Concerns have been raised over students dropping out of public universities in the country due to problems of affordability compounded by the rising cost of living and economic challenges.
A former lecturer and department administrator at a public university said a small number of students had already abandoned their studies as they were unable to support themselves.
Speaking to MalaysiaNow, he said this was especially the case in large cities such as Kuala Lumpur and Selangor.
He voiced concern that the trend would gain momentum if inflation and other economic issues are not handled well.
"It's like a time bomb," he said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
"Students are finding it hard to get by. Sometimes they don't even have enough money for food. But we tell them to pipe down as we feel that we are facing more troubles than they are.
"Eventually, they stop complaining because they don't want to deal with negative comments. And in the end, they leave and face an even more challenging reality: work or unemployment, without a diploma.
"When this happens, universities will no longer be relevant."
He said friends and former employees had often spoken of this matter, saying that students were in desperate need of additional financial resources if they wished to continue their studies.
Citing news reports of students who dropped out to help their parents or to take care of sick family members, he said these pointed to a larger problem of affordability.
In July, the higher education ministry said more than 30,000 or 2.6% of some 1.1 million students at public universities failed to complete their studies during the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 and 2021.
These students had cited, among others, health problems, personal issues, failed examinations and registration failures.
The former registration department administrator said the ministry and universities should conduct a more in-depth study of the matter.
He suggested that each student who left university be interviewed in order to get a better picture of their individual challenges.
"Sometimes, there are obvious health problems backed by hospital reports," he said.
"But what about family problems? These students could be given help so that they can complete their studies."
Adding that this was a systemic problem, he said: "When they register to begin their studies, we ask them for all sorts of things. But when they leave the university, we don't care."
On social media, many university students have expressed concern about how they will cope in the upcoming semesters.
Some are worried about delays in the arrival of scholarship funds and a lack of residential vacancies while others speak of rumours that bills for electricity and facilities will be increased.
One student took to Facebook last week about a RM9,000 rental deposit payment for a house in Shah Alam, Selangor, saying the amount was unaffordable for students.
When contacted, National Student Representative Council president Alinur Ahlam said the government was already channelling a great deal of aid and carrying out various initiatives to help students through the economic challenges.
Nevertheless, he said it would help if more targeted financial aid was given to those who are truly in need.
"Here, the universities themselves need to help, to look into why these students are dropping out," he said.
"And they need to inform the ministry of the matter so that the aid that is given reaches those in need."
The former department administrator, who worked as a part-time lecturer for more than 10 years, said public universities could no longer afford to carry out financial initiatives and channel aid to students at the same frequency as they themselves had limited resources.
He said universities throughout the country were scrambling to think of how to help their students get by.
MalaysiaNow has attempted to contact the top management of several public universities, but has yet to receive a response.