He received a scholarship to study in London's Imperial College.
But Nur Fitri Azmeer Nordin was sentenced to five years' jail in Britain in 2015, for possessing more than 30,000 child-porn images and videos.
He served a reduced sentence of nine months before he was extradited to Malaysia.
He is now pursuing a PhD at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM), a development which has riled Malaysian actress Tiz Zaqyah, reported the Malay Mail.
In a post that has gone viral, she expressed her discontent over what she perceived as soft treatment of sex offenders.
But she noted that many people are only too happy and quick to bash female artists over matters such as their fashion choices.
The actress, known for speaking her mind, previously slammed an artists' association for not doing enough to protect their rights.
UKM, meanwhile, has released a statement saying Nur Fitri was admitted because of his "abilities" and "excellence".
"UKM believes that education can help to transform individuals by giving them a chance to improve themselves to achieve their highest success in life," it added.
The university said it had previously enrolled Nur Fitri as an undergraduate and that it was aware of his criminal record.
While some netizens have said that he deserves a second chance, others, like Tiz, want reassurances.
Child activist Madeleine Yong, commenting on Nur Fitri's case, said the issue of sex offenders, who return to the country after they are convicted abroad, has not been adequately addressed.
"Parents should know what steps the authorities have taken so that they can rest well knowing that their children are safe," the New Straits Times cited her as saying.
Deputy Prime Minister Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail said the country's registry of convicted paedophiles will be updated soon.
Currently, records are kept only from 2017.
Referring to Nur Fitri's case, she noted that "he has already served his sentence or part of it… do we want to punish him for life?".
"At the same time, we want to keep our children safe as well, so we need to be balanced."