Reshaping Malaysia’s tertiary education system ― Farhan Kamarulzaman

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FEBRUARY 24 ― The tertiary education system in Malaysia needs an overhaul in order to reshape it in such a way as to meet the industrial need of the country and to prepare its workforce for skills and expertise that will support the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR).

To begin with, adjustment of the curriculum has to be made in order to prepare the coming workforce for the challenges ahead.

In 2019, the Department of Higher Education has dropped 38 programmes in 19 public universities such as sports psychology, creative technology and animation which are deemed to be irrelevant to the current situation.

According to the Higher Education Department director-general, Datin Paduka Siti Hamisah Tapsir, there is an attempt to ensure that all academic courses in public universities are completely relevant to the in-demand jobs in the future.

But a study conducted by the Ministry of Education Malaysia's Graduate Tracer Study portrays that 21 public-sector universities and 38 private-sector universities generate about 51,000 graduates a year, but almost 60 per cent remain unemployed a year after graduating.

This is because some of the programmes offered are no longer in demand and the graduates will have to patiently wait for any job openings in this fast-paced economy which will require different skills and knowledge from the one that they had studied.

As a result, many graduates are still unemployed and some of them have to bite the bullet by changing their career fields to meet the needs of the current industry.

Associate Professor of Universiti Utara Malaysia, Dr Hariharan N. Krishnasamy was spot-on when he mentioned that the increase in unemployment is due to the widening gap between the product of the learning institutions and the expectation of the industry in terms of technical and soft skills.

Plus, most graduates are also “underemployed” because the requirements of the current industry are forcing them to go along with it.

Although dropping programmes is one of the good attempts to prevent the situation from worsening, some of the courses such as the electrical telecommunications, engineering and mathematics may need to be reconsidered.

This is because some of them are actually related to the 4IR, for example, the electrical telecommunications course that is currently needed for the development of 5G as it involves the electrical and computer engineering.

It also reflects the relevance of the programme as the development of 5G is a starting point towards the development of other technologies such as autonomous vehicles and the Internet of Things.

As mentioned by the director general of Higher Education Department, the lecturers are required to redesign and introduce new programmes regarding the 4IR.

But other authorities should empower the efforts by analysing the problems of the irrelevant programmes and suggesting the suitable programmes or electives to be introduced.

The skills needed for the 4IR should be enhanced such as the technical skills, entrepreneurship and workforce readiness so that the young generations would not be left behind as we move towards the 4IR.

Being aware of the elements of 4IR and how the 4IR will impact the country, the programmes and the subjects offered by the universities also need to keep pace with the technological changes in the future.

This is where the related authorities should emphasise the suitable programmes so that the young generation will meet the job demands in the future.

As Information Technology (IT) lays the groundwork for key emerging technologies important to 4IR such as Big Data Analytics, the Internet of Things and Artificial Intelligence (AI), the universities also should provide the students with the technical and theoretical skills of IT.

Besides, the universities need to embed introduction of 4IR courses into the curriculum to equip students with general 4IR knowledge to build a good cooperation and integration among future experts from different fields.

The relevant programmes of tertiary education that should be our focus are IT, Robotics, Advanced Engineering and 3D Animation for example.

In terms of the irrelevant programmes, they need to be restructured by incorporating suitable subjects to meet the 4IR challenges so that the programmes will become more relevant in the future.

The marketability of graduates in these programmes in term of getting employed after graduation should also be looked into.

Sometimes when graduates of good and relevant programmes find some difficulties in landing a job, it’s not so much that the programmes are irrelevant to the industrial need of the nation. Rather, the graduates themselves are not technologically-savvy in getting employed.

An AI-driven job portal, Adnexio, could easily discover the best match for a job by learning the details of applicants. Perhaps, the government should take a look on this attempt and expand it to encourage graduates on using the technology because some graduates are still unsure about the right jobs for them.

That is why the system is believed to be able to reduce youth unemployment and underemployment through a good career match for the graduates depending on their qualifications, skills and experiences with the requirements of the career opportunities.

Restructuring the curriculum in this manner is not only sustainable but also help to achieve the objectives of the Malaysia Education Blueprint 2013-2025.

Not only that, a better system for Malaysia’s tertiary education will meet one of the goals of Sustainable Development Goals which is to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.

Nowadays, becoming a university graduate no longer guarantees you a job but it may be accomplished through a continuous effort of rebuilding the higher education towards fulfilling the future demands.

It may also be applicable to the curriculum of primary and secondary education to expose students at a young age to the 4IR’s future challenges as the related authorities should “strike while the iron is hot.”

On the contrary, the related authorities must take precautionary measures so that it would never jeopardize the most important pillar in nation building when education is seen as merely for quantity-based commercial reasons as mentioned by the director general of Higher Education Department.

More importantly, the commitment of all and sundry towards nurturing important job skills and providing suitable programmes for the younger generation as well as fighting youth unemployment in Malaysia is required for the future viability of the nation’s workforce.

* Farhan Kamarulzaman is a Research Assistant at EMIR Research, an independent think tank focused on strategic policy recommendations based on rigorous research.

** This is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.

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