Mickey Malta

Notes from the zone where 'normal' things don't happen very often

Posts Tagged ‘University

Bye bye stipends?

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Wil 'the money tree' be finally chopped off?

Will 'the money tree' be finally chopped off?

At long last, the stipend system as we know it may soon be a thing of the past. It may have made sense in the late 1980s when the economic situation was bad (jobs were raffled during coffee mornings), and young people needed some form of incentive to pursue their studies after they finish school.

Twenty years have passed since then, and now the reality is completely different. University population increased from 800 to 12,000. The job market incentivises people of all ages to study and keep themselves abreast with the latest developments. Lifelong learning is now a necessity, not just a choice.

In reality, the stipend system does not influence people’s decisions as to whether they should keep on studying, or seek a job. Ironically, students are worse off – financially – with the stipend system. If they hold a  part time job, they will have more money in their pockets.

As opposed to other educational institutions (not just universities) in many countries, tuition here is free. Furthermore, the vast majority of our students still live with their parents so they don’t need to spend money on rent, and students who come from the sister island usually live in a family-owned apartment. Students living here don’t even need to fork out huge amounts of money on travel. Generally speaking, it looks like many students don’t have a clue of how better off they are than most of their counterparts in most of the other countries around the globe.

The reality is that if the stipend system is abolished, the students will be better off. They can work part time jobs and have more money in their pockets at the end of the month. The government will be able to invest more money in their institution – so they should get a better service. One of the essential benchmarks in ranking standards of educational institutions is research. Do our institutions invest in research? How many times have we heard about important research being carried out by professors and students within our institutions? And what about the books and journals in these institutions’ libraries? Students who try to use library facilities for research can write volumes of books full of interesting anecdotes about libraries in these buildings.

The reason why I am writing about educational institutions and not university in particular is that I’m including the sixth forms, ITS, and MCAST into the equation. The general principles I am writing about apply to all institutions.

Unfortunately, the current system presents a false reality to our students. Money doesn’t grow on trees. Neither does it ‘just show up’ in your bank account. Money has to be earned; and this is not the message that our students are receiving. We have created a generation of people who look down on unskilled work, and unfortunately, unskilled workers. It is unthinkable for many students to work as servers in eateries, or hold part time jobs in a car wash, or a cleaning company – for example. As long as the money is not earned illegally, then there is nothing to be ashamed of. That’s the way I see it. It’s all about having pride in one’s job.

I was recently watching an interview on TV with the guy who, literally, paints the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. He was quite upbeat and enthusiastic about his job, and explained how proud he feels when he sees people taking pictures of this world landmark. “They come here to appreciate the beauty of this bridge, and I am the person responsible to make this bridge look awesome” he said. That’s the true meaning of being proud of one’s work.

Back to stipends. From a business perspective, there is also an important factor that cannot be overlooked. We, as tax payers, are ‘investing’ in students’ education. The rationale is that the country will reap the benefits of this investment over a long period of time somewhere in the future. The reality is that a number of people receive a stipend while they’re studying, and then leave the country soon after they graduate. Other students graduate in a particular discipline and then choose a career that has absolutely nothing to do with their studies.

I have been told by a number ITS students who were reading for a diploma in hospitality management that the reason why they went to this institute has nothing to do with a passion for tourism. They wanted a formal qualification in management but for some reason didn’t make it to University. Hence, a diploma that can lead to a university degree seems like an indirect way of getting a degree.

Now I happen to be quite broad-minded when it comes to qualifications. I don’t believe that in order to be a CEO, for example, one needs to hold a MBA or DBA, or have necessarily occupied a commercial role like Director of Finance, for example.

One may be a good candidate for certain roles because the discipline s/he specialised in may help his/her process and strategic thinking – which in a given role may be more important than technical knowledge of that actual role. So, to elaborate on my previous example, an engineer may be a good candidate for a CEO of a company that requires an analytical, disciplined leader who needs to look at structure and steer it in a new direction. An engineering background (preferably complemented with commercial experience), may be more appropriate than a business background for this role.

Having said that, someone who was paid by you and me to study Food & Beverage Operations or Accommodation Operations at ITS, for example, and then joins a TV station as a cameramen is akin to a hotel that spends money on knitting training for its receptionists.

Written by mickeymalta

09/04/2009 at 15:23