THE cost of tertiary education today can add up, as any university student can attest.
Apart from tuition fees, student expenses include accommodation, education resources and assignment-related materials, transportation as well as monthly bills and lifestyle costs.
According to HSBC’s The Value of Education — The Price of Success report, which covered more than 10,000 parents and 1,500 students across 15 countries including Malaysia, university students face a shortfall in funding despite receiving money from their parents to help pay for their undergraduate or postgraduate degree course.
In Malaysia, the report stated that parents contribute on average RM24,100 towards their children’s university education. However, the students estimate they spend RM67,600 in total over the course of a degree inclusive of tuition fees, leaving a significant gap of RM43,500 to fill from other sources.
Malaysian university students are increasingly turning to paid employment to bridge the gap between the cost of studying and funding from their parents. Eighty-nine per cent of students in Malaysia — almost every nine in 10 — work while studying, mostly because they need the additional money.
HSBC Malaysia head of retail banking and wealth management Tara Latini said it is clear from the research that many parents are committed to funding their children’s university education, but in reality, the costs are often much higher than they’re prepared for.
“With student finance presenting an increasingly complicated picture, many students are finding alternative sources to keep up with costs, including paid employment,” she said.
What is worrying is that the report found Malaysian students spend a large proportion of their time in paid employment — an average of 3.4 hours a day, more than the time they spend in the library (2.1 hours) or studying at home (2.3 hours). A separate research, however, concludes that the academic performance of students who work 10 to 19 hours per week is superior to their peers.
But not all students are working to help fund their education. The HSBC report says 53 per cent of students in Malaysia venture into part-time work to boost employability in a highly competitive job market.
A glimpse of real-world skills and experiential learning during their tertiary education are highly important for graduates to forge opportunities for themselves, the report concluded.
Working part-time while studying is a way for students to gain extra cash to cover expenses incurred during a course of studies. But it is also a source of savings for the future.
Bachelor of Accounting (Honours) student Young Teng Wai, 23, has held a part-time job ever since he enrolled in Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman Sungai Long campus three years ago.
The eldest child from a low-income family residing in one of the People’s Housing Projects in Cheras, he intended from the start to help ease his parents’ burden of funding his education.
“Both my parents have primary-level education and they work to provide for me and my sister who is in secondary school. Although I have a loan from the National Higher Education Fund Corporation and a scholarship from my university that is renewable each trimester depending on academic performance, I still need to work to pay all my expenses,” he said.
Young stays with his family and commutes to classes, saving on the cost of accommodation. But with expenses comprising transport, meals and utility bills amounting to RM800 per month, the RM300 allowance his parents deposit into his bank account monthly does not suffice. Without part-time work, his allowance cannot cover expenses.
To supplement the allowance, Young works as an executive at an accounting firm after class as well as on days when he has no classes.
“I started with a bookkeeping role. And then as my degree studies progressed and I learnt more on the job, I am entrusted with personal income tax computation, review of company accounts and am assigned ad hoc tasks.
“The number of working hours varies depending on my class schedule, complexity of the tasks, as well as whether it is the peak season for accounting jobs. In the first two years, I could maintain 24 working hours per week. Now as my studies are becoming more challenging, I work 18 hours per week.”
While his initial goal in taking on the job was to cover expenses, Young is also saving for the future.
“I have the opportunity to gain knowledge and put theories learnt in class into practice. This is especially useful as the accounting field is dynamic in nature.”
Alia Najwa Ahmad Nokman, 18, from Sungai Buloh in Selangor also works part-time to help fund her education.
The eldest of six siblings said it is her responsibility to pull her weight as best as she can as her mother is the main wage earner. All her siblings except for her one-year-old brother are in school.
“After Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia, I asked my mother whether I could work and she got me a job at her workplace in the spare parts department. At Management and Science University, I work as a cashier at the food court to supplement the National Higher Education Fund Corporation loan which pays my tuition fees. I commute from home to reduce costs but I have transport and food expenses. I also have to pay for resources needed for class assignments and excursions,” said the third semester Diploma In Culinary Arts student.
Alia’s working hours are scheduled around her classes, with a maximum of seven hours per week. She gets paid RM7 per hour.
“I balance studies with work. My friends understand when I have to work and can’t spend time with them. But when I am free, I hang out with them,” added Alia.
The part-time job helps her to improve her communication and other soft skills. “I am now more confident when speaking to customers.”
Alia said work is a necessity. “The cost of living is getting more expensive so even a part-time job helps.”
Working part-time while studying is nothing new for Universiti Sains Malaysia master’s degree student Nor Adillah Ayob, 26. The daughter of a fisherman and a housewife from Besut, Terengganu started working part-time during the final year of her bachelor’s degree studies despite winning a Public Service Department scholarship.
After graduating with a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) with a major in geography, Alia was offered a MyBRAIN scholarship to pursue postgraduate studies.
“It was an opportunity I could not miss. However, the scholarship was for four semesters and this semester I have to fork out tuition fees. On top of that, I have monthly expenses of RM1,000. So, I am working as a salesgirl at a food kiosk and as a tuition teacher to take care of finances. I don’t want to trouble my parents as I have siblings who are still in school,” she said.
Nor Adillah works at the kiosk five hours a day and gives tuition six hours per week.
“It is tiring but I have a daily schedule. In the mornings, I work. I take a rest in the evening and study, and work on my thesis at night. Twice a month I spend time with friends,” she added.
She has managed to gain some business knowledge through her employment. She does not intend to cut back on spending so that she can lessen her work hours as her expenses are “necessary”. “Also, when I finish my studies, at least I have some savings.”
Many parents feel that there are benefits to be gained by students when they work while studying. While the immediate gain is bridging the funding gap between
the allowance and cost of studies, there are other advantages.
Nurhanim Hassan, a lead e-specialist (training and development) at a local university, has a daughter Nur Amira Md Mashor who works part-time while reading law. Nurhanim said employment gives her child a greater sense of responsibility.
“I don’t object to her working while studying as long as it doesn’t affect her studies, but my husband and I keep an eye on her study timetable and work schedule as well. I am quite selective in the choice of jobs, and only allow her to take up those that will add value and are relevant to her studies,” added Nurhanim.
“Occasionally, I do random checks on her whereabouts. And, of course, I monitor her assignments and coursework, and catch up with her when she is home for the weekend.”
Nur Amira plans her week in advance for studies, slotting in her work schedule. She is more cautious about her expenditure as it is her “hard earned money”.
Exposure to the workplace while studying enables students to better appreciate the efforts parents put in to fund their education and raising them in general, said Dg Noorhayati Pg Razid, assistant manager at the international office of a tertiary institution.
Her sons, Mohd Syabil Qadri Shamlin and Mohd Syahmi Rasydan Shamlin, work during semester breaks to cover expenses at university.
“They understand the value of hard work and money. They have become more disciplined and mature since taking on jobs during semester breaks and it does wonders for their self-esteem.
“But there is a danger of not having enough time for family and leisure. As a parent, I encourage them to share their experiences, motivate them and remind them of their responsibilities as a student and their roles as examples to their younger siblings,” said Noorhayati.
English language teacher Azwan Shaiza Nizam, whose son Muhammad Fuad Mohd Nizam does freelance sports photography, believes his part-time job is a good way to hone his photography skills and beef up his portfolio.
“Working with clients prepares him for the workplace,” she said.
Muhammad Fuad has become more disciplined in managing his time to accommodate both his photography tasks and studies, and has learnt to set his priorities.
“The student must not value an income more than his studies,” added Azwan Shaiza.
“As a parent, becoming friends with
your children is very important. Talk to them about their studies and their work. Take a look at work outcomes and offer feedback. Be alert to their decision-making process.
“Parents must remind children to strike a balance between work and studies, with a priority on the latter.”