Monday, November 13, 2006

Private Higher Education Roundtable (III)

For those interested in what I raised during the private higher education roundtable in Mandarin, I'll provide a short summary in this post. In addition, you can also access a Chinese version of the points raised in my personal blog here.

But before that, I thought I should add my personal opinion on the comment which was made by one of the readers here, which claimed that the other two speakers aren't qualified to discuss issues relating to the private education industry. The key reason was their apparent lack of academic credentials, despite their long experience in the industry.

Let me state categorically that if there's anyone who potentially lack qualifications to discuss the private higher education industry, it would be me. Despite a basic degree obtain from a prominent university, I've zero experience in the academia. And with the exception of having interviewed many candidates from the private colleges, I may not have the in-depth experience of the industry like the other panellists.

While Dato' Peter Ng, President and Vice-Chancellor of Universiti College Sedaya International and Tan Yew Sing, President and Founder of Inti College International are both more businessmen than academics, but that certainly doesn't disqualify them from providing their input and share their experience on the private higher education sector.

In fact, I found during our roundtable discussions, they were remarkably restrained by not attempting any self-serving promotion of their own private colleges. I can't remember a single instance whereby they cited their own colleges as examples of whatever points they were raising. They were also fairly open and honest with regards to the potential shortcomings of the industry. Of course, they will try to put things in a more positive light, but who wouldn't? That's the reason why I believe the producers invited me to be part of the panel isn't it? To act as some sort of a counterweight to ensure a good balance in views expressed by the panelists. But I certainly came off the programme with increased respect for the 2 fellow panellist, despite certain differences in views.

OK, back to the topic. Some of the key issues I managed to raise pertains to the quality of the local private education institutions of higher education.
  • Insufficient academics and lecturers of good quality

    For example, many private colleges engage foreign lecturers from developing countries and many students have complained with regards to the quality of these lecturers, in particular with regards to their language abilities. In addition, many of the private colleges also engage fresh graduates without any significant experience. Many of these graduates didn't graduate from top schools or have achieved top results to become competent lecturers.

  • Entry requirements which are set too low

    There are too many private institutions of higher learning which accepts students with entry requirements which are too low. The world's top universities accept only students in the top percentile of entry requirements, local institutions need to adopt a more qualitative approach to become truly world-class. For example, many highly technical and rigourous courses such as engineering held by private colleges accept students without a pass in Additional Mathematics, which would have been a minimum entry requirement for other top universities.

  • Course content too shallow

    I've interviewed many fresh graduates from local private and public institutions. Many of these candidates graduated with twinning degrees granted by the local private colleges. In the case of hiring computer application developers, I found many candidates with these degrees unsuitable, despite apparently good results due to the shallow content of their courses. For example, many computer science degree programmes are carried out without any significant practical programming classes!

  • 3+0 Degree Programmes

    I've blogged many times with regards to 3+0 degree programmes here. I disagree with the attempts by private colleges to market such programmes to students with the incentive for the latter to complete their degree faster. It is obvious that such degree programmes will only result in the students learning less, resulting in longer term negative impact on the students. If the top universities in the world like Oxbridge and the London universities require at least 18 months to 2 years in preparatory A-Level courses, what makes these degrees more special that they don't have such pre-requisites? Are the students enrolled more intelligent and talented such that they can skip the extra preparatory programmes?
This part isn't highlighted in the roundtable, but the following are my suggestions in brief on what the Ministry of Higher Education should do, to help improve the quality of the local private universities and colleges. They include requirements that the local institutions of higher learning publish the detailed resumes of their lecturers and academics for the respective degree programmes as well as the lowest entry criteria for particular courses accepted for the previous enrolment exercise. The Ministry should also limit the marketing campaigns of local institutions to facts-based advertisements instead of world-class trumpet blowing exercises. Finally, I'd strongly encourage the Ministry of Higher Education to phase out the conduct of 3+0 degree programmes.

Well, those are my thoughts in a gist. The above aren't all the points which I mentioned during the programme, but are what I thought is more important anyway. Obviously there are plenty of points to further blog about, as well as further substantiate or to be put into context. Hopefully the Roundtable would have raised pertinent issues from both sides of the fence and lead to, in its own small way, the betterment of education in Malaysia. So, remember to catch the next 2 episodes of the programme on the following consecutive Sundays at 10.45pm, Astro Asia Entertainment Channel. ;)


coleong said...

I didn’t know who is the panel in the discussion since I didn’t watch the show. But, I guess, the main point of the discussion is to set up a proper platform for discussion about the problem of private education. Now, I’ve no comment on the qualification nor who is suppose to be in the panel. I guess everyone should have an equal opportunity to voice their view. It doesn’t need to be a PhD or Nobel laureate give us insight on what is going on. In fact, I believe that the panel is well represented as they include the chairman of the private university as well as independent panelist such as Tony and others who had voice our view in the discussion and I really appreciate that. No one knows any better what the private university is facing rather than a person in the business. So, please keep up the good work and many thanks to Tony and friends who put such an effort to our education system. I really appreciate it.

Anonymous said...


"they were remarkably restrained by not attempting any self-serving promotion of their own private colleges. I can't remember a single instance whereby they cited their own colleges as examples of whatever points they were raising." Thank God :)

I had read both your Chinese and English version of blogs and I personally agree with most of the discussion had been done during the roundtable. May I give some of my comment as following;

1. I agree some IPTS had employed not qualified (including some lecturers with XYZ degree form unknown university) lecturers for teaching. Look around in Malaysia, we have more than 500 IPTS with various scales, courses and standards. Despite the fact that all IPTS lecturers are required to obtained teaching permit before they can teach but as far as I know there are a lot of IPTS do not even bother about it. I have a friend she (a housewife to earn additional income to her family) houis working in one of the samll scale college and has been there for more than 5 years as a lecturer but teaching without teaching permit. May be government should look into this teaching permit as one way to "control" or "filter" the not qualify lecturers.

2. 3+0 courses (mainly on engineering). It is quite surprise to hear that you had discussed the problems of 3+0 courses. As far as I know, the two VIPs colleges are the top institutions produces large volume of 3+0 graduates (not be offended to them but it is a fact). Anyway, I do agree the study duration of 3+0 programme is too short to allow the students to be well equipped and trained before they enter to the job market. Most of the 3+0 programmes are UK degrees and some of these degrees are not being recognised by its mother country. I had been told by my friend, one of the engineering lecturer teaching in one of the oversea university in Malaysia campus. Currently, the UK Engineering Council (EC) and Board of Engineers Malaysia (BEM) only recognise 4 years engineering degree, and 3+0 programmes are not be recognised as a professional engineering programme. Thus, 3+0 students are not allow to register as a member of BEM. So, what those students received after they completed their engineering degree is just a paper without formal recognition. Additionally, 3+0 engineering students are not accepted to further their postgraduate degree with most of the IPTA and ITPS university (as far as I know, UM, UTM, UPM, UKM and MMU). Why I put engineering as an example, in Malaysia, engineering courses are the most popular after medical related programmes. Engineering is one of the professional programme that has to be properly conducted (IPTS responsibility) and students also require to be carefully selected. What are the entry requirements for engineering programme? Mathematics and Physics are the two most inportant subjects that students must meet the minimum standard given by the university. I agree as well, due to the popularity of engineering programme in Malaysia and may be job security (as well as salary and public reputation) an engineer is high. Thus, a lot of ITPS put in good marketing effort to register students for the engineering programme without measuring the academic capability of an applicant. We can not accept not qualified Doctor and hoe about engineers?

3. I agree, the academic level of most of the IPTS programmes had been "carefully" (market oriented) designed for our students that to ensure it is "easy to study" and "guarantee to complete the programme". If you compare the course content, academic level and programme structure of Nanyang Polytechnic Diploma programmes with some of the top IPTS Diploma programmes in Malaysia then you will agree with me.

It is me, the PhD student.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Like the Chinese saying:
"Yi Fen Qian, Yi Fen Huo"

Anonymous said...

Dear All,

I am a lecturer from INTI-UC and I would like to give some comments on the points raised here.

1) Insufficient academics and lecturers of good quality

I agree that we do in general, have insufficient academics with good quality. However, this does not mean that those lecturers from certain developing countries are bad. I know that many of these lecturers come from countries such as India. But please note that some of them are very technical in the field of IT and Engineering. Qualities of lecturers are not judged from the countries they are from. In fact, in local universities, we have lecturers who cannot even speak properly. I have attended some international conferences (in Malaysia) where the so called professors from our local uni had to switch to BM half way through their talk. Besides, it is harder to get into competitive universities in India compared to some top universities in the states (Source: The World is Flat, Friedman).

My cousin is currently a UTAR foundation student and he recently shared some experiences he encountered at UTAR: a) a lecturer actually asked the student if she can use Chinese to conduct the class. b) a lecturer was unable to solve a math problem. When the student tried to solve it by attempting the question, the student was told to "give up". I am sure you will tell me that just because of these few lecturers does not mean all lecturers at UTAR are bad. Well, I guess the same goes to the foreign lecturers.

And with regards to your earlier comments on the accents of the lecturers, I am sure our students will have difficulty understanding Scottish lecturers when they first encounter them as well. I don't think accents should play a role in the quality of the lecturers. Besides, most students should be able to adapt to the accent after a few classes. Just like I did when I had my chemistry class with a Scottish lecturer (I swear during my first 3 classes, I have no idea what was he talking about)

You might be surprised to find good lecturers working in some of the larger private colleges or universities. While I was studying in the United Kingdom, I, like some of the students, found a few “crappy” lecturers and professors. However, the difference between Malaysian college students and me and my classmates in the UK is that we actually went to library to do our own research, read up journals, spend more of our own time learning on our own. The problem we have in Malaysia is that students still treat the lecturers as their teachers. As such, when they failed to learn something in class, they complain that it is the lecturers' fault. As university/college students, we as lecturers would expect the students to do more independent learning. My dad shared with me his experience when he was a university student at Bradford Uni (hmmm, I think it should be 30 years ago). He said the professor was so old, he had no idea what was the professor mumbling about). However, like me, he did a lot of self study! University is a place for us to learn how to learn.

One of my economics teacher once told me that if at the end of the semester, and all I have learned is Economics, he has failed as a teacher. He wanted me to learn more than that. To be a thinker. To be responsible. To learn how to learn. 2 months before my International Baccalaurate exam for his subject, me and my best friend formed a study group, and we borrowed god knows how many economics books, and compiled our own version of Economics handbook for the exam. Both of us scored a perfect 7 out of 7. All my economic teacher taught in class was just things from the newspaper, magazines, videos etc. However, he has trained us how to think, and how to learn on our own. Instead of teaching us and spoon feeding us, he shared with us things such as current economic events from the newspaper instead.

I am currently a PhD student at MMU. Professor George Chacko, Emeritus professor from University of Southern California was one of my professor teaching my problem formation and formulation class. His style of lectures involves a lot of critical thinking, and he mainly delivers his lectures through giving various scenarios and cases that he gained from his 50++ years of experience. During my first class at MMU, there were 20++ students. During the second class, half of the students have dropped the course. My point is, perhaps sometimes it is not the lecturers. It is the students' attitudes. Or unfortunately, it could be due to the fact that the students were not trained well in their secondary school. I did my middle and high school in an international school. My teachers never give us many notes. Instead, we are given many line papers! They would just talk, while we try to jog down notes. As part of my International Baccalaurate diploma, I was teamed by students who took Chemistry and Biology (I took Physics), and we were given a random science project to do. We were not even given the problem. We simply have to define the problem based on the case. I remembered asking my teacher so many questions that he told me "Whose project is this, yours or mine?"

There was once when my biology teacher asked me to write a paragraph explaining how does our blood circulation work. The answer is in the book. So I just copied the paragraph. When I was unfortunately picked to read the answer, I was told by the teacher “What is the point of copying from the book? I might as well read the book”. I swear I felt my face turning red!

From then on, I learned to be more independent in learning. Something which many of our students should do.

2)Entry requirements which are set too low

For colleges running LAN accredited programmes, the minimum entry requirements have already been determined by LAN. At INTI, to enter into the foundation courses for IT, one needs 5 credits including English and maths, for engineering, students need 5 credits including a science subject, english and maths (I hope I get it right as I am not from that faculty). The problem with entry requirements that are too low are usually found in colleges that are not following the LAN guidelines.

3) 3+0 programmes

Students do not complete their 3+0 programme in 18 months anymore. LAN has set the minimum duration a degree programme should last. As such, most of the recognized and accredited 3+0 degree programmes are about 2 and a half year. Sure it is shorter than 3 years, but the shortened time is not due to the class delivery time. Instead, the summer vacation has been cut down to less than 3 months compared to the British universities. So basically the students still learn attend the same number of lecturing hours and classes. The difference is that their holiday is shortened.

4) Course contents too shallow

I don’t agree. This is because for 3+0 programmes, the courses are usually franchised from the foreign university.

While writing for this point, I actually tried copy and pasting some of our course structure here. But it is simply too long. I have seen IT courses from some of the larger private colleges and I must say that they are sometimes better than the courses conducted at local university.

Using INTI as an example (sorry, I cannot give too many examples from other colleges as I am not familiar with their programmes), the engineering programmes are actually franchised programme from Bradford University (traditional university). So I am sure the course content is not that bad! As for our IT courses, we have worked with Suns, Microsoft and CISCO to incorporate the courses into our programmes. In fact, we have even invited people from companies from a few large IT companies to have a roundatable talk on our IT course structures!

As a lecturer, I have some opinion with regards to students' technical skill. I believe students who did well in their SPM, STPM etc, and chose to do a degree in IT, and end up with very little IT skills is down to one reason: They chose the wrong course. In fact, a few of the most technically gifted students I have met in my three years as a lecturer are just good performer during their SPM. They are good, not excellent (no straight As, just a few : ) ). However, they all shared the same trait. They have very strong interest in IT. They approached me talking about recent IT technologies, they discuss with me how to crack games, they talk to me on open source technologies etc. Every week I receive interesting IT articles emailed to my inbox by these students. These are the students who are truly IT students.

I am sure many of you encounter students who have chosen the wrong course and they are not just from IT. I guess many people talk about IT is due to IT courses’ popularity in the past and so many students end up choosing the course. Biotech students/students interested in doing Biotech, do you hear me???

One of the most common issues raised by my friends working in the industry is that the students lack programming skills. So is this due to the course content? I really doubt so. To me, learning programming language is just like learning Japanese or learning to play the piano. You have to have an interest. You have to practice. The students cannot simply memorize the syntax or "study" the programming like what many of my students did. They have to "play around with it" instead of studying it. However, how many students actually do that? As I said earlier, our students lack the independent learning skills. They do not explore things on their own. This attribute which is lacking in many of them is so vital for them to be successful in the IT industry.

I am not trying to say all students chose the wrong course. But perhaps they should know what they will learn in the course has nothing to do with "playing games, surfing net, blogging etc". Maybe many of them misunderstood what IT course is about when they enrol to it. However, for the students who are really keen on IT, they have done very well in the course, and many of them are currently working in big companies such as Accenture, IBM, Shell etc (unfortunately, Tony might not want to employ too many of them :-) ).

As for the comments made by the Phd student: As for as the engineering course is concern, it is not true the Board of Engineers Malaysia (BEM) is not recognizing the degree due to their quality. If you graduated from Oxford (a 3 year programme), they do not recognize it as well. It is just like graduating with a Law degree with Oxford and still having to take CLP (with low passing rate), BUT graduates from local unis are exempted from taking CLP. It is also similar to students who have an accounting degree from MARA are automatically a member of MIA while those from foreign unis have to take additional exams. I think you get my point.

It is not true that these students cannot get a place to local universities. If you are talking about LAN accrediated engineeing programmes, whether it is from INTI, Sunway, HELP etc, you will be able to do a postgraduate in the local uni. In fact, one way INTI students who graduated with the 3+0 programme (engineering) get their recognition from BAM is by doing a one year master at the local uni (e.g. UPM) or overseas, and thus qualified for BAM membership (as they have completed a 4 year engineering programme including their MEng). Hmmm... I think I get general fact correct. If any other enginners can back me up, it would be great.

I guess those who are not accepted to do their post graduate programmes are those from Unaccredited programmes.

I have been very very veryyyyyyy long winded, which might explain why my students always bring chewing gum, coffee and for some, their MP3 player to my class. I guess one important point I would like to highlight is that we seem to generalize on many things based on a few bad sheep. E.g. Degree from 3+0 not accepted to do a masters at Local uni when in fact my students have even managed to apply to UM for her masters.

I think private education will have an important role to play in the development of Malaysia, and hopefully, things will just get better.

AChong , just a lecturer.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Tony's recommendation that private college$ & UCs employ more corporate experienced and well qualified lecturers.

The private college$ & UCs tuition and misc. fees are very exhorbitantly expen$ive & parents single greatest priority each year is to work very hard ( some have to take huge loans too ) in order to be able to have the required money to pay the fees so that their kids can enjoy good standard education.

Given this level of economic sacrifice, doesn't every student deserve the very best classroom instruction these private college$ or UCs can provide?

Golf Afflicted said...

Hi AChong, lecturer at Inti,

Thank you very much for providing the extensive insight into Inti in particular. I'm certain that the readers here will really appreciate it.

I will only mention 2-3 key points:

1. Being accredited by LAN doesn't mean a mark of quality. It just means that the course "outline" has met the minimum standards. And while LAN has set the minimum standards (which are very low), that doesn't mean that private colleges can't raise them to raise standards.

2. 3+0 courses are indeed 2.5 years. But you can enrol in these courses right after SPM or O-levels. That was my contention. The 1.5-2 years of A-Levels or STPM or equivalent is skipped in its entirety.

3. A good course structure doesn't necessarily equate to a good course delivery, which depends on many other factors.

That's it :)

Anonymous said...

Dear Tony,

Hi. For point no 2, students cannot enter the degree programme upon completing their SPM or O level.

O level ---> Foundation --> Degree.

They have to complete their foundation year before entering degree. This works the same for INTI as well as private universities such as UTAR and MMU. In order to join the foundation, students must have 5 credits including maths and english.

Oh no... here goes my long winded ways again... Do you all know that US universities accept students into year one of the degree programme based on O level? So I think the Americans are worst than us as they take students into year one of their degree programme based on O level while we actually need students to complete their foundation!

Agree with point number 1. However, the minimum requirement to enter MMU's programme is quite low as well. In fact, for some of the top 50 universities in UK (except the top 10), the entry requirements aren't that high either. My friend enter Birmingham uni with A level results of BBC and another friend entered Nottingham with results of ABC . Of course, given these universities' reputations, the students they accept tend to have better results than the minimum entry requirements due to competition for places.

However, I would like to see the standards increase as well. :-)
But most of the private colleges/universities are relatively "new" when compared to these universities. Of course, like what I saw on Astro on Sunday, it was said that perhaps we are catering a different market than those traditional universities. Of course, for myself, I do hope that our private colleges/universities are able to do well and set a high standards in the long run. I guess if I am the boss, my benchmark will be Singapore Management university (SMU).

Once again, Achong, only a lecturer....

Husain Zaman said...

In response to ah chong's comments that american universities accept students after their O' levels i would like to point out that a high school equivalent (read STPM) qualification is required to apply to any reputable american university, i am not so sure about the others but the decent ones will not accept 0'Levels.

Anonymous said...

HELP UC does not has any 3+0 engineering programmes.
Please be more alert when you talk about a college with the name being spelled.

It is BEM not BAM and LAN accreditation does not implies BEM/IEM or EAC accreditation.

Anonymous said...


Yes, sorry, I didn't realize HELP does not offer engineering.

It is BEM not BAM (Mispelled.. i started off with BEM.. :p )

LAN accreditation does not implies BEM/IEM or EAC accreditation. (I didn't say that. I am saying that LAn accrediated programme will enable students to do their post graduate in our local university, and thus will give them the 4 years higher education needed).