Changing Landscape of the Malaysian Higher Education: An Overview of Women’s Glass Ceiling

  • Hazri JamilEmail author
  • Ahmad Firdaus Ahmad Shabudin
  • Santhiram R. Raman
  • Ooi Poh Ling
Part of the International and Development Education book series (INTDE)


The situation for women in Malaysia is improving over time as much of this progress can be attributed to increased access to education for women and greater awareness of their constitutional rights. A significant increase in gender parity has framed the Malaysia higher education landscape. It can be easily seen at the tertiary level in Malaysia along with the availability of women faculty, leadership, academic, and researchers which have increased and significantly contribute to overall Malaysian higher education development. The increase in women researchers as well as more women’s participation in selected STEM courses at the tertiary education in Malaysia shows the enhanced achievement of women’s social status, and in addition has brought them recognition as a significant human capital factor that contributes to the country’s social and economic development. However, these elements are not reflected in a significant increase of women in leadership roles in both the private and public sectors. This chapter discusses how the landscape of Malaysian higher education has evolved since the 1990s in relation to public and private higher education development. Reflecting the existing mind-set and gender stereotypes in place, a significant gender imbalance exits within the senior staff of public institutions and the slow rate of progress that has taken place in the private sector over the last 20 years. This situation signals the need for proactive policy intervention in this area.


  1. Abu-Lail, N.I., F.A. Phang, A.A Kranov, K. Mohd-Yusof, R.G. Olsen, R. Letricewilliams, and A.Z. Abidin. 2012. “Persistent Gender Inequity in US Undergraduate Engineering: Looking to Jordan and Malaysia for Factors to Their Success in Achieving Gender Parity.” American Society for Engineering Education. American Society for Engineering Education, Conference Paper, June.Google Scholar
  2. Almaki, S.H., A.D. Silong, K. Idris, and N.W.A. Wahat. 2016. “Challenges Faced Muslim Women Leaders in Higher Education.” Journal of Educational and Social Research 6 (3): 75.Google Scholar
  3. Becker, R. 2014. “Reversal of Gender Differences in Educational Attainment: A Historical Analysis of the West German Case.” Educational Research 56 (2): 184–201.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Beng Ee, W. 2018. “Year for Empowering Women.” The Star Online, January 24. Accessed May 21, 2018.
  5. Bernstein, R. 2017. “More Female Researchers Globally, but Challenges Remain.” Science, March 9. Accessed May 2, 2018.
  6. Burkinshaw, P. 2015. Higher Education, Leadership, and Women Vice Chancellors: Fitting into Communities of Practice of Masculinities. London: Palgrave Macmillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Catalyst, Quick Take. 2017. “Women in Academia.” Catalyst, Quick Take, October 20. Accessed June 11, 2018.
  8. Cotter, D.A., J.M. Hermsen, S. Ovadia, and R. Vanneman. 2001. “The Glass Ceiling Effect.” Social Forces 80 (2): 655–681.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Daily Express. 2017. “Transforming Women in Leadership.” Daily Express, February. Accessed April 10, 2018.
  10. Department of Statistics Malaysia. 2017. “Statistics on Women Empowerment in Selected Domains, Malaysia.” Department of Statistics Malaysia. Accessed April 24, 2018.
  11. Eröcal, D. 2015. UNESCO Science Report: Towards 2030. Paris: United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization.Google Scholar
  12. Faizli, A.A. 2017. “Women: The Key to a Brighter Malaysia.” Astro Awani, January 11. Accessed April 11, 2018.
  13. German Academic Exchange Services. 2007. “Female Leadership and Higher Education Management in Developing Countries.” German Academic Exchange Services Conference Paper, Bonn, Germany, June 28–29, 2017. Accessed June 11, 2018.
  14. Goel, S. 2007. “Women in Engineering in India.” International Journal of Interdisciplinary Social Sciences 1 (6): 49–56.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Heschmeyer, C. 2016. “Engineering Is Popular Among Muslim Women, but Why?” Engineering 360, September 9. Accessed April 2, 2018.
  16. Higher Education Statistic. 2016. “Macro—Higher Education Institution.” Ministry of Higher Education Statistics.
  17. Hoxha, T. 2016. “Did You Know Female Engineers Are More Common in Muslim Countries Than in the United States?” Mvslim.motivates, October 6. Accessed April 1, 2018.
  18. Hunter, M. 2015. “The Growing Gender Imbalance in Higher Ed: Where Have All the Boys Gone?” Asian Correspondent.
  19. ICEF Monitor. 2014. “Women Increasingly Outpacing Men’s Higher Education Participation in Many World Markets.” ICEF Monitor. Accessed May 21, 2018.
  20. Ismail, L. 2015. “Gender Gap in Higher Education: Perspective on Factors Influencing Enrollment in Malaysian Universities: A University of Malaya Sample.” The Online Journal of Quality in Higher Education 2 (4): 35.Google Scholar
  21. Ismail, M., and R.M. Rasdi. 2006. “Career Mobility of High-Flying Women Academics: A Study at Selected Universities in Malaysia.” Asia Pacific Journal of Education 26 (2): 155–171.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Katuna, B.M. 2014. “Breaking the Glass Ceiling? Gender and Leadership in Higher Education.” Doctoral Dissertations, 372.Google Scholar
  23. Kigotho, W. 2015. “Women Enroll in Sciences but Not STEM.” University World News, February 20. Accessed April 1, 2018.
  24. Koh, K. 2017. “2018 Budget Will Empower Women in the Workforce, Say Female Professionals.” The New Straights Times, October 28. Accessed May 21, 2018.
  25. Majid, N.A. 2017. “Malaysia Ranks 9th Among Asia Pacific Nations with Most Empowered Women.” The New Straights Time, December 6. Accessed May 1, 2018.
  26. Ministry of Higher Education Statistics. 2016. “Macro—Higher Education Institution.” Ministry of Higher Education Statistics.
  27. Morley, L., and B. Crossouard. 2015. Women in Higher Education Leadership in South Asia: Rejection, Refusal, Reluctance, Revisioning. University of Sussex. Accessed April 15, 2018.
  28. Nasa, A., and Z. Anwar. 2016. “Too Few STEM Students.” The New Straights Times, May 22. Accessed April 15, 2018.
  29. Ng, S.B. 2016. “Sharing Malaysian Experience in Participation of Girls in STEM Education.” In-Progress Reflection No. 3 on Current and Critical Issues in Curriculum and Learning. Accessed May 21, 2018.
  30. Peramayah, S. 2012. Development of Women Engineers in Malaysia. Jurutera. Accessed April 25, 2018.
  31. Perez-Artieda, G., E. Gubia, E. Barrenechea, P. Sanchis, A.L. Martin, D. Astrain, and I. Matias. 2014. “Analysis of Women Enrollment in Engineering Programs at the Public University of Navarre.” In Frontiers in Education Conference (FIE), 2014 IEEE, 1–8.Google Scholar
  32. Professionals Australia Gender and Diversity. 2017. “Workplace Discrimination Driving Women Away from Engineering.” Professionals Australia Gender and Diversity, September 4. Accessed April 25, 2018.
  33. Rajaendram, R. 2016. “Where Are the Boys Heading?” The Star Online, June 5. Accessed May 21, 2018.
  34. Redmond, P., H. Gutke, L. Galligan, A. Howard, and T. Newman. 2017. “Becoming a Female Leader in Higher Education: Investigations from a Regional University.” Gender and Education 29 (3): 332–351.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Rehfeldt, R.A. 2018. “Lessons from a Female Academician: Some Further Reflections on a Glass Ceiling.” Behavior Analysis in Practice 11 (3): 181–183.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Rosna A.H, N. Mohammad, and A. Kaur. 2016. “Women Leadership in Higher Education: Can the Glass Ceiling Be Broken?” The NIEW Journal, 1–9.Google Scholar
  37. Sani, R. 2018. “3,000 Women Join Higher Education Ministry’s Women’s Day Celebration in UPM.” The New Straights Times, March 27. Accessed April 1, 2018.
  38. Shepherd, S. 2017. “Why Are There So Few Female Leaders in Higher Education: A Case of Structure or Agency?” Management in Education 31 (2): 82–87.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. The Statistics Portal. n.d. “Number of Students Enrolled in Public Higher Education Institutions in Malaysia from 2012 to 2016, by Gender (in 1,000).” Statista.
  40. The Sun Daily. 2017. “Malaysia Exceeds Target on Women as Decision Makers: Rosmah.” The Sun Daily, August 10. Accessed April 10, 2018.
  41. Tienxhi, J.Y. 2017. “The Gender Gap in Malaysian Public Universities: Examining the ‘Lost Boys.’” Journal of International and Comparative Education (JICE) 6 (1): 1–16.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. UNESCO. 2016. Sharing Malaysian Experience in Participation of Girls in STEM Education. International Bureau of Education. Accessed May 21, 2018.
  43. UNESCO. 2017a. “Cracking the Code: Girls’ and Women’s Education in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM).” Paris: United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. Accessed April 25, 2018.
  44. _____. 2017b. “Women in Science.” UNESCO Institute for Statistics.
  45. _____. n.d. “Science, Technology, and Innovation: Women in Science.” UNESCO.
  46. Wan, C.D. 2017. “Student Enrollment in Malaysian Higher Education: Is There Gender Disparity and What Can We Learn From the Disparity?” Compare: A Journal of Comparative and International Education 48 (2): 244–261.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. World Economic Forum. 2017. “The Global Gender Gap Report 2017 (Insight Report).” Geneva: World Economic Forum. Accessed May 1, 2018.

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Hazri Jamil
    • 1
    Email author
  • Ahmad Firdaus Ahmad Shabudin
    • 1
  • Santhiram R. Raman
    • 2
  • Ooi Poh Ling
    • 1
  1. 1.National Higher Education Research InstituteUniversiti Sains MalaysiaBayan LepasMalaysia
  2. 2.School of Education, Languages and CommunicationsWawasan Open UniversityGeorge TownMalaysia

Personalised recommendations