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Tuesday, 28 February 2017

DEGREE CHOICES

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A proposal was announced in the British press last week to offer two-year undergraduate programmes instead of the usual three. It prompted a lot of debate (as well as a fair amount of hot air) online and elsewhere. If we take a step back and think about it, this is not something that is going to happen overnight, if at all. That's why it's only a proposal. In any case, the idea is not as new or radical as people seem to think.

In the US, the Associate Degree (of two years' duration) has been around for a long time. Graduates can then choose whether to stay on for an extra year and take enough credits so that their course becomes a full-fledged Bachelor's. In the UK, several of the newer universities offer shorter degree programmes accompanied by reduced vacation time. Meanwhile, sandwich courses (students in full time work, sponsored to attend academic courses on a part-time basis), Distance or Blended Learning programmes and many others, have challenged traditional three-year, full-time courses in tertiary education establishments.

For young people currently at KYUEM, the options are many and varied, at least as far as private students are concerned. Sponsored students are constrained by the demands of their sponsors, but for everyone else, there is a great deal of flexibility, and it is growing. Apart from the usual overseas choices of the UK, US and Australia, we are seeing students at KY showing an interest in Canada (particularly since the election of President Trump and the uncertainty surrounding US entry visas) New Zealand, and perhaps most interestingly of all, Germany. German universities offer free tuition, as long as candidates take an intensive course in the language first. This usually means studying German for a year in a preparatory programme before joining a mainstream undergraduate course. This option can be attractive especially to students of Engineering. In KY this year, we have three groups taking German as an extracurricular activity in the evenings as a result of having a German national on our staff and another teacher who speaks the language well. Such part-time language courses won't get students into a German university by themselves, but they will certainly help, and possibly reduce the need for the language foundation programme when in Germany.

Malaysia now has an enviable selection of UK university satellite campuses. Some programmes offered are entirely based in Malaysia, while others, such as Engineering at the University of Southampton in Johor, offer 2+2 (two years in Malaysia, two in the UK leading to an M.Eng. degree). Penang Medical College (PMC) is linked to medical studies in Ireland, which require 2.5 years in Dublin and 2.5 in Penang. This trend is bound to continue. 

I doubt very much whether the proposed two-year degree in the UK will be in operation by the time our current juniors start their application process, but I have been wrong about such things before. A lifetime's experience has warned me to be very careful about trying to second-guess politicians, particularly where education is concerned. Our seniors are now  considering their first and insurance choices if intending to go to Britain, while US applicants are still, for the most part, waiting for news. Much of this week's post, therefore, is aimed at junior and 18-month students who are going to start their application process next semester. My advice to them is: keep your options open and if there is a list of any kind, put your name on it. You can't have too many choices and the ultimate ones you make will be yours alone.

I am reminded of an old friend who used to teach English in Moscow University in the era of the Soviet Union. Shortages of all kinds of consumer items were routine in those days, and when something suddenly became available, stocks would probably sell out fast. Queuing was, therefore, a common occurrence in shopping areas after deliveries had been made. My friend would spot a queue outside a shop on his way home and would join it as a matter of course. After a few minutes, he would ask the man or woman next to him:

"What are we queuing for?"

It might have been soap flakes, fresh fruit or light bulbs - you just grabbed every chance to get what was available at the time. I often feel this is similar to the options available for young people at KYUEM. In today's uncertain world, put your name down for anything and everything that is on offer: you won't be able to accept them all, but at least you will have taken every opportunity available to you.

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