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Sunday September 29, 2013 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Tuesday October 1, 2013 MYT 11:29:45 AM
by priya kulasagaran
Mindful: Prof Chapman says that the university takes into consideration the needs of both students and prospective employers.
IT IS hard not to be infected by Prof Steve Chapman’s enthusiasm when he talks about his university and its plans for the future.
“Malaysia was always an interesting one for us because it had our highest alumni base outside the United Kingdom,” says the Heriot-Watt University principal and vice-chancellor.
“We have maybe 3,000 or more alumni members here, and we’ve also worked with various partners here such as Universiti Teknologi Petronas.
“You only have to come to Putrajaya once to know that this is a special place... you get a feeling of confidence, vision and a strong direction.
“Malaysia’s got a very good approach to higher education; it wants to build highly trained, flexible graduates for its economy,” says Prof Chapman.
Set up in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1821, Heriot-Watt was the world’s first mechanics institute and has since grown into an international institution, with a campus in Dubai and now one in Malaysia.
Although its flagship campus in Putrajaya will only open in September next year, the university has started operations at its temporary accommodation with a batch of 73 Masters students in four fields of study — petroleum engineering, business administration, energy and renewable energy, and construction management.
As with its experience in Dubai, where student enrolment grew from 100 in the year 2005 to 4,000 students currently, Prof Chapman projects a similar growth of students here as the university rolls out more postgraduate and undergraduate programmes over the next five years.
“I’m not seeing that as the end, I’m seeing that as the start,” he adds, gesturing towards a brochure of the Malaysian campus.
The university currently has 29,000 students across the world, with 11,000 pursuing its Master of Business Administration (MBA) programme alone.
What is interesting about the MBA programme is that Prof Chapman credits it for sparking the university’s push for internationalisation.
The real start, he says, was when the Edinburgh Business School decided to enter the distance learning market.
“They went from being a small business school that not many people had heard of to, within about five years, the largest MBA (programme) in the world because of distance learning.
“Now when they did that, they started making partnerships (with higher education institutions) around the world... and those institutions started getting interested in our other programmes.
“So we started building an international reputation, and then the government of Dubai essentially invited us to open a campus there,” he says, adding that the university will open its second campus in Dubai by the end of the year.
Having campuses in different countries could certainly help in recruiting students, adds Prof Chapman.
“I can envisage it when someone is attracted to Heriot-Watt because they want to spend the first year in Edinburgh, a year in Dubai, a year in Malaysia, and then maybe go back to Edinburgh for their final year.
“We can’t say to students that their experiences (across the different campuses) will be identical — and that’s to be celebrated.
“But the output would be identical... you do the exact same course and the examinations are exactly the same,” he says.
Known for being a practical and “hands-on” sort of institution, Heriot-Watt’s core belief has not changed focus since its inception.
“We were formed in the industrial revolution, and the problem then was a workforce that wasn’t trained for the jobs that were created,” says Prof Chapman.
“So rather than being a university that does the classics and philosophy, we were set up to provide technical expertise... our ethos is very much the same so all our courses are professionally relevant.
“Even if you think about the languages that we do, we don’t do literature, we do translation and interpretation — such as training people for the United Nations,” he says.
He adds that the university is mindful of the needs of both students and prospective employers.
“While you have to listen to your students about how they would like to be taught, and how you can respond to them, you also have to listen to the employers about what type of graduates they want. You have to stay relevant to the industries.”
This practicality extends to the institution’s research areas as well.
“We’re heavily into energy research... years ago, nobody did any research to find out what would happen if they built lots of coal power stations, but now if a new industry comes along, we actually do environmental research (on its impact).”
Prof Chapman adds that while research in fields such as oil and gas, finance, and construction are relevant in Malaysia, the university will not limit itself.
“If we get a really talented student who wants to do a particular research and if we have an academic with that particular skill base, then it would be applicable.
“If it’s a subject area that we cover, I think we want to be responsive to that,” he says.
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