Rectifying inequality, reifying identity? The political economy of education and ethnic relations in Malaysia

Graham K Brown

Research output: Chapter or section in a book/report/conference proceedingChapter or section


This chapter examines the political economy of education in Malaysia from a multidisciplinary perspective, drawing upon a textual analysis of parliamentary debates and decomposition analysis of census data and regression analysis attitudinal survey conducted in 2007. It argues that the well-known New Economic Policy (NEP) of ethnic affirmative action that Malaysia has pursued since 1971 represented a qualitative shift from viewing education as instrumental to ethnic harmony for primarily political reasons—through its socially integrative potential—to primarily economic reasons—rectifying economic inequalities between ethnic groups. Age cohort analysis and decomposition of labour market segregation, however, suggests that while the NEP was successful in this latter goal in the first decade of its operation, it was less successful in subsequent years and that by the year 2000, occupational segregation had returned to 1970 levels but that this level of segregation was much more linked to ethnic educational differentials than in 1970. The final section examines how the socially integrative potential of education has fared since the inception of the NEP. Based on survey analysis, this section demonstrates that the more ethnically segregated the respondents’ educational experience, the less positive their attitudes toward other ethnic groups. The paper concludes that while the NEP may have had short term success in reducing educational disparities, it has left a legacy of educational and occupational segregation that is impacting negatively on ethnic relations in the country.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Political Function of Education in Deeply Divided Countries
EditorsT Hanf
Place of PublicationBaden-Baden
Number of pages20
ISBN (Print)978-3-8329-6805-2
Publication statusPublished - 2011


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