg

Benchmarking, ranking and other kinds of league tables are becoming more and more popular as tools for promoting particular kinds of learning among institutions, nations and regions. GlobalHigherEd has been profiling some of these – for instance PISA, the Programme for International Student Assessment, the OECD’s Innovation Scoreboard, and University Rankings.

Like all of these systems of ranking and benchmarking, the most interesting issue with the World Bank’s Knowledge Assessment Methodology is what is being measured, why, and with what likely outcomes? Leaving aside the thorny issue of the efficacy of the indicators for the moment (such as the Human Development Index which is one of the 83 indicators making up the KAM), as we run through all 83 indicators, we get a quick sense of the political nature of the project; the production of a world order that values global trade, has few bans on imports and licensing, strong protections in place for intellectual property (IP), a system for ensuring payments for royalties and IP across borders, high levels of adult literacy, landlines and computers to support global connectivity, and so on. Absent in this list of indicators are ways of representing unpaid labor, alternative systems of knowledge production, cultural knowledges, and so on.

The developed Western economies are more likely to be advantaged by this kind of economy – given their interest in extending their services sectors globally and securing greater returns from the high end of the value chain. However, in areas like education, the policy levers are still rather crude. It is difficult to see, for instance, how investments in higher education per se will generate those innovative, creative and entrepreneurial individuals who are regarded as the engines of this new economy.

Susan Robertson