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Understanding graduate unemployment

August 23, 2017

Universities are more like profit-orientated business entities rather than trying to provide human resource development.


graduatesBy TK Chua

I read with interest the many views presented on youth unemployment, particularly those with university degrees.

Some say university graduates are not sufficiently trained. They lack skills and experience that are necessary for today’s job market.

Some say universities do not provide the right emphasis particularly on technical and vocational aspects. They emphasise too much on academics and the number of As scored, not the skill, attitude and emotional aspects.

Some say our universities are suffering from quality deficiency. They take in too many “unqualified” students and the courses offered are not sufficiently robust to provide the intellectual and technical prowess to the students.

There is probably some truth in all these arguments. But I think we should be bold enough to call a spade a spade.

It is a fact that private universities and other institutes of higher education have grown like wild mushrooms over the past few decades. These universities are more like profit-orientated business entitles rather than trying to provide human resource development.

As for public universities, I think the primary objective has been to provide high paying employment for many university lecturers and professors. I would not discount the possibility of the blind leading the blind in many of our universities today.

They relax entrance criteria and compromise examination and evaluation standards just to keep the enrolment up.

Churning out a large number of university graduates is only one side of the equation. Ultimately it is also the demand side. Is the Malaysian economy growing and transforming fast enough to absorb the large number of graduates?

This is where the reality sinks in. Employers are now spoilt for choice. They can pick and choose, and yet pay less, because there are so many candidates available for any vacancy in their company.

Unemployed graduates must also learn to accept that many of them are no better than high school diploma/certificate holders.

As I have said before, the indiscriminate offering of PTPTN education loans and the mushrooming of universities has been a big mistake. They encourage misallocation of resources and commit Malaysians with no aptitude to pursue degrees that they can’t excel in.

It is time we learn to accept that university education is not meant for everyone.

Some would have become successful artisans, trade men, skilled workers and craftsmen. An ill-conceived university degree has in fact made many of them unemployable and miserable.

Graduate unemployment is an economic phenomenon, not just a simple mismatch between training and job requirements. I am also not suggesting that the graduates of today are less knowledgeable or less skillful than those in the past.

There is only one credible explanation for this phenomenon, and that is, we produce too many and the economy is not growing or transforming fast enough to absorb all of them.

It is a red herring to argue that unemployed graduates are unrealistic in their salary demand or potential employers have set their expectations too high.

TK Chua is an FMT reader.

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