Malaysiakini Letter

'Nasi lemak' graduates not universities' fault

Dr I Lourdesamy  |  Published:  |  Modified:

I refer to the Malaysiakini report Dr M: Shameful for graduates to end up selling nasi lemak.

The current issue about unemployed graduates calls for more analysis.

Dr Mahathir Mohamad has drawn attention to the problem, saying university graduates are selling nasi lemak and driving Uber taxis because they cannot find proper jobs.

He sees this as a failure on the part of universities to better meet the needs of industry.

I am surprised no vice-chancellor of universities, public or private, have come forward to throw more light on the situation. This reflects poorly on their leadership and credibility.

Are graduates unemployed because our universities are not giving them the right education or are they unemployed because there aren’t enough right jobs to go around? I tend to believe the latter.

This does not mean universities can ignore what the industry and the economy in general needs. There is a need for match between the two, but only in a general sense.

Universities do not exist to produce ready-made workers for industry. They have a far more important role.

While employability of their graduates is important, their primary function is to provide education and create new knowledge through research.

They are not vocational institutes, training young people for jobs. They are in education, not training. The two are not synonymous. There are institutions better suited to provide vocational training than universities.

The job of universities is to produce trainable people, not trained people. Universities provide the broad education and skills on which its graduates can subsequently be trained for specific jobs.

Education comes first, training later.

Training should be the function of professional bodies and employers. The HRDF was established for this purpose. Employers have the wrong expectation from graduates – they want them to be immediately functional and productive.

This is not possible, or even desirable as it will distort the true mission of universities. The employer and the government must be prepared to invest in training to provide graduates the specific knowledge and skills needed by industry which are constantly changing.

This function should not be passed on to universities because that is not their mission. They can never do this job competently. To 'vocationalise' the university curriculum is not the solution. You need a different set of institutions for the training function.

Finally, no matter what education and training you provide, graduates will be unemployed if there are not enough right jobs in the economy. If there is no demand, there will be surplus and unemployment.

The solution lies in creating more jobs that are compatible with the education the graduate has received – in other words, more economic growth and development.

No amount of manpower planning to match supply and demand can solve the problem if the economy does not create enough well-paying jobs.

If the university graduate is selling nasi lemak, it is not his fault, or even the fault of his university.

It is the fault of the policy-makers.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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