March 23rd, 2012

Importance of vocational studies

THE Education Ministry should be congratulated and commended for giving a new boost to vocational education recently.

The ministry’s plan is for secondary schools to teach some basic vocational subjects now, or as and when facilities and qualified teachers are made available to them.

Present secondary vocational schools will be upgraded to vocational colleges in stages and they will offer certificate-level and, in the near future, diploma-level vocational courses.

Meanwhile, efforts will be made to advise and encourage more students to take up vocational studies.

This is a most interesting and benefiting development. Nevertheless, for this new worthwhile initiative to impact and to secure the best results possible, there is an urgent need for parents and students alike to change their mind-set, perception and esteem for vocational education.

That vocational studies are subservient, even inferior, to academic studies and that only those who are not “making it” in academic schools should move on to vocational schools are simply myths and misleading.

It is also wrong to presume that once enrolled in a vocational school, a student who is formerly disinterested and lagging in academic studies will suddenly become enthusiastic and fully engrossed in his vocational studies.

It is common knowledge that for many such “converts”, once their new found euphoria for practical sessions wears off, he or she will soon find it a burden yet to have so much to learn and to do in a vocational course.

In fact, vocational studies can be as demanding as an academic pursuit.

First, basic proficiency and competency in Bahasa Malaysia (BM) as well as English is crucial and a must. There are texts/work books to be read and instructions to be understood and followed thoroughly.

Vocational subjects, like science subjects, are very structured, have their own specific nomenclatures and are practical-based. Many trade and technical terms have to be learnt. Also, many manuals are written in English and therefore the need to master English to a sufficient level of competency.

Many students have shunned vocational schools not so much because of their lack of interest and inclination, but because of their poor confidence in and mastery of BM and English.

In addition, vocational students must be trained to communicate well so that they are able to explain and instruct in brief, precise and concise terms.

This is a trait that they must acquire before they engage in their vocation and career upon completing their study.

Second, besides harnessing cognitive learning, vocational students must also exhibit dexterity.

These are skills that are gifted and nurtured. For the less-endowed, hard training may compensate and fill the void.

Vocational training means working on a skill repeatedly until one gets it “perfect”.

And, there are the standard operating procedures (SOP) which have to be strictly adhered to lest safety be compromised. And, any experienced vocational practitioners will attest to the fact that they are “perfect” in certain mechanical or manual tasks because they have done it umpteen times.

“Practice makes perfect” is the axiom in vocational learning and training.

Third, the right attitude in learning is crucial. To be truly successful in vocational studies, one needs to be focused, determined, patient and persistent. One’s mind cannot be distracted when one is operating a machine.

Many practical and hands-on sessions are learnt patiently through trial and error. So, vocational studies help train both the mind and the limbs to operate methodically, systematically, and dexterously.

At times, the training can be time-consuming, energy-sapping and a test of patience. One needs a mind of steel to pull through.

Many who are trained in vocational studies advance in their careers to become efficient and effective supervisors, managers and controllers in their specialised fields.

They are excellent because they know their stuff, both in knowledge and in experience, in theory and in practice.

They are the assets to their organisations and continuously add value to them.

As we move towards achieving our Vision 2020, a nation of high incomes, skills and technology, vocational education should indeed play an increasingly important role in enhancing our human resources and capacity.

Kudos to the Education Ministry for a brave and timely initiative!


The STAR Home Education Sunday 18 March, 2012

Local unis not on list

Malaysian universities fail to make an impact in an annual global rankings list for institutions that are reputed for their teaching and research.

NO Malaysian university has made the Times Higher Education World Reputation Rankings 2012, which rank the world’s top 100 institutions by their academic reputation alone.

The reputation rankings act as a global index of academic prestige, revealing which institutions are regarded as the best for teaching and research by many thousands of experienced scholars all over the world.

It is an annual reputation rankings, which complement the World University Rankings, and are based on the world’s largest survey of academic opinion and provide a unique insight into the shifting academic prestige of institutions.

Reputation both reflects and drives university success — helping to attract staff, students, business investment, research partners and benefactions in a highly competitive global market.

Baty: When it comes to exciting developments in higher education, all eyes are facing East.

Times Higher Education Rankings editor Phil Baty said the top top 100 list represents only around 0.5 percent of the world’s higher education institutions, so to make it is an exceptional achievement.

In terms of representation in the top 100 list, the United States (US) and United Kingdom (UK) are followed by Japan and the Netherlands with five institutions each, and Germany, Australia and France with four each.

“In total, 19 countries are on the list, and the US takes 44 of the places, so competition is very tough. But many governments would be keen to see at least one national flagship institution in a list like this – demonstrating that they are competing among the very best in the world, and ensuring they are driving the economy with cutting edge research and attracting the best academic talent,” he told StarEducate.

Harvard University tops the World Reputation Rankings followed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Cambridge.

The mechanics

The reputation rankings are based on the results of an Academic Reputation Survey carried out by the professional polling company Ipsos for Times Higher Education’s rankings data supplier, Thomson Reuters.

Respondents to the academic reputation survey (available in nine languages) are asked to name a very small number who are “the best” in both teaching and research, based on their specialist subject knowledge and their experience and they are given a list of around 6,000 institutions to choose from.

“So in that sense, if academics think you are doing exciting and excellent teaching and research, you will appear in the rankings.

“The survey is invitation-only and is statistically representative of global scholarship, so there is nothing any institution can do to get in the list, other than have a high profile and be well known for excellence all over the world.

“The only way to get a properly balanced and fair sample is to select each respondent to be statistically representative of both their country and their discipline — it is wrong to let people sign up and volunteer,” he said.

For the 2012 table, some 44% of responses were from the Americas, with 28% from Europe and 25% from Asia Pacific and the Middle East. About 20% of respondents were from the physical sciences and engineering and technology respectively wih 19% from social sciences, 17% in clinical subjects, 16% in life sciences and seven percent in the arts and humanities.

This year’s results are based on a record 17,554 responses from senior, published academics in 137 countries, and is up by 31% on last year’s poll of 13,388 academics.

Baty said factors that would raise any institution’s profile would include making sure its academics are publishing cutting-edge research, attending the right conferences, are part of the right networks, forging international partnerships and producing the best graduates.

He said the rankings is a list of the world’s top 100 universities but those in the 51 to100 are grouped into bands of 10.

“This is in the interests of fairness, as the data differentials between institutions become very narrow lower down the table,” he added.

He said Malaysian institutions did receive nominations, but not enough to make the top 100 list. It was not possible to name them as response numbers were “insufficiently large to allow proper statistical significance”. Malaysian universities were also not on the list last year.

Higher Education Minister Datuk Seri Mohamed Khaled Nordin said Malaysian universities need to strengthen their fundamentals first.

“You don’t see a sudden jump in a few months,” he said when asked to comment on the lack of Malaysian institutions on the list.

“What I can say is that, even though the survey is in multiple languages, The response rate from Asia generally is slightly lower than we get from other parts of the worlds.

“We therefore compensate by giving the results from that region a slightly higher weighting so that the real term number of responses per region corresponds to the populations of academics and researchers as reported by Unesco.

“This overcomes any bias caused by differing response rates and ensures that the each region is fairly represented in the survey,” explained Baty.

Looking East

Although the US continues to dominate the global top 100 ranking, East Asian universities in general have improved in their standing, signalling the start of a power shift from West to East.

“Japan has maintained an outstanding showing in the global top 100 reputation rankings, with two universities in the world top 20.

“But there is also a very exciting group of East Asian countries or regions enjoying significant increases in the prestige of their universities — with China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore all seeing their top universities rising up the reputation table.

“This is against some notable drops for some big-name institutions in the US and UK.

“When it comes to exciting developments in higher education, all eyes are facing East.

“There are clear signs of the start of a power shift from West to East,” explained Baty.

Outside the US, the UK has the most top 100 representatives with 10 universities, but this has declined from 12 last year. Both Oxford and Cambridge maintain their positions in the top six supergroup. The University of Sheffield, and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine are out of the top 100 altogether.

Japan has five representatives — the University of Tokyo, the University of Kyoto, the University of Osaka and the University of Tohoku and Tokyo Institute of Technology. China has two representatives in the top 100 – Tsinghua University and Peking University. The University of Hong Kong has entered the top 40. The National University of Singapore has also climbed up the list.

“But while top reputations can take many years, even centuries to build, in today’s information-rich, fast-moving and interconnected world, universities can not sit back and rely on their history.

“New forces are emerging and signs of declining performance among the establishment are quickly identified, shared and spread. Established reputations can be highly vulnerable,” he explained.

For more information on the Times Higher Education World Reputation Rankings 2012, log onto http://

The Times Higher Education World Reputation Rankings 2012