Where the local higher education system has failed


RECENT interviews by the national news agency with workforce solutions companies and human resource practitioners in Malaysia found that graduates emerging from the Malaysian education system are failing to meet the expectations of prospective employers.

According to the article, which was published early last month by national and local dailies, prospective employers have found that graduates from local public universities simply cannot communicate and are also sorely lacking in critical thinking skills.

According to the article, this has resulted in 60 per cent of graduates from Malaysian universities taking as long as six months after graduation to find jobs and the other 40 per cent taking even longer than that.

The article also revealed that Malaysian-based education, human resource and recruitment consultants feel there is a need for critical thinking to be incorporated into the education system to prepare future generations for the employment market.

Having experienced interviewing potential employees, the Eye cannot help but to agree with the article. The Eye also finds graduates from local universities sorely lacking in basic communication skills and the ability to ‘sell’ themselves — crucial requirements in working environments that are becoming increasingly global and competitive.

Often they are able to only regurgitate the work and results that they have carried out and obtained for their final year theses. Many will just end up staring at you blankly the minute you ask them something outside their area of study.

They are also unable to respond to simple questions that require a minimum level of critical thinking such as “Why should we hire you?” or “Are you simply looking for a job, or are you looking to build a career?”

Sadly, among these, are graduates from local universities whose transcripts reveal that they are high scorers and have even gotten themselves on the Dean’s List. There are also a large number who come in to interviews unprepared and portray themselves as sorely lacking in commitment towards building careers.

The article revealed that one reason for the lack of confidence evident in young graduates is that educational institutions are not placing enough focus on equipping undergraduates with skills that enable them to think out of the box and adapt to the demands of the working world.

Personally, the Eye feels that there is also a need to address the quality of our academic staff in public universities.

Today there are 20 public universities in Malaysia, some established as recently as 2005. This means more opportunities for higher education. But are these universities producing just quantity rather than quality?

Eye dare say that many of these newer universities have inexperienced academic staff who are themselves struggling to publish their own work and research. Many of them have never been out of the university environment and lack real industrial experience.

A friend who pursued her postgraduate studies at a local public university can attest to this. She and her course mates have worked in the ‘real’ world for quite a number of years, during which they have been implementing and dealing with management policies and what they call ‘real management and people issues’.

However, during their course, they came across lecturers who stubbornly stuck to theories in reference books and journals, and refused to think out of the box and have open discussions on the real situations that the postgraduate students had experienced and were experiencing.

A few of the lecturers, she said, also ended up feeling slighted when these working postgraduate students brought up real scenarios for discussion and arguments on textbook theories. Very unprofessional!

They later found that these lecturers were products of government scholarships, and despite having obtained postgraduate degrees overseas, have never been out of a university environment.

They confine themselves to their lecturing tasks and publish works that were based on, and restricted to, textbooks, that would eventually lead to the results that they desired (again, based on, and confined to textbooks).

The friend also pointed out that despite having studied overseas, some of these lecturers were still “macam katak di bawah tempurung” and they themselves had problems communicating proficiently!

This goes to say a lot about why our public universities are churning out local graduates who are way below par.

Human resource experts will support the Eye’s argument that textbooks can only provide basic guidelines for a certain field of study and will never actually help young graduates (and lecturers) face the challenges of the actual working world that includes the complexities of changing trends, environments and behaviours.

Hence, universities need to act fast in inculcating the attitude of being proactive and globally aware among their own academic staff and students. Not everything can be taught from books.