The poor command of English among new graduates is a constant lament among employers in Malaysia. It ranks among the top three reasons for graduate unemployability, and is a worrying trend from an economic and social point of view. This trend also impacts directly on public universities who have graduate employability as one of the key performing indicators set by the Malaysian Ministry of Education. Universities have had to address this issue in a number of ways. The key question is whether what is being done at universities can work miracles as students enter universities after having learnt English for at least 11 years in schools,. How much more proficient can a graduate become, and is this level good enough for industry? Apart from proficiency, what does industry expect graduates to be able to do in English? To address these questions, this talk will discuss the measures being carried out at the University of Malaya in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia to enhance the proficiency and communicative skills of its undergraduates. It will also discuss feedback obtained from industry about their needs and expectations where the English of potential hires and employees are concerned. Although the two facets being discussed are from the Malaysian context, they are also relevant to any country and institution that is concerned with providing English language education and skills for its students.
Dr. Stefanie Pillai is an Associate Professor at the Department of English Language, Faculty of Languages and Linguistics, University of Malaya (UM). Her main areas of interest are the segmental and prosodic features of spoken Malaysian English, and the use of Malacca Portuguese Creole. She also works on issues related to English and graduate employability, and is currently heading a project on English and work-based learning.
She is currently the Deputy Dean of Postgraduate Studies at the Faculty of Languages and Linguistics. Prior to this, she headed the University's Centre for Community and Industry Relations.
She has been involved in the evaluation and review of English language upskilling programmes for Malaysian school teachers for the Malaysian English Language Teaching Centre. She is also a member of the evaluation and monitoring committee of national research centres for the Malaysian Ministry of Education.
Her own publications have appeared in, for example, English Today, World Englishes, Studies in Second Language Acquisition, Language and Communication, Higher Education and Language and Linguistics.
In 2011, she was awarded a Split-Site PhD Commonwealth Scholarship, and she was the 2013 Ian Gordon Fellow at Victoria University Wellington, New Zealand. She received UM's Best Lecturer' award in 2013, and has received the university’s Excellent Service Award and Certificate several times.