"I feel like pursuing my master’s degree."
I have had this conversation countless times. Whether with fresh graduates or colleagues of mine who have been in the workforce for more than twenty years and are earning a very luxurious income, there are many from both groups and the rest in between who are continuously playing with the idea of pursuing a postgraduate degree. It is highly likely that anyone who has finished their degree would come across this question and conflict, and the decision is bigger when one already has a job they love doing.
The dilemma, regardless of age and years of working experience, is the same: recognising the need (and appeal) of increasing one’s knowledge with formal education, with the need to juggle between work, life and lack of flexible postgraduate programs available to cater to such high demands of 24 hours a day.
The problem is obvious. There are bills, debt and commitments to be paid, and financial goals to be met. Depending on the policies at the workplace, taking a sabbatical leave may not be an option. Most who are working also do not have the luxury of having flexible work schedules. The money is there. The trickier part to solve is time.
A search for part-time postgraduate courses in Malaysia leads to several part-time options, however, almost half of the options offered by local universities defined part-time as taking only half the required subjects in one semester. If a full-time postgraduate degree requires a student to take five subjects per semester, a part-time course requires you to take two or three. The classes, however, are held during office hours on weekdays, as opposed to offering evening or weekend classes. Finishing a master’s degree this way will thus take three to four years part-time as opposed to the typical year and a half to two years.
This is impractical for many, for obvious reasons. Not only is it troublesome to take a few mornings and afternoons off from work to attend classes; doing so continuously for six to eight semesters, equivalent to three to four years, is unreasonable, and highly unlikely to be approved, especially for the younger workforce.
Of course, there are universities that offer part-time courses conducted during evenings and weekends, but the fields covered are not even a handful. However, for those interested in pursuing a postgraduate degree outside the general field of business and management, prolonging the duration of study is the current landscape for flexible or part-time degrees. Clearly, we have a long way to go.
A quick search of online postgraduate courses in Malaysia returned even fewer related results, concentrated in only several areas of study. With the world being online, one would think that it is only obvious natural, even those universities should go online also, especially as we approach Vision 2020. One would expect that by now, it would be possible to take full postgraduate degrees online where each student has the freedom to access and finish their courses during their free hours. At this day and age, opting for this kind of degree is not a luxury rather, it is becoming a crucial necessity.
The market for postgraduate students needing flexibility is immense, from the youngest of fresh graduates looking for opportunities to climb the career ladder, to CEOs and C-suites looking to expand their expertise and portfolio. Gone are the days where we can build meaningful careers with just one degree. Gone are the days where obtaining a degree in one field absolutely translates into building a career in the same area. The world has expanded and has become diverse, needing many of us to also build ourselves if not with postgraduate degrees, then with professional certificates and qualifications that can also be offered by universities should they decide to pursue the opportunity.
Every day, we are bombarded with new information, discoveries, ideas and theories. Students who start their degrees today graduate three years later to find that what they have learned the first semester is already outdated. The transfer of knowledge is so quick that it is very easy to be left behind. Employers complain that students are not tailored for the working world, and universities are equally frustrated that they cannot keep up with the ever-changing demands of the industry.
A business owner may take a sabbatical of two years to pursue his master’s degree, only to return to the workforce to find the landscape has already changed since he left.
There should no longer be a debate of “To work, or to continue studies? Rather, it would be remarkable if universities see this as an opportunity to engage directly with the industry by taking the workforce as its students as they continue to serve the working world with its fast changes and new discoveries.
Offering more flexibility by going fully online bridges this gap and enables current and relevant transfer of knowledge to both sides. It should not be a choice. It should be a goal, to do both at the same time.
We are, after all, living in the age of the internet. It is high time we make use of it.