Tuesday, August 09, 2005

What's a Degree Worth Today?

The Star last week had an interesting article which claimed that many degree and diploma holders are "hiding" their qualifications to secure low-paying jobs in the public sector.
Fire and Rescue Department deputy director-general Datuk Wan Mohd Nor Ibrahim said many graduates only submitted their PMR and SPM qualifications when applying to become firemen, a job only requiring a PMR certificate.

“I think many of the graduates may not want to reveal their tertiary education background until they have joined the department after completing their basic four-and-a-half months' training. Most of them are worried that their applications may be rejected if they reveal their educational background in their application forms,” he said, adding that this year some 23,250 applications were received for 533 vacancies for firemen.

So, from this little piece of evidence, is it true that degrees today are "worthless scraps of paper" sufficient only to qualify one for low-paying jobs?

Well, of course not, at least not totally true anyway. I will hazard a guess that these candidates who were desperate enough to apply for the above positions were not sufficiently qualified in their fields of study, and hence their difficulty in being able to secure a position in their preferred choices. The reasons could be many, and I've discussed some of them in my previous posts here, here and here.

However, I will attribute this to a direct result of the lowering of standards in the local universities in order to meet the application and political demands of the country, as well as the inability to attract sufficient quality lecturers and tutors to all the mushrooming universities and colleges (private and public) in the country.
  1. Firstly, it has become too "easy" to enter a university in Malaysia. Many of the students who entered the local universities would have SPM aggregates in excess of 25 (that an average of 6 B4s or C5s for the best 6 SPM subjects) and STPM grades (or equivalent) of 2Ds (or worse). Putting it bluntly, the theory is simple - barring exceptions, you will get rubbish in, rubbish out. There is a large pool of students who should not have been admitted into unversities, in our local universities - when that happens, the standard drops.

  2. Secondly, the universities are then put in a bind - they can't possibly fail all these students, can they? That wouldn't be the politically correct thing to do. Hence as a results, the standards to "pass" and obtain their degrees are intentionally or unintentionally lowered, in order to enable many of these candidates to graduate from the university.
The end result of the above - unemployable graduates. It is hence not surprising at all that these graduates are "forced" to apply for low-paying civil service jobs available in the market. As quoted above, that's more than 23,000 applications for less than 550 positions, which in all likelihood pays approximately RM600-800 per month.

In my case, where I have stringent requirements for strong programming foundations for my application developers, I'm forced to largely recruit computer science graduates from the top 5-6 local universities with CGPA scores above 3.3 (out of 4.0) to ensure that I get quality. For some of my maintenance and support staff, I will recruit those above a score of 3.0. For those with CGPA between 2.0-2.6 (or worse), these candidates should never have taken up the Computer Science degree - because I really don't think they learnt anything much during their 3-4 year courses.

It will really be too inaccurate to attempt to generalise the measure the value of "degrees" today. There are indeed many factors involved - particularly the quality of the institution attended and the grades obtained. If you are a first class honours graduate from University Malaya - I will more likely than not, snap you up immediately, while you are likely to be immediately rejected if you have a second class lower degree from say, TAR College.


David said...

It is worth ABSOLUTELY nothing. But then againk, thats what happens when graduats are as common as say Open Burning?

I wrote a snippet on a funny experience my lecturer highlighted to our masters class the other day.

it here, http://alanbates.blogspot.com/2005/08/brilliant-graduates.html

if u are interested.

Anonymous said...

Well what about a UTAR graduate with Computer Science major? What is your consideration for a UTAR CS graduate with 3.0 out of 4?
[ps: I am still a freshman in UTAR worrying about the future of my career choice-have I made the right decision...:)]

David said...

Tony is right. Anything below a 3.0 is terrible, especially if you enrolled in a private college. It's not difficult to get over 3.0 for a course that has to do with a lot of "hands on learning."

WY said...

Hi there. I am an avid reader of your entries, and found much truth in most of them.

However, i have to disagree with your persistent view that graduation grades, ie CGPA is a true measure of a potential employee. It is a fact that in most local universities, the top scoring students are either:

a) geeks - spent all their time studying, while losing touch with society.

b) cheaters - yup..they just strolled through their degrees with tips, past years papers and biased lecturers.

c)genuinely smart people - 20%?

By considering only the top 5% of a graduating class, you are actually getting the possibly crappiest lot in the class, in terms of solving problems and working. Unfortunately, many large companies HR managers think like you, and see university grades as a simply tool to screen out the Stars from the dogs.

Frankly, CGPA, grades etc should merely be an indication of what to be expected, and not as a threshold cut-off point. From my university experience, the best 'worker' or colleague came from those with above average - average grades, as these people actually enjoy life and learning.

Yes, i cannot generalize and consider all top scorers as geeks...but then again, if u shortlist your potential employees merely by looking their grades, you are generalizing too.

What's with the predominant concepts that grades are all that matter? This led to an unhealthy culture of examination-mind that kills all innovation and creativity.

Golf Afflicted said...

Hi Rational Thinker,

Thanks for visiting my blog and adding all your comments :)

Here's my quick rationale for having "cut-off" points:

1. I agree that there is generalisation that the "best" students always score high grades. However, I'm sure you will agree with me that most of these "best" students will score good grades.

2. As an employer, I have limited amount of time to shortlist and interview candidates. Do I shortlist 80 candidates with CGPA >3.0 or do I shortlist 25 candidates with CGPA > 3.3, in order to hire say, 2-5 persons? To increase my chances to hire the best candidates with the least amount of time(but still a lot - imagine 45 minutes per candidate), I am forced to shortlist from 3.3. Yes, I will "miss" some excellent candidates with CGPA <3.3, but I'm likely to find my 2-5 equally excellent new employees from the pool of 25 I shortlisted as well. After all, I can't possibly try to hire every "top" candidate right? Hence, it makes sense to have cut-off points.

3. For certain subject matters such as computer science, I'm actually a firm believer that the CGPA is a fairly accurate measure of competency. Other criteria will be the Mathematics grade in STPM and SPM. Hence the reliance on CGPA grades.

4. The cut-off points are not cast in stone. For each university, there are grey areas i.e., if your CGPA is about "borderline" for the relevant university, I'll review your other activities e.g., were you active in sports, societies, leadership positions etc. But if your CGPA is say, 2.5, there's really no point me considering those factors as even if you are a great leader, as you may not have the skills to become a good programmer.

Note that the above "philosophy" didn't come out of the blue. They were developed over time, having done many, many interviews, including those with CGPA <3.0, with candidates from many many universities, and hired a variety of candidates. I've definitely made mistakes, in the shortlisting and hiring process, and that's how the criteria is formulated over the past 7 years. The criteria now used provides me with the consistency in quality of my intake with the least number of waste of time interviews, within the shortest period of time.

I hope you understand where I'm coming from (and where many employers are coming from). :)

Anonymous said...

I have to totally agree with rationale thinker. CGPA is merely an examination grade which indicates how well you perform in university, but does not indicate that you are excellent in doing your job. Yes there are about 10-20% who is actually smart in uni and do well in their job.
I really hope too that HR people in our country will change their perspective of considering not only university scores, but also other non-academic factors. After all, their tagline has always been and will always be "We are an equal opportunity employer". So please walk the talk.