By Mariam Mokhtar
Should we be rejoicing that Perak has another university? Some of you might ask, "Do we really need another university or should we be improving the standard of English proficiency amongst our students, and demand a better standard of education in our schools?”
In the last by-election, the PM announced that Kuala Kangsar's (KK) Kolej Universiti Islam Sultan Azlan Shah (Kuisas) would be upgraded to university status. The new university in KK would be called Universiti Sultan Azlan Shah.
Was this a knee-jerk reaction to win the hearts of the KK electorate, or a genuine concern for the betterment of education?
Many teachers are not too happy with yet another university and one said, "Our education standards are in decline and yet, we now have another university. I would rather the money that had been spent on upgrading the college to a university, was spent on improving education as a whole.
We have teachers who have come into the teaching profession because they could not think of what to do as a career. Some dislike their jobs, others focus on their private tuition which gives them a good side income.
There is poor discipline in schools and we are aware of the bullying and gang culture which is spreading in some schools. Some of us say nothing, because we feel that we do not have the support of the Education Ministry or the headmaster. For many, teaching is a question of ticking boxes; making sure the right books are read, the syllabus is covered, the homework is corrected. Their hearts are not in their vocation."
Two weeks after Najib Abdul Razak made that announcement, FMT reported that Professor Ghauth Jasmon, the former Universiti Malaya (UM) vice-chancellor, expressed his fears about graduates being unable to obtain jobs.
He said that each year, our universities churn out around 200,000 graduates, but many of those from public universities remain jobless. He warned that the current high unemployment figure of 400,000 local graduates could rise to 600,000, with 80% of the jobless, being Bumiputera.
Professor Ghauth said that the low quality of graduates from public universities could be attributed to the poor English proficiency of the Bumiputera graduates and Malaysia's poor general education.
Like him, we are also aware that the private sector is looking for graduates with a high command of English, both aurally and in written communication. It is common knowledge that the private sector prefers to source their graduates from private universities and colleges, as well as graduates from overseas.
Professor Ghauth claimed that the graduates from public universities preferred to work in the public sector, but with limited places in both the Government and the Civil Service, he said that the number of jobless graduates would increase as they were not in demand.
He warned the government about pouring billions of ringgit into public universities without addressing the real problems crippling both the nation and our students. He encouraged vice-chancellors to take the initiative to prevent waste, to benefit the country.
The former UM vice-chancellor cited his own experience, which he claimed was fraught with difficulty because both the students and lecturers refused to improve themselves, for example, by attending extra English classes. He claimed that lecturers goaded their students to demonstrate against his measures, and accused him of downgrading Malay to a second language.
In an effort to cultivate wider use of English, Professor Ghauth urged academia to submit their research papers to the International Scientific Indexing (ISI) journals. As before, the lecturers were furious that their papers had to be in English and again, accused him of not supporting Malay.
So, which would you rather have?
Another university, and more jobless graduates? Or would you prefer that the money was used to revamp our education system and improve English proficiency in schools? Quality of education or quantity of universities?
One parent summed it up, like this, "The University in Kuala Kangsar is another exercise in inflating egos – the community, the parent, the graduate, the politician. I would rather that the child has a sound education and be able to speak and write good English, so that he is marketable in today's global world."