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Charting a new path for tertiary learning

Much has been done, but the new education framework will see the nation stay abreast, if not ahead, of global trends.

IT IS a glossy and thick document which charts the direction of higher education for the next 11 years.

Or as it says in its executive summary, the blueprint was developed by Malaysians for Malaysians and will equip Malaysia for the final leg of its journey towards becoming a high-income nation.

Ambitious plans indeed, and the Malaysia Education Blueprint 2015-2025 (Higher Education) was drawn up in order to achieve them.

It is obvious that much work has gone into preparing the new blueprint. Just as important is for the Education Ministry to see it through the next 11 years and to ensure that these are not just pipe dreams.

Although the blueprint mentions that “these measures are not intended to be exhaustive and may evolve over time”, it is important that the framework which sets out its plan of action is adhered to.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak who launched the blueprint earlier this week, has rightly pointed out that implementation is key.

And, on the road to delivering a comprehensive and necessary transformation of the higher education system, everyone involved has to truly understand what the blueprint is all about.

It took about two years for the blueprint to be ready.

After consulting more than 10,500 individuals and referring to studies by the World Bank, Unesco and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the blueprint will now guide the transformation of Malaysia’s higher education landscape.

An extension of the National Higher Education Strategic Plan 2007-2020, work on the new blueprint started in 2013 with the ministry collecting input from multiple sources through town hall sessions, forums and public feedback through their web portal.

Based on discussions and feedback from local and international academia, leaders of Malaysian higher learning institutes and the general public, the ministry recognised the “shifts” needed to transform the system.


A model for reform: Najib (fifth from left), Muhyiddin (seventh from left) and Deputy Education Minister P Kamalanathan
(ninth from left), checking out the blueprint with students during its launch.

They include holistic, entrepreneurial and balanced graduates; talent excellence; nation of lifelong learners; quality technical vocational education and training (TVET) graduates; financial sustainability; empowered governance; innovative ecosystem; global prominence; globalised online learning and transformed higher education delivery.

With more public consultation and under the guidance of the Cabinet, the 10 shifts were then identified (see table).

Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin said these shifts will support the five aspirations – access, quality, equity, unity and efficiency – as outlined in the blueprint.

By 2025, the ministry hopes to allow more access to higher education by increasing tertiary enrolment rates from 36% to 53%. This would require an additional 1.1millon seats, mainly in technical and vocational education and training (TVET), private higher learning institutes and online learning.

Muhyiddin said the ministry targets to have an enrolment of 650,000 TVET students by 2025, a 2.5-fold increase.

“Besides that, online learning will be expanded through initiatives such as a compulsory 70% ‘blended learning’ model for all courses and more usage of massive open online courses (MOOCs),” he added.

“Quality” would encompass quality of graduates, institutions and the overall system.

“We want to change the mindset of graduates from being ‘job-seekers’ to ‘job-creators’,” Muhyiddin added.

To ensure that “the system is not overtaxed and execution fatigue is avoided”, the ministry has carefully planned the strategies and initiatives of the 10 shifts across three waves.

This is to build successively on the system’s capacity and capabilities, and the readiness level of higher education institutions improve.

The first wave will focus on establishing the building blocks of transformation; the second will introduce more structural improvements to accelerate change and the third will strengthen the global prominence of Malaysia’s higher education system.

Najib is confident that the blueprint will create well-rounded and talented graduates.

“With the blueprint, our universities are set to transform as we set benchmarks that are of global standard,” he said.

Najib also said he was pleased that the new blueprint emphasised the efficiency and productivity of the public universities.

This, he said, would be an incentive for these varsities to increase the number of publications and research and development.

“Increase performance, increase productivity, increase efficiency and we’ll increase your budget allocation,” he told the over 2,500-strong crowd at the launch of the blueprint.

He was also happy that the new blueprint will now allow varsities greater autonomy.

For the blueprint to be successful, Najib stressed that “it’s all about execution, execution and execution.”

Muhyiddin who is also Education Minister, is taking on the mantle by chairing a Putrajaya higher education committee that will be set up to realise the targets in the blueprint.

The committee will include Second Education Minister Datuk Seri Idris Jusoh, public sector leaders, the Performance and Delivery Unit, academics, industry leaders, non-governmental organisations and other experts.

“It will be hands-on for me as I will monitor the implementation of the plan.

“We are committed to making tough decisions, whenever necessary, to ensure that the quality of outcomes meets the expectations of the rakyat,” said Muhyiddin in his speech.

“Other than that, the blueprint would be reviewed regularly, with reports published annually.”

The ministry also aims to ensure equal education opportunities for all Malaysians and is committed to improving the enrolment and completion rate of students from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds.

While there is no widely-accepted method to gauge unity, the ministry is committed to ensuring the enrolment reflects Malaysia’s ethnic mix.

This is to provide students with shared values, experiences and common aspirations by embracing their diversity.

When it comes to efficiency, the ministry aims to maximise the return on investment in higher education while maintaining the government’s current expenditure level per public varsity student.

To ensure financial sustainability, public varsities will have to reduce their dependence on government resources by focusing more on monetising assets, carrying out research and development, and obtaining endowments from alumni members, Najib said.

“When it comes to management of public universties, the ministry will shift from being ‘tight controller’ to ‘ regulator and policy maker’,” Muhyiddin added.

Overall, the blueprint proposes major changes in the higher education system in order to keep up with, if not stay ahead of global trends in the sector.

These changes include the CEO faculty programme, where senior industry or public sector leaders are invited to teach in public varsities.

Also, the new funding formulae for public varsities means there will be less funding from the government.

The proportion of block grants will be reduced. And, a significant proportion of funding from the government to institutions will come in performance funding as well as per-student funding.

Greater levels of investment in higher education can also be expected.

In addition to government funding, more funding will arise from endowment funds and other income-generating sources.

This move will provide Malaysians with equal access to high-quality education that meets international standards.

It also calls for more intensive and frequent engagement, collaboration and partnerships with the industry and the public.

A holistic blueprint

Asia Pacific University College of Technology and Innovation executive director Dr Parmjit Singh.
Dr Parmjit Singh

I think it’s an excellent effort. The Education Ministry has obviously put in a lot of work. There was a massive amount of engagement with all the universities who came forward and enough opportunity for everyone who had something to say. The holistic blueprint is more outcome-driven rather than process-driven. It is definitely more about what we are trying to achieve. It’s got a very clear implementation timeline, meaning it’s very transparent. But, it is left to be seen if it can be implemented properly.

We (Mapcu) would like to continue to be involved because it would affect us and we would like to influence the implementation mechanisms whilst upholding the spirit of the blueprint.

Malaysian Association of Private Colleges and Universities president Datuk Dr Parmjit Singh

The blueprint is very progressive and the focus is on the students.

At INTI International University and Colleges, we work with online professional network, LinkedIn, in a strategic collaboration to nurture our students and ensure they are professionally prepared and equipped with the right tools, prior to them entering the workforce.

INTI International University vice-chancellor Prof Datuk Dr Rahmah Mohamed

Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) deputy vice-chancellor (Research and Innovation) Prof Dr Rahmah Mohamed.
Prof Datuk Dr Rahmah Mohamed

I am very optimistic about the goals set in this blueprint. They are all achievable as they are a continuation of the previous higher education strategic plan. I am confident it will succeed beyond vision 2020. Malaysia has all the ingredients necessary to create successful entrepreneurs.

There is a growing awareness for the need for entrepreneurs and funding is also widely available. But, lectures themselves are not enough as the entrepreneurship spirit needs to be part and parcel of the university. With the new CEO faculty programme, entrepreneurs will come in and help create an entrepreneurial ecosystem within the universities.

Binary University executive chairman and National Higher Education Council member Prof Datuk Joseph Adaikalam

The new funding formulae for public varsities means there will be less funding from the government. We are already working with a private company on developing hostels at our campus.

Universiti Malaysia Perlis vice-chancellor Prof Datuk Dr Kamarudin Hussin

UM has a land bank in Johor which is planted with oil palm. We could monetise this to overcome having less funding from the government.

The blueprint is more holistic and student-centred. Graduate employability is important but we also want our students to be job creators.

Universiti Malaya vice-chancellor Prof Datuk Dr Mohd Amin Jalaludin

It brings me great joy to see the lengths to which the Education Ministry will go to in order to build a better education system as children really are the future of the nation. What I felt during my schooling days was that the cream of the crop were always whisked away and were trained to become better but average students weren’t really given a chance to excel.

I really hope that this will be changed progressively so that everyone, regardless of race or status, will be given equal opportunity to succeed.

KDU University College student Ira Natashya Khoo Mohamad Roni, 20

I think that these are good and honourable goals to strive for but it’s idealistic when we have to be realistic.

To me, it all comes down to implementation. How does the blueprint reform our education system? How does it ensure constant, stable and healthy growth? At the end of the day, if we can achieve the goals with these 10 shifts, I think it would be great.

Brickfields Asia College student Roeshan Gomez, 23

I feel strongly for shift number 10 — Transformed Higher Education Delivery. There is a need to create a consistent performance standard between the public and private universities. Coming from a public university and having studied in a private university before, I can safely say the standards are far apart. Being fully/partially funded by the state government, the public universities are given an upper-hand in setting greater standards but somehow along the way, the standards are lost and the students produced are not up to par.

Some do strive to stand out from the rest but many are not. Yes, students are to be blamed for that but I feel that if the standards are set high to begin with, then the students would strive to perform their best too.

Universiti Malaysia Sabah student Maleni Devadas, 24

This is certainly a good way to align the current trend of students towards the world’s needs. In order for Malaysian students to grow, I believe the government has heard our needs and made this happen.

Today’s world is all about start-ups and enterpreneurs. Youths need to learn to observe the problems in society and then take the initiative to solve the problems.

Universiti Malaysia Sarawak student Liang Jian Zhang, 24

I feel that it’s good to ensure that we produce a steady flow of holistic students that matter.

Earning a place in higher education institutions would be much harder but that would also mean higher quality graduates for a more competitive workforce.

The shift that really stood out was Globalised Online Learning. Advocating online learning means that many students in our country will be able to access information anywhere.

Universiti Malaysia Sarawak student Eugene Low Jia Hau, 21

It looks good on paper but the question is whether we have the expertise and the resources to realise the targets in the blueprint. Otherwise, it will just be another initiative launched in grand style but not sustained over the years.

I like how they plan to nurture well-rounded individuals who are experts, strongly grounded in ethics especially in spirituality and capable of taking up jobs in any high income economy. Now, the education system should be able to produce graduates who are confident, have good communication skills and can hold their own not only in Malaysia but overseas as well.

Hockey coach Stephen Van Huizen, 57

Tags: blueprint, education, pppm
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