Sunday, September 24, 2006

Malaysia Impeded by Poor Graduate

Malaysia Impeded by Poor Graduates

KUALA LUMPUR — Malaysia is facing a labor shortage in the most sophisticated fields as thousands of graduates lack communications and leadership skills, turning away foreign investors and crippling the country's ability to climb up the development ladder.

"We've had hundreds of applicants -- top graduates who are marathon runners, straight-A students who are volunteer workers -- but some can't analyze, some have no initiative and almost all don't communicate well," a banker told Reuters Saturday, September 9, on condition of anonymity. The 29-year-old banker has been trying for six months to hire a bond trader but in vain.

"I'm fed up with looking. Anyone will do now," he said.

Employers, especially in technical fields such as engineers and information technology, find it hard to hire new employees despite the 600,000-odd unemployed graduates flooding the Malaysian job market.The problem risks crippling the country's ability to attract multi-national corporations (MNCs) and undermining its efforts to become a developed country.

"If we're not able to meet the demand for engineers, we won't be able to grow as fast. If we don't grow fast, Multi-national Companies (MNCs) will go to the other countries," said Wong Siew Hai, chairman of the Malaysian American Electronics Industry. Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Abdullah launched in March an ambitious development plan for Malaysia to become the first developed Muslim nation by 2020.

Education Blamed
The Malaysian education system that focuses on rote learning was blamed for triggering the problem as it churns out thousands of graduates with a poor grasp of English and little ability to analyze.

"The general take on Malaysian education is that it is a banking system where students are just passive recipients of knowledge," said Lee Hock Guan, an expert in Malaysian social issues at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore.

World Bank data for 2004 showed that Malaysian's spending on education amounts to eight percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP).The spending far exceeded some of neighboring countries such as Thailand, 4.2 percent, the Philippines, 3.2 percent and Indonesia, 0.9 percent.Realizing the graduates' poor skills, the Malaysian government has organized training schemes to equip graduates with knowledge, language, communication and leadership skills in fields such as information communication technology and accounting.

Abdullah also appointed one of his senior ministers, Mustapa Mohamed, as higher education minister, in line with a government priority to develop human capital in the race to become a developed nation by 2020.

Admission

To address the labor shortage, admission criteria for public universities were also lowered in recent years to produce more graduates, said Lee.Malaysia now has 18 public universities, 20 polytechnics and 34 community colleges.Many Malaysian universities were turning out sub-standard graduates because of, as experts say, poor schooling beforehand and an affirmative- action policy that has robbed some of the brightest students of a university education.

Many of the unemployed graduates are Malay women from public universities, according to government data.In 2001, former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamed scrapped the quota for Malay university education, worried that his people had become too involved in politics and religion at the expense of their studies, and were at risk of failing in a free-for-all globalized world. Ethnic Malays make up half of the population of 26 million, many are rural poor and until recently had priority in gaining places in public universities.

"The problem is serious, since Malaysia is losing its competitiveness in the region to countries like Vietnam, not to mention China and India," said Bridget Welsh, a Southeast Asia specialist at Johns Hopkins University in the United States.

"If Malaysia wants to continue to create jobs and expand its economy without relying so extensively on oil revenue, then it needs to initiate more measures."

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