Vocational training has become a key focus in Brunei Darussalam as it aims to meet the shifting demands of its economy as well as the challenges that economic integration with the rest of ASEAN is expected to bring after 2015.
In addition to a wider development of the primary education system, the Sultanate is overhauling its technical and vocational education (TVE) subsector. Traditional public and private universities have been complemented by a growing number of technical and vocational institutions over the years as the country continues to grapple with rising unemployment and a growing reliance on foreign workers.
In an August report by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the International Labor Organisation (ILO), the Sultanate was cited as one of the few countries within the bloc that was well advanced in putting in place educational and training programmes that dovetailed with its economic and development priorities. The need to deepen the pool of trained labour is about to become more pressing, according to the ADB and ILO. Demand for highly skilled labour following the launch of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) in 2015 will surge by 41% – almost double the rate of growth for either semi-skilled or unskilled workers.
Much of the current transformation in promoting technical and vocational education has been laid out in a recent white paper. The fundamental shift in policy is embodied in the retiring of the existing Department of Technical Education in favour of a new, autonomous post-secondary educational institution called Brunei Technical Education (BTE).
Raising the bar
The government is sparing no expense in its education reform efforts. The 2013/14 budget included substantial expenditure on capacity building, especially among youth, and strengthening the private sector. This trend was continued in the BN$5.98bn ($4.7bn) 2014/15 budget, in which the MoE received the second-largest allocation of any government entity at BN$770.78m ($604.5m)
The private sector is becoming more engaged in the educational process by providing assistance such as instructor training, input into curriculum development and evaluation of students' capabilities. By shifting the focus of curricula towards the demand side (the real world needs of the private sector) as opposed to the supply side (curricula developed at higher levels of the public sector), it is hoped that TVE institutions will be able to better match students’ skills with the competencies required in the private sector, as well as promote a more diverse array of occupations.
The government is working with various agencies to target the segments of the economy that require greater assistance in meeting their labour requirements, said the minister of education, Pehin Dato Abu Bakar Apong.
“The main aim of this transformation is to identify the human capital needs required by various industries in Brunei Darussalam,” he told OBG. “As the ministry alone cannot develop all of the technology and software necessary, this represents potential for local ICT entrepreneurs to become involved and contribute, which is already happening … such as the one (programme) undertaken by the Brunei Economic Development Board and the Universiti Brunei Darussalam to develop entrepreneurship in the campus.”
While there have been early signs of success so far in training workers for the energy sector, larger challenges remain outside this industry as other sectors are less mature. The ICT and construction industries are also being heavily promoted in the TVE sphere as the next major targets for increased local participation, with a number of other sectors on the horizon ranging from aircraft services and maintenance to agriculture.
In order to counter the preconceptions that TVE graduates will have limited and undesirable professional opportunities, new programmes are being introduced to educate potential students – as well as their parents – on possible career paths and opportunities for advancement.
“A further goal is to change the perception among members of the public that technical education is secondary to academic education, especially the perception among parents who push their children to follow academic streams despite their interests and talents.” Pehin Dato Abu Bakar told OBG.
Seven technical and vocational education institutes took part in a launch of Technical, Vocational and Entrepreneurship (TVIES) Day in June where the minister of culture, youth and sports, Pehin Dato Hazair Abdullah, reiterated the message that technical education is not an inferior option. “A country needs a workforce that has technical and vocational skills to improve the capacity of the country’s industrial sector and produce a capable, competent workforce,” Pehin Dato Hazair Abdullah told the state broadcaster.
Interest from students is gathering pace. More than 3750 people applied for the 1400 places available for new students when enrolment opened in June at the Sultanate’s seven technical and vocational schools, according to local media reports. The most popular courses included a Higher National Technical Education certificate (HNTec) in plant engineering, a diploma in information technology, HNTec in electrical engineering and a diploma in marine engineering.
A final part of the reform, outlined in the white paper, includes plans for the transformation of seven technical and vocational institutions into two centralised campuses, a move that will be carried out in two phases and is slated to be finished in 2020. It is estimated that the cost of developing the two new campuses, as well as upgrading existing facilities, will be BN$408m ($322m), making the scheme one of the highest budget projects in the educational sector.
The new system will also focus on providing apprenticeship options that are believed to increase employability and employers’ satisfaction. Currently, there are 60 apprenticeship spots but it is hoped the number will be increased to 200.