21 July 2024

Stop the decline by adopting new approaches

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By Prof Dato Dr Ahmad Ibrahim

A high percentage of SPM leavers has opted for the gig economy. SPM is good enough to join the gig career which gives reasonably good income. Not bound by any organisational rules. No bosses to kowtow to. No subordinates to bother you. It is no wonder that many youths have decided to forego three or four years of university.

Add to that the fact that a diploma does not always guarantee a good job, it is not surprising to see many young SPM leavers opting to deliver food instead. They are free to quit anytime they like. No advance notice needed. But many are concerned what it will do to the country. One thing is for sure, the talent pool the nation needs would soon dry up. Already, we are seeing good talents deserting the country. What do we do?

The declining interest in higher education is influenced by various social, economic, and cultural factors. To address this trend, it is essential to understand and tackle the root causes. There are several strategies that institutions and policymakers can consider. Top of the list is we need to enhance the value proposition of higher education. Their relevance to the job market is important. We need to align the curricula with current and future job market demands. This could involve partnerships with industries to create programs that provide students with the skills employers are seeking. We should also strengthen career services to support students in finding internships, co-op programs, and job placements. Few universities are doing this.

It has been suggested by many to incorporate more hands-on learning opportunities such as internships, practicums, and project-based learning. It is important to make education more accessible and affordable. This is where the government must increase the availability of financial support, scholarships, and grants to reduce the financial burden on students and their families. Student loan is not the solution.

Explore alternative tuition models such as income-share agreements, where students pay a percentage of their income post-graduation. Promote community colleges as a cost-effective starting point and support the expansion of quality online education programs. We need to adapt to the changing student demographics. One suggestion is to develop programs and support systems for non-traditional students, including working adults, part-time students, and parents.

Flexible learning options, such as weekend classes, and online or hybrid courses to accommodate diverse schedules should be considered. Also consider enhancing student support services such as childcare, mental health services, and academic advising. No doubt improving educational outcomes is critical. Investing in the professional development of faculty to improve teaching quality has been suggested. Mentorship programs to help students navigate their academic paths will help. Use early intervention strategies to support students at risk of dropping out.

We need to recognise the changing perceptions of higher education trending towards a decline. Public awareness campaigns should be intensified. Campaigns should highlight the long-term benefits, such as increased earning potential and personal development. Sharing the success stories of graduates to demonstrate the positive impact of higher education on individual lives and society.

Need to promote the concept of lifelong learning to adapt to the fast-changing job market. Stackable credentials allow students to gain specific skills without committing to a full degree program. Expand experiential learning opportunities, such as study abroad programs, research projects, and service learning. Build stronger relationships with employers to ensure that programs meet industry needs and students have clear pathways to employment. Develop apprenticeship and co-op programs that combine classroom learning with on-the-job training. Advocate for policies that support higher education funding, student loan reforms, and initiatives that promote higher education access and completion. Use data to identify trends and make informed decisions about program offerings and student support services.

Addressing the declining interest in higher education requires a comprehensive approach that involves rethinking traditional models, enhancing the value proposition, improving accessibility and affordability, and better aligning educational outcomes with market needs. By implementing these strategies, institutions can better attract and retain students, ensuring that higher education remains a viable and appealing option for future generations.


The author is an Associate Fellow at the Ungku Aziz Centre for Development Studies (UAC), Universiti Malaya.