Malaysia’s new Minister for Higher Education recently announced plans to address the lack of interest in higher education among Malaysian youths. In doing so, the Ministry aims to raise the overall education level and position the country as a higher education hub. In a similar vein, higher education organisations in California are also looking to bring back individuals who did not manage to complete their degrees into the college system. The idea is that it would be more likely for these individuals to qualify for high-skill jobs if they finished their degrees.
What these initiatives suggest is a de facto preference for at least a bachelor’s degree, directed by current market forces and demands. Obtaining a bachelor’s degree is also arguably the most reliable route to the middle class, perhaps more pertinently for “first-in-family” students. This view seems to persist despite an ongoing drive to adopt a broader view of higher education. For example, there have been increasing calls to consider vocational training on a different, or even equal prestige footing as a university education.
However, perhaps both perspectives do not have to be contradictory. If lifelong learning to keep abreast of the skills in demand is to be the goal for every individual, then all educational routes should be developed to lead to it. Hence, attitudes towards higher education need to shift; the university should be viewed not as a destination or a one-time launch pad, but a mere pit stop in the endeavour for lifelong learning.
The same view should ideally apply to all educational pathways. Doing so requires continually engaging the relevant stakeholders at various levels of education. This would ensure access to lifelong learning can be made available to all. If done discerningly, the university route could well be just one of the many ways for students to equip themselves with the skills needed for the future of work.