MALAYSIA Tanah Tumpah Darahku


Monday, April 29, 2024

Changing values of academic qualifications over the years


AFTER completing Form Five in 1967, most of my classmates went on to study Form Six and then to universities, either locally or abroad. Some have returned to Malaysia, a few are nomads, and the rest stayed put and contributed greatly to their adopted countries.

Up until the mid-1980s, local graduates were on par with the best in the world. It started to deteriorate when English-medium schools were switched to Malay-medium in 1970, starting from Standard One. By 1984, these students completed 13 years of schooling in Bahasa Malaysia.

From 1985, local university programmes were switched using the national language, albeit gradually, as lecturers could not do so overnight. Moreover, the published materials and reference books were almost entirely in English.

In the ensuing 15 years until 2000, the quality of local graduates dropped greatly and was made worse in the haste to churn out as many graduates as possible by lowering entry requirements and passing marks.

We are still sliding down the bottomless pit if lecturers continue to spoon-feed, students learn by rote, and assignments are completed through cut and paste, plagiarised outright, or answered using artificial intelligence (AI) chatbots.

When conducting training, I would point out that those who cannot describe well what they know in their own words don’t know enough, even though they may be able to regurgitate what they have learned. Poor understanding leads to wrong application or weak execution.

During the 1990s, I interviewed thousands of job applicants and recruited hundreds of staff. Almost all were graduates, but not once did I ask any of them to show me their certificates to prove they had been awarded a degree by a university.

This is because there are other criteria far more important than academic qualifications. The first is their character, which can be gauged by asking them seemingly innocent questions that can unsettle them.

Most would control their anger or frustration for not being able to answer, while those humble to admit it would score high marks for honesty.

Recruits with poor character or bad attitudes would be a liability, no matter how good they are in other areas, as they could easily wreak havoc on an organisation.

The other critical criterion is good communication skills, which is only possible by mastering a language and English was used in the travel, tours and car rental businesses that I was running as general manager and owned by larger corporations.

Good communication is necessary to interact well with colleagues, customers and suppliers. It also allows the staff to learn fast and well. Hence, it is even more important than so-called job experience.

Over the years, I have come across people who added a B.A. to their names overnight without spending the required time in a recognised university. Granted, many Master of Business Administration (MBA) programmes are part-time, and their quality can differ greatly.

But the ones that top them all use the prefix Dr before and PhD after their names to denote they are a Doctor of Philosophy. While some are to be truly admired by the way they speak, write and conduct themselves, many raise doubts about their qualifications.

Those who obtained a bachelor’s degree followed by a master’s degree and culminated with a Doctor of Philosophy are considered authentic but are no guarantee of good job performance.

Those with qualifications sourced from dubious universities often introduce themselves as a doctor and add a PhD to their name without shame, spurred on by an overwhelming ego.

Certainly, academic qualifications are critical for those who wish to join government service or rise the ranks, to be a teacher in schools or lecturer in universities, or to work in licensed professions such as accountants, architects, medical doctors, engineers and lawyers.

But mostly in the private sector and especially in business, it is only performance that counts. Academic knowledge is of little use, especially those learned years ago that are very much outdated and holding on to them only retard changes needed to remain competitive.

Success depends on the ability to interpret well what is happening right now, be creative to introduce new ideas and methods, be innovative to overcome problems and challenges, and apply critical thinking to make major decisions.

Those with high academic qualifications but unable to think, speak, read and write well are no better than pretenders. I often declare that I only have a Grade 3 MCE (equivalent to SPM) and drove metered taxis from 2000 to 2010.

However, I managed to develop many training courses and conducted training for over a thousand taxi drivers, many thousands of tourism industry personnel, and also professors and lecturers including those with PhD in tourism for them to be certified as trainers.

Everyone needs training, from beginners to experts, to become better. Performance does not depend on paper qualifications and just like degrees and PhDs from dubious universities, those who show off their executive or professional diplomas may also be able to fool many people. 


YS Chan is master trainer for Mesra Malaysia and Travel and Tours Enhancement Course and an Asean Tourism Master Trainer. He is also a tourism and transport business consultant.

The views expressed are solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of MMKtT.

- Focus Malaysia

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