UNIVERSITIES are Malaysia’s font of knowledge, a reservoir of innovation and educational institutions par excellence. Through various initiatives and heavy investment, the country aims to become a higher education hub serving both local and international students. Malaysia’s reputation and world-class education system is evidenced from the stiff competition for enrolment every year and the more than 95,000 international students from more than 100 countries studying in the country.
One of the perennial challenges for these institutions has been to match the needs of the job market with the product of the country’s universities. Where there is a disconnect, many blame the skimming off of the best students for an education in foreign universities. This argument assumes that local universities are unable to deliver the desired standard of teaching and intellectual development that Malaysia’s best and brightest school leavers might benefit from.
Nevertheless, those who have qualified to pursue a university degree at local establishments are those deemed equipped with the intellectual wherewithal. It matters little that the cream has been skimmed. After all, low fat milk is considered just as healthful. The universities are, therefore, akin to the process of pasteurisation which milk goes through so it meets the quality criteria. Lecturers, the instruments of value-add in the education system, cannot point fingers at an education policy that seeks to stream ability and make sure that children are suitably channelled to optimise their potential and to benefit the nation.While that will assist in improving the quality of graduates generated by the universities, there must, simultaneously, be a vast leap in the generation of original ideas and innovations. As is natural to universities, research and development in every academic discipline should be the backbone on which the reputation of the individual institutions rests. Malaysia’s public universities are mature enough now to count among the contributors to the development of ideas and innovation.
As educators, the burden is upon them to create the needed human capital to generate wealth. This, according to the prime minister, is best achieved through cooperation with industry. In short, the ivory tower approach of non-accountable education has had its day. Universities must accept culpability for unemployable graduates. One of the factors identified is English proficiency, a prerequisite of employment within the post-industrial economy of multinational corporations. Towards enhancing employment prospects, therefore, English will be made a mandatory examination subject at the tertiary level. A degree cannot be awarded without a passing grade for English. This means that future graduates will be properly bilingual, having command both of Bahasa Malaysia and English.
To date, there has been some exceptional innovations from Malaysia like Islamic banking, for instance, which has caught on internationally but this was not the brainchild of a university. Rather, the banking industry itself spawned the financial instruments that made the industry syariah compliant. This, then, is an example of what universities are expected to do for the nation. NST Editorial 4 SEPTEMBER 2014 @ 8:09 AM