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Education: Malaysia, Singapore and USA

Education: Malaysia, Singapore, and USA

Last updated: March 11, 2021 | April 11, 2011 | Daniel James
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Table of Contents

  • Malaysia's Official University Ratings Unleashed
  • What Every International Officer Needs to Know When Operating in Singapore for the First Time
  • Asia for Dummies
  • Same language, lah!
  • Meetings and Greetings
  • Food, Glorious Food
  • Conclusion
  • USA: For-Profit Higher Education
  • The History
  • Investigations Reveal Fraudulent Activity
  • U.S. federal financial aid of $24 billion

Malaysia's Official University Ratings Unleashed

After two years of hard work compiling data from both public and private universities and university colleges, the official rating for public and private universities, SETARA (Rating System for Higher Education Institutions in Malaysia) was finally unveiled in July 2010.

The emphasis of SETARA 2009 is on the teaching and learning of undergraduate programs in both public and private universities and university colleges. A total of 58 universities and university colleges took part in this exercise.

SETARA 2009 comprise six tiers, with Tier 6 identified as Outstanding and Tier 1 as Weak. The university and university colleges are placed into respective tiers in accordance with their scores. A total of 25 criteria captured via 82 indicators are used to calculate the final score.

Based on the outcome from SETARA 2009, no university or university college qualified to be categorized under Tier 6. The majority of the university and university colleges are classified either as Tier 5 (Excellent) or Tier 4 (Very Good).

For a more complete listing of the results and definitions of the criteria used, please refer to the Malaysian Qualifications Agency (MQA) website. It is also worth noting that the listing of the results is arranged alphabetically and not ranked in any particular order.

For further information, please contact Jade Thum, Manager Education Intelligence and Partnerships, British Council Malaysia at Jade.Thum@britishcouncil.org.my.

What Every International Officer Needs to Know When Operating in Singapore for the First Time

New to the Singapore market? Coming over for your first visit? Find out what you need to know in this must-read guide.

Writing a brief on Singaporean culture and crafting a guide on general etiquette for the first-time visitor to Singapore is a tricky task. On one hand, because Singapore is an international financial center and the trading hub for the region, whose population is generally cosmopolitan and well educated, what would be considered normal behavior in the UK will almost invariably be acceptable in Singapore. On the other, the multi-cultural nature of Singaporean society makes it hard to pin down a definitive set of culturally acceptable behaviors, some quarters being more conservative than others. Perhaps, that it is known as the “crossroads between the East and the West” best sums up the somewhat multi-dimensional nature of Singapore and its culture. It is thus a tease – it seems easy enough to understand and operate in, yet there may be nuances and subtleties that will totally bemuse at times.

Asia for Dummies

Singapore is a modern city-state, and will not hold too many surprises for the seasoned International Officer, well accustomed to cosmopolitan cities. You’ll see the same franchised boutiques, the familiar coffee chains, and the ubiquitous fast-food restaurants. It is thus fairly predictable and definitely far less exotic than many other Asian cities. The ease with which a reasonably well-traveled person - businessman or tourist - can operate in Singapore perhaps accounts for the moniker “Asia for dummies”, or more politely, “Asia light”.

Same language, lah!

For the English speaker, it is a breeze getting around and communicating in Singapore, as English is the de facto business language and language of administration, with the medium of instruction in schools being English. Public signs and official publications are in English.

Having said that, a number of Singaporeans speak a local hybrid form of English known as Singlish ("Singapore English"), which is sometimes described disparagingly as the Creole language, incorporating vocabulary and grammar from Standard English, various Chinese dialects, Malay and Indian languages. To the untrained ear, this can be totally unintelligible, though most catch on that Singaporeans does like to end their sentences with “lah”!

However, most (reasonably educated) Singaporeans do speak Singapore Standard English, alternatively known as Educated Singapore English, which, grammatically, is not different from standard British English, with variations being confined to accent and a few borrowed words, posing few challenges to any Anglophone. Perhaps what could be a challenge, though, is sometimes understanding the students you are speaking to, who may go something like this, ”So Mr/Ms. International officer, I’d lurve to study in the UK, as in study, study but, like, I’m gonna have to, like, find an awesome uni. Can you tweet or FB me, or is there an app I can, like, check out?” (Spoken at 500 words per minute, I should add.)

Of course, being a multi-cultural society, you’ll find many other languages being spoken here, the most common being Mandarin, Chinese. Malay, and other Indian languages like Tamil and Hindi, would also feature quite often, these being the main ethnic groups in Singapore. In truth, though, with nearly a third of the 4.6 million population being from all over the world (Singapore welcomes immigrants with open arms), you could just as easily hear French, Japanese or Spanish being spoken.

Meetings and Greetings

With Singapore being a multi-racial society, figuring out names can sometimes be a bit of a challenge, as there is no fixed order as to where the family name is placed. When in doubt as to the family name of the Singaporean, or the pronunciation, it is fine to politely enquire.

One thing seems to be fixed, though: business cards are frequently exchanged – presented with both hands and with the name facing the recipient. Take along a box, or even two, if you’ve got many meetings lined up, or expect to be meeting many people. No bowing is required, handshakes being the norm, though the staunchest Muslims, of whom there are some in Singapore, will not shake hands with people of the opposite gender. In this case, a polite nod and “Nice to meet you” will suffice.

Perhaps due to the tropical climate, people dress less formally here. Suits are reserved for formal occasions, and business attire is generally shirt and trousers, usually sans tie.

When meeting with the school or government officials, like the people from the Ministry of Education, you may soon realize that “Death by Powerpoint” seems to be their common execution method. Together with the liberal use of acronyms and “frameworks”, this is often designed to try and showcase their work or department. These eager officials sometimes don’t realize that it is a slow and painful death. One could either politely sit through these presentations while stifling a yawn discreetly, or choose an opportune time to interject with a question or two, which is generally acceptable and will prove a welcome respite. It is, however, not guaranteed that they won’t go back to their slides after having dealt with your questions.

While the general principles of communication apply, it is perhaps important to state that Singaporeans can sometimes come across as being very direct, curt even. Perhaps it is because they are usually very task-oriented, and in the bid to meet their goals, may sometimes come across as tactless, or a little pushy. But a more innocuous reason could be that some are just not as attuned to linguistic and non-linguistic features like connotations, humor, or tone.

Strangely enough, this “directness” can be relative. Others who are equally or more up-front, like Americans, for example, might instead find that Singaporeans tend to be less confrontational with people they don’t know too well. Frustratingly, this sometimes results in ambiguous answers like “I’ll think about it” or “We can work out something”. Generally, UK visitors, as long as they bear this schizophrenic nature of Singaporeans in mind, should have few problems interacting with them.

Conversation aside, food features a lot at Singapore meetings. More often than not, refreshments are catered for visitors, and this could range from a simple coffee and sandwiches set-up to an elaborate buffet spread. While no one would compel you to eat, it would be a nice gesture to accept the hospitality of the host by having a token bite. If invited to a formal dinner, normal etiquette applies, though 10-course Chinese banquets are not uncommon, where the 10 dishes are served, one after the other, at the center of the table. Rest assured, there are usually serving spoons, and you will not have to partake in communal eating.

Food, Glorious Food

This provision of food at meetings – and it is almost expected that you would provide some at your University Information sessions as well -- stems from society’s obsession with food at large. You will find a large number and a wide variety of restaurants in Singapore. As such, it is a breeze for visitors to find a restaurant or food-court that will suit their palates.

Singaporeans themselves are fairly adventurous with food and are quite accustomed to different cuisines. They, thus, can be sometimes contemptuous of people who travel half-way across the globe, only to insist on eating the type of food they do at home. Again, the prerogative lies with the visitor, but it would be a worthwhile cultural experience to try the local food on offer. It will also be taken as a form of interest in and respect of the country and its culture.

Conclusion

This cultural brief is just that -- a brief. Having merely given a flavor of what to expect, and making some behavioral recommendations, it leaves me to say that as long as you visit with an open mind, and apply general common sense, Singapore will be a breeze to visit. Whatever is familiar – and there will be lots - will make you feel at home. And take whatever that may seem quaint or totally different even, as a new and enriching experience!

USA: For-Profit Higher Education

The History

The concept of for-profit institutions has existed in the United States for a long time; however, their rise in prominence started during the business-friendly 1980s and when the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act allowed students attending those institutions to receive federal aid and loan money. Increased demand for higher education here in the US also contributed to the rise in popularity within the market. As community colleges and traditional colleges are unable to keep up with the demand, for-profits have responded and grown exponentially. This is despite the fact that they are often four times as expensive as a community college and twice as expensive as a 4-year institution. Many parent companies (including the Apollo Group, the Career Education Corporation, the Corinthian Colleges, Inc, and Laureate Education) serve as the umbrella for most of the for-profit institutions in the United States. Fourteen of the publicly owned parent corporations were worth more than $26 billion in July 2010 and enrolled 1.4 million students.

Investigations Reveal Fraudulent Activity

In the past few months, Congress has become increasingly interested in private, for-profit institutions due to the amount of federal financial aid flowing into them. In 2008/09 these institutions received $24 billion in federal student aid. Many claim that the aid these institutions receive from the federal government is disproportionate to the quality of the education; and that students enrolled in for-profits default on their federal loans quite often. Following a report from an undercover investigation by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found a number of for-profits engaged in fraudulent or deceptive practices, the United States Senate held a hearing on the 4th of August 2010. Now, Congress is considering introducing legislation to change the federal aid available to for-profit institutions. The Department of Education is also considering tighter regulations.

Students encouraged to engage in fraudulent practices
The investigation behind the GAO report included fifteen for-profit institutions in Arizona, California, Florida, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Washington, DC. At all fifteen, representatives made deceptive or questionable claims concerning their college costs, accreditation, and job placement/graduation rates. The institutions are alleged to have encouraged students to engage in fraudulent practices when applying for financial aid and/or to have provided misleading or fraudulent data to the undercover applicants. At four of the institutions, in California, Florida, Pennsylvania, and Texas, the applicants were encouraged by the institutions to commit fraud by making fraudulent claims on their federal financial aid application to get more money. The GAO, and previous reports, noted that the bulk of the federal aid money goes toward marketing rather than student services. The institutions can lose their eligibility for federal financial aid, which for many is their main financial resource, and be fined up to $25,000 per violation.

U.S. federal financial aid of $24 billion

For-profits are renowned for spending a large number of their budgets on marketing and recruitment. In 2008, the University of Phoenix spent $130 million on advertisements. According to a Frontline report on PBS, at most for-profit institutions 25% of the budget is dedicated to marketing and only 10-20% is spent on teaching. The federal government provides a large amount of aid to for-profit universities. In the 2008-9 academic year, 23% of the $105 billion Congress received in Title IV funding went to for-profit institutions – a sum of $24 billion. Over 2,000 for-profit colleges participate in the Title IV program (which covers the administration of U.S. federal financial aid programs).

While for-profit institutions have grown, they have attracted more governmental attention. In the early 1990s, an investigation by the Department of Education revealed that for-profits account for ¾ of the fraud and abuse in the student loan program. Following new regulation, 1500 institutions (mostly for-profits) were dropped or withdrew from the program. In December 2009, the University of Phoenix settled a lawsuit claiming it paid enrollment counselors based on the number of students recruited. The settlement was for $67.5 million.

Daniel James | Daniel James is an author, keynote speaker, and entrepreneur who is a professional coach and gerontologist. Daniel holds a bachelor's degree from Georgia Tech, a master's degree from UCLA, a diploma in gerontology from the University of Boston, as well as a Professional Coaching Certification.

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