Evaluative criteria for selection of private universities and colleges in Malaysia

by Anbalagan Krishnan, Keling Stevenson Boniface Ancheh and Oktavia Nurtjahja

The restructuring of Malaysian higher education in the mid 1990s has resulted in the Malaysian private higher education sector evolving into a binary system characterised by two categories of institutions, namely private universities and private colleges.

By the year 2000, the country had 690 private colleges, 14 private universities and university-colleges and four foreign university branch campuses (The Malaysian Education System: Overview of Public and Private Education, 2004). The distinctions between these two types of institutions are obvious in terms of research engagement, staff qualification and fees charged for education delivered.

The evaluative criteria we will examine here are the various dimensions and features or benefits of institutions that potential students evaluate when making their choice of institutions. Our study of the evaluative criteria that students use, which employed a large-scale quantitative survey of Malaysian private higher education institutions and also factor analysis to test the hypothesis on the evaluative criteria used by private university and private college students, show that students are driven by six key factors.

The most influential factor is ‘reputation and quality of the institution’ with an average mean score of 3.730. The leading most influential criterion for this factor is ‘the institution’s reputation for quality’ with the highest mean score of 3.927. This indicates that the key motivation that drives students to choose a particular private university is their desire to have a quality education.

‘Quality education’ here means that students can excel in their studies and obtain good results because of the availability of reputable academics to provide good teaching. This factor is important because it will provide students good employment prospects after the completion of their studies.

This is substantiated by the second most influential factor, ‘future graduate job prospects’, which had an average mean score of 3.510. Among the criteria contributing to this factor, the most influential was ‘good job prospect after graduating from the institution’ with a mean score of 3.836. This provides the evidence that the next major motivation for them to choose a particular institution is the impression that a graduate will have a greater chance of getting employment because of the quality education he or she has received from the institution.

The third key factor is ‘lower cost’ with an average mean score of 3.399, followed by ‘entry flexibility and institutions’ campus environment’ with an average mean score of 3.253. The criteria that are influential in each of these factors are ‘lower costs of fees’ with a mean score of 3.399 and ‘institutions’ campus environment and atmosphere’ with a mean score 3.715 respectively.

Based on the average mean score, these factors are important but not as influential. Other factors such as ‘nature of the institution’ and ‘affiliation of the institutions’, however, are not taken into consideration because of their unreliability as shown by the Cronbach’s alpha of these factors that are less than 0.70.

It can therefore be concluded that key factors influencing the university students’ choice of Malaysian private higher education institutions are their desire to get quality education and, thereafter, to secure good jobs.

The analysis of the factors that influence college students’ choices of institution shows similarities to that of the university students. Both groups are driven by the need to have good qualifications that are widely recognised by employers, with ‘recognition and the reputation of the institutions’ being the most influential factor. The average mean score of this factor is 3.4802. ‘Teaching quality in the institution’ is the criterion in this factor with the highest mean score of 3.5833.

Similar to the analysis of university students, the second most influential factor is the ‘future job prospect for graduates’ with an average mean score of 3.407. The leading criterion in this factor with a mean score of 3.5202 is ‘high employment rates of the graduates from the institutions’. This suggests that the college students’ choice is also driven by the potential of obtaining employment because of the reputable and quality qualifications obtained from the institutions.

The remaining three factors have narrow differences in their respective average mean scores. These are ‘institutions’ affiliation, nature, student number and ease of application’, ‘campus environment, facilities and recognition of prior qualification’, followed by ‘lower costs’. Their average mean scores were 3.196, 3.256 and 3.232 respectively.

Interestingly, these findings show that students’ choice of colleges is not strongly influenced by the cost factor even though college fees are generally lower than university fees because the latter have bigger and better facilities.

On the other hand, fees may not be the key factor because of the wide availability of financial assistance such as loans and scholarships from other independent bodies and loans from government agencies such as PTPTN.

Therefore, to attract students to study in their institutions, private and public institutions should focus on criteria established in previous studies such as financial attractiveness, programme and course suitability and availability, ease and flexibility of enrolment procedures, future ease of employment after graduating, attractiveness of institutions, and quality reputation – bearing in mind that although these criteria are relevant, they are not highly significant in influencing students’ choices for private higher education.

Anbalagan Krishnan is the Head of the Accounting Department and Senior Lecturer at Curtin Sarawak’s School of Business. He has had many years of professional experience prior to becoming a lecturer. His teaching experience includes teaching accounting and managerial accounting units for university degree programmes, as well as conducting industrial training programmes on accounting and non-accounting subjects. His research interests are in managerial accounting and control, performance measurement and management systems, integrated performance measurement systems, ethical issues related to non-accounting and accounting issues, accounting information systems, leadership, corporate governance, and accounting education. Anbalagan can be contacted by e-mail to anbalagan.k@curtin.edu.my.

Keling Stevenson Boniface Ancheh and Oktavia Nurtjahja are former staff of Curtin Sarawak.