Monday, May 30, 2005

A very frightened Malaysian abroad

In the latest blog from Jeff Ooi at Screenshots, an email from "a very frightened Malaysian knowledge worker", who is an Oxford and Harvard alumnus currently drawing US$22,000 monthly salary working overseas was highlighted. He longs to return home but hesitates and lingers on abroad.

The email (must read!) which was described as his "sad tale – of a young Malaysian full of hope and patriotic enthusiasm, which is slowly but surely trickling away." It's a touching tale, but I certainly wouldn't classify his case as a "sad tale" though - many would willingly swap their own "sad tales" for his any time! :)

In his email, he has emphasised his patriotism to country by often rejecting overtures from the Singaporean government through its scholarships as well as well-paying job positions through its private and public sectors.

I have been asked many times by Singaporean government agencies to join them on very lucrative terms, but I have always refused due to my inherent patriotism.
He reminiscences about the "good old days" of the Malaysian education system where he received his primary and secondary education from the national-type schools.

My parents insisted that I should be exposed to a multi-racial education in a national school. In my time, my urban national school (a missionary school) was a truly happy place – where the Malays, Chinese and Indian students were roughly equal in proportion. We played and laughed with each other...
However, in recent years (months), news from home while he has been working in the United States have been unfortunately, "distressing". He has read many happenings which were very negative in its portrayal of the Malaysian education system. His long long list of disgruntlement, has included:

I read about the annual fiasco involving non-bumiputera top scorers who are denied entry to critical courses at local universities ...

I read about UMNO Youth attacking the so-called meritocracy system because there are less than 60% of Malay students in law and pharmacy...

I read about the Higher Education Minister promising that non-bumiputera Malaysians will never ever step foot into UiTM. [Tony P: This, I think, is actually a good thing! Definitely not one of the better local universities :)]

I read that at our local universities, not a single Vice-Chancellor or Deputy Vice-Chancellor is non-Malay.

I read that in the government, not a single Secretary-General of any ministry is non-Malay. The same goes for all government agencies like the police, armed forces, etc.

I read about my beloved national schools becoming more and more Islamic by the day, enforced by overzealous principals.

All the above, and those which I have not quoted are very valid issues. However, some of these issues are not new issues. In fact, some of these issues are the same issues facing the Malaysian education system some 25 years ago, while both of us were in primary and secondary schools.

Hence my case and challenge to the "frightened" Malaysian abroad:

  1. The concept of "patriotism" does not include "bailing out" when things in the home country are not as rosy as it could be. I can understand the many people who have migrated and obtain other citizenship in the interest of their economic well-being as well as their "future" generation, and I completely respect their decisions. However, if you are "patriotic" as you claim to be, then come home and help make Malaysia a better place for all of us, including your future generations.

  2. From the long list of disgruntlement - there's plenty to be unhappy about and there's plenty of work to do to make things better. However, I don't think there's plenty to be "frightened" about. Both my wife and myself graduated from the same university are happily married and settled in Kuala Lumpur with a new 5-month old baby. Are we frustrated with the Malaysian system? Sure, we are sometimes. (Even Singaporeans are with their own government) But are we frightened for ourselves, for our kid? No way! (Or we could well be Singapore citizens by now! :))

  3. Make no mistake, "frightened" has done extremely well for himself and I'm proud that a Malaysian has achieved so much in such a short span of time. He makes a month pays for 25 (40%) of my staff salaries - its no mean feat even if he's paid out of the United States.

  4. Which brings me to my next point - "frightened" has done extremely well, and as he has admitted:

    Till this day, I am absolutely certain that it was the kindness of all my Malay teachers which made me a true Malaysian...

    I really want to return home. I have been told by government-linked corporations and private companies in Malaysia that at best, I would still have to take a 70% pay cut if I return to Malaysia to work. I am prepared and willing to accept that. My country has done a lot for me, so I should not complain about money.
    As a true Malaysian, who have received much and benefited from the kindness of our society, "frightened" should come home and play a part to ensure that our future generations could receive the same opportunities and kindness which you have experienced. The fact that you have in a simple email listed so eloquently the problems and issues faced by the Malaysian education and administration system, makes the need for "frightened" to return all the more imperative.

So, in short, I can only say to my fellow alumnus - Don't be frightened, come home. You will not be as rich as you could be if you were to remain in the United States, but your pay at home will still rate among the top 5% in Malaysia (despite the "pay-cut") and you will still enjoy many of life's little luxuries. By returning, you can play an active part in helping make Malaysia a much better place for our future descendants - making you a "true blue Malaysian" repaying the kindness you have experienced. I can only add that while one person may not move the world, every other person working together towards the same objectives will help make the goals more achievable.

Higher Education In Crisis?

Whoa... I'm away overseas for a business trip for just over a week, and suddenly the number of visits increased dramatically :) As I've just found out, it's all due to Jeff Ooi highlighting my blog on "World Class Universities?" on his blog Screenshots. A quick thank you to Jeff :)

Jeff is currently running a series of blog articles on "Higher Education in Crisis", partly in conjunction with the Parliamentary Opposition Leader, Lim Kit Siang's first Roundtable Series with the same theme. The blog covers various articles, opinions and letters from various stakeholders in our education system. Read especially the blog on "World Class Unversities: What characteristics must they have?", a commentary on Prof Sharom Ahmad's definition.

I will be making my personal comments on some of the issues discussed in due time :)

Sunday, May 15, 2005

"Skills" Training for Undergrads?

On the 14 April 2005, it was reported by the Star the timetables of courses in universities will be streamlined with those in vocational institutes to allow undergraduates to be enrolled for skills training at the same time.

Human Resources Minister Datuk Dr Fong Chan Onn said the move would make graduates more marketable and help resolve the high unemployment rate among them. “I have talked with Higher Education Minister Datuk Dr Shafie Salleh and we have agreed that we should put this suggestion to work,” he said at his office here yesterday.

I think that our authorities are unfortunately, either not facing up to the reality or are not thinking straight with regards to the issues relating to the "unemployability" of our fresh graduates. To determine if the above measure is going to be useful in making our graduates more "marketable", we have to evaluate the real reasons why these graduates are no so marketable. The reasons given by various employers, and publish in various newspaper sources have been made fairly clearly - the weaknesses of some of these graduates varies from:

  • the lack of English language competencies,
  • poor interactive skills,
  • poor choice of degree courses,
  • poor quality degree courses or
  • more blatantly, just too many students who barely passed their degree examinations.

From my personal point of view, as well as through the experience of interviewing many of these fresh graduates, the reasons why some of the candidates are not "marketable" are in the order of importance:

  • poor academic results (I'm referring to those who barely eeked out a degree)
  • poor academic rigour in certain local universities (so you can imagine how bad is poor results in weak university)
  • poor attitude (have a look at my blog on "Grads need to be serious"
  • poor English, interaction and communication skills

It doesn't matter so much the exact priorities of the above - or whether the "general" opinion of employers or that of mine is more accurate - the key question is how does "skills training" actually alleviate that above concerns?

"Skills training" in a polytechnic is not going to improve the graduate's academic result and capabilities and it would not affect the quality of teaching in the relevant university. Neither will the "skills training" help with attitude issues nor will it improve the candidate's English competence. As far as I can tell, the good students with better attitudes will continue to do well for the skills training while the weaker students will be equally poor with the same training. The authorities need to realise that providing skills training is significantly different from making the graduates skilled.

The authorities also need to realise that if some of these graduates need to undergo "skills training" in order to make them more marketable, maybe the key reason why they are not marketable in the first place could be that they shouldn't be in a university but in a polytechnic? In our rush to make our population more educated and flood our markets with "degree" holders, have we:

  1. recruited too many students to our universities by over-expanding enrolment when many of these students don't merit a university placement? Will these students have been better served to enrol into skills based courses in polytechnics, which will provide them with better perspectives of what they can achieve as well as better "marketability" in the relevant sectors of our industry

  2. set up too many new universities and converted too many polytechnics into universities? Were we too eager to be proud of "how many" universities are there in Malaysia as opposed to whether we can deliver the necessary quality education? Could the rapid pace of university expansion be equally matched by an increase in academic lecturers and staff without sacrificing quality for quantity? This appears unlikely to be the case.

In addition, it is my believe that a university education is not about "skills training". While "skills training" may be useful, its more important for the universities to be inculcating in our brightest minds critical thinking and strong analytical skills (irrespective of subject matter). When I hire a fresh computer science graduate, I do not expect him or her to be immediately competent in all programming language skills. I look instead for strong understanding of how programming languages work (the concepts are fairly standard, it just the language is a tad different), excellent logical thinking as well as the ability to quickly pick up new "skills" (e.g., new programming languages) as part of his work.

Many of our government authorities as well as our educationists are getting too proud to admit as well as face up to the key issues why some of our degree graduates are not marketable. Poor degree courses, weak "universities" which passes students easily as well as minimum enrolment standards are the KEY reasons for our graduate unemployment. The sooner we face up to these reasons and work towards a solution to these problems, the sooner we will resolve our graduates "marketability" issues. The more time we waste on piecemeal actions, tweaking on minor or possibly irrelevant issues, the worse the non-marketability issue will get (with more of these unmarketable graduates coming into the market on a yearly basis).

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Quality Teachers

In the Star today, our education minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Tun Hussein has announced that in a bid to "enhance the quality of teachers in the country", "all teacher training colleges may soon be elevated to teacher education institutes (IPGs)".

Instead of providing a teacher training course at diploma level, IPGs would offer degree programmes to meet the target of having only graduate teachers in secondary schools and 50% graduate teachers in primary schools by 2010.
It is laudable that the Mininstry of Education (MOE) have identified the quality of teachers being one of the key factors in producing quality students and graduates from our education system. Some of the common remarks (although I've yet to see a detailed study) made with regards to teachers today are not very flattering. They have included being "very poor in English language", "disinterested in teaching" as well as being of poor quality because "the newer recruits are that of graduates who were not able to seek employment elsewhere".

However, MOE should note that a superficial change and rise in status of training colleges to IPGs, and awards of degree programs instead of diplomas will not solve the problems we face today. It is a similar problem faced by many "universities" today. Over the last 5-8 years, many polytechnics have been converted to universities in the country in a bid to improve the "quality of education" and increase the number of degree graduates. What the conversion has managed to do is to successfully increase the number of degree graduates but without being able to significantly improve the quality of education - hence you are getting diploma graduates masked as degree holders. Given that scenario, it's not surprising that the number of degree holders who are jobless have increased significantly. What I'd really be interested in, will be to find out which institutions have our jobless degree holders graduated from (if someone can provide me with these statistics, that'll be great!)

Given the above, it's to a certain extent comforting to hear our Education Minister outlined:

... four strategies to elevate the teaching profession – enhancing the selection of teacher trainees, improving the teaching environment, restoring regard for teachers in society and promoting pride in teachers.

“There have already been some positive developments, such as the new promotional opportunities for excellent principals and teachers to the Special Grade C (Jusa C) category."
Of the strategies outlined, I would regard "enhancing the selection of teacher trainees" as being the most important. For if the quality of recruits are high, these new teachers will perform credibly even in adverse circumstances for the other 3 factors mentioned. As highlighted by one of the comments on an earlier posting, there are many teachers who were of great quality and have produced brilliant students in the past, even though the facilities and environment are probably no where near what's available today. I'm a firm believer that if the new recruits to the teaching colleges are of poor quality (for e.g., diploma or degree graduates who can't find work in the private or even public sector), then the maxim of "rubbish in, rubbish out" will apply.

Hence, one of the key reforms that are required by our education system (and as highlighted briefly on my posting on model schools) is the wage structure for teachers in Malaysia. I am certain that not even the Malaysian MOE will doubt the quality of education in Singapore, and the number 1 lesson we should pick from them (if nothing else) is to remunerate our teachers near to private sector levels. Our quality fresh graduates are paid between RM1,600 to RM2,200 in the private sector today. The new teachers with at least a good second class upper degree (say, CGPA > 3.0), should be paid at least RM1,500, if not more at RM1,800. All the other factors such as " to improve the lot of teachers, the ministry has commissioned a review of teachers’ workload" are not significantly useful. To me, even if a new graduate has the potential to be a great teacher, and has strong interest in being a teacher, it seems obvious to me that 9 out of 10 such cases will opt for a private sector position paying RM2,000 as opposed to a teaching profession today paying in the region of RM1,200 (with insignificant increments as well!). I would strongly argue for the case of lifting more of our diesel and petrol subsidies, if these subsidies are then diverted to pay our teachers. I am certain some RM6.7 billion of funds is more than sufficient to attract quality teachers to the profession, and this investment will be priceless to our future.

The Minister has also stated that:

“I have noticed that only teachers who take pride in their profession will strive to produce champions."

I agree with the above statement by the Minister. And consistent with my argument above, attracting the higher quality graduates to be teachers will likely create a pool of teachers who will take more "pride" in their profession. Poorer quality recruits will understandably have less pride in their work (there's a reason why they are "poorer"). The Minister has added:

“It is my hope that our education system will continue to be blessed with such teachers"
Yes, we all hope so too. :)

Monday, May 02, 2005

World Class Universities?

One of the major peeves I have is when I see many private colleges advertising their twinning programmes as "world-class" and are partnered with the "top" universities in the various countries overseas, particularly in the United Kingdom (UK), the United States and Australia.

I get further upset when students with great potential i.e., some of the top students in SPM and STPM are "seduced" to enrol in some of the above courses which results a poorer education, making them less qualified for the employment market as they do not fulfil their best possible potential. These students who have paid so much more taking these twinning courses would have learnt more, and be better qualified for the job market if they had enrolled in some of the better local universities in Malaysia.

The Guardian, a leading newspaper publication in the UK has in April released their University ranking guide. I saw it as an opportune moment to research the universities which our local private colleges collaborate with for their twinning programs and verify if they are indeed the "leading" or "top" or "prestigious" universities in the UK, which they are marketed to be. Please note the following assumptions, when reviewing the "results" of my simple study.

  1. While it can be argued that universities rankings are never going to be "accurate" in any study, it's fair to say that it does provide some indications to the quality of the institute. For example, there may not really be any difference between a university ranked 21st and 25th, but there's likely to be a significant gap between the universities placed as 30th vs 55th vs 80th vs 110th.

  2. This study only involves the UK universities as the Guardian have only just made the latest rankings available. However, I believe that the results from this simple study is likely to be fairly uniform across the colleges in the United States and Australia.

  3. In this study, I'd also focus significantly more on the Computer Science (and related) studies as it's one of the most popular course which candidates apply for today, as well as the fact that I have dealt extensively with graduates from the above courses.

  4. There are a total of 122 universities ranked in the Guardian study in total, of which 111 universities offer Computer Science degree courses)

  5. For the purposes of reviewing local private colleges offering degree courses, I've focused on some of the more popular choices such as APIIT, Inti College, Kolej Damansara Utama (KDU), HELP Institute, Kolej Bandar Utama (KBU) and Nilai College. They are used as examples and they are not specifically targeted for criticism. In general, it is my believe from my experience that most of the other private colleges suffer similar shortfalls.

  6. I've focused my comments a bit more on the more popular UK universities with the "leading" local private colleges. These universities are more popular through the fact that most of the graduates resumes I've received from foreign universities are from these.

1. Staffordshire University (Ranked 79/122 Overall; 79/111 for Computer Science)

Staffordshire University is the degree from which the large majority of APIIT information technology students graduate with. For APIIT which proclaims that APIIT students are "recognised for entry into leading universities in the UK" on the website, the ranking does leave much to be desired.

2. Coventry University (Ranked 70/122 Overall; 103/111 for Computer Science)

Coventry Unversity is a popular choice among degree students studying in Inti College. Twinning courses with Coventry is also available in APIIT as well as KDU. Inti College has advertised on their website that their students can select from an "impressive list of prestigious universities and enroll in the UK Degree Transfer Programmes".

Apart from a series of programmes that have been carefully and thoughtfully designed in collaboration with top-notch universities in the UK and Australia, INTI provides an exceptional environment to promote propitious Computing and IT learning.
Being ranked 70th out of 122 universities in UK is relative poor, but ranking 103 out of 111 universities offering computer science courses (i.e., bottom 10%) cannot in any way be regarded even near mediocre. Students need to be made aware that by choosing to obtain your computer science degrees from Coventry University (and unfortunately, many do - I've received many resumes of such), you are enrolling to one of the poorest Computer Science universities in the UK.

3. University of Northumbria at Newcastle (Ranked 87/122 Overall; 83/111 for Computer Science; 60/67 for Electrical Engineering; 60/118 for Business)

This university is the UK university partner of Kolej Damansara Utama (KDU) - so you'd find that most UK-based degrees courses offered by KDU will lead to a degree from Northumbria. This includes Computer Science, Engineering and Business degrees. Once again, the rankings tell of how misleading the advertisements and information provided by these colleges can be:

That is why our Department of Information and Multimedia Technologies is recognised and renowned for setting high standards of excellence in education. Your UK qualification will give you worldwide recognition and equip you with the necessary skills sets to meet the challenges of this competitive market. That is why our graduates are highly sought after and earmarked for employment before graduation.
With industry recognition, work relevant programmes, experienced professional lecturers, continuous upgrading of facilities, you are at the right place - you will be joining a leading engineering department with a track record of having produced one of the highest number of 3+0 graduates in the country. [KDU-Northumbria University(3+0) B.Eng(Hons) in Electrical & Electronic Engineering]
How can a local college be advertising that they have one of the "leading" engineering department when their partner university is ranked among the worst in the UK (60th of 67 universities)? Northumbria IT degrees are also offered at Binary College and Stamford College.

4. University of East London (UEL) (Ranked 52/122 Overall; 51/111 for Computer Science; 100/118 for Business Studies; 46/76 for Economics)

UEL is the main UK twinning partner university for HELP "University" College. The courses which HELP twins with UEL include degrees in Business Administration, Accounting & Finance and Business Information Systems. As a university, UEL is ranked just about in the middle tier of universities in the UK as well as for Computer Science courses. However, UEL is clearly poorer in its Business as well as Economics faculties. Fortunately, HELP does not exaggerate UEL's reputation too much on its web site (below), although it did "highlight" that "HELP has an array of programs affiliated with educational institutions of excellence in the United Kingdom..."

... a rapidly developing university with 102 years of excellence in teaching and research, offering the 3+0 programme in Bachelor of Science (Honours) Business Information Systems. On top of that, the Bachelor of Science (Honours) in Multimedia Studies and Bachelor of Science (Honours) in E-Commerce are also available in 2+1 arrangement with UEL.

5. University of Greenwich (Ranked 101/122 Overall; 61/111 for Computer Science)

HELP did however, advertised one of its other degree twinning partner, Unversity of Greenwich as one of the "renown university" partners. One would hardly regard the rankings provided above as "renown" in any way. University of Greenwich programmes are also offered in Nilai College and Inti College.

6. University of Sunderland (Ranked 79/122 Overall; 66/111 for Computer Science)

The University of Sunderland is the main degree twinning partner of Binary College - whom they described as "world-class qualifications well recognised both in the industry as well as overseas universities". [You really wonder which world these colleges are talking about when they call these universities "world-class"] University of Sunderland degrees are also available through Inti College.

7. Oxford Brookes University (Ranked 51/122 Overall; 41/111 for Computer Science; 45/118 for Business Studies)

Of the various UK twinning universities, I would have to regard Oxford Brookes as one of the better ones, although its rankings are still no better than average. Oxford Brookes is the main degree twinning partner of Nilai College with its courses also available as alternative options in Inti College, KDU, Sunway College, and APIIT.

8. Nottingham Trent University (NTU) (Ranked 82/122 Overall; 43/111 for Computer Science; 75/118 for Business Studies)

NTU is the degree twinning partner of choice for Kolej Bandar Utama (KBU). NTU is described on KBU website as follows:

NTU occupies a creditable position in the UK university league table and is highly rated in many aspects such as in research. It has been praised for its excellent teaching quality and the employability of its graduates.
I'd leave it to the readers to form their own conclusion as to whether a degree with NTU for the respective courses will be worthwhile pursuing.

9. De Montfort University (DMU) (Ranked 83/122 Overall; 95/111 for Computer Science)

DMU has becoming increasing popular destination for a twinning degree in Malaysia through the local private college FTMS. Obtaining one's degree through FTMS is understandably a popular choice for the simple reason that one "saves" 2 years on STPM/'A' Levels or 1 year foundation courses. I've seen many top SPM students (i.e., 7As or more) sign up for courses at FTMS, and often graduating with 1st class honours. However, having hired 1-2 of them at one time, I quickly realised that despite the excellent secondary education and a supposed 1st class honours degree, the graduates clearly do not meet the necessary depth in skills and knowledge (in my case, Computer Science degrees) to perform anywhere near say, the good local graduates. And now, after 'discovering' DMU's ranking, I'm now not at all surprised. These top students would unfortunately have done better for themselves - intellectually, academically and career prospects-wise, by enrolling in the top 5-6 local universities (i.e., do STPM, A-Levels or Foundation studies). The 1 year saved isn't any good at all in the longer term.

10. Sheffield Hallam Univesrsity (SHU) (Ranked 92/122 Overall; 102/111 for Computer Science; 105/118 for Business Studies; 54/63 for Mech Engineering)

In the past, Tunku Abdul Rahman College (TARC) students "obtain" their degrees through an association with Campbell University in the United States. However, in recent years, more and more students are graduating with degrees offered by SHU. These degrees include IT, Business Studies as well as Engineering degrees. According to the SHU/TARC website, there are now approximately 3000 SHU graduates in Malaysia, with some 700 new graduates every year. TARC is historically one of the colleges of choice among the local Chinese school students in Malaysia. With a rapidly growing student in-take through the establishment of many branch campuses throughout the country and partnerships with universities such as SHU (no disrespect, but SHU is consistently ranked bottom 15 for its Computer Science, Business Studies and Engineering courses in the UK!), are we providing the quality education required by our students, especially those with top results (many whom do enrol into TARC)?

11. Other Twinning Universities

The other popular universities in the UK which offer twinning type degrees for Malaysian students through the various private colleges are as follows:

None of the above can really be regarded as prestigious, "world-class" or excellent by any standards. However, some of the above are clearly the poorest universities in UK in terms of academic quality. None of the above universities where the typical Malaysian graduates are likely to obtain their degrees from are ranked in the top 50 universities in the UK. On the other hand, of the 23 universities listed above, 17 are ranked in the bottom 50 universities in the UK!

12. Promising Universities through Local Private Colleges?

While the above universities are clearly the most popular choices taken by the Malaysian students in the UK via the "twinning" route, there are some universities listed in the web site and marketing materials of the local colleges as their collaborative partners. These universities are of significantly better standards and they include:

However, it is totally unclear, through the web sites and marketing materials how these colleges provide the degrees from the above universities. In all likelihood, the above degrees are not awarded through the typical twinning programmes (whereby the local colleges have a large degree of autonomy with regards to entry and qualification levels), but are degree programmes in which the students will have to qualify separately for based on examinations such as 'A' Levels. It also probably accounts for the fact that there are fewer Malaysian students with degrees from the above universities than the earlier list.

However, there is one notable exception, that the Diploma in Economics at HELP is awarded by London School of Economics (LSE). LSE is ranked top 5 in the UK overall as well as for its Economics courses. This Diploma, while insufficient to secure a "lucrative" career immediately, does provide the students with the right qualification towards a separate degree with the top UK institutions. Note that to obtain these degrees from the top universities, the degree programme is NOT conducted by HELP. HELP does however, have a separate degree program in Economics (and related subjects), but it is accredited as an external degree from University of London. While the lead university in this external programme is LSE, students should note that it is not the same as a degree from LSE.


My conclusion as well as advice to prospective university students, especially those with excellent SPM/STPM (or equivalent) results (e.g., SPM aggregate <10):>

  1. At this point of time, based on the quality of twinning degrees offered by the local private institutions, do not sign up for these degrees. You will lose out in terms of the quality of education, and correspondingly damaging your future career prospects. This is not to say that you will not get employed if you were to undertake the twinning degree programmes - it is to say that your full potential may not be achieved.

  2. If you have the funds, or is able to obtain the necessary scholarships, take the academic route which will lead you to the top 20 university in the UK (top 5 in Australia and top 20 in USA). The Top 20 universities according to the Guardian in the UK are:

    1. Oxford
    2. Cambridge
    3. Imperial College
    4. Schl of Oriental & African Studies
    5. London Schl of Economics
    6. King's Col, London
    7. University College London
    8. York
    9. Warwick
    10. Edinburgh
    11. St Andrews
    12. Queen Mary, London
    13. Bath
    14. Nottingham
    15. Manchester Uni
    16. Surrey
    17. Bristol
    18. Sussex
    19. Cardiff Uni
    20. City

  3. If you do not have the funds and is for some reason or other not able to obtain the necessary scholarship (but have obviously got excellent secondary school results), aim to enter the top 5 local universities. University Malaya is always a safe bet in terms of academic quality. You are likely to save more money and be a better graduate from these universities instead of joining the twinning programmes.

For the authorities (i.e., our Ministry of Education, and or Ministry of Higher Learning), the most important agenda should be for the right candidates with the right qualifications be enrolled in the right educational institutions. It is an absolute waste of Malaysian talent, if the most promising secondary school student is enrolled into a bottom 20 university of any country. The Ministries should:

  1. Take a pro-active stance in monitoring and regulating the commercial marketing activities of our local private colleges. Some of the marketing activities clearly exaggerates the quality of the education provided which misleads uninformed students. I often cringe when I hear or read advertisements by these colleges proclaiming (with impunity) their "world-class" qualities. While the above study relates purely on UK universities, it is my experience dealing with twinning graduates from all countries (UK, USA, Australia) which leads me to the conclusion that the above UK study when applied on the other countries will lead to similar results.

  2. Be pro-active in guiding students to the institution of learning which best "fit" the potential of the students at the secondary level. The Ministry should publish guides which outlines the qualities of the schools both locally as well as overseas, so that students will be able to tell whether they are really enrolling into a "top" institution (or one which is ranked near the bottom). Note that these guides should NOT be designed by the administrative civil servants (which they often are), but actually produced by the relevant academic specialists on the above subjects as well as based on credible studies (such as the University ranking guide published by The Times or the Guardian in the UK).

As I have mentioned at the start, it really really peeves me to find students opting for the wrong courses in the wrong institutions of higher learning, which happens quite frequently due to misinformation or poor (or misguided) educational and career guidance. The university years are some 3-4 years of your life which you will not likely repeat again, and if the graduate has made the wrong choice, he will have to live through it by compensating through other means during his work life (e.g., taking a more difficult route to prove himself) in order to fulfil his or her fullest potential.