‘Top courses remain popular’

 CLICK TO ENLARGECLICK TO ENLARGEENGINEERING, computer science and information technology (IT), accounting, and medicine are among the top choices that school-leavers opt for when deciding on their tertiary courses.

For the third year now, these courses have occupied the top four spots among the various options applied for by students through the Star Education Fund. According to fund manager Susanna Kuan, the top choices are the same although the order may differ from year to year.

Other courses that have made it to the top 10 for three consecutive years since 2021 include business, management and finance; psychology or social science; design and creative media; and communication (see infographic).

Law, actuarial science, bioscience or biotechnology, and pharmacy have made it to the charts, as well.

While these applications are a good reflection of what students are interested in, Kuan said the courses available for scholarship through the Star Education Fund are limited to what its partners had pledged.

“There may be some popular courses like dentistry and veterinary science that are not included in our scholarship; thus, we do not have any data on those courses,” she told StarEdu.

As the country looks to achieving a high-technology nation status by 2030, it is imperative that it nurtures and produces future-ready talent that can achieve its aim.

Investment, Trade and Industry (Miti) Minister Tengku Datuk Seri Zafrul Abdul Aziz, who is expected to launch the New Industrial Master Plan 2030 (NIMP2030) next month, said his ministry is determined to make Malaysia a digitally vibrant nation to achieve greater economic complexity by encouraging local industries to adopt digital technology.

 KuanKuanSpeaking at the launch of the Matrade Digital Trade Platform (MDTP) in Kuala Lumpur on June 13, he said one of the key areas in the NIMP2030 is to advance the nation’s economic complexity, especially in five sectors: electronics and electrical (including medical devices), chemicals and petrochemicals, digital economy, aerospace engineering, and pharmaceuticals.

“This can be achieved by enhancing the complexity of our products which are meant for export,” he said.

Cognisant of the need to develop talent for an industry-ready workforce, Miti is introducing talent development initiatives such as Academy in Industry (AiI) to help youths acquire relevant skills to build a career in the manufacturing industry, which is a key driver of the nation’s economy.

In his article Global challenges: Malaysia’s industries must ‘go big or go home’ published in StarBizWeek on July 18, Tengku Zafrul wrote that AiI would offer 300,000 job opportunities by 2023 across high-impact sectors such as automotive and semiconductors.

Citing student preferences in tertiary courses, Kuan said the choices augur well for the country’s manpower needs.

“There was a time when students shied away from computer science and IT-related courses. Since 2018, the numbers have increased.

KhawKhaw“Post-Covid-19, we saw another wave of more students applying for these courses in this era of digitalisation and artificial intelligence (AI),” she said.

Weighing in, online university enrolment platform Uni Enrol chief executive officer Rickson Khaw said top searches by school-leavers on the platform showed similar interests in courses such as computer science, law, medicine, pharmacy, IT, psychology, accounting and finance, and business and management.

“For the last three years – 2020 to 2022 – the top five most popular fields of study researched on our platform have been consistent (see infographic).

“Medicine and allied health sciences; business; computing and IT; accounting and finance; and engineering have been the top five,” he said.

While the data is a good indication of what courses students are interested in, Khaw said it may show a bias towards medicine as the portal, which allows users to be matched with scholarships, may attract more students looking for medicine degree scholarships.

He added that computing and IT, in particular, has been growing in popularity.

“In 2022, it dethroned accounting and finance to emerge as the third most popular field. This is a good development in line with the upcoming NIMP2030,” he said.

Among the factors that determine student preferences, he asserted, are the future-readiness of the courses, and the potential salary progression over time.“Computing and IT has been getting the limelight for the past few years, and students have seen a lot of success stories. Some of their cousins or siblings have completed their studies and are getting good salaries now.

“If siblings do well in certain fields or pursue certain courses, this has a huge impact on the younger siblings,” he said.

More awareness, please

While there is a significant increase in interest in computing and IT, interest in engineering, and science and mathematics, has been stagnant, according to data from Uni Enrol.

“If we are to move towards an economy or industry that is more complex, we need to see more students in these fields. That is not happening, at least in private institutions or students researching on our platform.

“An engineering course in general is more expensive than a business or IT course. It also takes four years to complete, so technically there is a longer return on investment (ROI). There’s definitely a shift from students considering engineering to considering computing and IT,” he said.

Khaw is of the view that all stakeholders need to be on board in encouraging students to choose courses that would fulfil the country’s projected manpower needs.

“When we talk to school-leavers, we are helping them to choose the best place that fits their interest. It’s too late to shape their interest at that point.

“If we want to fill up the needed workforce, we have to start cultivating interest from young, and not just involve schools, but also families.

“At the same time, the government needs to look years ahead, for example, what the eventual trend would be and start from there,” he said.

He added that doing more to promote awareness of local science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) innovations, role models and successes would motivate students to follow suit.

Another area of improvement that Khaw has identified is the need to raise awareness of technical and vocational education and training (TVET).

“We don’t see students asking about TVET. It means it’s not on their minds. The question thus is, do parents and students consider it as an alternative? It’s a sign that there should be more awareness of TVET as a viable career option,” he said, adding that both engineers and technicians are needed to drive an advanced economy.

Reaching out

Since its inception in 2018, over 150,000 Malaysian students have used Uni Enrol to find and compare higher education options, which encompass over 100 local and overseas institutions, 4,000 courses and 500 scholarships.

To date, about 5,000 students have applied to study at private institutions through the platform, with scholarships worth a total of RM50mil having been awarded.In 2022 alone, some 56,264 student profiles were completed on its Pathway Match tool, where students key in information such as their examination grades and socioeconomic status to be matched with eligible courses and scholarships instantly.

“Our Pathway Match results would calculate the final cost of studies, inclusive of scholarship and PTPTN loan, so our users can quickly determine the net fee and budget required – which can see them paying as low as RM500 to RM1,000 a year – to complete their degree studies,” said Khaw.

Khaw pointed out that one of the misconceptions people often have is that scholarships are hard to get and that they must obtain very good results to get financial aid.

“With our platform, we help them see the opportunities available to them,” he said, adding that some students have changed their preferred fields of study based on the scholarships, loans or pathways available.

“The universities you assume have pricier fees may actually cost lesser than perceived lower tier universities, with the scholarships you are eligible to apply for based on the results you get,” he said.

“Because of Covid-19, a lot of universities have also introduced online programmes, which are cheaper. There’s no reason for not attending university – just that students may not be aware of their choices, or some are prejudiced against online learning,” he added.

He also said that the portal has seen a growing population of school-leavers considering pursuing their tertiary studies after taking two or three years off to work after their Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) examinations.“They delayed their studies to make some money as they thought that higher education would cost them a lot of money, which their parents would not be able to afford.

“All this stems from them not knowing that higher education can be affordable,” he said. Khaw also shared that based on the trends observed on the portal, students from smaller towns are more likely to engage its counselling and enrolment services.

In 2022, enrolments through the platform grew by 40%, and about 60% of the total applicants came from outside of capital cities, including smaller cities like Parit Buntar, Raub, Yong Peng, Tawau and Sibu.

This, he said, goes to show that smaller towns need better access to information on higher education, and that digitisation of services is important to reach out to these ppl who lack advice and rely on “anecdotal evidence”.

“Students lack the right people to talk to or don’t know what to look for in the first place. Or they only know the kinds of jobs or courses from people around them.

“We are here to teach them to look at the data, so that they make less wrong decisions – that’s our hope,” he said.

On applying for scholarships like the Star Education Fund, Kuan advised students to choose the fields of study they are interested in, and not based on their parents’ preferences. “If you’re not sure, take the Sijil Tinggi Persekolahan Malaysia (STPM), A-Levels or any pre-university course. Take a year or two to find out what you want to study.

“There are many online resources that you can use to take personality tests to discover your areas of interest; go to open days at universities and speak to counsellors.

“Some parents tend to influence their children’s choices. I believe if you let your children do what they’re passionate about, they will do well and university life will be much more enjoyable,” she said.

Kuan added that many loans and scholarships are available for students from lower-income groups.

“You do not need to be a straight A student to apply for a scholarship. You will still be considered if you apply for certain diploma courses.

“Some design schools that offer multimedia design, fashion and interior design courses don’t look for straight As. As long as you have the passion for it, you can be trained,” she said, urging students to not give up on their tertiary studies.

Launched in 1994 by the late Tan Sri Dr Sulaiman Daud – who was education minister at the time – the Star Education Fund has benefited 4,361 scholarship recipients with a value of over RM158.5mil.

A total of 171 scholarships worth close to RM10.6mil from 23 institutions are available for applications this year.

The deadline for students to apply for foundation leading to degree, diploma and pre-university courses has ended.

Applications for students looking to enrol for degree courses are open until July 28. A-Level students who have recently completed their A2 examinations may apply with their AS results before the closing date.

For details, visit thestar.com.my/edufund or send an e-mail to edufund@thestar.com.my.

Now that you have read the article, test your understanding by carrying out the following English language activities.

1 Name an inspiring personality in the STEM field. Create a biodata so that your friends know about this personality too!

2.Much has been said about TVET but how much do you know about it?

In pairs, do your research and present your findings in class.

The Star’s Newspaper-in-Education (Star-NiE) programme promotes the use of English language in primary and secondary schools nationwide. For Star-NiE enquiries, email starnie@thestar.com.my.

‘Pursue your interest’

I am pursuing my bachelor’s degree in English language and literature. Throughout my secondary school years, my interest had always been in the English and Science subjects.

I grew up reading a lot of novels and being involved in creative writing.

When I was submitting my university application, I was a little torn between pursuing an English course and majoring in science because I came from a science-stream background and did not want my science knowledge to go to waste.

In the end, I decided to pursue English. Now in university,

I look forward to every class because I enjoy what I learn.

At the same time, I also minor in psychology, which is a human science subject, so my science knowledge does not go to waste.

My advice to SPM-leavers is to always know your strengths and weaknesses in school subjects because you would not want to spend the next four years of your tertiary studies dreading to go to class and finish the assignments.

Hence, pursue what you find interesting.

– Nurfatihah Irdina Adlan, 22, Kuala Lumpur

My dream to become a dentist only kept growing after each dental visit and here I am today, almost done with my first year in dental school.

But just like many SPM-leavers, I struggled to decide my next step. I doubted if dentistry was really the right course for me. What if I regretted pursuing it?

Should I choose other courses instead? So many ‘what ifs’ clouded my head. I finally asked for my parents’ advice and they helped to make the best decision for me.

To SPM-leavers, my advice is seek help from people with experience when you need it. Don’t worry about choosing the wrong course.

If you feel like you don’t belong, you can always drop out and start over with the course that you think is right for you. The worst that can happen is that you will be a few months or years behind your friends.

– Nieha Mitrallini, 20, Melaka

I hope to further my studies overseas, so I chose to pursue the A-Levels after the SPM.

The A-Levels is one of the more internationally recognised examinations.

It also provides the flexibility I wanted in choosing my subject combinations. For my degree, I plan to study natural science, which is a combination of many science disciplines.

It is mainly due to my interest in climate change and the environment, and also because I can learn various aspects of science. It’s important to choose a course or subject that you are interested in.

This interest will help you persist through the hardships you will face in tertiary studies.

Also, choose a course that suits your learning style, such as whether it is fully examination-based or involves coursework. No matter what your final decision is, make the most out of your course.

– Ong Li Zhen, 19, Selangor

All students featured here are participants of the BRATs Young Journalist Programme run by The Star’s Newspaper-in-Education (Star-NiE) team. To join Star-NiE’s online youth community, go to facebook.com/niebrats.

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