From next year, students seeking to enter local public universities have to score higher in the Malaysian University English Test in a move aimed at boosting graduate employability.

THE 2015 Budget unveiled on Friday outlined two commendable steps to help address the worrying issue of unemployed graduates.

One measure is to undertake a thorough review of the curriculum in skills training centres, colleges and universities, thus, ensuring that the courses are more relevant to the needs of industry.

The other step, which is quite bold, is to substantially raise their competency in the English language.

Their competency, or the lack of it, has been directly or indirectly cited for their difficulty in securing good paying jobs. Many big employers, it seems, have turned away graduates who cannot speak or write English.

The number of unemployed graduates is quite worrying. Some 53,000 graduates are unemployed after six months of graduating, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak revealed in his budget speech as he outlined measures to address the problem.

Are our colleges and universities churning out too many graduates beyond what the industry can cope with or are they focusing too much on courses that are no longer relevant to industry needs?

Najib tried to address this by announcing that TalentCorp would spend some RM30 million for a programme that would involve a collaboration between industry and the academia.

Under the programme, universities, government entities and industry will collaborate to develop the curriculum for internship programmes and industrial training.

This is on top of previous and current initiatives, such as Skim Latihan 1Malaysia (SL1M), undertaken by the government to retrain graduates in specific areas to improve their employability.

This brings us to the question of improving English proficiency skills among undergraduates and graduates. How do you do that?

In a bold move, the government announced in the budget that students seeking to enter local public universities would have to score higher in the Malaysian University English Test (Muet) from next year to enhance graduate employability.

Currently, students need to have just a minimum English entry requirement of Band 1 in Muet to gain university admission.

The bands refer to the level of proficiency in listening, reading, writing and speaking, with Band 6 indicating top proficiency and Band 1 the lowest.

But under the new rules, the minimum English entry requirement into public universities will now be according to the field of study.

Those aiming for Arts and Social Sciences courses will have to achieve Band 2, while Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (Stem) courses must achieve Band 3. Law and medical courses will require a Band 4 score in the Muet.

To graduate, students must now achieve the following: Arts and Social Sciences courses (Band 3); Stem courses (Band 4); and Law and Medicine (Band 5).

This more stringent ruling will certainly attract a public debate, with parents, scholars and employers giving differing views on the need to improve the level of the English proficiency skills and why local private universities are not subjected to the ruling.

Those who are against it will argue that the new ruling would deny those weak in English from entering public universities.

What is clear is that certain skills are required to enter public universities. Universities are even struggling to get properly qualified people to study engineering. Many are more suited to do non-technical-based courses.

With the ruling, universities will have to do more to improve the teaching and learning of English.

Already, one or two established public universities do not admit students without minimum Muet passes. Strong Muet scores would also help our students seeking to further their studies in Australia and other Western countries.

Learning and teaching English must also be emphasised right from the primary-school level, not just at the university level.

Students, especially in rural areas, should not have an inferiority complex because they are not able to converse well in English.

They sometimes get sneered at when speaking or reading in English. It is the attitude of their surroundings that need to be changed.

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