High costs see many forgoing higher education

PETALING JAYA: Recent secondary school leavers have found themselves wondering if pursuing a higher education is really worth it.

Only half of 2021 school graduates (50.3%) were interested in pursuing a higher education, with 30.8% looking to immediately work after secondary school, based on the most recent data from the Education Ministry, StarEdu reported on Sunday.

This was a massive decline from 2019 and 2020, which saw 65.2% and 64.8% of students continuing their studies, respectively, while only 25.9% and 24.6% opted to work immediately after graduation.

Some students The Star spoke to on Sunday said they decided to work due to the rising cost of education and living, as well as social changes over the years.

A 19-year-old who wanted to be known only as Anna said financial struggles and a lack of motivation made her decide that higher education was not for her.

“My family is poor and I just didn’t find it worth it to continue my studies through loans as I have never really liked studying anyway – none of the school subjects ever caught my interest.

“There were also constant horror stories all over social media of university graduates who ended up working as fast-food workers or getting other low-paying jobs over the past few years.

“I turned pale when I imagined myself studying for years and wasting tens of thousands of ringgit, only to come out working in some low-paying job while being heavily in debt,” said Anna, who is now pursuing her passion for dance and song in an amateur dance group.

A recent school graduate who wanted to be known only as Thanisshka, 18, said that while she was determined to continue studying to achieve her dream of becoming a doctor, the rising cost of education and living had her questioning her resolve.

“I also want to become a doctor so I can secure a stable and healthy income to support my parents and any future aspirations I may have.

“But basic necessities for university, like food and stationery, have become more expensive recently, with no signs that prices will be going down anytime soon.

“I also found that course fees have gone up over the past few years, which has really made me question if spending so much time and money on studying will actually pay off in the long term,” added Thanisshka, who has applied for a Foundation in Science course.

Diploma student Junior Cheong, 20, said a number of his friends and schoolmates found school subjects so uninteresting that most of them ended up graduating without any idea of what they wanted to do next.

“Even now, most of them are living like zombies, either working day-to-day in the gig economy, as underpaid white-collar workers due to their lack of qualification, or as part-timers in jobs they (do not desire),” he said.

Cheong, who is currently pursuing a diploma in information and communications technology (ICT), added that his decision to continue studying was so he would have a better chance at getting his dream ICT job.

Another second-year ICT diploma student, Hazeeq Amzar, 20, said that while most of his childhood friends had great ambitions when they went into secondary school, a number of them gave up studying by the time they graduated.

“I feel somewhat disappointed as there were some who wanted to become doctors or engineers but quickly lost their drive within a few years, which I think was influenced by social media.

“From what I remember, a large number of them began saying they’d rather go for a more simple, relaxed lifestyle after we began sharing stories of such lifestyles in our chat groups,” he said.

Hazeeq said his decision to go against his friends’ lifestyle and pursue a higher education was to get a higher paying job to support his family, especially his disabled father.

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