I AGREE with Hassan Talib who wrote on the criteria for taking our universities to world class level, “Accept that English is important” (The Star, Aug 9).
It’s good to see the new education minister Dr Maszlee Malik embracing the basic principle that a university must have the autonomy to appoint a vice-chancellor whom the academic staff will respect for his or her scholarly achievements and leadership qualities.
A vice-chancellor of such standing would attract capable scholars to teach in his/her university and motivate the academic staff to achieve excellence in the lecture halls and in their research work.
Our universities should place emphasis on quality over quantity in their education programmes. In the past (during my time), quality was achieved by setting high entrance qualifications based on the HSC (Higher School Certificate) examination result at the end of two years in Form Six. This pre-university education was very important for preparing students to become self-reliant when we entered university. We were told that at university, there would be less spoon-feeding as students were expected to use their own initiatives in broadening their knowledge in addition to what they learnt in the lecture halls.
The decline in quality started in the 70s when the government began to introduce the shorter matriculation stream to fast track bright students who passed SPM with strong grades in key subjects into university. The objective was to increase student intake especially for Malay students in the faculties where they were under represented, like medicine, engineering, accountancy and business studies.
Experience has shown that only a few of these students do well in their university studies as many do not have the mental foundation, learning skills and English proficiency compared to the students who go through the full two-year Form Six stream.
Matriculation students struggle especially with their command of English, a disadvantage which limits their use of the library for their own reading. Some have great difficulty in understanding the prescribed textbooks, which are in English.
I think it is better to return to the old system of the two-year Form Six stream to prepare students properly for university education and campus life away from the comfort of their home. In Form Six, they have more time to be trained in English, which is indispensable for knowledge.
With better quality student intake, the universities can produce graduates with the high-thinking and analytical skills that employers look for.
TAN SRI MOHD SHERIFF MOHD KASSIM
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