Here’s how we can produce thinking and professional grads

We Malaysians need a new perspective, a new direction and a new approach to the degree programme or the money parents spend on education will be wasted. (Bernama pic)

I shall outline my idea on how to change our Malaysian undergraduate degree programme to a form and structure that will make it more relevant for the next 50 years at least.

With 500,000 unemployed graduates flooding the job market, I think that change in our undergraduate programmes is no longer just an option. It is my opinion that Malaysian undergraduate degrees are fast becoming irrelevant for our society — from whichever perspective one sees it.

From the perspective of producing entrepreneurs creating new needs and jobs, the present curriculum does not provide the impetus. All 500,000 graduates are competing for the same cake instead of making new ones.

From the perspective of a tolerant, accepting and compassionate citizenry, which cares about social change in this country, neither the present curriculum nor the administration know how to provide it.

The present curriculum that keeps harping on the outmoded values of general education, or General Studies or Mata Pelajaran Pengajian Umum (MPU), subjects of history and the supremacy of one race and faith over others, is of no help.

We Malaysians need a new perspective, a new direction and a new approach to the degree programme. If not, parents would have wasted thousands of ringgit to educate their children to be prepared for jobs that are no longer there at present and in the next few years.

With 500,000 job seekers coming out, we need to educate our young people to stand on their own and think for themselves, for God knows, our politicians can’t think for us amid their race and religion rhetoric.

We are Malaysians, and we should dictate policies to change our public universities.

We must overhaul the Malaysian Qualifications Agency (MQA) and put in charge people who do not think that the curriculum is the Word of God. I will write about the professional bodies serving as strict guardians to the professional fields separately.

At the present time, for any undergraduate course such as psychology, architecture, engineering or planning, the assumption is to train the undergraduates for a specific practice.

That is why much time is spent on learning many subjects, focused only on a certain profession. The division of 80% specific subjects to the profession and the balance to something called MPU should be revamped.

I would like to introduce the advantages of my 60:20:20 undergraduate degree distribution of subjects.

For me, if an undergraduate wishes to declare a certain interest in a profession, then he or she should be subjected to only 60% of the total subjects learned in a university for that particular profession. With the advancement of technology, the internet and newer ways of learning, I see no significant handicap to the profession.

Anyway, for any undergraduate serious enough to actually pursue a career in the chosen field, the Master’s programme will be dedicated fully to the practice of the profession.

At the undergraduate level, we must provide wider marketability to the graduating students to face the fast- changing job market. I recommend that 20% of the subjects of the undergraduate degree be divided into Option A, Option B and Option C.

For Option A, the student can spend his or her credit hours on the elective subjects directly related to the chosen profession to allow for more flexibility of specialisation.

For Option B, the student can go for a Minor in a related or complementary field that will widen significantly the job opportunities. It is not uncommon to find a psychology graduate running a Pizza Hut outlet as an assistant manager and later taking on a full management position. You can even find an engineering graduate singlehandedly running an NGO AIDS testing centre, receiving grants from various sources to finance the activities.

For Option C, the undergraduate can spend his or her time either in an intensive internship programme of the profession, become involved in an NGO or governmental institution’s social project, take a sabbatical overseas as a research assistant, travel to find out the various forms and shapes of a profession or engage in a private pet project or experimental idea that will benefit him or her as well as society. A full report and paper submission of the experience and knowledge gained will be required for completion.

In this manner, we are NOT subjecting any undergraduate to a single profession-based lifeline that has put out so many unemployed engineering and psychology graduates. We will be contributing to the students’ ability to create new cakes for themselves, rather than having to compete for the same stale pastry.

For the other 20%, we must try our level best to create decent human beings of all the undergraduates. We must get rid of the present MPU subjects of talking endlessly about the Malays, Islam, race relations from a narrow perspective and other nonsense that have been proven not to change society in any positive way.

I recommend that the 20% be elective subjects related to the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (or SDG) developed by the UN. We must make the students think like humans and as citizens of a global community. Malaysia is too small. We must think big.

In the 17 SDG, there can be subjects such as helping to eradicate poverty, helping to educate children, saving the oceans, managing waste or making the world a cleaner place.

Can’t our architectural, engineering, and psychology students think about projects that will fulfil many of these 17 social and environmental SDGs? I am sure our students are more than qualified and able.

I will put my money on our children as undergraduates rather than trust some of our parliamentarians who like to swear and use dirty language.

With this change of structure and form, our undergraduates will be enlightened, driven and thinking individuals creating jobs and a lifestyle specifically of their own determination. The universities must produce this kind of graduates or else we should put the vice-chancellors, the professors and the lecturers out to pasture.

The MQA must be headed by visionary people, not clerks guarding past curriculum as “sacred scripture”. The MQA should also be careful not to appoint academics whose mindset is simply “how I learned architecture or engineering when I was in university 30 years ago” as panellists for accreditation.

These invited panellists, who are usually so-called academics from public universities, are mostly “comfortable people” with no vision about changes in society, technology and attitudes towards knowledge.

Finally, let us not wait for the education ministry to make up its mind. We, the citizens, should make it for them. The ministry is an old dinosaur with aches and pains and it is up to us, the intelligent citizenry, to aid this veteran to change. If not, the 500,000 unemployed figure cannot but grow larger and larger and there will not be enough jobs to give them a decent life.

Mohd Tajuddin Mohd Rasdi is a professor of Islamic architecture at UCSI University.

The views expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.