2 things about private higher education you didn't know

Azmyl Yunor

Learning is a lifelong endeavour and universities are there to foster and prepare students with the skills to be adaptable and valuable members of society, which makes them employable, in that order. – The Malaysian Insight file pic, April 19, 2024.

I’VE said this before and I’ll say it again: universities are not factories to churn our workers.

Learning is a lifelong endeavour. Universities are there to foster and prepare students with the skills to be adaptable and valuable members of society, which makes them employable, in that order.

With this established, on the other end of the deal is the labour involved in making sure this happens. The academics must mentor and nurture the students in their three-to-four-year journey.

Teaching is a calling, and I detest the false saying that “those who can’t, teach”.

Most who teach part-time at my university usually waltz in with their heads held high at the start of the semester, only to emerge humbled at the end of the semester with their tail between their legs. They look upon the full-timers with newfound respect.

They have barely begun to explore the tip of the experience. Teaching is just a small part of being an academic. The most joyful and meaningful part of the vocation is the interaction with the cohort of curious and willing students.

Here are two things I am certain most people don’t know about being an academic in private higher education.

More administrative duties

I joined private higher education in what I call its “golden age” in the mid-2000s. This was before paperwork and bureaucracy reared their heads in the teaching profession through the creation of the Malaysian Qualifications Agency under the Malaysian Qualifications Act 2007 to accredit academic university and college programmes.

While I did learn more about pedagogy and how to quantify learning, I can’t help but wonder: was all knowledge accrued prior to these “accredited” programmes invalid?

Was Socrates, Ibn al-Haytham, or any great historical scholar’s work invalid because they didn’t fulfil the gold standard of outcome based education?

Paperwork now accounts for most of the stress full-time academics have to deal with. More administrative duties are being piled onto academics even as we speak. They are also expected to carry on with research and publishing as part of their KPIs, on top of teaching and dealing with student affairs.

Increasing “customerisation”

Private educational institutions derive their income from student fees. Numbers matter.

There is often discord between the academics and the marketing arm of any university because we deal with very differing metrics: academics want quality students while marketing looks for quantity.

Many inadequate students do manage to slip into programmes possibly because of the fervour to recruit more students (especially international ones).

The marketing department fulfils its KPI but at the cost of academics.

This “customerisation” is detrimental to the age-old student and teacher relationship. Students feel they have every right to complain about their “learning experience” because they are paying customers. As we know, the adage is “the customer is always right”.

A lecturer is a mentor and a guide and not just an employee delivering knowledge and skills.

Have you noticed how most advertisements for education never highlights the lecturer but focuses on images of happy and studious students?

This gives the students and their parents unrealistic expectations of what university life entails. – April 19, 2024.

* Azmyl Yunor is a touring underground recording artiste, and an academic in media and cultural studies. He has published articles on pop culture, subcultures and Malaysian cultural politics. He adheres to the three-chords-and-the-truth school of songwriting, and Woody Guthrie’s maxim “All you can write is what you see”. He is @azmyl on Twitter.

* This is the opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insight. Article may be edited for brevity and clarity.

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