MALAYSIAN polytechnics are no longer seen by employers or parents as second-class educational establishments producing second-rate graduates, according to Dato Seri Mohd Najib Tun Abdul Razak, the country's education minister.
Polytechnic students perform well in exams and consistently land top jobs, he said.
Speaking at a graduation ceremony at Sultan Ahmad Shah Polytechnic in Kuantan in West Malaysia, he said salaries as high as M$4000 (Pounds 930) per month had been offered to students on successful completion of their examinations.
As a result, a growing number of school leavers are applying to study in polytechnics, he added.
This year, 70,000 applications were received for an estimated 10,000 places in Malaysia's seven polytechnics.
The education ministry is emphasising the development of polytechnics to meet the demand for skilled labour. It is planning to double the number of polytechnics before the year 2003, producing 20,000 graduates per year, with a long-term target of 20 polytechnics by the year 2005.
But the education minister stressed that polytechnics will not usurp the role of universities. Polytechnics are there to produce technicians, and serve as feeders to universities, he said.
Many polytechnic graduates want to become fully-fledged engineers. Polytechnic diplomas enable them to gain exemptions of between one and two years of study in universities, depending on their cumulative grades.
The minister said there were no plans to offer degree courses at polytechnics, but more diploma courses, especially in information technology, will be introduced in the near future.
Malaysia's polytechnics are losing many of their academics - a trend which, if not checked, will hamper the ministry's plans for developing technical and vocational education courses.
The polytechnics' 1,300 academic staff, many of whom are PhD and master's degree holders, are being lured by the private sector with lucrative offers.
Keeping good staff is a major and constant problem facing them as they try to expand to meet government targets.