In an increasingly competitive world, what does one need to stand out? Sure, technical skills are essential - doctor should know how to cure sickness, a teacher must know how to teach. To get a job and be able to keep it, one must have the expertise in a certain field. But beyond these technical skills, there are certain things one must know in order to succeed. One cannot be the most powerful lawyer or famous scientist without the ability to connect with other people and the rest of the society.
This is what led Dhanesh Balakrishnan, Dean of Faculty of University Foundation Studies and also a Senior Lecturer at HELP University to come up with a unique programme aiming to help students receive a holistic education.
In 2004, the unemployability rate in Malaysia was overwhelming. Around 70,000 college graduates - with degrees find themselves jobless after graduation. By 2005, the number increased to 90,000. This alarming situation caused a big concern to then Prime Minister Tun Abdullah Badawi, as well as the parents. The students have degrees, but they were not getting jobs. "It is not because there were no jobs," said Dhanesh. "We realised they do not have jobs because they do not have the soft skills."
The term soft skills is used to describe abilities which characterise interpersonal relationships and attitude towards life and work. "I have seen so many candidates coming for interviews and they were just not prepared," shares Dhanesh. "You can see that they do not have the command of the language - both English and Bahasa Melayu. When they go to interviews, they don't speak well - they're not confident, they're stammering in front of the employer."
Dhanesh and his team saw the need to prepare a foundation programme that addresses these needs. As such, they introduced special subjects which are offered for two reasons:
Dhanesh shared that when he went to visit Form 5 students, almost 90% of them were not sure what course to take. “I will be lucky if out of 100, I get 10 students who raise their hand and say they know what to take up in college.” That is why, HELP University assists those undecided students with the foundation programme.
Catered to people who are not sure what to take up or do in college, this programme helps them decide what to do after they finish their studies.
The foundation programme offered is flexible to allow students to make informed decisions, before they choose which course to major in. Students can decide in their first semester, before deciding which course they want to take up. "Giving them a wide varied of subjects to choose from gives them the ability to choose the discipline they want to concentrate in," he said.
While there are times when students choose their courses according to what is popular or 'hearsay' from parents, HELP's foundation programme assists them in choosing what is really right for them. During their first semester, students can talk to lecturers and faculty members to get more insight on their desired course. "They can do personality test - simple and detailed one to know where you stand, strong points and personality to determine which course is actually right for them."
“Being the Extraordinary Me"
In order to explore the strengths of the students, he and his team developed modules to help students discover their best selves. "The personal development and leadership module was developed three years ago after rigorous research. Offered in the first semester, Dhanesh believes this subject has helped transform students.
Its leadership training was designed by experienced psychologists and trained facilitators, highlighting the following:
Students are also required to do community service wherein they are required to do 10 hours of community engagement with their chosen NGOs or organisations affiliated with HELP University. This activity constitutes 20% of their final grade.
For students to keep track of their progress throughout the module, each of them is given a journal , where they record their long and short term goals and daily improvement among other things. Dhanesh said this journal can be used later in life as it is a good starting point for a student. "This module helps the student to transform from being a shy, ordinary student to someone confident."
Grapple the Mind, Provoke Thinking
In the second semester, students are exposed to Critical Thinking Skills. This is a breath of fresh air as students coming out of our schools are so used to rote learning.
The module enables the student to think and to be creative. Here the students are provoked and challenged into going out of their comfort zones.
Man of the World
Two years ago, the department also introduced 'Culture, Arts, and Politics' subject. When asked why this subject was introduced, Dhanesh said, "This subject encourages people to be well-read and aims to create personalities and principled graduates." Taken during the third semester, the students are exposed to a wide range of topics to make them global citizens. We also believe that students should travel the world to experience life. Foundation students have travelled to many countries over the years such as Korea, Japan, Vietnam, Philippines, Australia among other countries. By providing them with a holistic programme we hope to chape their personality and character. “We want to have principled graduates with a conscience,” said Dhanesh. “If you are going to be leaders of tomorrow, you must have the right principles and mindset,” he added.
Education for All
HELP University does not only concentrate on its students. When it comes to training, they also take time to develop their staff and faculty members.
Aside from the basic qualification of a degree, “teachers must be passionate in teaching,” said Dhanesh, who personally hires faculty members for this department. As the head, he ensures that he takes in quality teachers and develops them throughout their tenure. Every year, lecturers are required to do a minimum of seven days of training conducted by speakers from different parts of the world. The teachers then are practice what they learn and share their knowledge with the students .
With all these advantages, it is no wonder that a placement in HELP University is highly coveted. With the foundation strongly accepted worldwide, students can continue studies abroad through Twinning Programmes.
In addition, HELP University provides financial assistance to deserving students such as:
While students undergo this rigorous training of juggling academics and extra-curricular activities for one year, HELP University aims to produce quality graduates who are not just living for themselves, but for the society as well. Through the foundation studies, students are trained to do their best, be citizens with principles, and be resilient – no matter what challenges and changes they face in the future.
As Dhanesh Balakrishnan concludes, he expects his students to be the best of the best as according to him, "we need competence, we need integrity, we need energy." With the Foundation Programme, HELP University students are on their way to achieving these three things to help themselves become a better person and cultivate a better society for everybody.
For more information about and to apply for their Foundation Programme, visit EasyUni's HELP Univerisity microsite.