Need to attract non-bumi students to community colleges

ACCORDING to the original plan, community colleges were supposed to be set up in every parliamentary constituency, with a total of 193 community colleges ready in stages by 2010. 

However, the glaring reality is that in four years since Cabinet approval was obtained, only 34 colleges have been set up. Of this number, only 14 have their own premises, while the remaining 20 are sharing premises with technical schools and other educational institutions. Another 13 colleges are under construction.  

The sluggish progress of the colleges has drawn criticism from various parties who claim the community colleges have not achieved what they set out to.  

Details about the progress of the community college project have also been sketchy – with department officials and the college community shrugging off questions about the causes for the delay. 

“There are problems but we can’t really talk about it,” said one community college principal. 

The buzz in the industry is that one reason for the delay could be the “politics of ownership” between the Higher Education, and Entrepreneurial and Cooperative Development ministries. 

“The initial idea was to upgrade existing Giatmara centres (MARA’s vocational training programme that comes under the Entrepreneurial and Cooperative Development Ministry) into community colleges. After all, their objectives are more or less the same and community colleges could benefit from Giatmara’s 20-odd years of experience. 

“However, this brings about the question of which ministry will oversee the colleges,” said one ministry official. 

In a recent news report, Higher Education Minister Datuk Dr Shafie Mohd Salleh attributed the delay to financial constraints, saying that his ministry was conducting a study to determine which districts or constituencies would get colleges first. The findings, he said, would be presented to the Cabinet later this month. 

The cost of setting up a community college is about RM35 mil each. If each constituency is to have a college, the exercise would cost the Government at least RM6.75 bil. The high price tag, explained Dr Shafie, was because the colleges had to be equipped with costly technical equipment. “Community colleges offer 75% hands-on courses and require a lot of equipment.  

“We will decide how many are to be built this year after the study is completed. We hope that part of the RM10 bil additional allocations under the Plan will go towards these colleges. However, if a district has other training institutes such as Giatmara, then it will not have a community college,” Dr Shafie was quoted as saying. 

At the moment, the total enrolment at the country’s 34 community colleges is 9,745, or an average of about 465 students per college. However, the enrolment is not distributed equally and depends on the size of the local population.  

The profile of those enrolled at the community colleges is 36% (3,508) students; 27% (2,631) residents from the community; 21% (2,047) civil servants; 9% (877) youth; 6% (585) women and 1% (97) from the industry (see pie chart.) Each college can accommodate up to 1,000 students. 

One challenge for community college administrators, however, is attracting a multi-racial student enrolment. 

Though the colleges have no racial quota for students, the majority of students enrolled are bumiputra.  

“We welcome all students but I think the public has the misconception that community colleges are for bumiputra students. 

“In some areas like Jempul (in Negri Sembilan) where the community has a large Indian population, we have quite a few Indian students. However, we have very few Chinese students. We hope to welcome more students from other races,” says Imran.  

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