Higher education is confronting challenges, like the economy is, about the need for a higher number of more adequately trained, more highly educated citizenry.
– Margaret Spellings, US Secretary of Education
Three weeks ago, my university and faculty were busy preparing to receive new students. Everyone at the university was instructed by the top management to be ready and present for the event.
As usual, each faculty was asked to send its liaison officers, including the faculty’s members, staff and sophomores to join the university’s top management to welcome new students and their families to the university.
We saw plenty of cars and taxis parking in the colleges’ parking space within the university compound that whole week. Some students were accompanied by their families, while others were alone.
After the students were done with registration, they were ushered to a big hall where they were briefed by the university’s management team and staff about the university’s vision and mission.
They were also reminded of how lucky they were to be given a place in the university and were advised to use their time wisely by mastering all the necessary knowledge and skills required before their graduation.
Each university was required by the Ministry of Higher Education to provide a place for students at its institution each year. And the number of students keeps increasing each year.
We met our new students at our faculty a week after they entered the university. Most of them were hopeful and proud, while others seemed lost.
Those who seemed lost were the ones who did not enter their programme or university of choice. This is very common among university students in Malaysia.
After all, they were made to believe that it was not easy to get a place at the university. Hence, when opportunity knocks, they have to take it and decide on what to do next once they got in.
Herein lies the danger. Majority of those who had entered the programme or university not of their choosing often dragged their heels when it comes to their studies.
As a result, many performed poorly and sometimes fall into depression due to the inability to manage the stress. Some were forced to extend their studies, thus unable to graduate on time.
They were also frustrated and disappointed, not because the university or faculty have failed them, but rather due to the rigidity of our tertiary education system, which forced students to enroll in a programme or university, not of their choosing.
After all, we were made to believe from an early age that university education is the best compared to other types of education. For those who failed to make the cut, they would be forced to apply to other educational institutions such as polytechnic, vocational training institutes and teaching colleges.
Nonetheless, many were compelled to enroll in a programme, not of their choosing and these groups often found themselves struggling with their studies. In addition to that, more and more students fall into depression as a result of the pressure to perform to meet their parents and the industries’ expectations.
Depression and anxiety are reported to be common among university students in many regions of the world and impact on the quality of life and academic attainment. Consequently, these issues will affect students’ employability upon graduation.
Universities all over Malaysia have produced more than 290,000 fresh graduates annually. One in five students remained unemployed six months after graduation.
About 25 per cent of fresh graduates with tertiary education, especially those with degrees, are unemployed.
This is a serious matter and the Ministry of Higher Education is struggling to find solutions to reduce the unemployment rates among graduates.
Recently, 19 public universities were forced to drop 38 irrelevant programmes or subjects from their curriculum. Higher Education director-general Siti Hamisah Tapsir argued that the move was necessary to ensure that all academic courses offered in public universities were relevant.
With the dawn of the industrial revolution of 4.0, there is a high demand for digital skills. Therefore, some academic programmes need to be replaced with those needed by the industries.
Universities are also required to identify and reshape their academic programmes in line with the industries’ needs. Incongruent with these developments, public universities, in particular, are required to adjust their delivery and assessment approaches and be creative in designing their curriculum to ensure that they produce the graduates that the industries desire.
The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the New Sarawak Tribune.