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Too many universities, too many graduates

Because Dr Mahathir Mohamad commented on it, now graduates selling nasi lemak or driving Ubers have become a contentious issue.

I think no one would want to look down on another person who is trying to earn an honest living, regardless of the job he is doing. Hence the argument on 'looking down' on graduates selling nasi lemak or driving Uber as alluded to by Kubang Pasu MP and Deputy Defence Minister Mohd Johari Baharum, is really a diversion.

Rightly, the issues of contention should be on the economics of university education and the need to create value-added jobs to meet the aspirations of the young people.

Malaysia is not a super-rich country. Many consider university education as an 'investment', not as a leisurely pursuit. In fact, many have incurred substantial debts to obtain a university degree.

It is therefore inconceivable they would become graduates only to sell nasi lemak or to become an Uber driver.

For a long time now I think Malaysia has refused to recognise a few realities staring at us. We have too many universities producing too many graduates.

Not only that, the Malaysian economy has not been able to transform fast enough to absorb the graduates churned out by these universities each year.

We set up universities for prestige and political reasons and only to create jobs for lecturers. Universities take up national resources. Too many of them is a wastage and a misallocation of resources.

Graduates not being able to get the jobs they are trained for is also a misallocation of resources and manpower. Why incur PTPTN loans when the job is to sell nasi lemak?

For all I know, the nasi lemak sold by graduates may be more expensive and less tasty than the store at the next road junction.

Some argue there are plenty of jobs available for graduates. The problem is our graduates are not competitive and competent enough. I think we have to be more circumspect on this.

If graduate jobs are readily available, may I know who are filling these vacancies even though our graduates may not be competent enough? Would the employers prefer to leave the vacancies unfilled rather than employing someone who may not completely satisfy their requirements?

Nasi lemak selling or Uber driving graduates are just the symptoms of wrong public policies and misallocation of resources. It is unnecessary to spin the whole issue into 'populist support' as if those criticising the malaise are looking down on graduates trying to earn a living.

It is about time to accept reality – we set up too many universities producing graduates with unrealistic expectations while at the same time not ensuring our economy is transforming fast enough to absorb these graduates produced.

It is a little of everything that goes wrong.

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

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