Ensuring polytechnics and community colleges stay on track

There should be a policy to incentivise industry players to collaborate with agencies that train students, says Prof Mohd Ismail.

TECHNICAL and vocational education training (TVET) seems to have faced a tough road recently.

Its issues include the cutting of the Skills Development Fund Corporation (PTPK) for private TVET institutions and the voicing of concerns by teachers over unemployment due to the outdated syllabus.

Polytechnic and Community College Education Department director-general Prof Datuk Dr Mohd Ismail Abd Aziz speaks to StarEdu on his aspirations for polytechnics and community colleges, in the Fourth Industrial Revolution (IR 4.0) era.

> TVET is often described as the way forward for the country. How do you plan to ensure the quality of our graduates?By having an extremely good relationship with the industry such as with small and medium enterprises, government agencies and start-ups, and listening to them to stay relevant.

We are currently implementing a framework for a complete TVET ecosystem for polytechnics and community colleges.

Four institutions in Kedah, Selangor, Johor and Perak are undergoing the pilot test. We worked with the state governments to build a collaborative network to ensure graduates in the programmes we offer meet the industry’s and state’s needs.

This ecosystem covers everything from the curriculum to facilities.

Our function is to provide a knowledgeable and competent workforce in technical and vocational fields through a quality education and training system, to support the country’s economic growth.

> Are there plans to follow in the footsteps of developed countries where skilled workers have professional certificates?Yes. In fact right now, we have a body called the Malaysia Board Of Technologists. It is a new professional body that recognises technologists and technicians in 23 related areas.

It strengthens proficiency in the technology sector and sets standards. I hope in time to come, it will be the primary body to decide the level of professionalism that is required for each technical and vocational-related job. That is how advanced nations work.

> What are the current challenges faced by polytechnics and community colleges?Right now, we lack highly experienced and skilled lecturers. It’s a situation where, people from the industry don’t favour working in a government institution due to salary discrepancies.

We have a lateral entry scheme, which allows experienced trainers from the industry to enter our polytechnics and community colleges as top trainers. But not many do this, and those who do, leave after some time. We make up for this by inviting people from the industry as guest lecturers.

Secondly, industry players work with us on a voluntary basis. There should instead be a policy to incentivise them to collaborate with agencies that train students. This will be a win-win situation for both. In more developed countries, there are policies in place to encourage industries to contribute towards TVET training.

Furthermore, equipment for technical and vocational studies is very expensive. A solution we have proposed is for the industry and institution to co-own equipment. At the end of the day, industries benefit as they get graduates who are skilled and do not require retraining. Similarly, there are some “canggih” tools in our polytechnics and community colleges, which can be used by industry players to train our staff.

> Last November, you said the Education Ministry is finalising a report on TVET reforms before submitting it to the TVET task force. Can you share with us the findings of the report?We have 600 public TVET institutions in the country. When industry players and employers want to search for data, they’d have to go into each of these institutions’ websites to do so. So, we have suggested that we have a single portal or a one-stop data centre where we can store and share these information with the industry.

On the governance part of it, all six ministries involved in TVET have agreed that there needs to be a single accreditation body to coordinate, regulate and monitor the performance of TVET institutions. It allows for smooth articulation among TVET institutions. This body should optimise and share resources among TVET providers. Machines are expensive; they go into the millions. By sharing, the government, too, can optimise allocations given to institutions. Thirdly, we are also suggesting that we implement performance-based funding. A TVET institution should be financed based on its performance, such as its graduates’ employability. This is to drive quality delivery and maintain performance. These are some of the recommendations we have presented.

> Polytechnics and community colleges turn 50 this year. What are the institutions’ biggest achievements?For me, it’s the fact that we’ve produced 643,000 graduates to date. It is these graduates who have changed the landscape of technicians in our country. Polytechnics and community colleges are heavily subsidised. It has been one of the few social mobility tools to improve the lives of students, especially those from the B40 (bottom 40% of households) group.

We’ve outlined a few programmes under the Polytechnic and Community Colleges (2018-2025) strategic plans to continue providing quality education.

They include developing an industry-driven curriculum – this will be implemented in June this year, integrating professional certificates, competencies or skills into the curriculum and adapting existing teaching and learning processes and evaluation into a TVET 4.0 system.

> Your aspiration for polytechnics and community colleges.I hope in the near future, TVET will be one of the mainstream choices of education, along with the academic stream. And for the technical and vocational pathway, I hope polytechnics and community colleges will be the preferred choice. Some of our polytechnics are globally recognised as centres of excellence in certain areas of technical specialty, such as cybersecurity, logistics and supply chain, advanced manufacturing and construction.

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