PETALING JAYA - One in every four Malaysians, aged between 18 and 24, is pursuing higher learning thanks to the nation's improved access to education, said Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak.
Expanding on the country's fight against poverty through education, the Prime Minister said "in 1959, when Universiti Malaya took its first batch, there were only slightly over 300 students.
"Today, with increased access to education, it is estimated that one in four Malaysians, aged between 18 and 24, are in higher education," he said when opening the new Unitar International University campus in Kelana Jaya here yesterday.
Najib said the odds of people elevating their socio-economic standing improved significantly with access to education.
He added that there was also a need to increase the quality of education.
And for this to happen, he said, we need greater collaboration and engagement between local and international students and more professors in education and research.
Najib said the nation had come a long way since 1957, when the average income per person was less than US$300 (S$380) a year.
Presently, he said the average annual income was about US$10,000; which is 30 times more than it used to be.
"In 1957, more than 50 per cent of the population lived below the poverty line.
"Today, through the hard work we have done together, less than two per cent of Malaysians live below that line," he said.
The Prime Minister added that more than 500,000 out of a million people came out of poverty over the past five years.
He said while Malaysia was no longer a poor country, the nation was faced with a more prevalent challenge of income inequality.
"Some of us are prosperous while many are still struggling to make ends meet," he said, adding that one of the causes of income inequality was inequity in opportunity.
"Only with equity can we narrow the gap of income inequality and only with that can we achieve a resilient national unity," Najib said.
On Unitar, he said its new 15-storey building will be able to accommodate its growing student population.
The university has about 9,000 students in 60 academic programmes.