A new requirement that private colleges in Malaysia teach a compulsory course in Islamic and Asian Civilization Studies has been politically controversial. The move has been described as a step toward increasing "Islamization" of the country’s colleges, as The Malay Mail Online has reported, and some argue that the course should be an elective. Government officials reject the argument that non-Muslim students should not be required to take the course, saying that the course covers not only Islamic civilization but also Chinese, Indian and Malay civilizations, as the Star reported. The course is already required of all students in public institutions.
Foreign branch campuses in Malaysia are among the institutions that are subject to the new requirement. Christine Ennew, provost of the University of Nottingham’s campus in Malaysia, told Inside Higher Ed in an e-mail interview that Nottingham has taught subjects mandated by the Malaysian government since the campus's establishment in 2000: a 1996 law governing private education providers mandates that private institutions teach compulsory courses in Malaysian studies and courses related to Islam for Muslim students and moral studies for non-Muslim students. What’s changed, she said, is the nature of the mandatory subjects, including the introduction of the new Islamic and Asian Civilization Studies course.
Asked whether the government’s move raises concerns about issues of institutional autonomy, Ennew said, “We’ve been delivering the teaching of compulsory subjects in relation to broad, externally defined content for 13 years – it was a requirement that we were aware of when we made the decision to establish a campus in Malaysia. And Malaysia is not the only country that asks for certain subjects to be taught to students. The key point is that these subjects are outside of the core curriculum and so [the] government is not interfering in the content of our degree programs.”