|Royal Professor Ungku Aziz talks to Puan Elia Talib and Zuraidah Omar about the need for graduates to work on their attitude and mind-set.|
Royal Professor Ungku Abdul Aziz Ungku Abdul Hamid is in his 80s, and he still doesn’t show any signs of slowing down. The mind boggles at the range of organisations that he continues to be involved with.
He is President of the National Co-operative Organisation of Malaysia (ANGKASA), a position he has held since 1971. He continues to be involved with the University of Malaya, of which he was Vice-Chancellor from October 1968 to February 1988), as a Board Member of its co-operative bookshop. He is the country’s Representative Delegate in the International Cooperative Alliance (ICA) General Assembly, also serving as Chairman of the ICA Executive Council – Standing Committee.
Amongst others, Ungku Abdul Aziz is Chairman of the Public Opinion Panel of the National Space Programme; Vice-Chairman of the Japanese Chamber of Trade and Industry Malaysia Foundation; Member of the National Trust Fund Panel; Distinguished Fellow of the Institute of Strategic and International Studies Malaysia as well as of the Malaysian Institute of Economic Research; Honorary Advisor of Malaysia, Toray Science Foundation; Member of the Board of Trustees of the Sultan Iskandar Institute of Urban Habitat and Highrise, Universiti Teknologi Malaysia and Adjunct Professor of the university. He is also a director of a number of public and private companies.
Ungku Aziz, as he is popularly known, is a recipient of numerous national and international awards, as well as honorary degrees from universities in Asia, Britain and the United States of America. He was conferred the title of ‘Royal Professor of Economics (Rural Development)’ by DYMM Yang diPertuan Agong on 17 June 1978.
Poverty issues underpin many of his views on the quality of graduates today,
Fresh graduates today
The Royal Professor is noted for his work in rural economics. It is not surprising, therefore, that poverty issues underpin many of his views on the quality of graduates today, particularly Malays from rural areas. “Being generally poorer and the victims of earlier generations of exploitation,” says Ungku, “Malays tend to be undernourished. This affects their physical and other development.”
He reminds us that Malays in this country only came into the world of business and science a few decades ago. Education had helped to open the door, particularly with the establishment of science secondary schools in the 1970s. “It was really at the turn of the last century that the Malays began to regard education as necessary,” Ungku Aziz explains. “Their ‘lebih kurang’ attitude has been the result of a tranquil way of life, in which the various aspects of life were in equilibrium and one needed to just go along with things. This in turn has brought about complacency, with no desire or push to excel. Also, an over-emphasis on the spiritual would have interfered with their motivation to succeed.”
But the world is changing rapidly and the pace of life has stepped up, even in the kampung. According to Ungku Aziz, “Malays are changing with the times but unfortunately, they are not changing as fast as others. Malay graduates need to work on their motivation and attitude in order to succeed.”
Such advice applies to all fresh graduates, not just the Malays. Of the skills that can help them to succeed, Ungku Aziz says, “Computer skills are, of course, important but language literacy is essential. There is a definite lack of language skills among young people today – in reading, writing as well as in speaking. Because of the shortage of people who can handle the English Language well these days, fluency in the language has become a very marketable skill.”
Reflecting back to the 1970s, Ungku Aziz points out that he had been instrumental in changing the medium of instruction in public universities from the English to Malay Language. “The main reason for doing so was that the young people entering these universities were from the national schools, which had the Malay Language as the medium of instruction. In the 1990s, it was realised that graduates needed to be fluent in the English Language in order to succeed after they leave university. So there has been a shift in policy to emphasise English fluency, starting with teaching Science and Mathematics in the English Language in schools.”
Another skill that is important in the workplace is the ability to interact. Again, Ungku Aziz highlights motivation as a driving force in learning. “Graduates can pick up such skills if they are motivated,” he says.
“These graduates need to be given the ‘shock treatment’ to wake them up and get them to move faster.”
Need to wake up
There have been recent reports in the media that graduates are finding it difficult to get jobs. Ungku Aziz is of the view that “the opportunities are there but these are not taken. Graduates don’t want to take the trouble because it’s too much hard work.”
The Royal Professor offers a suggestion, “These graduates need to be given the ‘shock treatment’ to wake them up and get them to move faster. But the question is who is willing to apply such treatment. Not the politicians because they may become unpopular and lose votes. It is up to the Government and learning institutions to be more focused in how they prepare and develop undergraduates for the future.”