Friday, February 1, 2013


Are parents partly responsible for why their children can't get a job after they graduate from university? Is that why our local grads are picky about their first jobs, and expect a good salary when they have no working experience or employable skills?

Remember those days back in the 1950s and 60s when we had really excellent teachers who possessed only LCE (Lower Certificate of Education) qualifications? The LCE was the equivalent of the SRP/PMR that Form 3 students have to sit for today. Academic standards were very high then. Students who completed their Form 5 and passed their Senior Cambridge exam were considered academically brilliant. The selected few who went on to university overseas on government scholarships were guaranteed top positions in the civil service or the private sector upon their return. Many of these early graduates became outstanding leaders in the public and corporate realms.

Today the story is quite different. Our education system, once regarded as among the best in the Commonwealth, is now better known for its mediocrity. Standards have dropped so drastically that it is easy for students to obtain a string of As in the SPM. Indeed, at one time so many students were scoring 12 or more distinctions each year that the Ministry of Education had to finally step in to limit the number of subjects students could take in the SPM, before our exams became a joke. There were students who scored distinction in SPM English who couldn't even put together a grammatically correct sentence, or speak coherently in English.

This newspaper cutting is dated 6 Nov 2005. Nothing much has changed since. We still have a glut of  graduates who are unemployed and unemployable.

The rot started decades ago when standards were lowered to enable more young people to enter university. To accommodate the huge surge in numbers, more and more universities were built. The government should have gradually increased the number of universities while maintaining standards. Students would then have to work harder to meet the entry requirements. Those who were determined enough about getting a degree would rise to the challenge. Students, when pushed, are capable of producing amazing results. One of my Form 5 classmates back in 1964 received a Colombo Plan scholarship to study in Australia. Her parents were poor and illiterate, but they believed strongly in the value of education. They made sure this was ingrained into their daughter.

But instead of maintaining standards, the Ministry of Education did the reverse. It also did away with a compulsory pass in the English language. Today we have local graduates who can't speak or write good English, and they wonder why multi-national companies don't hire them!

Imagine a small country like ours having a total of 20 public universities! Here's a list of these public-funded universities taken from the government's official portal. How many of these universities have you heard of? What kind of graduates are they producing?

Universiti Darul Iman Malaysia (UDM)
Universiti Islam Antarabangsa Malaysia (UIAM)
Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM)
Universiti Malaya (UM)
Universiti Malaysia Kelantan (UMK)
Universiti Malaysia Pahang (UMP)
Universiti Malaysia Perlis (UniMAP)
Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS)
Universiti Malaysia Sarawak (UNIMAS)
Universiti Malaysia Terengganu (UMT)
Universiti Pendidikan Sultan Idris (UPSI)
Universiti Pertahanan Nasional Malaysia (UPNM)
Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM)
Universiti Sains Islam Malaysia(USIM)
Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM)
Universiti Teknikal Malaysia Melaka (UTeM)
Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM)
Universiti Teknologi MARA (UiTM)
Universiti Tun Hussein Onn Malaysia(UTHM)
Universiti Utara Malaysia (UUM)

Let's not forget the 60 private higher education institutions like Universiti Teknologi Petronas (UTP), Universiti Multi Media (MMU), Universiti Tenaga Nasional (Uniten), and Albukhary International University.

My alma mater - a shadow of its former glory as
the country's premier university
Just think of the hundreds of thousands of fresh graduates flooding the job market each year. According to the Higher Education Ministry, universities, university colleges and polytechnics nationwide produced 184,581 graduates last year and 44,391 or 24 per cent of them were unemployed.

Top students are given scholarships to attend ivy league universities abroad. Their future is dazzling bright. The private sector will only hire the best candidates who have the right qualifications. What about those who fail to gain admission to overseas universities or are unable to afford the high cost of an overseas education? They enter the local universities. After graduating, they have difficulty in securing a job. Almost half of the unemployed graduates have degrees in Arts and Social Science. In the end, as always, the government has to step in and absorb a good percentage of these jobless graduates. No wonder our civil service is the largest in the world - 1.3 million, and growing each year!

Even among universities in Asia, we can't break into the top 30!

Each year when QS Top World Universities rankings and the World University Rankings publish their lists, you will not find any of our universities among the top 300. The Minister of Education will pooh-pooh the rankings, and come up with all kinds of reasons about why the rankings are biased, inaccurate or unimportant. yet, when our rankings show some improvement, ministry officials will fall over themselves to congratulate each other for their 'achievement'.

It sure looks like a long long road back to the glory days of our Malaysian schools and universities. Is there no political will strong enough to put an end to this slide in our education system?

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