Sabah: Making the grade

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In his recent Chinese New Year 2012 message, Sabah’s chief minister, Musa Aman, indicated progress has been made in several sectors of the economy, such as oil and gas, palm oil and tourism. Yet he also pointed to the state’s need to educate and train its young people if progress is to continue long into the state’s future.

“For us to succeed in these and other sectors of the economy, we must have the ability to be innovative and to think out of the box in driving investments. This includes creating a knowledgeable and skilled workforce,” Musa said on January 22. “I am pleased to note that tertiary education is expanding in Sabah through specialised institutes of higher education that are now spread out in different parts of the state.”

One such project is the Sandakan Education Hub, a 4.9-sq-km site to be developed as a centre for five university campuses in Jalan Sungai Batang. “I am confident that more skills centres will be introduced in the near future, offering locals quality education at their doorstep. I wish to encourage Malaysians in Sabah to take up opportunities at these institutes of higher education,” Musa said.

Indeed, training venues are already opening across the country. On January 27, Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS) signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Seagate Global Group, an investment firm that focuses on Asia, to undertake a variety of activities in Sabah.

As part of the MoU, Seagate will partner with UMS to develop a cultural resort village that will serve as a training ground for UMS hospitality students. The village, to be constructed on a 40- to 50-acre site along the beach in front of the UMS campus, will open this year.

William Lawton, Seagate’s chairman and chief investment officer, said Seagate chose Sabah, and UMS, in particular. “This is the only university in Malaysia that we are focused on,” Lawton said.

Another component of the MoU is a proposed linkage of UMS with China’s Tsinghua University’s sisterhood programme. While details on this have not yet been made public, the fact that it was included in the MoU indicates that Sabah is making concrete steps to solidify its links to China.

Also in his Chinese New Year speech, Musa reiterated the government’s support for the growth of Chinese schools, temples and cultural activities. He highlighted the federal government’s 2012 budget allocation of RM100m ($32.88m) for Chinese schools, as well as its financial aid disbursements to Chinese schools and temples.

“We also support Chinese non-governmental organisations, such as the Federation of Chinese Associations Sabah (FCAS) and the Sabah United Chinese Chambers of Commerce (SUCCC), for the advancement of activities and programmes, thus further strengthening Chinese culture in our state,” he said.

In addition, a little over a week after Musa spoke, the Kota Kinabalu Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KKCCCI) announced it was seeking RM2m ($657,639) to build a Chinese school near Kota Kinabalu.

KKCCCI’s president, Sari Nuar Tan, said the school was necessary to meet a rising demand from parents in both Sabah’s Chinese and non-Chinese communities for Chinese schools for their children’s education.

Tan pointed out that most Chinese schools in Sabah reflected Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak’s 1Malaysia concept, which emphasises ethnic harmony and national unity, as the schools maintain a balance in the number of their Chinese and non-Chinese students.

Sabah’s ethnic Chinese community and the state’s connection to China play an important role in the state’s economic and cultural makeup. Important in this respect is the fact that UMS is the preferred school for students from China pursuing tertiary education in Malaysia.

Indeed, tertiary-level students from China have made UMS their top choice among all schools in Malaysia since 2003, according to UMS’s chief representative in China, Helen Liu. UMS also has the highest number of students from China among public tertiary institutions in the country, Liu told reporters during the registration for the 19th intake of international students at UMS on February 10.

An average of 120 students from China enrol at UMS annually, Liu said, adding that she credits the university’s popularity among students from China to the high employability rate of Chinese UMS graduates, most of who go on to secure high-paying jobs in China. An additional issue in its favour is that China’s government recognises UMS’s qualifications.

As Sabah looks to create an innovative and skilled workforce, it thus has many good educational options to choose from – with more on the way.

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