The current Malaysian graduate job market is one of the most competitive we've ever known.
Time and again, employers tell us that a degree alone is not indicative of a well-rounded graduate. But the truth is, if you don’t meet the grades (plus being good in English) then you better join the “grapes pickers group (penganggur)”.
Next is to blame the “experts” in the institute of higher educations, as they are the ones who know everything, with the highest level papers of the academics to provide further development opportunities to complement the academic curriculum. Is this fair?
Many had written on “give them the right tools, as students will thrive in taking charge of their own development”, and again what are the tools provided?
It’s not the same as “give the child a fishing rod and not the fish …”.
To help the students excel, we need to reassess our roles as higher education providers.
We should not just provide opportunities for students to achieve good academic results but actively promote the benefits of having a wider curriculum.
We also should not give the students A’s freely during exams just to please the “administrators” at the helm.
After all, an institute of higher education should be seen as a transformative place through which students can prepare themselves to succeed in the many and varied roles they will undertake in future life.
The institutes of higher education should evaluate its offerings to recognise the importance and value of both academic curriculum and co-curricular activities in developing the range of skills and attributes that are important for graduates.
The higher education ”experts” could utilise their own journey to plan and support the students' transition through higher education and enable them to take responsibility for their own development.
The journey should give students the opportunity to benefit from the highest quality research-informed academic experience. This includes skills and attributes to develop the students and make them highly employable and able to make informed career choices about their future.
The tertiary education journey should also fulfil a student’s academic potential and ability to contribute effectively to the wider community.
Students should get the chance to engage in volunteering, sports and other activities to develop as a person, try out new things and give something back to the society and country.
Students should be clear about who they are and what they want to be, and be equipped to achieve their goals. But in real terms, how have we changed?
Many had voiced out their opinions to revamp the Malaysian education system.
Educators talked about the curriculum that enables students to develop their subject knowledge, academic literacy and a range of complementary capabilities. But there is no real “autonomy” given to the providers.
There’s also opinion on making education programmes as flexible as possible, such as arts-based students able to study modules in forensic science and math, while science students can study media, politics or history.
These will send out a clear message to employers of an appetite and capability to learn new knowledge and skills.
Then there's the co-curriculum, meaning any activities that fall outside the academic degree programme.
We are told that a lot of resources have been invested to offer a comprehensive range of co-curricular activities, be it sports, societies, part-time work, entrepreneurial schemes or volunteering.
Students are encouraged to recognise the value of these activities as part of their co-curricular development and not only extra-curricular.
Engagement with non-academic pursuits is not only beneficial to student development but is known to be highly valued by employers.
It may seem like small changes, but by demonstrating to students that we view these activities as equally important to academic studies, we encourage participation.
But the most important change needed will be an introduction of the development strand in our curriculum, which relates to effective study practices, and personal, professional and career development.
These activities should help students make sense of, and take responsibility for their learning and future.
Students are encouraged to engage with these activities through a variety of opportunities from thematic practical workshops to online seminars.
These opportunities need to be embedded not only within the academic programmes but also offered as standalone events throughout a degree course, rather than being an afterthought for final year students.
Students are expected to develop a reflective portfolio to assist their development and showcase evidence of their skills and capabilities to future employers.
Furthering studies in an institute of higher learning is no longer seen as a rite of passage by this generation. It should be a well-considered investment.
We should accept our students as learning partners, encouraging them to take control of their academic and personal development to shape their own future.