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Input on Malaysia’s education plan

The Education Ministry has called on the public to provide input for the National Higher Education Strategic Plan. The blueprint, which is expected to be announced in March, will help set the direction of education at tertiary level in the country.

The plan would essentially prepare the type of graduates produced by the education system, including critical aspects of realising the full potential of talented students, and empowering governance among universities, lifelong learning and global learning.

theSun highlights the views of Unitar International University vice chancellor Assoc Prof Dr Sakina Sofia Baharom, Taylor's University vice chancellor and president, Prof Datuk Dr Hassan Said, SEGi University vice chancellor Emeritus Prof Dr Muhamad bin Awang, and SEGi University and Colleges chief marketing officer Datuk Bruce Lim.

How can Malaysian universities and colleges improve in terms of R&D? How can the government help here?

Muhamad: Addressing issues of institutional legal framework, policy, rules and regulations between universities (private versus public) will encourage a high mobility of the brains to work for a common goal, especially in providing solutions to society through R&D collaborations. These cross-border collaborations need to be extended at local global settings.

Special incentives should be given to universities and colleges for strengthening their partnerships with special reference to public-private partnership initiatives. This will provide or lead to high-end job opportunities in the areas of security, health and other related services in trying to improve middle-class income. These are in line with economic growth and other national goals.

Special preference should be given to industries that are committed to their Human Resource Development programmes through postgraduate studies related to R&D.

Stringent legal instruments must be in place in order to ensure that the interest of both parties (universities and industries) is well protected. Clear guidelines on awarding research grant and contract (should) cover not only investment in infrastructures, but also intellectual properties, commercialisation processes, especially when the university or college is dealing with regional or cross-institutional partnership.

The establishment of public research universities over the last six years proves to the world that we can do it. Not only do we surpass the countries in the region in terms of publications and other related output as stipulated in MyRA (Malaysian Research Assessment) criteria and standards but also in terms return of investment (ROI) that our government put in.

How do Malaysian public and private institutions fare in terms of helping our students realise their full potential? How do we create youths who are analytical, entrepreneurial and confident?

Sakina: Educational institutions should not only believe learning happens in the four walls of the classrooms. Potential of students can be developed through the design of various learning environment, in and also out of classroom learning.

Thus, academicians should strategically develop learning activities within classroom time and spread out to industry or community engagement. The different types of industry or community engagements should not only prepare students for the world of work, but also build their confidence.

Hassan: In today's job market, having a university degree is no longer the sole criteria to succeed in career or even to secure a job upon graduation. Multiple surveys have uncovered that employers want top graduates who possess five critical skills, namely communication, collaboration, cultural adaptation, critical thinking and problem-solving, and creativity and innovation.

In order to develop and nurture students to help them realise their full potential and possess these critical skills that employers look for, the curriculum we deliver must be structured in such a way that it encourages students to be more creative, innovative, and critical in their learning. One way to do this is via problem-based learning, which is widely implemented here at Taylor's University.

In addition to the curriculum (classroom learning), extra-curricular activities (ECA) must be given equal emphasis in order for students to develop themselves holistically.

How can Malaysian institutions ensure they figure among the top institutions globally?

Sakina: It is exciting particularly in Malaysia as the aspiration for the country is to be an education hub for the Asian region. Educational institutions can support this aspiration by providing quality and well-recognised programmes that meet the needs of 21st century manpower requirements. Students must be ready for the job of tomorrow. Recognised programmes are those that can also be recognised by international professional bodies such as ACCA for professional accounting.

Hassan: It is critical for us to change the perception of the international community about the quality of the education we offer in Malaysia. I personally believe that besides enhancing our academic excellence and the ability to produce high impact research, another yardstick that Malaysian institutions should focus on is to provide the best learning experience to their students.

By offering an exceptional educational experience in Malaysia, which can be at par with our Western counterparts, word of mouth can be amplified to increase the visibility of our institutions in the global arena. This will be able to assist with improving our rankings globally.

How can universities play a part to help the government achieve 50% of the population with access to tertiary education and having 33% of the workforce with tertiary qualification?

Sakina: Access to learning has always been one of Unitar's priorities. It is achievable with the diversification of the education institution's offerings.
Access to learning is essential for this purpose. Access of learning means access to different types of programmes, access to affordable programme fees and various funding options, access to places of learning, access to different modes of learning—that is, modular programmes—and access to entry requirements, thus recognition of prior learning.

Lim: The plan has to be read in sync with the National Education Blueprint to ensure fair balance of graduates in the workforce, tertiary education graduates and vocational training graduates.

It is achievable but not at the expense of quality. Statistics can be achieved sometimes with compromise of other factors. We need to realise this target and at the same time raise the standards of higher education. We already have international benchmarks with QS global rankings and the local Setara, so we know the standards required. Overall quality statistics should also be raised.

Universities can play a part to help the government by making sure education is accessible without compromising on quality. Having higher education institutions within the locality of students (such as East Coast, Sabah and Sarawak instead of focusing only in the Klang Valley) can help, and so does offering a flexible payment scheme or education loan besides PTPTN.

The plan wants to intensify internationalisation with an average 10% of overall enrolment consisting of international students. The intention also is to have 15% foreign teaching staff for research universities. What are your thoughts here?

Hassan: We fully support the government's effort in achieving this target, which I feel is of paramount importance to produce graduates who are able to compete globally. At some point during their undergraduate studies, students must be exposed to an international outlook which can be acquired by immersing themselves in a campus life bursting with a rich cultural diversity—through a healthy composition of international students and lecturers.

Taylor's University has set a target of having 30% of our overall student population be made of international students and 20% of our academic staff consist of expatriate lecturers.

Our students come from 81 countries worldwide, allowing our local students to enhance their ability of cultural adaptation and collaboration while also promoting a healthy mix of students on campus. Foreign lecturers on the other hand, will be able to provide a global perspective to a student's learning experience.

Lim: The average of 10% of overall enrolment to be international students is achievable. But then again serving international students is a different ballgame. Higher educational institutions need to be prepared, and have expertise and resources to deal with international support systems, immigration and visas, student residence, student affairs and networking, among others.

On the other hand, we have to have the discipline to only admit the qualified and determined. Higher education institutions have to know what programmes or qualification these students want, and because international students have different needs than local students, these institutions have to know how to enforce student management, immigration and accommodation, among others.

But as a concept, international students are encouraged to study in Malaysia because not only are they required to pay higher tuition fees, but they provide fellow students with valuable global exposure.

As for the 15% target for foreign teaching staff for research universities, we do not look at nationality when getting teaching staff. The most important criteria is that they need to be qualified and able to impart their knowledge to students.

But having foreign teaching staff adds depth to global exposure for students as they can share their life and working experience in their country of origin to students and fellow colleagues, and this creates an avenue to enhance wealth of knowledge. The SUN Daily News 17 Feb 2015

Tags: education
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