Malaysia must produce graduates with relevant skills, Rafidah says

Rafidah said education should never be a business but more a conduit for imparting knowledge, skills and competence. — Picture by Ahmad Zamzahuri
Rafidah said education should never be a business but more a conduit for imparting knowledge, skills and competence. — Picture by Ahmad Zamzahuri

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KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 3 — Malaysia must produce graduates who are relevant to the demands of various fast-changing industries in order to enable the country to stay competitive, says Tan Sri Rafidah Aziz.

“It’s not about shortage (of skills in Malaysia), it’s just that maybe we are not producing the right kind of competent skills,” she said of the need to future-proof the country against various challenges.

Rafidah made these remarks in a recent interview with Bernama in conjunction with the production of a book in relation to the 25th anniversary of Malaysia External Trade Development Corporation (Matrade). She was the Minister of International Trade and Industry when Matrade was established in 1993 to promote the export of Malaysian goods and services internationally.

Rafidah said academia must make it a point to be in constant dialogue with people in various industries to determine the kind of skills that were required or else universities and training institutes would be producing skills that had no relevance.

“This mismatch can cost the country a lot and will set us back. All is not lost; we can start now. And no more political or rubbish debates about language, about race. Forget it. We are talking about young Malaysians who should be given a chance to acquire the kind of competence that will make them excel in the workplace and raise Malaysia’s standards much higher than before,” she stressed.

Rafidah, Malaysia’s longest-serving minister of international trade and industry (from May 1987 to March 2008), also lamented that the country had lagged behind in some aspects in terms of competitiveness with some of its neighbours.

“We have to admit that we cannot be unnecessarily proud about past achievements but we need to understand why were we successful in the past, why did we fail and not be as so successful now as we were in the past. Probably it was some system breakdown along the way. Maybe there were some divergence of focus from where it should be, I don’t know.

“All is not lost. This new government must now begin to focus on what is necessary. Education does not mean quibbling over language, education does not mean racial-based, fractious debates. Education is about offering what is the best possible for all Malaysians in using whatever the language,” she said.

Rafidah, who oversaw the Ministry of International Trade and Industry in a golden era where Malaysia had been regarded as one of the Asian “tiger” economies, said education should never be a business but more about being a conduit for imparting knowledge, skills and competence.

She said: “You can make money but it should not be regarded as a business. It’s a service to the nation. If you have the wrong motivation for setting up anything which has got to do with education and that motivation is simply how much you can extract from fees, then this country is doomed.

“The last thing we need are graduates with all those high-sounding diplomas or degrees and yet are a mismatch in the workplace. Why? Because what they have been taught has very little relationship to what the industry needs now. I pity these guys because their parents had obviously spent so much and yet after six months, they can’t find a job.” — Bernama

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