Does Perak really need another university?

On a visit to Ipoh on May 9, the Japanese ambassador to Malaysia, Dr Makio Miyagawa, told Perak Menteri Besar Ahmad Faizal Azumu that a representative from Tsukuba University had visited several locations in Malaysia, including Perak, and that in all probability the state would be the chosen location for hosting a branch of the university.

Tsukuba is Japan’s leading technical and science university, and offers courses in disaster management, sports sciences and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics).

Does Perak really need another university? What will the medium of instruction be? English, Malay or Japanese?

Will the university be primarily for Malaysians or foreigners? If it is geared towards foreign students, it is just a money-spinner and will do nothing to alleviate the educational problems faced by our youngsters.

Will the budget for the construction of the university be met? Or will it run out of control, like for so many other projects? Will there be an open tender for the construction of the university?

Our schoolchildren are not fluent in English. It is highly likely that very few, if any, can speak Japanese. Instead of a Japanese university, an English language centre would probably be of more use because the standard of English among schoolchildren has dropped dramatically over the past 40 years.

Is it just a coincidence that a few days ago, the MB announced that the new mayor, whose appointment has again been deferred from before May to Raya, is able to speak Japanese?

How many graduates are we going to produce? More importantly, will these graduates be of a suitable calibre, and will there be enough jobs to keep them employed? Will they be able to speak English or would they have poor communication skills? Would they expect high wages and company perks with their first job?

Aren’t vocational schools of more use than more universities? At least vocational schools prepare students for the world of employment and equip them with skills such as welding, wood working, dressmaking, childcare, plumbing, plastering, roofing, and electrical work.

Promising the electorate that universities would be built used to be a common trait of Umno.

In 2016, on another campaign trial, former prime minister Najib Razak announced that Kuala Kangsar would have its first university, Universiti Sultan Azlan Shah. He also promised that the current Sultan Azlan Shah Islamic University College (Kuisas) would be upgraded to university status.

It is difficult to keep up with the number of universities in Malaysia as they keep mushrooming. All in all, there are around 20 public universities, 414 private colleges, 47 private universities, 34 university-colleges and 11 foreign university campuses.

Teluk Intan, in south-west Perak, has two university branch campuses: Universiti Teknologi Mara Teluk Intan campus of the Faculty of Medicine and the RM15 million Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia Teluk Intan Campus Community Health Centre. Not to forget the Teluk Intan university, which was promised at the last by-election held in Teluk Intan.

Kampar, which is south of Ipoh, has the Perak campus of Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman. Tanjung Malim, on the border with Selangor, has Universiti Pendidikan Sultan Idris (Upsi). Upsi started off in 1922 as a teacher’s training college, and is known as one of the oldest institutions of higher learning in Malaysia.

The country has many universities, but is the education ministry able to confirm that all of them meet world-class standards? Are the graduates able to find jobs when they leave university? Didn’t the ministry heed the warning signs when a few years ago, 1,000 trainee doctors had to leave their profession because of their poor proficiency in English?

Ahmad Faizal should prioritise the needs of the electorate. There is little point wasting time and money churning out half-baked graduates. It would be more profitable to ensure that our children have good teachers and facilities so that they can gain a sound education and good communications skills, and have good employment prospects.

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