Malaysian grads lose on English jobs

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Wed Dec 6 14:00:16 UTC 2006

Malaysian Grads, Taught in Local Tongue, Lose on English Jobs

By Stephanie Phang

Dec. 6 (Bloomberg) -- Sevan Doraisamy earned a business management degree
from Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia in 1999. With limited English skills,
he ended up working in a factory -- in Singapore. ``I couldn't find any
job'' in Malaysia, said Doraisamy, 32, whose Singapore stint and
subsequent jobs taught him the English he knows. He now recruits
volunteers for the Center for Independent Journalism in Kuala Lumpur.
``All this Malay-orientated when you go to university, but then when
immediately switch to work environment, everything is in English. I speak
like the sentence never end.''

Malaysia shifted to the Malay tongue, Bahasa Melayu, from English as the
language of teaching in 1970. Now, universities are producing graduates
who don't make the grade in the workforce. In a country with 237,000 job
vacancies, about 45,000 college grads are unemployed, mainly because of
poor English, according to the government. Many of those who have found
work aren't using their degree skills. ``The cause of the
under-employment? I'll give you one reason for it:  English,'' said Rafiah
Salim, vice chancellor at Universiti Malaya, the country's oldest
university. ``The only industry that's really using Bahasa is the
government service.''

The glut of graduates was confirmed in 2005, when the government's
Economic Planning Unit asked the unemployed to register for a survey to
gauge who was out of work and why. Nearly 60,000 jobless grads --
equivalent to a quarter of those who finished their higher education this
year -- signed up. About 15,000 since have found work. The finding
prompted Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi to budget a 53 percent
increase in spending on education and training to $2.2 billion next year.

Investment Declines

Malaysia risks losing more overseas investment to India and China if
graduates don't have the right skills, said Gan Kim Khoon, head of
research at AmSecurities Holdings Sdn. in Kuala Lumpur. Foreign direct
investment fell 14 percent in 2005 to $4 billion, the only decline among
the 10 Association of South East Asian Nations members. Apart from
learning little English, students are choosing subjects not suited to
business employment, such as arts, Islamic studies and administration,
said Gan, 43. Almost 30,000, or 60 percent, of first-time graduates from
public colleges in 2003 took arts degrees. ``Those are not very useful,''
he said. ``There is no thought going into whether these are the kinds of
graduates that the country needs.'' The government spent 8 percent of the
$100 billion gross domestic product on education in 2002, more than
neighbors Singapore or Thailand, according to the Asian Strategy and
Leadership Institute, a Kuala Lumpur-based research group.

Malays Versus Chinese

Malaysia switched to Bahasa education in a bid to promote integration
between the more than 60 percent of ethnic Malays and ethnic Chinese, who
comprise a quarter of the 26 million residents. Lawmakers also set college
quotas from 1970 to 2002 to ensure that Malays gained access to
professional jobs. They rolled back some language rules in 2003, reviving
math and science lessons in English starting in primary school. Lobbyists
for wider use of Bahasa want that decision reversed. Only underdeveloped
countries ``practice the colonial policy of teaching science subjects in a
foreign language,'' Hassan Ahmad, a former chief of the government body
responsible for coordinating the use of Bahasa, told the Bahasa and Malay
Literature Congress in Kuala Lumpur last month. Proficiency in English is
a key component of college training programs introduced this year, said
Deputy Higher Education Minister Ong Tee Keat.  Higher Education Minister
Mustapa Mohamed didn't respond to requests for comment.

Call Centers

Safura Mohd Hariri, 22, earned an information technology management degree
from Multimedia University in Selangor in May. She waited six months to
land a job as a systems analyst, and many of her peers now work in call
centers where they don't need degree knowledge, she said. About 50,000
high school graduates, 25,000 higher- education graduates and 20,000
degree holders are unemployed, Deputy Human Resources Minister Abdul
Rahman Bakar told parliament last month. Colleges should ensure they have
up-to-date textbooks and use English in lectures, said Rahmat Roslan
Hashim, head of human resources at the Malaysian unit of Standard
Chartered Plc, a British bank that makes two-thirds of its profit in Asia.
``Communication basically is the area where local grads lag,'' Rahmat
said. ``About two generations lost English skills.''

Antiquated Skills

More than half of 3,800 recruiters and managers surveyed last year by
online recruitment company Jobstreet Corp. cited poor English as the
reason for rejecting graduates. They also blamed antiquated skills in
subjects such as engineering. ``People don't have the type of skill sets
that companies are looking for, whether it's commercial or technical,''
said Suresh Thirugnanam, vice president at Jobstreet in Cyberjaya,
Selangor. Nga Lik Hing, 22, gained a multimedia degree from Universiti
Putra Malaysia in May and now earns 1,500 ringgit ($422) a month keying in
data for an online recruitment company. Employers want different skills
from those he learned, Nga said. Questions at interviews for
English-language jobs aren't easy, either. ``Like, why our company want
hire you,'' Nga said. ``Sometimes don't know how answer.''


N.b.: Listing on the lgpolicy-list is merely intended as a service to its members
and implies neither approval, confirmation nor agreement by the owner or sponsor of
the list as to the veracity of a message's contents. Members who disagree with a
message are encouraged to post a rebuttal.


More information about the Lgpolicy-list mailing list