Lifelong learning a growing trend

Towards better job security: More young Malaysians are upskilling to enhance their marketability. – Photo:

MORE youths hold postgraduate degrees today compared to during their parents’ time.

Continuous learning, after securing an undergraduate degree, seems to be a popular route especially in light of the Covid-19 pandemic and soft job market.

For these students, continuing their studies allows them to keep up with fast-paced changes in their fields so that when the economy recovers, they will be well poised to advance their careers.

Taylor’s University deputy vice-chancellor and chief academic officer Prof Dr Pradeep Nair said its Business School has seen an exponential rise in Master of Business Administration (MBA) enrolment since September last year.

The enrolment this year, he added, is strongly increasing.

“This trend shows that Malaysians are now more aware of the importance of continuous learning to remain relevant to the industry.

“At the same time, recent bachelor’s degree graduates are forecasted to face greater challenges to secure employment now and in the post-pandemic period.

“As a result, many are opting to undertake a relevant master’s degree in the same or different discipline to enhance their employability when the employment market stabilises,” he told StarEdu.

Prof Pradeep, who is also the Malaysian Association of Private Colleges and Universities deputy president, believes those aged between 16 and 26 are one of the most educated group of people in the country.

“To some extent, they think self-actualisation comes first and marriage can wait.

“Many of them view that pursuing postgraduate studies, including micro-credentials, helps to increase their power to influence either at the corporate world or at the community level,” he said, adding that many prefer to complete their education before settling down and taking on family commitments.

Interestingly, a nationwide survey conducted by Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman (UTAR) Tun Tan Cheng Lock Centre for Social and Policy Studies (TCLC) reveals that more youths are opting to stay single, while those who are open to marriage prefer to take the plunge at an older age and are not keen on big families (see infographics).

From a total of 485 respondents aged between 18 and 35 surveyed, only 41.8% have plans for marriage.

TCLC chairperson Dr Chin Yee Mun said close to two-thirds of the respondents believe singlehood gives them more freedom in life and marriage increases one’s financial commitment.

“A common perspective is that marriage is a financial burden and something they will avoid if they can. They are very realistic about marriage and many don’t think it is the key to happiness,” Chin said in an interview.

He said for many of the respondents, the ideal age for them to get married is between 26 and 30.

“Financial stability is important to them.

“All these factors point to the possibility that students are spending the early part of their 20s on education and building their careers.

“As our society develops, formal education becomes more important and is seen as the key to moving upwards in the social ladder.

“Hence, more people are spending time on education to equip themselves,” he said.

Rising enrolment

Over the years, Asia Pacific University of Technology and Innovation (APU) Postgraduate and Continuing Education director Prof Dr Murali Raman has noticed a gradual increase in the awareness among young Malaysians of the importance of continuous learning.

But it wasn’t always like this, he said.

During his time as a student, many chose to work right after completing their undergraduate studies.

“The thought of furthering our education was not drilled into us then as our main focus was to earn a living.

“But now, we find that there is an intense level of competition when it comes to knowledge, which requires higher order thinking skills, design thinking skills, innovation, digital creativity and so on.

“Even those who are in their 40s are enrolling in master’s programmes to keep up with these changes,” he shared.

The university has seen an increase of 10% to 15% in its postgraduate enrolment over the last three years.

Since January this year, Prof Murali said the varsity has recorded a 60% increase among Malaysian students.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution, Prof Pradeep said, has brought dramatic changes to many industries with state-of-the-art technologies and automation tools.

As these developments enhance productivity and efficiency, industries and leaders must have relevant skills and technical know-how to cope with these changes.

“The pandemic has sped up this process of reconciliation between man and technology.

“According to a report by McKinsey in 2018, the demand for a digitally-skilled workforce will rise by more than 50% by 2030; and higher cognitive skills like complex problem-solving, design thinking, strategic agility, and transformational leadership will rise by more than 30%. “The report also suggested that only 7% of organisations were fully prepared to address these skills gaps.

“To circumvent this problem, the workforce must have higher cognitive skill sets,” he said.

Therefore, people are constantly looking for courses such as postgraduate degree programmes or micro-credentials to upskill or reskill themselves.

Prof Pradeep said gaining these skills can future-proof their jobs or enable them to transition into sustainable careers.

“Consequently, the pandemic has seen more students enrolling in these programmes and courses,” he added.

The growth in continuing education, he said, is currently fuelled by the working population’s comfort and ease with online and hybrid learning.

Sunway Education Group chief executive officer Prof Dr Elizabeth Lee said most who choose to pursue postgraduate studies are those who want to enhance their career pathways.

They realise now more than ever the importance of lifelong learning, she said.

“To advance their careers, they need to expand their current portfolios of knowledge and skills, and even consider changing roles and responsibilities at the workplace or elsewhere.

“Malaysians are becoming more aware of this at a time when the job market is shrinking, and understand the need to upskill and reskill,” she added.

Universiti Malaya (UM) deputy vice-chancellor (Academic and International) Prof Dr Kamila Ghazali said several factors come into play in the increase in postgraduate enrolment at the varsity.

The intake rate for UM’s postgraduate programmes, she said, has shown significant and consistent increment over the years.

One of the primary reasons, she said, is the fact that the university’s programmes are flexible. It allows students to attend classes remotely through any online platforms available.

“We believe this is in line with the market demand as our applicants comprise mainly working adults.

“The opportunity to study remotely could also be seen as an opportunity for them to elevate their academic qualifications as part of their preparations for a new phase in their careers and professional development.

“There is no denying that there may be a slump in the employment market because of the pandemic, so perhaps there is an increase in interest to pursue postgraduate studies as an investment to make oneself more marketable compared to other candidates who may only possess a bachelor’s degree,” she added.

Popular programmes

Traditional choices such as the MBA continue to be a favourite among those seeking postgraduate studies.

Prof Lee said this is because the MBA prepares them for more senior leadership positions.

“Students are also venturing into different and more niche areas at the higher level to diversify such as the Master of Business Analytics, Master in Health Sciences, Master of Marketing, Master of Human Resource Management and Master in Sustainable Development Management.

“There are also those who venture into professional accounting programmes such as the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW), and the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) qualifications, following the completion of their degrees.

At Taylor’s University, Prof Pradeep said many students enrol in courses like social commerce and digital marketing, leadership and management of change, design thinking, and big data in the digital world.

“The popularity of these courses is consistent with the need for higher cognitive skill sets, as indicated in the 2018 McKinsey report.

“Other master’s degrees that are increasingly popular are those in computer sciences, communications and medical sciences; there is also a consistent enrolment in our PhD programmes,” he said.

Interest in areas such as fintech, predictive data analytics, digital marketing, sustainability, entrepreneurship, artificial intelligence (AI), healthcare, and robotics engineering is popular among PhD candidates in the varsity, he added.

These areas offer novel research opportunities, he said, and cater to the needs of the industries that are progressing rapidly.

Similarly, Prof Murali said APU has witnessed continuous growth in enrolment in its postgraduate courses.

This hasn’t slowed down during the pandemic, he said.

“The shift can be mainly seen in technology-based programmes such as data analytics, AI and cybersecurity.

“Another interesting thing we are noticing is that there are many professionals from business backgrounds who are taking up these technology-based programmes, whether it’s on a short-term basis, such as micro-credential courses, or the more formal postgraduate courses,” he said.

He added that some of the courses they go for include data science and business analytics.

Prof Murali said this growth and interest to constantly upskill themselves are in line with the World Economic Forum’s recent report which suggests that by 2025, more than 85 million jobs will be displaced.

The pandemic and digital disruption, he said, are forcing employees to find ways to redefine themselves.

“There is a fear of being left out if they don’t further their studies, especially in technology-based areas.

“The Covid-19 outbreak has intensified the digitisation of companies, for example, and so, people are well aware that the way forward is in digital technologies and innovation.

“As a result, we find that there is a demand in our university for short to medium and long-term postgraduate courses which allow people to transition into this space.”

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youths , postgraduate degrees , Covid-19


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