With the introduction of the integrated Cumulative Grade Point Average (iCGPA) pilot project, the nation can soon look forward to more holistic and readily employable graduates.
PICTURE this – university graduates who perform in their studies and outside the examination halls as well.
They have positive values and are able to communicate their thoughts and ideas, especially in English.
Not only that, they also have the right skills and know how to present themselves in a professional environment.
This is the vision of the Malaysia Education Blueprint 2015-2025 (Higher Education) for the nation’s university graduates.
And with the new integrated Cumulative Grade Point Average (iCGPA) system, this may soon become a reality for Malaysia.
Higher Education Minister Datuk Seri Idris Jusoh said the Cumulative Grade Point Average (CGPA) system being used now is not an accurate reflection of a graduate’s capabilities.
“The CGPA system only measures a students’ academic achievements.
“But, the iCGPA covers all aspects including leadership, social contribution, communication, critical thinking skills and other positive values,” he said.
First in the world
Idris said Malaysia was the first country in the world to adopt such a system.
But, he stressed that the ministry “didn’t dream this up overnight.”
In fact, the grading system was six years in the making.
Since 2009, the ministry had been studying the concept with advice on standards from the Malaysian Qualifications Agency.
There was also collaboration with experts, including those from Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia and Universiti Teknologi Mara.
Also, the system was highlighted as one of the key initiatives in the blueprint’s first shift – producing holistic, entrepreneurial and balanced graduates.
“We already have the instrument. Now, it is a matter of execution,” he said.
Next month, around 300 first-year students from five public universities will be involved in the iCGPA pilot project.
The varsities selected are UKM, UiTM, Universiti Malaysia Terengganu, Universiti Malaysia Kelantan and Universiti Malaysia Pahang.
Only one faculty will be chosen from each university for this year, which accounts for the small number of affected students – a mere 0.0075% of the 40,000-odd students who enrol in public universities every year.
“We are still in discussion with the universities and will look at how ready the faculties are to apply the system before making a decision,” Idris told reporters after a Higher Education Ministry Hari Raya event earlier this week.
Under the new system, students will graduate with a complete “report card”, detailing not just their subjects and performance, but the skills that they have picked up along the way.
A web of skills
These skills will be displayed in a “spider web” (see graphic).
Higher Education Ministry secretary-general Datuk Seri Dr Zaini Ujang said the iCGPA will be a good tool to measure students’ competencies.
“Besides the subjects taken and results achieved, the students’ final reports will also show whether a student is holistic.
“Through the spider web, we will be able to clearly see the areas which a student has excelled in,” he said.
In an earlier report, students said they were concerned that varsities would not be clear on how to grade students on their skill sets.
Dr Zaini clarified that students will be given grades based on the learning outcomes of the classes they take.
“This means that not every class will cover all the nine attributes in the iCGPA,” he said.
MQA chief executive officer Prof Datuk Dr Rujhan Mustafa stressed that the iCGPA rubrics and criteria need to be made known to both the academics and students.
“This is to ensure that the evaluation is transparent, valid and reliable, so that it can be acceped by all parties,” he said.
Idris said this was why they were starting with only five faculties this year.
“The system needs to be implemented in all the faculties at every public university.
“But, we still need time for the students and lecturers to adjust to the system.”
He added that it will take three to four years to iron out the kinks before every public higher learning institution can start using the system.
Though the ministry is starting with public varsities, Idris said there would be no obstacle if private higher learning institutions wanted to use the iCGPA system.
Generally, most private colleges and universities run programmes which develop their students’ soft skills.
In “Angling for jobs” (StarEducate, June 21), we found out that tertiary students are often encouraged to take part in co-curricular activities.
Also, higher learning institutions now have to bring the industry to the classroom to keep up with the ever-changing industries.
And, they also have to equip their students with the right knowledge and tools to succeed in whatever they do.
As such, the iCGPA is not a foreign concept altogether.
“There are already a few credits within the general curriculum related to community involvement,” said Asia Pacific University of Technology and Innovation (APU) chief executive officer Datuk Dr Parmjit Singh.
INTI International University deputy vice-chancellor Dr Malini Eliatamby said she welcomed the move by the Higher Education Ministry, as this could improve our current education system.
“It is a really good move. Employers could use the measure of competencies attained in the process of hiring fresh graduates.
“We also like the way the students will be assessed both in the classroom and through on-campus activities,” she said.
Dr Parmjit said the new system will make more students aware that they have to be equipped with skills beyond academics.
However, he was quick to point out that “the guidelines just aren’t there yet”.
“We don’t know for sure how this will be rolled out or how the credits will be allocated. To some extent, it has already been done.
“While this is not unusual, it is definitely good practice to evaluate students beyond their academics,” he said.
On the possibility of using the iCGPA system, Dr Malini, who is also INTI Education Group vice-president, said they will consider it.
She was also confident that the institution “will be able to adapt this seamlessly”.
“We have already incorporated these soft skills and can see the difference in our graduates,” she added.
Shining with soft skills
Around the world, top universities offer employability skill certifications in the form of a “supplementary transcript”.
For example, the University of Reading offers the Reading Experience and Development Award, the University of Bath gives out the Bath Award, the University of Bristol has the Bristol PLUS Award and the University of Manchester hands out the Manchester Leadership Awards.
Taking a leaf out of their books, Taylor’s University awards the Second Transcript to its students, which can be achieved through its Shine Programme.
According to Taylor’s University deputy vice-chancellor Dr Pradeep Nair, the programme covers a range of life skills.
Within the programme, students can take up four learning packages – either personal development, people and leadership, professional development or global engagement.
“The programme took us two years to develop.
“In fact, we are still fine-tuning it based on feedback from our faculty, students and the industry,” he said.
But, he admitted that there were challenges in implementing the Second Transcript.
Not only did students and parents question the feasibility of the programme, employers also wondered how this would help them get better staff.
“This is why we had to educate parents and students, to show them that employers no longer consider a degree or the CGPAs as the main criteria when hiring staff,” said Dr Pradeep.
He added that the programme was endorsed and recognised by top employers and organisations like Shell, Ernst & Young, the Malaysian Bar and Microsoft.
“We involve them by making them mentors of our Shine Awards students and involving them in our workshops.”
Dr Pradeep said he was “glad Malaysian universities are beginning to adopt programmes that focus on more than just academic excellence.”
“The concept of an integrated ‘transcript’ that emphasises on soft skills and most importantly rewards students for participating in activities that help make them more employable is, without question, fantastic.”
Asked if he foresees any problems with the new iCGPA system, Dr Pradeep said it will depend on how well it is implemented at ground level.
“The challenge will be to balance students’ learning time between the academic and non-academic activities. This is particularly for the professional programmes which have highly prescribed programme structures and learning times.
“I see this as a journey which will take time,” he said.