MATCHING skills to current industry needs is a demanding task for institutions of higher learning anywhere, anytime, more so in the case of information communications technology (ICT), where innovation bursts forth from the horizon at cyber speed.
In Malaysia, there is the added problem of there not being enough ICT graduates coming through the universities and colleges yearly to satisfy demand.
While universities and colleges do welcome industry help in this area industry relevancy they are also wary about including vendor specific courses in their curriculum.
Microsoft Malaysia, one of the industry players helping in this effort of industry relevancy, is partnering with the higher education curriculum board to incorporate .Net technology so that graduating students would have some kind of industry standard knowledge on it.
Right now, .Net is a large part of the programming paradigm people are using, said Butt Wai Choon, managing director of Microsoft Malaysia. In fact, more than 50% of new applications are written on .Net. Also, more than 90% of today's computers worldwide run on Microsoft's Windows operating system.
Today, four universities are incorporating .Net studies in their curriculum, after being convinced that it is not a Microsoft technology.
.Net is a programming model whereby students can use different tools non-Microsoft tools to develop applications, Butt said, adding that he was now in pursuit of other universities to include .Net as a subject.
In addition, Microsoft is also making efforts to have universities set up information technology (IT) academies, which graduating diploma or degree students in computer studies attend during term breaks, to gain professional certification as administrator for Windows programming, networking, or whatever. That would give them almost industry readiness.
Microsoft also has an internship programme where participants not only get to work on specific projects with a mentor, but are also given relevant industry training and certification, which the company pays for.
When they finish their internship, we release them to the market, and hopefully they get good jobs somewhere else, said Butt.
Through its collaboration in the Multimedia Super Corridor (MSC) flagship programmes, Microsoft also provides a technology centre where the Government can test out different kinds of technology, before making a choice.
Butt said he believed the Government might be cautious now because projects under the first phase of MSC flagships had been delayed and limited. I think it had over-focused my belief on technology in phase one, instead of solutions, he opined.
I like the concept and vision of the MSC. I think, in implementation, it could have been faster if the Government had merged the use of local and external talent. There was a high emphasis on locally developed applications.
That learning in the last five years has been good, but the result is that by the time you finish a product, it is already obsolete. I think because of that the Government is a bit more cautious about technology and is thinking in terms of which technology to adopt or go into. That is good thinking.
I believe the Government should focus on what fits the needs. The tools and the technology will always be available, whether it is local, external, or international, or third-party software. It shouldn't make a decision based on what choice of technology to use which I call procurement preference.
The procurement preference should be neutral, the platform preference should be neutral, to enable the best of technology to compete to fit the need. I think it shouldn't decide on Microsoft, IBM or Java and so on.
The Government should say: This is our need, this is what we want. Whichever technology fits it, and fits the price, that's it. That should be the policy, said Butt.
Casting the net wider, Microsoft is also helping ensure that students coming out through the national education system have at least some basic knowledge of computers.
A few projects it is working on are from the first phase of the MSC, one being the smart schools system.
We have been involved in the smart schools system to help them architect and think through the whole thing.
We are helping the partners who develop curriculum to incorporate some of the curriculum that we already have on IT, to train students to use computers, and to train teachers to teach, as well as to train some students to repair computers. We actually have programmes that we give to the schools, and we provide cash grants to help develop the curriculum to meet the Ministry of Education's needs, Butt added.