Monday, October 9, 2017

M'sia education hub or dud?

"Two weeks ago, I was preparing the questions for the final semester exams when I was summoned to the president's office. He said: ‘Make sure all the students pass.’ I thought nothing of it although at the back of my mind, I knew what he had in mind.

"A week later, I told my class of 28 that there would be a special revision class before the exam. Attendance was poor. One third of them were absent but nevertheless, I went to on to discuss the eight questions I had prepared. They were only required to answer any four.

"On exam day, only 13 turned up to sit for their paper. Two days later, I sat down to mark the scripts. Only eight passed.

"I was again summoned to president's office where I was told that I had defied instructions. If they don't pass, I was told, they can't go to third year and they will drop out.

"Short of writing the exam for them, I told him, I did my best explaining the special class and the discussion of the questions. He wouldn't have any of it.

"Two weeks later, some of the students came to thank me and one of them remarked: 'The whole class passed and are going into third year.' I was told that there was a ‘special sitting’ where the absentees were given ‘a second opportunity’. I was to learn that the five who failed had their marks "reviewed" and ‘upgraded’.

"I marched to the president's office and demanded answers. He calmly said: ‘This is a business. We need the money from the students and their sponsors who in many cases are on scholarships provided by governments of countries in the African continent and the Middle East.’

"’This how the system works,’ I was told. I packed my bag and left, never to return to lecturing."

With the recent announcement by the Higher Education Ministry of Oman banning four Malaysian universities, the above paraphrased paroxysm, which took place about two years ago, came to mind.

The writer was a doyen in the advertising industry. After retirement, he consciously decided to impart his knowledge, skills and experience to young people. But he did not last, unable to be part of the system.

From the above outburst, it is obvious that there are certainly shortcomings in some Malaysian private colleges and universities - not necessarily the four named by the Omanese ministry.

Licenses dished out like cookies

When the government intended to make Malaysia the regional education hub in the Nineties, it offered unlimited licences and permits for the establishment of institutions of higher learning.

At the end of 2015, there were more than 600 private institutions of higher learning. Here are some statistics:
  • Foreign university branch campuses - 9
  • Private universities and university colleges - 42
  • Private colleges - 468
  • Polytechnics - 27
  • Community colleges - 39
According to Unesco's Global Education Digest, there were about 750,000 students enrolled in higher education institutions in Malaysia in 2009. The figure may have increased over the past eight years.

Among these are allegedly fly-by-night operators who use such colleges as a front for student permits to enable foreigners to legally enter the country. Many of these permit holders are said to then engage in unhealthy and illegal activities, and the arrests by Immigration authorities attest to this. But the errant institutions get away unscathed.

These aside, the most important questions are: Who ensures the quality of education provided by these institutions? Who checks on the syllabi, the qualifications of teachers and facilities? During investigations, we discovered two such colleges operating on the first floor of shop houses near the Central Market. (They have since moved.)

What basic educational qualifications do foreign students need to enroll in local universities? What are the minimum requirements to get into local colleges and universities? Is being able to read and write English a pre-requisite, as it is the medium of instruction?

Quality assurance OSA?

The Quality Assurance Agency of the United Kingdom carries out audits on branch campuses of UK universities in Malaysia and local universities that offer UK degree courses. The information can be found online.

Because of the National Higher Education Fund Corporation (PTPTN) loans readily available to Malaysian students, there have been cases where enrolment in diploma courses are offered to students with just one credit in the Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia exams.

The Malaysian Qualification Agency (MQA), according to its website, among others states that it is "tasked to implement its framework as a basis of quality assurance of higher education" and "to develop with cooperation of stakeholders standards and criteria and instruments as a national reference for conferment of awards."

On paper, the MQA has a code of practice on criteria and standards for higher education in Malaysia, which encompasses student selection and support services; assessment of students and academic staff; and programme monitoring and review.

With 600 institutions of higher learning, the MQA should be checking on at least three, each working day. Is this being done? Does it have the manpower to do it? Previous dealings on reporting errant colleges were met with a laid back attitude.

If there are any such reports, have they been made public, or are they filed and declared "sulit" and classified under the Official Secrets Act?

So, if the MQA had lived up to its name and responsibilities, Malaysia's reputation would have remained untarnished and untainted as the region's education hub. Instead, there's a blot in our efforts. 

MQA's failure has prompted foreign governments and third parties to make their own investigations and conclusions on the quality of education here.

R NADESWARAN believes varsity licences have been handed out like cookies and monitoring private institutions have become almost impossible. Comments:
The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.


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