High fees, low salaries make degrees poor investment, academics say

Academics say high education fees and meagre salaries are the reasons why we are not getting a good return on investments. ― File pic
Academics say high education fees and meagre salaries are the reasons why we are not getting a good return on investments. ― File pic

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KUALA LUMPUR, May 21 ― Several academics today mooted reforms to the approach on financing for education, saying in the current system, returns are low as graduates are struggling to repay their education loans on meagre salaries.

Prof Dr Geoffrey Williams, a visiting fellow at the Penang Institute, said even government-aided loan programmes like that offered by the National Higher Education Fund Corporation (PTPTN) have been wearing holes in the pockets of graduates.

“One of the reasons we are not getting a good return on investments is because our salaries are not good but the other reason is that the (education) fees are really high,” he told Penang Institute’s “Reforming Higher Education: Scholarship or Vocationalism?” forum this morning.

“Most of the degrees are covered by the loan system PTPTN. This loan needs to be reformed one way or another.

“Not just the way it's being reformed now, which is cut the allocations, but to perform it systemically as well,” he said.

Williams added that by his calculations, it could take a graduate almost a decade to see any returns from his or her investment in tertiary education, unlike a student who joins the workforce immediately after leaving secondary school.

“Graduates can be in this mid-30s before they see a better return overall, compared to non-graduates,” he said.

To overcome this, he suggested looking at a different education model, one that allows the student to balance both work and study.

“There are other ways of financing including looking at work and study options. Being able to work while studying, if we allowed that, we can reduce the opportunity cost of salary lost.

“There is also the work first and then study option. Like the German dual system, you go to work first then complement that with studies. It is largely vocational,” he said.

Prof Dr Terence Gomez from Universiti Malaya's Faculty of Economics and Administration said it is common today for students to equate higher education fees to better quality education.

But this was not the case in reality, he said, adding that in many institutions, the competency of lecturers have been found wanting.

“Look at the cost of education today. Look at how much students pay and in return, what kind of tutelage they are getting? What is the quality of tutorship they getting from lectures?

“I feel very sorry for some of my students, being thought by poor quality lecturers. They come here thinking they are going to be exposed to the best minds but they don't get that,” he said during the discussion.

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