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MALAYSIA produces over 200,000 graduates from tertiary education each year.

However, a serious mismatch in vacancies and skills has pushed the nation’s youth unemployment rate to a staggering 10.8% as of 2017, according to MIDF Research. That’s triple the national unemployment rate of 3.4%.

Therefore, it is crucial for students today to enrol in courses that check multiple boxes: right area of interest and provide employability and career development.

For that, England’s University of Gloucestershire (UOG) sees customisation in education as the way forward for students to succeed in today’s competitive landscape.

Small population, attentive guidance

Located 20 minutes away from the rolling hills of Cotswold, one of the UK’s most beautiful countryside, UOG focuses on nurturing future industry leaders with its customisable education. Home to a student population of only 10,000 people, it provides attentive guidance to help them personalise their journey in tertiary education.

The proliferation of bachelor and master degrees is now pushing students, and parents alike, to look for something more than merely to graduate with a scroll. Securing a job of their passion is top priority today.

Founded two centuries ago, UOG is a combination of two distinct teacher training institutions, which later gained university status. Its cozy home campuses in Gloucester and Cheltenham rank highly as the UK’s safest places to study.

“We are very different from universities that pack 250 students in a lecture hall. We know everyone here by name,” said Deputy Vice Chancellor Dr Richard O’Doherty, adding that a small student population also means more attention from teachers.

“Students choose us because our environment is friendly and intimate. They develop a very intimate relationship with their personal tutors.”

Setting clear goals

The tight community stems from the university’s nurturing spirit and its reputation for taking the initiative to understand the students. For instance, each student will be supported by a tutor through the ‘Your Future Plan’ programme.

“Three times a year, students sit down with their tutor to work out what the student wants to become when they leave the university,” he explained. “From there, students are clear on what courses they need to take and which events to attend in order to close the skills gap.”

At UOG, courses span 33 weeks per academic year, as opposed to the usual length of 24 weeks. He said: “this is to make space for our ‘Employability Weeks’, to make sure they get access to simple workshops like writing CVs or interview techniques, and also placement opportunities.”

Among its six international strategic partners, Malaysia’s Peninsula College, which is a part of PKT Logistics Sdn Bhd, is one that enjoys a collaboration with its business, accountancy and logistic courses. Such partnerships will give students a chance to visit each other’s local businesses and gain international exposure.

Luke Brown, 20, a second-year student in the International Business Management course was among the delegation that made a trip to visit Kuala Lumpur. Through the trip, he learned the ropes of doing business including marketing, sales, law and finance. This gave him a boost of confidence to start his own business.

Brown is, in fact, poised to venture into the sustainable power generation field.

“The course got me to where I want to be in terms of fundamental knowledge and connected me to a wide network,” he said.

“I’ve made useful contacts during the visit to Malaysia’s Peninsula College and started a conversation with the institution’s owner, Datuk Michael Tio, for a possible future collaboration.

“And if my business takes off, working on growing my own company is considered a placement in the course. We have the resources, network and channels to find funding here. The culture here encourages everyone to start something, even if you know nothing,” he added.

Prepared for a leap

The same ethos of high-touch flows through UOG’s Master of Business Administration (MBA) programme.

“I’m still dressed in full suit including the trousers, while speaking to them from my kitchen!” its Academic Course Leader, Douglas Yourston, jokes about Skyping 15 of its Malaysian students from Peninsular College in the wee hours of UK time.

“In UOG, you are not just a number,” said Yourston, stressing that, as head of the programme, his ears are close to the ground.

“Our MBA is uniquely taught with the design thinking technique. We want to spur innovation and spot demands before consumers even notice they need it,” he said.

He added that KL-based students learn alongside their UK-based classmates online.

“Business today is global. There’s no reason to not share resources with each other.”

Yourston noted that some may lose sight of their purpose when pursuing an MBA. His tip for students to remain clear about their goals is to often ask themselves two pertinent questions: Where will I be in five years’ time? And which country and what sector do I want to be in?

“Everyone is required to stretch their abilities during the programme and come out a fundamentally different person. Students will learn to paint with a broad brush and have the confidence to make the leap when opportunity arises,” he said.

Meanwhile, Jerry Tan, director of Floor Culture Holding Sdn Bhd, who is pursuing UOG’s MBA in Peninsula College, said, “My classmates are mostly entrepreneurs like me, so we can exchange ideas in business in a more practical sense.”

Jeff Ai, who runs a plumbing company, is looking improve his management skills through the programme.

“Though juggling work and study isn’t easy, I see classmates who run bigger businesses and are older than me who are still performing well. Their spirit motivates me to be a better leader too!” Ai said.

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