AFTER HER Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) results came out, Lee Ming Yee* signed up for a degree programme with a private higher education institution she heard of from her friends. After one semester, she found out that it had no operating licence, and was subsequently shut down. Despite continuous pleas, Ming Yee did not get a refund on her fees, and had to start a new programme at a different college.
Such tales of woe are not uncommon among tertiary students. Others may not face such extreme scenarios but may still find discrepancies between what an institution promises and what it delivers. National Accreditation Board (LAN) secretary and general manager Assoc Prof Zita Mohd Fahmi stresses that students should have an inquiring mind when it comes to education.
“A tertiary education is a huge investment, and they should get value for their money,” she says.
Prevention is always better than cure; hence, the best way to avoid pitfalls is to do plenty of research and ask the right questions before settling on a particular course or college.
Research, research, research!
Recognition of courses is an important issue that many students are ill informed about.
Assoc Prof Zita says students who have doubts about the validity of their courses or institutions should contact LAN.
“Students should be able to check and be shown proof by their colleges, such as an accreditation certificate or letter from LAN or approval letters from the Higher Education Ministry.
“They can also check with the Public Services Department (JPA) if they have the intention of working for the government,” she says.
Studylink Sdn Bhd managing director Tony Tan advises students sitting for professional exams to check with the relevant professional bodies on whether the institutions offering the courses are recognised.
“Students should further ask whether the course is recognised only in Malaysia or worldwide. They should discuss matters like prerequisites, exemptions and subject availability with the institution,” he adds.
According to Assoc Prof Zita, students can check which institutions have been approved and given accreditation by logging on to the LAN website or enquiring at their office.
“I would suggest that students go for LAN approved and accredited courses,” she says.
One common complaint among college students is the lack of facilities and quality lecturers for their programmes.
Tan says many students register because they are impressed by the facilities advertised.
“What students sometimes don’t know is that these facilities may not be enough for the number of students or only available to certain groups,” he says.
“I would advise students to pay a visit to the colleges to verify their infrastructure, their computers and laboratories as well as the suitability of the location and so on,” says Assoc Prof Zita.
Tan says students should feel free to enquire about the lecturers before enrolling at an institution.
“Questions such as the lecturers’ qualifications, and whether they are part-time or full-time, are essential to gauge the sufficiency of academic support for students.”
Another aspect many students do not take into consideration is entry requirements.
“Many students join the A-Levels programme, for example, to buy time because they don’t know what they want to do. Another element is peer pressure; some enrol for the programme since their friends are there,” says Advanced Studies Advisors director Yow Lop Siaw.
This choice sometimes leads to problems later when they want to study further, because the students find that they do not meet certain requirements or prerequisites.
“Any pre-university course will lead you to a degree, but whether the students can score the grades to proceed into the degree programme is another question. That is why it is important to select the correct programme and be aware of the entry requirements,” says Yow.
When school leavers start college without a clear idea of their future plans, they can make the wrong decisions.
“Students who have no idea what they want to do after their SPM lack focus and a serious attitude,” says education advisor and founder of JM Education Counselling Centre Jean Monteiro.
Students should find out who they really are before selecting a course and college, she says.
“They should draw two tables: what they like to do and what they don’t want to do. They should also know what kind of students they are, whether they are high achievers, average and so on before even deciding on a programme,” she adds.
According to Assoc Prof Zita, a common problem with students beginning their tertiary education is their lack of knowledge on the status of courses conducted by private colleges, which leads to some students just following their friends.
Tan says it is important to determine what employers and industries are looking for 10 years from now. Students should get an idea of what their future job involves, and pick the best course and institution accordingly.
“For example, there are lots of opportunities as a multimedia designer, but many students don’t realise that it involves more than visual graphics and information technology. It also helps to have drama and writing skills, because these are incorporated into the job too.”
Yow says that students should approach their tertiary education with a complete picture in mind.
“The best way to get the most out of your education is to work backwards, by identifying your career of choice first.
“If you know exactly what you want to be working as, then you can tailor your education path towards that, making sure every choice you make is with the big picture in mind.”
*Not her real name