Free Public Higher Education: Look Ma, No Fees!
People do come into our office asking for welfare support. People also come into our office asking for Wong Chen's signature as certifier or witness to their scholarship applications. As much as we're glad to serve our constituents in both ways and more, here's a policy paper that may reduce the need for both: free(!) public higher education for all Malaysians! Crucially, education drives social mobility up and out of the poverty trap; plus, no more rushing to your local MP's office a day before the scholarship application is due (Tania Loke here confirms this happens).
This paper examines a simple question: Can Malaysia afford to give free public higher (i.e. tertiary) education?
Based on a survey of fees and student enrolment numbers in Malaysian public higher education institutions, we estimate that providing free education at these institutions to Malaysians will cost RM1.77bil per year. Note that this estimation excludes living expenses.
We further estimate that corruption and wastage losses in the Ministry of Higher Education’s budget amount to RM1.92bil annually. The potential savings from eliminating corruption can thus cover the cost of providing free public higher education.
A brief look at the National Higher Education Fund Corporation (Perbadanan Tabung Pendidikan Tinggi Nasional, PTPTN) loan scheme reveals that the amount of loans approved for students in public higher education institutions averages RM2bil annually. We argue that this sum can be better allocated towards providing direct grants for free education.
Not only is it financially feasible to provide free public higher education, it is also economically and socially beneficial. Greater access to higher education for all Malaysians will boost social mobility and our country’s economic and democratic standards.