Education History Sponsored

7 stark differences between Malaysian university students today vs 1960s

Just throw a stone in any direction, and you’re bound to hit a college/university graduate on the head. (Err don’t throw too hard la, people study so hard edy…) Tertiary education in Malaysia has grown exponentially in the past few decades, so much so we now have over 20 public unis and over 50 private unis and uni-colleges.

But hit rewind to the good ol 60’s and you’ll see stark contrasts between the two eras. While today’s students are avocado-eating, meme-posting, Tik-Tok-using hypebeasts, the cool kids of that generation donned psychedelic clothes and rocked out to Pop Yeh Yeh music. But of course – we’re just scratching the surface on how different things have changed.

So together with our sponsors at Taylor’s (who coincidentally is celebrating the College’s 50th year anniversary this year AND happens to be the first private institution in Malaysia too), we went to find out just what uni life was like 50 years ago.

Taylor's then and now!

Taylor’s then and now!

To fill in that curiosity gap, we interviewed three old-timers who agreed to share their experiences with us.


From left: Kamaruzaman Yaacob (former student activist of the 70s), Mrs YY Chew (longest serving staff at Taylor’s) and Jimmy (former public university student who chose to remain anonymous).

First things first…


1. It was so common for students to plagiarise and escape with it so easily!

Image from Harith Sidek.

Image from Harith Sidek.

In the old days, where got projector and PowerPoint wan? The lecturers back then had to use blackboards with chalks in class. According to Mrs Chew (who was among the earliest staff in Taylor’s since the 80s and was a govt school teacher in the 60s), even the students had to use the blackboard and chalks (or sometimes overhead projector) to do their presentations.

“Taylor’s College had to buy A4-sized transparent sheets for the overhead projectors, which people considered as expensive.” – Mrs Chew told CILISOS.

And since there were no laptops or Microsoft Office, assignments were handwritten too. And the same way today you’d be a baller with AirPods in your ears, back then, you’d be seen as the rich kid if you could do it with a typewriter. This scenario was echoed by a former public uni student activist of the 70s, Kamaruzaman Yaacob, though he said that only the lecturers had typewriters.

Then Vs Now of wealth symbols in uni.

Then Vs Now of wealth symbols in uni.

But even more tiring was the research work. Since the internet wasn’t in public existence yet, the librarian was like a Mr/Ms Google to the students, whereby the students would tell the librarian their research topic and the librarian would give about 10 books on the topic along with notes on which chapters to refer to.

Taylor's library used to be a cupboard library. Now, it's a full-fledged library. Images from Taylor's.

Taylor’s library used to be a cupboard library. Now, it’s a full-fledged library. Images from Taylor’s.

Maybe because it was so mafan, dishonest homework practices like plagiarism were also common back then. As Mrs Chew told us, there were some assignments which weren’t done by the students themselves… but by their parents!

“There was so much of it (plagiarism) but they often went undetected because there was no tech to detect plagiarism at the time. And I think some of the work there, the father did the work.” – Mrs Chew.

The same was said by another public uni alumnus, Jimmy (not his real name), who said:

“Lab project results were at times plagiarized by some students who either could not complete their own project correctly or on time, or failed in their earlier attempts.

But not much weightage was given to such assignments anyway, since the final written examination results were used in considering the outcome on whether the student has done well or not. So, plagiarism was not really an issue to lecturers.” – Jimmy told CILISOS.


Probably what Peter Burn, Maktab Taylor’s first principal, said during Taylor’s opening ceremony on 3rd March 1969. 😛 Photo from Taylor’s University

But, nowadays there are SO MANY plagiarism checkers online (like TurnitinPlagiarisma, Dupli Checker, Small SEO Tools, Grammarly, Quetext, BibMe, *gasps for air* PaperRater and SearchEngineReports). However, plagiarism is still common, not just among students but also allegedly among lecturers.

Maybe it’s because most students don’t seem to understand what constitutes plagiarism and its severity (this might help if you’re one of them). While the consequences for offenders in some institutions can be as devastating as getting kicked out, there’s no clear punishment for plagiarism in Malaysia. Doesn’t mean you should do it, kay!

Besides that, you should also know that…


2. Public uni students initially had way more freedom than private uni students

Kamaruzaman rocking that hairdo. Image from Yuseri Yusoff.

Our interviewee, Kamaruzaman, rocking that hairdo. Image from Yuseri Yusoff.

We’re not making this up! Our interviewees told us this, we swear. In the 60-70s, there was so much freedom and there was nobody to stop them (at least in public unis).

The Hippie culture was also evident in Malaysia as many were influenced by it. So it’s safe to say that many smoked and rocked their fabulous long hair (we’re talking men), though Jimmy said it was generally frowned upon despite the lack of prohibition. Even the lecturers would smoke in the lecture halls before starting class.

“Couples sharing a kiss in the parking lots was normal. No boundaries. Wearing tudung was also unusual. If someone wore a tudung, people would look at her like she’s weird.” – Kamaruzaman.

Letting their hair down was so normal.Image from UM Memory.

Letting their hair down was so normal. Image from UM Memory.

What’s more interesting is that student associations held weekly and annual Ball Nights, where students got acquainted, showed off their dance moves and so much more.

How we imagine our parents/grandparents partying. Image from Giphy.

But it was different with Taylor’s, because as Mrs Chew said, most students dressed up decently and their source of entertainment was limited to just dancing and singing (“innocent fun”). Smoking was also prohibited back then.

Now, things have changed, or rather switched places. While the public unis have strict dress codes, the private unis allow their students some freedom in playing dress-up.

If y’all think this is weird and different than now, wait till you hear that…


3. This was probably why you’d likely see ragging in public unis… not private unis

To those who don’t know what ragging is, it’s basically an initiation ritual organised by seniors for the newcomers as a way to break the ice and get the newcomers feeling familiar with their new environment.

Image from Taylor's.

Image from Taylor’s.

Some of us would have heard from our public uni friends (or seen it in Three Idiots) about their ragging experiences, which may be unpleasant. But did you know that ragging back then seemed pretty safe? As a former student union president, Kamaruzaman said that ragging was controlled and not abusive in public unis. Orientation was also used to give newbies an opportunity to showcase their talents and gain confidence.

“But also got case where the seniors told the freshmen to sing inappropriate songs, and do push-ups and squats. But those are rare. Mostly, the seniors would ask them to give a speech, sing, play a musical instrument and so on.

So, they’re judging their juniors’ talents. I myself am good at public speaking, so I was offered to run for the Campus Elections in my first year.” – Kamaruzaman.

Jimmy, who also had a similar ragging experience, mentioned that these inappropriate songs were targeted at the block housing female students. But that’s not all.

Water fights’ using balloons & plastic bags filled with water as well as ‘panty raids’ were also organized to remind freshies with a fresh paradigm on university education that ‘all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy’!” – Jimmy added.

Wah, water balloons also have! Image form Giphy.

Wah, water balloons also have! Image from Giphy.

Although ragging was happening in public unis, Mrs Chew said at Taylor’s College, the principal Ted Miles was very strict and did not allow such activities to happen.

“We were afraid students would bully each other, and so we didn’t allow ragging.

I used to read in the newspapers about ragging in public universities at that time. If the freshman refuses to follow instructions, the senior would gang up and beat him up at night. It made the juniors feel very low.” –  Mrs Chew.

But today, the uni authorities introduced a policy to regulate ragging. Instead, students in private unis are welcomed with some simple team-building orientation activities.

Then Vs Now of Orientation.

Then Vs Now of Orientation.


Wong Fu in Malaysia again! Why do we love them so much??

4. Some people had crazy ways to pay for uni.. like mortgaging homes! 

We know that higher education often comes at a high price and thus, we either see our school peers competing to do well in their studies and kokurikulum to get scholarships or rushing to fill in the application forms for financial aids or even working part-time jobs while waiting for SPM results.

Well, Jimmy told us that students who did excellently in HSC (STPM) and kokurikulum in the 60s were more likely to gain prestigious scholarships to study overseas, with all expenses and post-study job position taken care of. But not everyone gets to have it. 🙁

So other students, usually the poorer ones, had to apply for either a scholarship or bursary from the Federal or State Govt and in return had to serve the govt for a minimum of 5 years after graduating, unlike now when there are many more financial aids like PTPTN.

“Most undergraduates who were unsuccessful in getting a scholarship, could still afford enrolment on their own ‘father’s scholarship’. Perhaps with some financial help from friends or relatives.” – Jimmy added.

Image from Taylor's.

Image from Taylor’s.

While there were parents who funded their kids’ uni studies using money that they saved up in an education insurance fund, there were also those who were willing to put their homes on the line to send their kids to uni or abroad.

I’ve known of one parent who mortgaged her house.. Get the money. Yeah. Then, I told the child, ‘You ah, better learn properly. Get your result, you know. Then, 1, 2, 3, 4 years, come and help mama and papa to help the younger adik’.” –  Mrs Chew.

But in public unis, the tuition fees weren’t so high. Jimmy said that fees (for a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Chemistry) ranged from RM1,000 to RM2,000 per year. 

College fees were only RM300 a term (of 10 weeks) that included full board, lodging and laundry (collection twice a week). Residents would get 3 meals a day and the large canteen hall was divided into 2 sections—Halal and Non-halal. But apparently today, only Halal option is available for all!” – Jimmy.

But it’s not like now, with the rising living costs and fees. For example, boarding fees including food can reach up to RM10 daily.. And our tuition fees can go up to RM38,000 per year! That’s a HUGE increase.


5. Before the internet, students raised their voices on the streets

Image from UM Library.

Literally raising his voice. Image from UM Library.

Before we delve into student activism, there’s one thing we wanna point out. Before 1970, 70% of the public uni student body consisted of non-Malays and 30% consisted of Malays. But after 1970, that number shifted to a ratio of 55 Bumis: 45 non-BumisMajority of these students came from poor backgrounds.

“That’s why, when there’s a famine in Baling and oppression in Tasek Utara, we demonstrated. Hence, the Baling Demonstration, Tasek Utara Demonstration and so on. It’s because, at the time students were sufficiently sensitive about human rights and poverty issues.” – Kamaruzaman.

Hishamuddin Rais speaking at the Tasek Utara demo. Image from Pro Mahasiswa USM.

Hishamuddin Rais speaking at the Tasek Utara demo. Image from Pro Mahasiswa USM.

But this demo streak stopped with the amendment of the University and University Colleges Act (AUKU) in 1975. The amendment consequently suppressed speech and political freedom for students. However, Education Minister Maszlee Malik said that AUKU will be repealed completely next year and replaced with a new law.

But Jimmy begs to differ, saying that current students are more well-informed about current issues compared to previous generations, because of social media.

“I am inclined to believe that student activism increased only much later, particularly after the Reformasi movement began in 1998!” – Jimmy.

Nowadays, if you’re unhappy with something, you can just post it online and viralkan.

imu controversy

One example of a viral post.


6. Literature was a popular major but not everyone knew about this option

Nowadays, the popular course would be data science or psychology. You’d think that, back then, medicine would be the popular course. But no… We found out that it was literature.

Image from Memes Monkey.

Image from Memes Monkey.

In the 70s, the govt at the time built lots of govt offices and schools, so the govt wanted more Malay admins in these offices.

“The govt also provided a quota for teachers to continue their degree studies. So, most of these teachers pursued literature, compared to other majors.” – Kamaruzaman.

Teaching scholarships were quite popular, but did not appeal to me as that would mean an extra year of study for a Diploma in Education after completing the degree program, besides having to serve as a contract teacher for 5 years at the end.” – Jimmy about the teaching career path.

Even better was that many uni students back then got job interviews upon graduating, or sometimes, before graduating.

But with regards to awareness, students and parents weren’t well-informed about the programme choices, and normally preferred their kids to pursue Medicine or Law at the expense of kids’ passion and skills, especially since there was no career advisor in unis back then to convince the parents otherwise.

Some doctors would later open a restaurant because of their passion in food and cooking. They’d be like, ‘I love cooking but my parents wanted me to be a doctor’.” – Mrs Chew.

Programmes in Taylor's in 1991. Image from Taylor's.

Programmes in Taylor’s in 1991. Image from Taylor’s.

What Mrs Chew said is true because there was no hospitality and culinary arts programme in Malaysia. But now, if your passion lies in performing, getting creative with rooms and furnitures, or experimenting with food to create a gastronomic masterpiece, Taylor’s can help you achieve and live that dream, thanks to its wide range of programmes.


7. People chose unis based on what they heard from their family and friends

Nowadays, if you wanna choose a uni, people would usually check the ratings and rankings of unis first since better ratings and rankings indicate higher quality. But how was it like 5 decades ago? According to Mrs Chew, Malaysia didn’t have any rankings or ratings at all, but other countries like the UK and the USA probably did. But such info wasn’t available to all segments of society since there was no tech for it back then.

And Mrs Chew emphasised that her answer to our question about how people chose unis back then is not straightforward. Mostly, it was through word of mouth, based on seniors’ experiences.

Maybe like this.

Maybe like this.

And among the many subjective factors, the main question was always why people went to certain countries like the UK and the USA and not Papua New Guinea or Bahamas.

“A lot of people are going to England for law and you’d ask yourself, ‘why don’t they go to Papua New Guinea for law?‘… There are people going to Australia for business and accounting, ‘why don’t they go to Maldives for accounting? Got University of Maldives what.’ Then, you’d begin to ask questions like that.” – Mrs Chew.

Because there are so many factors which vary from person to person, she also said that it’s hard to define a good uni. And they didn’t talk about graduate employability at the time.

“Top in what? Top in having international students, top in research..?” – Mrs Chew.

This is probably what she meant: Taylor’s was recently awarded 5-STAR in five (5) categories of the QS Stars University Ratings 2019-2022 exercise.

Screenshot from TopUniversities.

Waaahhh, got so may stars wei. Screenshot from TopUniversities.

Taylor’s is also recognised as the 4th Best University in the World and the Best in Asia for graduate employment rate in the 2019 QS Graduate Employability Rankings, due to its strong relationship with employers.


Fast forward to today, higher education in Malaysia has improved a lot

Then vs Now of tech used in class.

Then Vs Now of class tech.

It can’t be denied that throughout the years, we can see so many positive changes in the development of this country’s higher education. Malaysia now has over 20 public unis and over 50 private unis and uni colleges.

The positive development also includes comfier dorms, more comprehensive lectures, more equipped libraries, WiFi etc. If there are financial constraints, now students have many financial aid options like PTPTN, MARA, state govt education loans, PPBUfoundation scholarships, uni scholarships etc.

Programme options have also widened compared to before, Taylor’s alone has over 80 programmes and majors at different levels (pre-u, diploma, Bachelor’s degree, Master’s and PhD). So if you’ve always wanted to be a stage lighting director, there’s even a course for that!

Taylor's has come a long way. Image from Taylor's.

Taylor’s has come a long way. Image from Taylor’s.

And who would’ve guessed that an institution, that was just a “maktab” offering a pre-u programme 50 years ago, has now produced over 100,000 graduates?

With that said, we’d love to take this opportunity to wish… HAPPY 50TH ANNIVERSARY, TAYLOR’S!

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