Thinking Allowed

By Mariam Mokhtar

When the results of the Teluk Intan by-election were announced, the residents of Teluk Intan were euphoric. During the campaign trail, the Federal government in Putrajaya had told the electorate, that if they voted wisely, they would be blessed with an institute of higher education; Teluk Intan University (TIU). The Teluk Intan residents have something to look forward to in the coming months.

Naturally, TIU has divided opinion among the people. Some said that the building of the university would create jobs in the construction industry and increase business for trades like provision shops, restaurants, clinics and health facilities. In short, TIU would spur development.

The building of TIU would also compel the state to improve communication links to Teluk Intan. As one resident said, “What use is a university if there is no direct highway linking it to the major towns for the students, the teaching staff, and the parents who wish to visit their children?”

Others said that the increase of people would create congestion in the town, and bring about social ills. The influx of people would also raise land and house prices, though some argue that as students require accommodation, rooms or homes could be rented out and provide a side income for some people.

One senior citizen said, “We will wait and see. If the prices of food go up or the cost of local seafood increases, then what good is that for me? My pension does not stretch that far, especially when prices of everyday items have spiralled.”

Whilst the residents argued about the pros and cons of TIU, one online newspaper compiled a survey on the existing educational facilities. In the vicinity of Teluk Intan, there are two university branch campuses – Universiti Teknologi Mara Teluk Intan Campus of the Faculty of Medicine and the RM15 million Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) Teluk Intan Campus Community Health Centre, nestling on a five-hectare site.

The township also boasts of the Teluk Intan Community College, which the winner of the by-election alleges he helped to establish.

About 50km to the north-east of Teluk Intan, is Kampar, which houses the Perak Campus of the Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman (UTAR). About 105km away, and to the south-east of Teluk Intan, is Tanjung Malim, where the University Pendidikan Sultan Idris (UPSI) is based. UPSI is one of the oldest institutions of higher learning in the country, and was established in 1922 as a teachers’ training college.

With 20 public universities, 414 private colleges, 37 private universities, 20 university-colleges and seven foreign branch campuses in Malaysia, students and parents are spoilt for choice.

A teacher, whose child is in secondary school, said, “We have so many universities which are third class or do not have any global ranking. Gone are the days, when our universities, in the 60s and 70s were world class and recognised for their academic brilliance and quality of students. Why build another university when the degrees of some of these universities are not worth the paper they are printed on?”

A mother, whose child is studying at a university in another state, said, “I worry about my daughter’s safety. I don’t want to sound xenophobic, but I am told that some foreigners, who enrol at local universities, are dealing in illegal activities. The educational bit is just a front to dupe the authorities.”

One parent said, “What we want in Malaysia is not more universities but good teachers and good teaching facilities. The money ploughed into building another university should instead, be invested in good teachers. We need better institutions of higher learning, not more places with dodgy facilities and low quality teaching staff. When will someone recognise the need for quality education, not quantity of educational places?”

A Human Resources manager, in a foreign manufacturing firm based in Ipoh said, “I receive hundreds of applications from local graduates but most are binned. As we deal with many foreign buyers, we need graduates with proficiency in written and spoken English. The few who come for interview do not impress me. I would pay good money to employ graduates who are able to communicate well, but they are like gold dust. It is a big issue for my firm and other multinationals.”

One parent argues that more vocational schools should be built. She said, “I went to university and after graduating, became a teacher. I had always wanted to be a teacher, just like my mother; but many of my friends, from my university days, are struggling to find jobs. Those who have jobs are employed in menial roles. Many wish they had enrolled at a vocational college instead.”

The father of a child, at a foreign university, said, “Making it easy to enrol in a university diminishes the value of a good education for all. A university degree will not make these people more employable or more intelligent. I started off in vocational school and learnt a useful skill in electrical work. I found work easily, after I finished vocational school.”

Another person who went to vocational school agreed, “A skill equips you for life. It is good for the child and for the country. Not every child is academic, but many are good with their hands and can put their interests into practical work. There is carpentry, woodwork, electrical work, hairdressing, social work or car mechanics and roofing. A good plumber can probably earn more money than a university graduate.”

His business partner agreed, “A vocational college is not to be scoffed at. What we need are more vocational schools, to start young adults on the career ladder. A good skill, a good apprenticeship and a professional trade qualification is much better for work ethics and fulfilling aspirations.”