Presentation ()


Change in Language Policy:

The Reality of Implementation in Public Universities

Saran Kaur Gill

Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia

Public Response

“ I was thrilled when my daughter was accepted by one of the public universities for the 2005/2006 year. After orientation week, students learnt that most of the Maths and Science-based courses would be conducted in Bahasa Malaysia.

This came as a real surprise for most of the students, and parents too, since the STPM and matriculation students were forced to switch from Bahasa Malaysia to English for Maths and Science in 2003.

A quick survey of other public universities showed that some programmes (Maths and Science-based ones, including engineering) offered 30 per cent of their courses in English, with the remaining 70 per cent in Bahasa Malaysia.

Confused Over Policy

My questions are:

 What is the current policy on the medium of instruction in public universities for Maths and Science-based subjects or courses?

Isn’t there continuity in the policy implemented by the

Government with regard to this?

Shouldn’t the Higher

Education Ministry be monitoring this and giving clear directives to the universities?”

(Letter from a parent, New Straits Times, July 18th 2005:20)

Question : How was the decision on medium of instruction policy change transmitted to you?

“It came out in the media. Suddenly everything in English.

And the funny thing is that English only for science.”

(Dean of a faculty, 23 rd Sept 2004)

“The policy is not clear on higher education. We know that it is done gradually for primary and secondary level but it is not clear for tertiary level. There wasn’t a statement or circular to advise us of the implementation. It was only transmitted during meetings with VCs where we were told that the minister mentioned that it will happen as a continuation to the implementation in schools.”

(DVC (A), 3 rd August 2004)

“This is the concern. When we read newspapers, heard news, immediately we asked our top people what’s going on? We’ve been asking questions but we don’t have a definite answer for that.

At certain level of the university we discussed, we are sort of ‘hanging’ there.”

(Dean of a faculty, 6 th January 2005)

“The Minister keeps talking about it but there’s no directive actually.

Even now we are not ready in terms of formal directive.

But we have to be prepared.

In fact we are preparing ourselves now knowing that the students are coming .”

(Dean of a faculty, 6 th January 2005)


What are the dominant strands?

academic management first found out about the change in medium of instruction from the mass media ii.

there was no formal documentation provided on the change and all dissemination of information to the universities was largely verbal iii.

there seems to be confusion and haziness about the direction of change at the higher education level iv.

despite the lack of documentation on change in MOI, universities have displayed responsibility by taking the initiative to work on implementation strategies.

Announcements in the Media

“Science and maths will be taught in English in phases from next year to give teachers and students enough time to adjust to the changes – hence only Year One, Form One and Lower Six students in national schools will be involved.”

(Sunday Star, 21/7/2002:1)

“It goes on to discuss at length the support facilities that will be provided to both teachers and students in schools to enable them to cope with the change in language policy. For science and maths teachers who have to teach in English, some of the facilities mentioned were, technological support, a critical allowance of 5% of their basic pay, special allowance for teachers in rural areas, three incremental jumps in salary to encourage all teachers to improve their proficiency in the language.”

(Sunday Star, 21/7/2002:1)

Announcement: Universities?

In contrast, the announcement involving public universities constitutes one sentence. It is stated that,

“All public universities will also have to switch to

English as the medium of instruction in science and technology subjects in 2005 when the first batch of

STPM students taught in English enter university.”

(Sunday Star, 21/7/2002:2)

Why was there no documentation on such a major change in language policy?

“We do not want to be involved in an academic exercise. You know how it is; when the government decides and writes a paper on it, people will study the paper and criticize the paper and give their own ideas and all that and we will be bogged down by academic discussions and not doing things and we want things done. So we minimize reasoning and polemics as much as possible.”

(Mahathir, 16 th June 2005)

Resistance at the first attempt at Change

“despite the Malaysian Cabinet’s decisions, many of the public universities did not support it. Intellectuals, especially Malay intellectuals, are a strong and cohesive group. They have not only social but also political clout.

They fought hard and succeeded in maintaining the status quo, that is, retaining the use of

Bahasa Melayu as the language for science and technology in institutions of higher learning.”

(Gill, 2002: 112)

No written documentation?

 Documentation is more permanent and clearly signals ownership as compared to verbal transmission. With verbal transmission there is clearly no documented ownership of support of language policy change.

 Bahasa Melayu amongst the educational elite is a strong symbol of Malay nationalism. After all, the “language of a nation, or an ethnic group, is often a symbol of its identity and allegiance, and an embodiment of its values, culture and traditions.” (Tsui and Tollefson, 2004: 2)

 Therefore, being definite via written documentation about the need to reinstitute English as the language of education for science and technology seems to signify an act of betrayal.

 This depicts the constant struggle between the linguistic pragmatic approach

- what needs to be done for the development of the nation - and the emotional relationship with the language, which is a mother-tongue of the

Malays, in addition to being the language of education and whose significant role in the field of science and technology is being displaced by


Attitude of academics

 In 2003, the Ministry of Education, Malaysia, reintroduced the English language as the medium of instruction for science and mathematics in the education system. Do you agree or disagree with this change?

62 % agreed 38% disagreed

UKM’s Implementation Strategies

 UKM will implement the teaching of Science and Maths in

English starting from the 2004/2005 academic session.

 In the initial academic session of 2004/2005, at least 30 % of the content of first year courses were taught in English.

 This will be increased to a maximum of 50% of content for the

2006/2007 academic session.

 By 2008, the percentage should not be below 70% and should move towards 100% use of English for the science and technology disciplines by academic year 2009/2010.

Contrasting Support for Implementation

The Minister of Higher Education in no uncertain terms, said,

“When I met the vice-chancellors on the issue recently, they assured me that everything was progressing according to the plan to introduce these courses in English from this year. … It will be ridiculous for students who have been studying these subjects in English to revert to Bahasa


(Karen Chapman, The Star, 28 th July 2005)

A Clear Direction…at long last…

A few days later, during the post-Cabinet meeting held on the

4 th August, 2005, he explains further the implementation process of the public university,

“We need to give them enough time to get used to the new terminology which comes with a change in the medium of instruction.”

He added that he had instructed the vice-chancellors and rectors of the country’s 17 public universities to take all necessary measures to ensure that this policy was enforced.

“By September, it will be 100% in English.”

(Gavin Gomez, The Star, 4 th August, 2005)