The first student born in Malaysia was Arts student William Philip Edward Caunter. Born in Penang, then part of the East Indies, around 1864, he was the son of a lawyer, and enrolled at Glasgow in 1885. The earliest alumni with links to Malaysia were on the whole engineers, a common thread in the historical connections between Glasgow and Malaysia. Glasgow alumnus Archibald Alexander Swan, BSc 1877, set up one of the earliest civil engineering companies in Singapore, which also carried out various construction works from roads, railways, to buildings, and piers throughout Malaysia; Brazil-born alumnus Guilherme Henrique Fox became a Government Engineering Office of Selangor, and reported on the Selangor Government Railway in 1900 to the Institution of Civil Engineers.

The first Malaysian student to enroll at the University was Lee Hoe Thye who also studied engineering. Born in Penang, he matriculated in 1911 for two years having received education at the Penang Free School and at Aberdeen, where he also completed an apprenticeship with William McKinnon and Co., Ltd. Since then, a further thirty students from Malaysia (born in Malaysia of a Malaysian father) registered at the University of Glasgow prior to 1965, the vast majority coming to study science or engineering.

As well as pioneering work in the field of engineering, University alumni have also pioneered Malaria research in Malaysia, beginning with Sir Malcolm Watson (1873–1955). Having graduated MB CM in 1895, Watson joined the Malayan Medical Service in 1900, submitting his MD thesis on The effect of drainage on malaria in 1903, and became the pioneer of malarial control in Malaya (Peninsular Malaysia), making Malaysia’s anti-malaria programme one of the world’s oldest. Watson was followed in his research by George Waugh Scott (1883–1944), MB 1907 and MD 1920, whose work, research and thesis, ‘A study of malaria and measures for its abatement amongst rubber estate workers in the Federated Malay States’, saw him awarded an MBE in 1937 ‘for services in the Federated Malay States’; and Robert B Wallace, MD 1967, continued with this area of research with his thesis on ‘Malaria Control in Hilly Country in Malay’.

In the 1950s and 1960s, the University received its first female Malaysian student from Lenggong, Perak, and held the first graduations of students from Malaysia, which took place in 1963, with the first graduating with BSc in Engineering and another with MA in Economics. The first PhD students also graduated in 1965 in Physics, and in 1968 in Economics. The 1960s was also the decade in which the Malaysian and Singaporean Students Society was founded at the University (1969), which was followed in 1975 with the establishment of Persatuan Penuntut-penunutut Malaysia Universiti Glasgow (the Malaysian Students Association of Glasgow University), with its motto Bersatu Dan Setia.

As well as reciprocal congratulatory addresses between the University of Malaysia and Glasgow (the first in 1949 on the occasion of the foundation of the University of Malaya and the second in 1951 from the University of Malaya on the occasion of Glasgow’s 500th anniversary), the University’s continuing links with Malaysia are also displayed in the honorary degrees which have been conferred to Malaysian experts in their field since 1986. The first was respected Malaysian civil engineer Chin Fung Kee, Tan Sri Professor Emeritus of Engineering at the University of Malaya, who was awarded DSc in 1986 for his key role in both engineering practice and research and education within Malaysia. Others included Abdul Rahman, Dato' Haji Abdul Hamid Haji, Vice Chancellor of University Kebangsaan, Malaysia (National University of Malaysia) DSc in 1988; and Glasgow alumnus Peter Mooney, Ydh Dato' Kurnia Bakfi Diraja, (Advocate and Vice Chairman of the Bar Association of Malaysia) DLL in 1989.

Most recently HRH Prince Tunku Imran was awarded the honorary degree of DUniv on Commemoration Day, 18 June 2014, in recognition of his work as head of the Commonwealth Games Federation, and his efforts in bringing the Commonwealth Games to Glasgow.