Sabah: Making the education grade

In his recent Chinese New Year 2012 message, Sabah’s chief minister, Musa Aman, indicated progress has been made in several sectors of the economy, such as oil and gas, palm oil and tourism. Yet he also pointed to the state’s need to educate and train its young people if progress is to continue long into the state’s future.

“For us to succeed in these and other sectors of the economy, we must have the ability to be innovative and to think out of the box in driving invest­ments. This includes creating a knowledgeable and skilled workforce,” Musa said on January 22. “I am pleased to note that tertiary educa­tion is expanding in Sabah through spe­cialised institutes of higher education that are now spread out in different parts of the state.”

One such project was the Sandakan Education Hub, a 4.9sq km site to be de­veloped as a centre for five university campuses in Jalan Sungai Batang. “I am confident that more skills centres will be introduced in the near future, of­fering locals quality education at their doorsteps. I wish to encourage Malaysians in Sabah to take up opportunities at these institutes of higher education,” Musa said.

Indeed, training venues were already opening across the coun­try. On January 27, Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS) signed a memorandum of understand­ing (MoU) with Seagate Global Group, an investment firm that focused on Asia, to undertake a variety of activities in Sabah.

As part of the MoU, Seagate would partner with UMS to develop a cultural resort village that would serve as a training ground for UMS hospitality students. The village, to be con­structed on a 40 acres to 50 acres site along the beach in front of the UMS campus, was scheduled to open this year.

William Lawton, Seagate’s chairman and chief investment officer, said Seagate chose Sabah, and UMS, in particular. “This is the only university in Malaysia that we are focused on,” Lawton said.

Another component of the MoU was a proposed linkage of UMS with China’s Tsinghua Univer­sity’s sisterhood programme. While details on this have not yet been made public, the fact that it was included in the MoU indicated that Sabah was making concrete steps to solidify its links to China.

Also in his Chinese New Year speech, Musa reiterated the government’s support for the growth of Chinese schools, tem­ples and cultural activities. He highlighted the federal govern­ment’s 2012 budget allocation of RM100 million (US$32.88 million) for Chinese schools, as well as its financial aid disbursements to Chinese schools and temples.

“We also support Chinese non-governmental organisations, such as the Federation of Chinese Associations Sabah (FCAS) and the Sabah United Chinese Cham­bers of Commerce (SUCCC), for the advancement of activities and programmes, thus further strengthening Chinese culture in our state,” he revealed.

In addition, a little over a week after Musa spoke, the Kota Kinabalu Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KKC­CCI) announced it was seeking RM2 million (US$657,639) to build a Chinese school near Kota Kinabalu.

KKCCCI’s president, Sari Nuar Tan, said the school was neces­sary to meet a rising demand from parents in both Sabah’s Chinese and non-Chinese com­munities for Chinese schools for their children’s education.

Tan pointed out that most Chi­nese schools in Sabah reflected Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak’s 1Malaysia concept, which emphasised ethnic har­mony and national unity, as the schools maintained a balance in the number of its Chinese and non-Chinese stu­dents.

Sabah’s ethnic Chi­nese community and the state’s connection to China played an important role in the state’s economic and cultural makeup. Im­portant in this respect was the fact that UMS was the preferred school for students from China pursuing tertiary education in Malaysia.

Indeed, tertiary-level students from China have made UMS their top choice among all schools in Malaysia since 2003, according to UMS’s chief representative in China, Helen Liu. UMS also had the highest number of students from China among public terti­ary institutions in the country, Liu told reporters during the registration for the 19th intake of international students at UMS on February 10.

An average of 120 students from China enrolled at UMS annually, Liu said, adding that she credited the university’s popularity among students from China to the high employability rate of Chinese UMS graduates, most of who go on to secure high-paying jobs in China. An addi­tional issue in its favour was that China’s government recognised UMS’s qualifications.

As Sabah looks to create an in­novative and skilled workforce, it thus has many good educa­tional options to choose from – with more on the way.

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