After 2017's 20pc cut, public universities' operating budget goes up

Budget 2018 announced yesterday saw the operating expenditure allocation for 10 universities climb between 2.24 per cent and 36.66 per cent. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa
Budget 2018 announced yesterday saw the operating expenditure allocation for 10 universities climb between 2.24 per cent and 36.66 per cent. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa

KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 28 — Allocations for public universities' combined operating expenditure are set to rise next year by almost 10 per cent, reversing the nearly 20 per cent cut for this year.

The 20 public universities' operating budget for 2018 will grow from RM6.12 billion in 2017 to RM6.72 billion in 2018, an increase of RM597.84 million or 9.77 per cent.

Budget 2018 announced yesterday saw the operating expenditure allocation for 10 universities climb between 2.24 per cent and 36.66 per cent, with only three universities getting marginal spending cuts while seven have their budgets maintained.

In contrast, Budget 2017 saw the 20 universities' combined operating budgets slashed from RM7.57 billion in 2016 to RM6.12 billion in 2017, a drop of RM1.5 billion or about 19 per cent.

In Budget 2017, 15 universities had their operating budgets reduced, with Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) experiencing the highest proportional cut (-31.16 per cent) and Universiti Teknologi MARA (UiTM) the most in absolute terms (RM563 million less).

Five others had marginal increases of between RM3.83 million (1.88 per cent) and RM13.61 million (8.85 per cent).

Budget 2018's combined operating budgets for public universities are also an improvement from Budget 2016, when 19 out of 20 public universities had their spending allocations cut by a combined RM1.4 billion or 16.5 per cent.

Research universities get a boost

The top five gainers for 2018 are also the only five research universities in Malaysia, with Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM) getting the largest proportional bump at 36.66 per cent, followed by Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM) at 35.26 per cent, Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) at 34.45 per cent, UKM at 34.08 per cent and Universiti Malaya (UM) at 20.36 per cent.

In terms of growth in operating budget value, USM leads with a jump of RM134.48 million, followed by UKM (+RM120.19 million), UPM (+RM108.92 million), UTM (+M106.38 million) and UM (+RM75.33 million).

Aside from Bumiputra-only UiTM’s massive RM1.67 billion and Universiti Islam Antarabangsa Malaysia's (UIAM) RM400 million, the five research universities also have the largest operating budget amounts out of the 20 universities with USM again leading with RM524.83 million, followed by UKM (RM472.89 million), UM (RM445.37 million), UPM (RM417.81 million) and UTM (RM396.54 million).

These five research universities are said to be in the top one per cent globally, with the Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) global rankings for 2017/2018 listing UM at the leading position among local universities at the 114th place worldwide, while UPM was ranked 229th, UKM (230th), UTM (253rd) and USM (264th).

They were also ranked among the top 50 universities in Asia in the latest QS rankings.

Budget boosters

Yesterday, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak listed various initiatives as the country worked towards its target of becoming a regional higher education hub, including raising the previous allocation of RM235 million for research and development grants for public higher learning institutions to RM400 million in 2018.

Out of this RM400 million, UM will receive an unspecified sum of a "special allocation" for it to become listed among the top 100 universities globally in the near future.

Pointing out that RM44 billion worth of government scholarships for higher education has been given out since 2009, Najib said RM2.2 billion worth of scholarships will be provided next year by the Public Service Department, Higher Education Ministry, and Health Ministry, with an additional RM90 million for the MyBrain Programme for 10,600 individuals to undergo Masters and PhD studies.

The government will also provide a RM250 book voucher each to 1.2 million students, including those in higher learning institutions, he said.

Noting that UiTM has successfully produced over 700,000 Malay and Bumiputera graduates, Najib said it will be given a RM2.4 billion allocation. He said UiTM's student intake has grown to over 165,000 and was targeted to hit 250,000 by 2020.

Universities rise together with ministry's spending growth

The overall brighter spending prospects for the public universities also comes after the Higher Education Ministry reversed its overall budget's downward trend over the last three years.

With the ministry's overall budget projected to grow to around RM13.9 billion next year, the operating expenditure portion which fell in 2017 to a six-year low at around RM9.50 billion is expected to go up to RM10.96 billion.

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