My father never had a university degree.
He didn't even have a college diploma for that matter.
No, it wasn't because he didn't care about education.
My father was one of the strongest advocates of higher education when he was alive. In his high school, he graduated at the top of his class. He was yearning so much to enter university, yet he never had the opportunity to do so.
It was unfortunate that back in his days, there were no universities or colleges in Sarawak. Back then, the only option to further your education was to travel to big cities like Kuala Lumpur or Singapore and live there for 3 years before you could come back with that elusive piece of paper.
Coming from a poor family background and as the eldest child in the family with 4 siblings to support, leaving home for studies was simply too much a financial burden for him to carry.
Growing up, my father always emphasized to me how important it was to complete my university education.
He knew that he had to work twice as hard to get to where he was.
He knew that getting a university degree would put us head and shoulders ahead of everyone else. That's why he spent a whole heap of money to send his three kids overseas. It is a financial sacrifice he had to put up with, because he knew that in this day and age it's virtually impossible to survive in a job market without higher education.
But times have changed.
For one, universities and colleges and "university colleges" have been popping up all over the country left, right and centre. Within a short span of 3 years, I saw no less than FIVE institutions setting up their campuses within Kuching city alone.
Families are getting wealthier.
Parents can now afford to send their children to not just KL, Singapore or Australia. But to far far far away places like UK, USA and Mars (in the future).
But there was also one major change back then compared to now. Education has now become very commercialised.
Because there are not enough spaces in public unis to go around, many private education institutions suddenly appeared.
These private unis and colleges provide education, but in actual fact they are run very similar to business entities. Students pay school fees. In return, they receive a service in the form education.
Yes, just like public unis, these private institutions provide education. But no one can deny that their ultimate objective is to generate profit for their shareholders.
You see, everybody wanna make money these days.
But what if I told you that there is a private university in Malaysia that is actually NOT FOR PROFIT?
Would that be hard to believe?
It is not unreal. Such an institution does exist.
Malaysia's first and only non-profit private university is Wawasan Open University.
Established only less than 2 years ago, the uni is funded not by the government, not by the rakyat's taxes, but instead by charitable trusts, corporations and donations from the public.
To start with, a substantial donation was made by the family of Yeap Chor Ee, a banking tycoon who founded COCONUT BANK in Penang.
Although Wawasan Open University is officially our 18th university, it functions unlike any traditional learning institutions most people are used to.
The university is truly a first of it's kind in this country.
Wawasan Open University is an open distance learning university.
At a distance learning university, students are not required to physically attend classes. Instead they are expected to learn independantly through study materials provided and using of video-conferencing, instant messaging, online forums, e-mails and phone.
If needed, they can look for support or attend regular tutorials which are provided at their regional centres in Penang, Ipoh, Melaka, JB, KL and Bandar Utama.
The one big advantage this form of studies could bring is that working professionals or homemakers might find it easier to fit part-time studies into their schedule. By learning at home, these adult learners can still get a degree without going to classes.
The downside is that when it comes to distance-learning, A LOT of self-discipline is required on the part of students.
No one is gonna stop you from reading kennysia.com or update your Facebook if you're supposed to be reading your course materials online. But hey, you're the one who's gonna suffer when exams come around!
I know. Distance learning have always sounded a bit dodgy, but really, it's just mindless paranoia.
If you noticed, traditional universities especially in Malaysia has always been "spoon-feeding" information to students. A lot of students rely way too much a lecturer or a tutor to be physically there for them to learn something.
With distance learning, students have to learn on their own. But they're also allowed to make contact with the lecturer or tutor online if they have trouble understanding course material.
And this concept have proven very popular overseas. In Wawasan Open University all courses are fully recognised in Malaysia, so there's nothing much to worry about.
The most attractive thing about studying at Wawasan Open University is their course fees.
The fact that it is non-profit means its fees are significantly cheaper than at other universities.
Just to give an example, a typical bachelor's degree in e-Commerce may cost up to RM50,000, while at Wawasan Open University it is around RM17,000.
If both can offer you the exact same qualification in the end, which one would you choose?
I call Wawasan Open University the AirAsia of university education.
It's cheap, it's convenient, it's very accessible because almost everything is done online.
Already in their second year of establishment, and the university is offering eleven bachelor's degree programmes in the fields of business and science, as well as ce-MBA and ce-MPA for postgraduate students. More is of course expected to come.
Honestly, I love the idea of a non-profit university, I love the concept of self-learning, and Wawasan Open University encapsulates both.
True, most Malaysians may not immediately warm up to the idea of an open distance learning university.
But I reckon for anyone who have self-discipline, Wawasan Open University is most definitely worth a shot.
If there is one university that is able to provide the type of higher education my father was financially deprived of in his younger days, this must be it.