University of Tasmania
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Overcoming barriers and making higher education more accessible to vocational education and training students from low socioeconomic backgrounds : a Malaysian perspective

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posted on 2023-05-27, 09:59 authored by Chong, CL
Higher education (HE) has become increasingly important in Malaysia, both as tool for the country to cultivate a competitive workforce and as stepping stone for its people to gain employment as well as career advancement. However, despite constant efforts and investment aimed at encouraging student to pursue HE, graduates with vocational education and from low socioeconomic backgrounds (VET-LSEG) are still underrepresented in HE. The ongoing underrepresentation of VET-LSEG graduates in HE in Malaysia indicates the presence of barriers that may have prevented these students from progressing to HE. This study investigated the barriers to HE encountered by VET-LSEG students in Malaysia, and highlighted strategies designed to overcome these barriers and make HE attainable for these students. A mixed methods, Explanatory Design with follow-up explanations study was conducted, incorporating questionnaires and semi-structured interviews to collect data from multi-group respondents, including vocational students from low socioeconomic backgrounds, school leaders from both vocational education and higher education institutions, and representatives from the Malaysian Ministry of Education. A case study was also conducted at a higher education institution in Malaysia, which has been offering progression pathways successfully to VET-LSEG students for HE studies. This multi-method, multi-site and multi-respondent study concluded that VET-LSEG students in Malaysia aspired to pursue higher education study but were prevented from doing so by barriers associated with their disadvantaged background. The study identified six major factors contributing to these barriers, including financial difficulties, students' disadvantaged family background, students' low confidence, negative social influences, cultural factors and an unhelpful education system in Malaysia. The findings of this study contributed to the formulation of five strategies aimed at overcoming these barriers, included revamping the financial support system according to the needs of VET-LSEG students, developing effective pathways and support to facilitate students' smooth transition from VET to HE, ensuring effective flow of relevant information about these pathways, establishing relevant collaboration between major stakeholders, and enhancing second chance and alternate learning pathways. This study contributes significantly to the literature. First, it highlights the educational aspirations of VET-LSEG students in Malaysia; students who are usually perceived to have less interest in pursuing education. The high aspirations found in these students added a new dimension to the studies about the educational aspirations of Malaysian students, especially those from VET and lower socioeconomic backgrounds. Second, this study confirms the existence of educational barriers within the Malaysian education system; a system that has tried to promote fair educational access. The barriers identified in this study indicate that there are flaws in the education system which need to be addressed in order to meet the educational needs of Malaysian students. Thirdly, the six factors contributing to educational barriers for VET-LSEG students identified in this study help scope future studies focussing on barriers to higher education encountered by students in Malaysia, especially those from VET and LSEG backgrounds. Lastly, the strategies formulated from this study inform the development of new policies that target the progression needs of VET-LSEG students. These strategies also promote the close collaboration of major stakeholders, including industry, VET and HE institutions, in order to make HE in Malaysia more accessible to all students, especially those from vocational and low socioeconomic backgrounds.


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Copyright 2016 the author

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