This is the op-ed piece by The Edge Financial Daily on the UiTM issue.
The protest march by students of Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM) against a suggestion by Selangor Menteri Besar Tan Sri Abdul Khalid Ibrahim that the university should admit non-bumiputeras says a great deal about what’s bothering the nation’s pool of workers.
It is really quite understandable that the protesters should feel uncomfortable about any change in the university’s admission rules. The iconic Malay institution represents the government’s commitment to assisting the economically backward rural folk through education and skills training. Allowing 10% of admissions to be drawn from non-bumiputeras therefore appears to threaten the pristine social agenda that led to the establishment of the Dewan Latehan RIDA, the fore-runner of the current institution, in 1956.
The students’ vocal opposition to Khalid’s idea, however, masks the issue that he sought to address. The menteri besar was moved to propose a solution to the nagging questions of academic quality and competitiveness that mar the employability of many graduates. Yet, Khalid’s proposal is obviously unthinkable for many even after more than 50 years of the institution’s evolution.
The ranks of skilled workers, professionals and entrepreneurs have swelled beyond recognition compared to that period. This has been achieved in no small measure through the medium of UiTM as well as a growing number of tertiary institutions both in the country and abroad.
Nevertheless, Khalid’s concerns about the quality of the country’s human resource pool remain legitimate and highly relevant.
Perhaps the Selangor menteri besar’s proposal needs to be approached from a different angle. Given that productivity is a highly valued commodity in the job market, it stands to reason that the more resourceful a worker, the greater is his or her demand in the marketplace. With such an efficient economic tool in place, there should be no necessity to coax workers to give their best, or encourage skills enhancement, for that matter.
The incentives for employees to demonstrate excellence are built into the market. If at all, a regulator may want to free up the rules of employment so that businesses can respond quickly to the supply and demand of labour, and switch economic activity according to prevailing conditions in the market.
Let the job market provide career guidance. All that the authorities, such as the Labour Exchange, need to do is provide transparent information about who’s got the jobs, how much they are paying and for what skills. The rest should be left to take care of itself.