Higher education model needs tweaking

HEIs can increase linkages with industry and try to understand the current needs, so they can fine-tune programmes


BUSINESS model for higher education institutions (HEIs) is in need of an adjustment to fit the current needs and the new normal induced by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Economist Dr Nungsari Ahmad Radhi said the crisis at HEIs has been an ongoing issue even before the pandemic.

“Is going to university full-time for four years to study a ‘major’ still relevant, while students end up with tens of thousands of debt and finding it hard to get a job?

“Even postgraduate education needs more radical changes. Besides the delivery mechanism, content or curriculum too will have to change substantially,” he told The Malaysian Reserve (TMR).

As it is, fresh graduates are in a rocky start in their job search amid a global pandemic that is adversely affecting various sectors, causing massive job losses and unemployment.

The unemployment rate eased in September 2020 to 4.6%, with the number of unemployed falling to 737,500 from 741,600 persons recorded in August 2020.

Putra Business School Associate Prof Dr Ahmed Razman Abdul Latiff said HEIs should offer courses specialising in IR4.0, including agrofood and supply chain management, especially on halal supply chain, fintech, Islamic finance, biotech, medicine, aerospace and health sciences.

“What HEIs can do is to increase their linkages with the industry and try to understand the current needs, so they can fine-tune programmes that offer the immediate needs of the industry.

“Nevertheless, HEIs also need to offer groundbreaking and pioneering disciplines to students, so they can also aspire to become job creators when they graduate, and not just job seekers,” he told TMR.

Ahmed Razman said it is going to be tough for graduates because studies have shown that they will be left behind when the economy starts to recover if they could not secure jobs immediately upon graduation.

He said companies would prefer to hire those with working experiences, especially those who were retrenched during the crisis.

“So, what these graduates need to do is to further their studies to higher levels, become entrepreneurs or try to secure a job under government initiatives, such as MySTEP which was announced in the recent Budget 2021,” he said.

For public HEIs, Nungsari said it has always been the question of excessive capacity and costs, while being quite irrelevant largely in providing the right kinds of human capital to spur innovation and economic growth.

He said quite a number of public HEIs are rather mediocre.

“As for the private side, after an explosion since the liberalisation 20 years ago, there is some stability.

“However, since almost all such institutions are profit-motivated, many are under financial duress, especially now that they cannot get foreign students because of the pandemic.

“In the US, where private universities are mainly not-for-profit, the loss of foreign students has already impacted them.

“For those for-profit, like institutions in Malaysia, these are essentially businesses that have lost a chunk of their customers. Many will fail,” he said.

As a fiscal consideration, Nungsari said the government cannot be spending so much on higher education compared to primary and secondary education as the latter is more important.

Yet, at the same time, graduates of these institutions are saddled with debt and qualifications that the market doesn’t want, he concluded.

Read our earlier report


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