Graduates to change the landscape
Providing for a knowledge-based economy means raising quality, innovation and collaboration in post-secondary institutions
YB Dato’ Seri Mohamed Khaled Bin Nordin
Minister of Higher Education
This is why higher education figures so prominently in the national transformation plans. The Government wants to build a critical mass of “quality human capital” and, in the process, turn Malaysia into a regional and international hub of higher education excellence.
“In the current economic scenario, growth depends on knowledge,” says Dr Mohamed Khaled bin Nordin, Minister of Higher Education. “The global climate is highly competitive and education is an important tool in making a country a true regional player. To meet the country’s development objectives, we either have to produce these graduates ourselves or attract talent from overseas.”
Malaysia has invested heavily in post-secondary and higher education over the past decade. The country currently has 20 public universities and 26 private universities. In addition, there are 405 public and 584 private skills-training institutes.
But Malaysia still has some catching up to do in terms of the proportion of its workforce with tertiary education. At 23 per cent, it is below the almost 28 per cent average for Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) members, and some way behind Singapore’s 35 per cent.
The National Higher Education Strategic Plan, launched in 2007, is the transformation blueprint for higher education. To be implemented in four phases, and including 23 critical agenda projects matched with the needs of the nation, it will run up to 2020.
“Everybody is involved in moving the plan forward,” says Dr Khaled. “We want to make sure that each of the institutions within the higher education system plays its role in transforming Malaysia into a knowledge society.”
Dr Radin Umar Radin Sohadi, vice-chancellor of Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM) and a former director general at the Department of Higher Education, says: “If we are able to produce quality graduates in terms of numbers and proportion then that will change the landscape and will provide the right human capital to spearhead the innovation-led economy.”
The Government is focusing on three key aspects of the higher education system that it intends to strengthen: quality, innovation and collaboration.
It wants closer links between higher education institutions and business through industry participation in course provision and students going on industrial attachments. A Knowledge Transfer Partnership programme will facilitate the transfer of expertise and research findings, with innovation projects undertaken jointly by faculty members and business partners from industry.
Universities are also being encouraged to work with international research institutions and foreign universities to enhance research and development activities, especially in new emerging technologies.
Steps are being taken to raise the performance bar. Greater autonomy will be given to public universities in matters like allocation of funding, tuition fees, attracting the best faculty members, and admissions, but this will be combined with greater transparency and accountability. A rating system is being introduced with funding explicitly linked to performance and this will be extended to all private degree-conferring tertiary institutions.
“At the end of the day, we do not wish to distinguish between the two,” says Dr Khaled. “People outside Malaysia will see both private and public entities as Malaysian higher education institutions. This plan is about having world-class universities and ensuring quality in our higher education systems. We hope that our private higher education institutions will pay closer attention to the standard of education, not only to improve their reputation, but also to help Malaysia in its goal of becoming a higher education hub.”
Course curricula are to be reviewed, upgraded and more closely aligned with requirements of industry and employers. Greater attention will also be paid to equipping students with so-called soft skills, such as positive work ethics, communications, teamwork, decision making and leadership, to make them more employable.
Hiring and retaining the best faculty members is a priority. The Government wants to substantially increase the number of faculty members with PhD qualifications. In 2009, the proportion of PhD faculty members across all public universities was 35.9 per cent. The target is to raise this to 75 per cent for research universities and to 60 per cent for other public universities by 2020.
Polytechnics will be restructured to offer courses at diploma and degree levels, and increasingly will specialise to become centres of excellence. “We are focusing on polytechnic institutions for technical and vocational skills so we can produce highly skilled workers able to meet the requirements of industry,” says Dr Khaled.
The Government wants to enhance Malaysia’s reputation as an international provider of quality higher education. It aims to attract 150,000 high quality international students by 2015, rising to 200,000 by 2020 – the current figure is around 86,000 students.
Dr Khaled says international involvement should not be limited to student and staff exchange programmes, but also include increased collaborative and collegial undertakings.
“There should be a higher level of collaboration with the rest of the world,” he says. “Through academic and student mobility, we can improve our higher educational standards and qualifications.”