Rafizi’s Degree Statement Irks Academics

Many academics rushed to take offence at the comment by Rafizi at the public forum and his mention of employers not looking at the degree of the employees

Rafizi Ramli, the Minister for Economy said academic qualifications such as a diploma or bachelor’s degree are not the main reason employers look for when hiring workers.

He said this was based on his personal experience interviewing thousands of graduates.

He said employers face difficulties in matching qualifications with job criteria offered in the market due to the lack of talent and skills required based on academic certificates alone.

Rafizi shared this insight at the International Public Employment Forum (IPEF) 2023 in Kuala Lumpur, organized by the Social Security Organisation (Socso).

The case is different now. A degree only proves that you have a brain. When someone is hired, the employers see the qualities that they can be independent, have their own initiative, and that they are balanced, Rafizi explained.

The Centre for Social Welfare Studies director Professor Datuk Dr Norma Mansor, who was one of the panelists, emphasised the need to tackle talent mismatch in today’s job market.

She attributed the problem to Malaysia’s lack of innovation in its economic structure and the scarcity of high-value job opportunities.

Academics Irked By Rafizi

Many academics rushed to take offense at the minister’s comment at the public forum. Dr. Syafeeq Shukor, posted on LinkedIn that Rafizi’s comment contributed to the declining number of university takeups.

He added that there must be encouragement for young people to take up university education or end up producing minions and not inventors. He claimed that only the education system can produce the future leaders that Malaysia needs.

Mismatch of Ideology

Dr. Syafeeq’s thinking is not uncommon among the self-serving academic elite in Malaysia. Many have cushy university jobs that have moved up based on qualification alone with little or no industry experience.

They ignore the fact that many global entrepreneursr like Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs, Richard Branson, and Steve Wozniak did not have a graduate degree to build their global empire.

Education is different from entrepreneurship. One does not need to go to university to be inventive and innovative. Albert Einstein learned mathematics by himself and he went on to product the most famous equation the world has ever known.

Academic elites, often Malay Bumiputra work at government-funded universities. The same universities produce graduates that do not have basic grast of the English language. English, is the language that most employers in Malaysia require workers to have. The economic minister knows this, especially since he has his own startup, Invoke.

Change in Dynamics

The reality is that there has been a change in the status quo in regard to education. Universities have turned education into a money-spinning machine that many can’t afford. Education is so lucrative that many countries including Malaysia have licensed private colleges who then partner with overseas educational institutions. 

But decades who, employers cared about where you graduated from, grade, and the type of degree. The Ministry of Education in Malaysia still carries a list of universities that it officially recognizes for employment for government service. 

These days, with the Internet in place any aspiring youth can attend Stanford University online. Learn how to make things on YouTube or TikTok, especially software development

Many employers have started to realize this and believe one does not need a university degree to be an effective worker. Some of the largest organizations in the world these days have dropped the degree requirement from their hiring criteria. Rather than hire fresh graduates who are already outdated in their skills coming out of universities, they built organization-wide on-the-job training programs to upskill talents in their organization.

Universities Need to Keep Up

Universities these days are commercializing themselves to oblivion. The young can’t afford it, or end up with massive amounts of debt they go into the workforce. The rarity of the ivory tower is no longer rare and its lecturers are not the brooding omnipresence of wisdom that once graced the halls of education. 

At the budget Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim announced that Malaysia will set up an Artificial Intelligence Learning Centre at University Technology Malaysia (UTM) with a budget of RM20 million. 

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim said this was because innovation and digital talent needed to be empowered, especially in the field of AI to drive the country’s economic growth in a more sustainable manner.

“Malaysia needs to move quickly along with the accelerated growth of these fields in line with the global digital transformation boom,” he said when presenting Budget 2024 in the Dewan Rakyat.

The problem with that is Malaysia is as usual late to the game as countries such as USA, China, India and Australia have made leaps and bounds in the field and are more than ten years ahead.

Academics and those who pursue acamedia need to see how relevant they are to the country as having a degree is not necessarily a sign of an innovative mind. – NMH

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