Saturday, December 17, 2005

"Unmatched * Unequalled * Unrivalled"

Students beware.

Yes, Tis' the season to be jolly, and it's also time for SPM and STPM graduates to review and ponder their options in their pursuit for further education. It is also the time when you find the various private colleges throughout making grandiloquent claims and advertisements to attract students and of course, their sought after cash.

Among the advertisements by the private colleges, those by Limkokwing University College of Creative Technology (LUCCT) is probably "unequalled" in its unabashed self-glorification. Take for example, a full page advertisement placed in the Sun on December 15th (I'll put up a scan of this once I get my hands on a scanner). See also, another advertisement which I blogged on earlier.

The advertisement loudly proclaimed "Unmatch * Unequalled * Unrivalled" in LUCCT's "Award winning excellence" by "students and graduates of the most inspiring. most innovative, most international university in the region". Really? By the sounds of it, The Times Higher Education Supplement (THES) and QS QuacquarelliSymmonds Limited's mistake isn't only with the rankings of Universiti Malaya, it must have been a terrible tragedy for LUCCT to be unplaced in the top 200 universities of the world.

But lest I be accused of pursuing a personal vendetta against LUCCT (of which I have none against), it's not the only college guilty of such practices. A quick look at the recent supplement by New Straits Times (Dec 9th) on the FACON education fair, you'd find headlines to articles which are often "misleading". For example:
  • "Creativity flows easily at IACT"

  • "You're not just a nuber cruncher with CIMA"

  • "Information is power at Informatics"

  • "Binary students delight employers"

  • "FTMS brings out the best in students"

  • "Revel in stimulation at UCTI"

  • "Systematic way to Prime performance"
I totally do not blame students who have just completed their SPM or STPM to be absolutely confused by the offerings in the market. Are there just so many top quality schools in Malaysia? I can tell you outright that, barring exceptions, most students from the above schools will not get past the "shortlisting" for interview rounds with me, contrary to the impression given in the media articles.

On the contrary, some of the more established private institutes take a more low-key, sensible approach. For example, Monash University Malaysia advertisements focused on their open day, outlining the time-table of academic speakers for the various academic courses throughout the day. Students interested in courses offered are encouraged to listen to and speak with their potential lecturers or tutors before making the final decisions. Similarly, Taylor's advertised their "Campus Preview Day" on the 18th for visits to the respective "campuses" without the distracting marketing hype.

As I've been asked many times, what's my take on the best colleges to go to? There is unfortunately, no standard answer applicable to all students. I have always argued that the top students should attend the top 5-10 schools in the United Kingdom and the top 10-15 in the United States. At the same time, some of the local colleges provide the necessary level education for the relevant segments of the student population.

What I've always been upset with is the fact that many top students are "hoodwinked" by the marketing ploy of some of the local colleges which results in many students joining the wrong schools. This has been discussed in my posts here, and a short follow up here.

Hence given the deluge of unbenchmarked information, what can the student do to tell the lemons from the real thing - afterall, everyone calls themselves "world-class"? There are some simple checks a student can do to decide for himself if he or she is enrolling into a college with sufficient quality and rigour to provide him or her with a challenging and fulfilling tertiary education.

  1. Check for the minimum entry requirement for enrolment into your desired course at the college. This measure provides a fairly accurate measure of the quality of the course and the suitability to a particular candidate. As a yardstick, a students grades and qualifications should not be too far above the minimum entry requirements of the college.

    For example, if you have 2As and a C for your STPM, do not enrol into a college course with minimum (or actual historical) entry requirement of 2Ds. You should probably be looking for a college which has a minimum entry requirement of something like BBB or ABC for the relevant course.

  2. The great thing about the internet today, is that many students have been blogging their experience in the various private colleges in town. Read all of them, but just remember to take all of it with a pinch of salt as their views may not be representative or accurate - but it may just give you a better flavour of what to expect.

    There's a pretty good blog for example, dedicated solely to "Life at Limkokwing's". Make your own judgements as to whether it's "Unmatched * Unequalled * Unrivalled".

  3. If you think that the colourful "brochures" provided by the colleges contains information which sounds a little bit too good to be true - e.g., lecturers flown in all year round from the main campus overseas, ask for more information. "All year round" may just mean 2 lecturers for 4 lectures a year. It's your right to ask for more information, after all, you are paying the fees. Visit the various open houses and determine for yourself if the facilities in reality (e.g., labs equipped with the latest technologies) do indeed match what was advertised.
At the end of the day, do sufficient research to determine if a college is suitable for you - in particular, item (1) above. Don't be fooled by all the creative marketing gimmicks (some of which are not at all "creative"!) dished out by these institutions, who very often are only interested in commercial considerations to make "successful" entrepreneurs of private education.

In addition, do not eliminate the local university route either. While true meritocracy is still found wanting at our local public universities, it will be equally untrue to claim that non-bumiputeras are unable to secure places in courses such as computer science and business administration. The top 4-5 local public and "private" universities (UM, USM, UTM, MMU) often serves up better top students in these fields when compared against many of the overseas twinning universities and colleges.

Finally, in another related topic which I'll blog tomorrow, do not be tempted to "speed up your pursuit" of higher education by signing up for the 3+0 type programmes. I've written about it before here in June, but I'll write to emphasize the message again.

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