INFORMATION Technology (IT) has become a universal language. In the competitive job market, employers are seeking highly qualified and experienced IT graduates to be a part of their multi-million dollar projects.
While many students flock to private and local colleges to enrol in IT courses, Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS) students will have the opportunity to improve their IT skills under the Cisco Networking Academy Programme (CNAP) starting in June.
In line with the country's aim to produce experts in science and technology, Cisco Systems and UMS recently launched the first and only Internet Training Centre Initiative for Developing Countries (ITCI-DC) in Malaysia.
The ITCI-DC was started by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) to address the acute shortage of skilled networking and IT professionals in the developing world. Its activities include designing programmes to improve telecommunication infrastructure.
As the only IT education provider at ITU's Internet training centres at present, Cisco Systems will run the CNAP under the initiative. ITU first announced the ITCI-DC with Cisco in Geneva in 2001. It aims to establish 50 Internet training centres in educational institutions around the world by the end of this year.
“While the project seeks to achieve a variety of human resource development objectives, the main focus is equipping today's youth with the prerequisite technical skills to become tomorrow’s IT leaders,” said Sabah Deputy Chief Minister Datuk Tham Nyip Shen at the launch.
UMS is the only institution in Malaysia and one of 12 institutions in Asia and the Pacific to be selected under the scheme. Established in 1994, UMS offers more than 1,500 courses and 53 programmes, with nearly 140 courses in a semester available for e-learning. The university will be implementing at least 500 courses in e-learning by the end of this year.
The CNAP is a global e-learning programme that offers students an opportunity to pursue IT curricula through online instructor-led training and hands-on laboratory exercises.
“The programme is an e-learning model that delivers web-based educational content, online testing, student performance tracking, hands-on labs, and instructor training and support,” said Cisco Systems managing director Johnson Khoo.
“We must become more innovative and flexible in meeting the learning needs of our students,” added UMS deputy vice chancellor Dr Zahedi Daud.
Students will undergo at least five hours of lectures a week for four semesters, in addition to their minimum undergraduate requirement of 116 credit hours for the entire programme.
Two certificates will be awarded to students upon successful completion of the programme – the Cisco Certified Network Associate and the Cisco Certified Network Professional.
“It's a good platform for them to improve their overall degree standing and, hopefully, we will be able to produce more first class and second class upper graduates,” said School of Engineering and Information Technology dean Dr Sazali Yaacob.
A total of 50 students will be carefully selected based on their academic results and interest shown during an arranged interview with the university.
“We hope to increase the intake by 50% the following year but we want to start with a smaller number as it is easier to manage,” added Dr Sazali.
Students enrolled in one of four selected undergraduate programmes at UMS – Electrical and Electronic Engineering, Software Engineering, Computer Engineering, and Network System Management – will be eligible to register for the programme.
By targeting university undergraduates, the project addresses domestic demands for Internet Protocol and IT-based training.
“Sabah is a growing state, especially in education and IT, and the main contributor to the growth of IT here is UMS,” said Dr Zahedi.
Those selected for the programme are required to pay a fee
of RM100 per semester. Students also pay a one-time examination fee of US$150 (RM570).
“I was made to understand that through a quiz and pre-assessment, students will be given a 50% discount on the examination fees, if they demonstrate good academic performance,” said Dr Sazali.
Besides the labs currently available at UMS, more training lab facilities sponsored by ITU will be set up to cater to students’ needs.
There are over 10,000 Cisco Networking Academies in 149 countries with more than 400,000 students enrolled, while 143,000 have graduated from the programme globally.