Thursday, June 23, 2005

"Speed Up Your Pursuit of Higher Qualifications"

Did you see the full page advertisement that was placed on the 3rd page of The Sun on Monday, June 21 by Universiti Tun Abdul Razak (UNITAR)? You can view it online here - although you'd probably need broadband to provide decent response time.

The advertisement has a large red rectangle with the word "FAST FORWARD" with the fast forward logo (2 triangles pointing right ">>"). The advertisement reads:

Our Foundation and Diploma programmes have been created to give you the higher qualification you need within a shorter study duration. You can complete your Foundation studies in one year en route to our 3-year Degree programme - one of the fastest study pathways offered by a university today.

What is this preoccupation with speed? The attraction of achieving a degree in the fastest possible time is alluring.

  • The student can 'quit' studying earlier
  • The student may join the workforce and earn income earlier
  • It's possibly an easier way to a degree (the common excuse is STPM is very difficult)

Are these good enough reasons for you to join a "fast-tracked" degree programme? To be fair, the Unitar's programme is actually not the fastest available recognised route to a degree. Many of the private colleges offer a 3+0 programme i.e., no foundation year is required, you'll take 3 years to complete your degree immediately after SPM or 'O' Levels, hence "saving" 1.5-2 years compared to students who takes the 'A' levels or STPM. Some of these colleges are 'reviewed' briefly in my blog post on "World Class Universities?".

The simple short answer to the above question is "NO". The only reason why you should join these "fast-tracked" programmes is if you regard yourself as a poor to mediocre student who actually require the degree certifications not because of the education process but purely to own a badge for joining the workforce. The reasons why one shouldn't join these degree programmes are plenty:

  • The move to shorten degree courses is often a commercial ploy by private universities to attract students and not a decision to improve educational quality. The more courses the college offers with shortened degrees, the less likely the college is interested in educational excellence.

  • Practically none of the world's top universities whether in the United States (US) or the United Kingdom (UK) promote shortcuts. For the US, you have to have excellent marks for your SAT examinations, while for the UK, you are almost certainly required to have excellent 'A' Level (or equivalent results) to join the top 10 universities. There is a simple reason for this. The course difficulty as well as academic rigour in these universities are tougher and hence require the extra 1 to 2 year of preparation to ensure that you will be able to "cope" with the curriculum. You want a top degree, you work for it.

  • Shortened degree courses typically means that you will learn less. You will be learning less not just from a knowledge gathering process, but also from having less time to hone your critical thinking and analytical skills. Very rarely do these shortened courses on offer in Malaysia covers the same breadth and depth as other comparable courses with longer terms. It only means that you will be getting your paper certificates with less work (which in this case isn't to the student's personal advantage).

Some three years ago, I employed a computer science graduate with a first class honours degree from one of these 3+0 degree programmes "twinned" with one of the UK universities listed in my earlier post. Even in those early days, I was aware that the standards at these colleges were lower, hence I tend to avoid candidates from some of these colleges. However, I made an exception in her case because she had excellent grades for her SPM (8A1s), believing that she may still have the potential to grow. After three months, the mangement and her colleagues were just happy that she had decided to resign on her own accord as she just couldn't cope with the technical rigour and depth of the work involved. I strongly believe that had she proceeded to complete her STPM (or equivalent) and enrolled into one of the better local universities, she would have coped with her tasks easily.

When you have graduated, it may be fair for you to seek the job or career which pays the most money for the least amount of work. If a piece of work is not suitable, you are always able to switch jobs. However, for your degree which you are going to spend some 3-4 years to obtain, it is important that you pick the right one, for you are unlikely to attempt another degree again. Seek the degree course and options which will ensure that you have the best opportunity to receive the best quality education within your personal abilities. Do not seek degree courses or programmes which will provide you with the easiest or fastest route to a piece of paper certification.

11 comments:

naive idealist said...

goood advice

Tiara said...

Ha, LUCT has the same programme (one year foundation, 3 years degree); they're hardly unique.

I don't understand people who are in a rush to finish their college education - especially those that go in before they know their SPM results. Dude, you've got all the time in the world. Relax. Take a year off and do something else, it'll help you immensely.

On the other hand, A-Levels and STPM are not for everyone. There wasn't a place in this country that was offering A-Levels/STPM that had my subjects of interest. I wasn't going to endure more school life, and I wasn't going to take more Maths and Sciences subjects. Oh no. Doing a Foundation course was straight to the point, and more fun. :)

miracle8 said...

Hi Tony,
I got your blog off PPS. I do agree with you that fast track routes are a no-no for students pursuing their tertiary education, for the simple reason that where there is limited time to complete a task, the quality will always be compromised. Ideally, a student should be given an opportunity to develop as a balanced individual, not only in terms of academic skills, but also interpersonal and leadership skills which can be acquired and polished by participating in extra curricular activities in the university. It is an environment which allows you to explore your potential in a relatively fair competitive environment. To rush through this process means that the individual's development would be limited. You have interviewed lots of young graduates, I am sure you are in a better position to comment what went wrong.
Just my two cents worth.

clk said...

Rushing to complete their formal tertiary education is an obsession with many Asian folks. Many causes but mainly financial constraints.

I have not heard of anyone here taking a one-year break btw their studies to pursue other interest in life. This however is quite common in western culture.

Anonymous said...

More school does not mean that you would be better at programming. You are good at programming because you love programming. And because you love programming you will do it well. You will probably fail in your other subjects, because all of your time will be spent researching and doing programming. Who knows you might also fail in programming, because you found a better way of doing it that didn't follow the book, and because of that standardize testing makes no sense.

--Old Man

naive idealist said...

hey clk, my fren is taking one year break..actually 6 month..and he fell bored.Cos he said here we diont have much fun.

naive idealist said...

another fren one even worst...maybe he is too free.

Anonymous said...

Tony,

Enjoy your posts very much. Just wanted to add a couple of comments.

First, it is quite common for students to take 4 1/2 years - 5 years to complete an undergraduate engineering or computer science program in the United States. The additional time allows the students to better balance their workload, since junior/senior year core classes are often very project, and hence, labor intensive.

Second, and this is in response to Old Man's post; while more school might not make one a better programmer, an inadequate background in the fundamentals of computer science caused by an abridged syllabus often produce programmers that produce inferior code. Without a sound understanding of data structurs, basic algorithm analysis and fundamentals of programming languages and compilers etc, one cannot become a good programmer because one does not trully appreciate the behavior produced by each line of code.

-- gilaman

Anonymous said...

Gilman

One does not become a good programmer unless one love programming, these programmers will go beyond the given (unabridged or abridged syllabus), appreciation for the code is motivated by learning something they love; this will drive them to acquire the knowledge and skills that is merely spoon-fed and beyond the canonical. Like its been said, more school might not make one a better programmer. Likewise, if one does not like the subject of programming more programming subjects will be nothing more than academic.

There are many factors that can produce inferior code, the technical component you stress are only some of them.

However, I agree that a software engineering program that cut-corners would provide fewer options for the uninitiated.


-- Old Man

Tony P said...

Hey Old Man,

Thanks for being such an active contributor to my blog :)

Having a team of more than 30 programmers, I must say that competence will probably be my first priority. The love for programming will only be a "bonus". You can be a good programmer, without being terribly in love with it. :)

Tony

Anonymous said...

Good = Competence

Love = Bonus

Good + Love = Bonus Competence = Unfair advantage -:)


-- Old Man