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An exploration of community colleges within Malaysian higher education: Goals, achievements and challenges

The aim of this study was to explore and construct an in-depth understanding of the work of community colleges as new higher education institutions in the Malaysian context. Attention has been focussed on their goals, achievements and challenges within higher education. Beginning in the new millennium, community colleges started to appear in most higher education systems in Southeast Asia, including Malaysia, following a recommendation of UNESCO and the World Bank. These colleges were established worldwide, strongly in the USA, primarily as short-cycle and two-year institutions for certificate/diploma qualifications and/or as pathways to further education. Community colleges often have been described as the people’s colleges, rural colleges, or an alternative institution, suggesting an educational service for non-regular groups of learners in higher education. Nevertheless, an embedded quality of community colleges is adherence to lifelong learning principles, especially in their new settings in Southeast Asia. This qualitative inquiry used a multiple case study approach to examine four community colleges from four different locations in Malaysia. Empirical data were gathered from three levels of these institutions (directors, teachers, and students) via semi-structured interviews, focus group discussion and individually administered questionnaire at each site. Using thematic analysis of data, the researcher discussed the findings grouped under a lifelong learning framework to gain a multi-faceted understanding of community colleges’ provision and functions in Malaysian higher education. The conceptual framework that significantly shaped this constructive-interpretive study included discussion of global market developments (human capital, globalisation and neoliberalism, a knowledge economy, and lifelong learning), and of key lifelong learning domains (economic imperatives, social inclusion, active citizenship, and personal fulfilment). Findings from this study suggest that goals, achievements and challenges of the community colleges are best understood in terms of serving disadvantaged sub-populations in Malaysian society. Disadvantaged populations constitute “left-out” groups who have been affected adversely by rapid changes in Malaysia’s adoption of global market principles. In turn, these global tendencies have impacted upon policies and practices of Malaysian higher education. Within an uncertain knowledge economy, community colleges highlight a commitment to specific local (mainly rural) communities and especially deprived groups within those communities. Lifelong learning has been shaping the functions and practices of community colleges. Findings identify that lifelong learning domains and vocational provision are the main components to frame goals, achievements and challenges of the community colleges. Formal credentialed education and non-formal non-credit education provide a wide range of courses to diverse groups of local communities. Curricula include entrepreneurial components to build key traits in students in terms of creativity and practical skills as a way forward to developing successful entrepreneurs for local communities. Community colleges work in both on-campus and off-campus contexts to enable the colleges to meet their goals as the Malaysian government envisaged. A feature of the achievements of community colleges through their flexibility is fostering of social inclusion and active citizenship for participants. In empowering disadvantaged adults with knowledge and skills, teachers are pressurised to diversify their expertise and to engage actively with local communities through service learning. Challenges faced by these community colleges include a gap between central administration’s imperatives and diverse local learning needs, the stigmatisation as lower level institutions, constant recruitment expectations, and on-going requirements for teacher professional development. The study led to the understandings that global principles have exerted their influence on local values, and introduced lifelong learning as an answer at least in part to help economically and socially deprived members of society to face work and life challenges. The community colleges appeared as a special set of higher education institutions to serve a distinctive student demographic who may not be a high priority for other higher education institutions. The community-orientated mission appropriately has been adopted in their programmes together with suitable pedagogy to foster inclusive education to respond to the needs of diversified learners from local communities. This study makes an original contribution to the knowledge of community colleges within Malaysian higher education in the context of lifelong learning.
Type of thesis
A V Muthiah, M. N. (2018). An exploration of community colleges within Malaysian higher education: Goals, achievements and challenges (Thesis, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)). The University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10289/12103
The University of Waikato
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