THE Higher Education Ministry’s (HEM) mission, as stated in its website, is to “sustain a quality higher education ecosystem in order to develop the potential of individuals and meet national aspirations”.
With a new minister appointed, HEM must reassess the relevance of tertiary education to ensure graduates are able to face challenges in the new post-Covid world. There is a need to integrate their physical, mental and intellectual attributes in order to unleash a wholesome personality.
HEM should introduce a compulsory generic training module for all students of higher learning institutions, both private and public, that encapsules the components of strengthening their body, mind and intellect.
Strengthening the body
The Health Ministry reported that the country incurs a staggering RM9.65 billion for hospitalisations, medical tests, medications and primary care consultations for non-communicable diseases, particularly cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and cancer. This implies that awareness on healthy living is lacking.
Every student must be empowered with the right knowledge and skills through proper training on how to keep fit, have adequate sleep, eat moderately, consume the right type of food and adopt a healthy lifestyle.
The Sports and Science Faculty and health-related departments, especially Medical Faculties, in the respective institutions should counsel students on suitable fitness training programmes. The academic staff should also become health enthusiasts and motivate students to lead a healthy lifestyle.
Strengthening the mind
In June, the World Health Organisation released a shocking report that more than one billion people in the world suffer from mental disorder. Therefore, it is necessary that tertiary students develop a healthy, positive mindset during the duration of their study at these institutions.
It is critical for all academic staff to undergo training to enable them to detect early signs of stress in students, as well as provide the necessary support to counsellors and psychologists assigned to help students deal with stress.
Lecturers should also go beyond their academic duties and interact with students by offering effective mentoring and guidance to inculcate a positive mental well-being. This may be an additional burden on lecturers on top of the KPIs (key performance indicators) of teaching and research, but the present times require that they step up to the need.
While universities have academic advisors, their responsibilities need to be relooked and assessed if they are to play an effective role in ensuring students lead a happy life.
In this day and age, students must be trained to handle frustrations, face challenges, manage disappointments and bear criticisms so they do not collapse under pressure or at the slightest stress.
Strengthening the intellect
Our landscapes have changed drastically. The demanding world is moving away from the traditional mono-dimensional career path to a more mix-and-match field of specialisation, where ambidexterity is preferred. Like the Swiss knife with its multipurpose function that costs more than a kitchen knife, likewise, employees with multiple skill sets have become the preferred choice of employers.
It is vital not to sideline soft skills, and these subjects should be treated with the same seriousness as other courses that are taught, such as communication and leadership skills, budget management, critical thinking and time management. However, these courses need to be reassessed so that they are relevant in today’s world.
HEM should carry out regular audits on the effectiveness of these courses so that students will be better prepared.
HEM should ensure an all rounded general and generic curriculum involving the three components of strengthening the body, mind and intellect is rolled out, with inputs from relevant experts. And this subject should be made compulsory and embedded throughout the duration of the study.
The components should move away from dialectic lecturing to lively engagement, involving active student participation that leaves inspirational impressions in the mind of the young.
HEM should follow up with a survey sent to a cross section of employers in both the private and government sectors to assess the effectiveness of the newly employed graduates.
An Employability Favoured Index can be established by tabulating employer satisfaction against graduate employees from universities or institutes they hail from. This will offer a local ranking system for the respective institutions, which will be the basis for corrective intervention if found that improvement is needed. This is a sure way to ensure tertiary education remains relevant and is a passport to a successful future.
This approach will ensure the building of a stronger workforce. The Council of Vice Chancellors and heads of institutions should be accountable for ensuring students who leave these corridors of learning have sterling characters, with the lowest tolerance for corruption.
Coupled with a patriotic zeal and aspiration for national unity, our graduates will make ideal nation builders.
Prof Dr Suresh Govind FASc is an honorary professor at University of Malaya, chairman of the Board of Trustees for Yayasan Perpaduaan Malaysia, director of Sathya Sai Academy for Human Values and Coordinator for Friendship Group for Inter-religious Service. Comments: [email protected]