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Public Universities vs Private Universities: Which One is Better?

Published by Afterschool.my on Jun 11, 2021, 04:16 am

With results slowly filtering through, students are quickly learning their respective fates as they discover if they were offered a place in a Public University through UPU, a spot in Matriculation though the Ministry of Education (MOE) or even STPM. Some ecstatic, others in despair. But why do Malaysian students crave to be accepted in public universities? Why do many of them consider it their only option when it comes to a tertiary education, totally disregarding private institutions? Some would point to factors such as exponentially high tuition, poorer prospects upon completion and lower worldwide rankings among other reasons. Today, we at afterschool.my will try and find out, as we compare Public Universities against private ones, dispelling any false notions along the way.

How much do they cost?


Although private universities are more expensive, some offer scholarship that can range from a 50% scholarship to even a full one -Image via pexels.com

We start with, arguably, the most important factor for many students, the cost. Students always languish on the notion that Private Universities are just too expensive. The average cost for tuition at a Public University is around RM6,500.00 a year. That would amount to RM19,500.00 for a 3 years’ course and RM26,000.00 for a 4 year one. For the more popular courses at the higher ranked Public Unis, the true number leans towards RM30,000.00 – RM35,000.00 mark. Now, remember those numbers, and put them up against that of a private university. We will of course only consider those with full accreditation. For example, Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman (UTAR) offers a Civil Engineering for RM46,800.00 in total. Another example would be Infrastructure University Kuala Lumpur (IUKL), who price their Mechanical Engineering course at RM56,760.00. In comparison, that is about an RM15,000.00 difference at the minimum, which is what turns many students away from the gaze of a private uni. But there is something you should know about, something you may have missed. Many private universities these days offer tuition waivers as well as scholarships from their own university. This can range from anywhere between a 50% partial scholarship for students with at least 5As for SPM, to a full scholarship for those with at least 8As. This would narrow the gap in tuition prices, dwindling it down to almost nothing, or, and whisper it quietly, even cheaper than a Public University.



public vs private university

For this category, Public Universities win 

Public Universities 1-0 Private Universities. It is still cheaper to study in Public Universities, but the prices are closer than ever before, especially with the numerous scholarships on offer from the private ones.


What are the rankings?

The World University Rankings

Many private universities are able to surpass public universities in terms of rankings -Image via timeshighereducation.com

If a snap survey was quickly done, and people were asked which is better ranked, private or public universities, the general consensus would undoubtedly be the latter choice. Everyone knows Universiti Malaya is the number one university in Malaysia. Therefore, the rest of the Public universities follow suit and stay way ahead of the private universities in Malaysia, right? Well, you may be surprised to find out that according to the Times Higher Education (THE) rankings 2017, the second best university in Malaysia following UM was a tie between Universiti Putra Malaysia and a private university, UTAR, which beat all the other public institutions. Then, you have the University of Southampton, one of the top three universities in the UK for engineering. Their Malaysian branch campus offers students the same level of education, rubber stamped by their final 2 years being held in the UK. Then, you have Heriot-Watt University, which in 2015/16, was listed in the top 4% of universities globally, according to QS World University Rankings. Their Malaysian campus allows students to transfer to another campus for a semester, a year, or even longer. People often associate the rankings of these institutions with the level of education one will receive when they study there. While that is debatable, many private universities, including branch campuses, have cut the gap and some, even surpassed their Public counterparts in the rankings.


Public vs Private

Public universities win the rankings category 

Public Universities 2-1 Private Universities. University Malaya is still Malaysia’s number one university, and there are more public universities in the top rankings compared to private ones. But, the emergence of UTAR as Malaysia’s joint second best university, and new branch campuses with rankings that are in the upper echelons of the very best such as Heriot-Watt University & The University of Southampton Malaysia Campus, it’s too close to call. Both sides score a point each.

What are the choices available?


There are more options in courses in private universities compared to the public ones - Image via outofthesandbox.com

Public Universities offer almost nothing other than the straightforward Diploma, Degree and so on. Private Universities on the other hand do offer a multitude of courses that you would not find in a Public University. Such examples include double degree programmes, in which you study a course at a local private university (fully) in which it collaborates with an institution from overseas. Upon completion, you will receive two degrees, one from the local university, and one from the overseas one. More often than not, the overseas university in question is a pioneer or maverick in the field, as shown by Sunway University collaborating with the famous Le Cordon Bleu for their Bachelor of Science in Culinary Management. Twinning programmes is another example, whereby you start your course in Malaysia but complete 1, 2 or more years overseas. This is usually indicated by the type of programme. A 1+2 programme will see you complete one year locally and then two abroad, usually ending with an overseas degree. SEGi University offers many twinning courses with the USA, and end up sending students to the United States when the times come to after their year one or two. Finally, there is the option of a double major, where students can go into one common field, such as a Bachelor of Commerce, and then branch into two different specialties simultaneously. A prime example can be seen by Curtin University, Malaysia. They offer double majors such as, Accounting & Finance, Banking & Finance, Finance & Marketing and many more. Why would you want a double major you ask? Well, to future employers, it would be a huge boon to have someone who is an expert in tow fields that are related. Imagine an advertising company looking to hire someone to lead a project, and then coming across a candidate who majored in both Marketing & Management.


Public Universities vs private universities

Although both scored a tie, private universities have better options in their courses 

Public Universities 2-2 Private Universities. This category isn’t even close, as private universities give students numerous options, both locally abroad. Twinning programmes, double degrees, double majors and more help the private unis sneak in to equalise and draw level.


What are the facilities available?


Private universities have more budgets for their facilities - Image via globalplatforms.org

This is where the Private Universities truly excel. That is not to say that Public Universities do not, as some of them do fare extremely well in this regard. UM and UKM even have their own training hospitals to give medical students the very best. However, due to recent budget cuts, especially in their research programmes, private universities continue to pull away. On top of that, some private universities specialise in certain courses, and as such, can tailor-make their amenities and facilities to cater to the intended crowd, something public universities cannot do. We aren’t merely talking about fancy student lounges either (which is still cool to be able to use of course). The equipment and amenities seen in universities such as the German Malaysian Institute, which houses the latest and greatest engineering technology, IUKL’s student accommodation, well-equipped with numerous amenities for its students’ needs, from cosy condominiums and hostel to commercial areas, within a secure and green environment, is just the tip of an iceberg larger than the one that brought down the Titanic (too soon?).


Public vs private

Private universities have better facilities 

Public Universities 2-3 Private Universities. This one was close. UM and UKM have training hospitals, but cannot compete with the facilities on offer from other private universities, especially the ones that cater to very specific courses and adjust and arrange their facilities accordingly and the universities that collaborate and receive assistance from those overseas. Private Universities take the lead for the first time this shoot-out. Can they hang on for the win?

Will you be recognised?

MQA Recognition

The MQA will determine whether the course you are studying is worth it or not

There are Private Universities that have courses that are not recognised, which was the fear from many in years prior. Imagine the horror of spending money, completing your course, only to find out after, that your course is not recognised and that you cannot get a job. Well, this is now an issue of the past, as it has become very easy to determine if a course you are interested in is recognised by the Malaysian Qualifications Agency (MQA). Basically, if the folks over at MQA accredit a course and say it’s recognised, you will no problems whatsoever. If you want to know how to check on a course and whether it’s accredited, please click here for a full guide.


Public vs Private Unis

There’s no need to worry now, all courses in Public universities are recognised by MQA

Public Universities 3-3 Private Universities. Despite it being extremely easy to check if courses are accredited by the MQA now, the fact of the matter is, all courses in Public Universities are already recognised meaning that you don’t even worry. The Public Unis hit back immediately and it’s all square, just as we started. Moving on to the final category, that will decide this encounter once and for all.


What are the prospects for fresh graduates?

Fresh Graduates

Private universities enable students to broaden their horizon - Image via kalibrr.com

Another common notion is that if you graduate from a public university, it’ll be much easier for you to secure a job. Many students truly believe this concept, and do anything to gain admission into any public university. However, this particular point is almost entirely false. Sure, having a top university under your education background in your CV may score you an interview. However, what will secure you the job is the interview. This part is entirely up to you, and one of the main reasons why fresh graduates are considered not up to the mark. Of course, this is relative, and up to the individual these days. But, by going to a private university, having to arrange and stay in your own accommodation and mixing around with a more international crowd, which is a common spectacle in the private unis, it may broaden your horizon, give you better insight and crucially, cultivate independence, and eventually may mould a well-rounded individual. While this category is without a doubt entirely down to the individual, private universities, especially those that have a year or two overseas, give their students much vaster exposure to the real world and international conditions and climates, giving them a better chance.


Public vs Private Scoring

Since private universities have international students, it promotes open-mindedness and freedom

Public Universities 3-4 Private Universities. With the overall package that private universities offer, and the culture that promotes more open-mindedness and freedom (which may not be for everyone), the private universities score in the very last minute and secure the win for the Private Universities.


Final score

Private University

And the winner goes to Private Universities!

Final Score: Public Universities 3-4 Private Universities

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