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Sunday, 3 August 2014

Addressing IT industry needs

Pr of Khairuddin: Multimedia graduates are still important in the creative industries, but even these industries are looking for people with programming and technical skills.

Pr of Khairuddin: Multimedia graduates are still important in the creative industries, but even these industries are looking for people with programming and technical skills.

A young boutique university has the ambitious goal of reviving students’ interest in the IT sector.

COMPARED to its heyday in the late 1990s, public interest in the IT sector seems to have waned quite a bit.

It’s a situation that Prof Datuk Dr Khairuddin Ab Hamid is worried about.

The vice-chancellor of University Malaysia of Computer Science and Engineering (UniMY) believes that if students’ lack of interest in IT is not addressed soon, the country will have to rely on imported foreign talent or even outsource work to other countries.

“We also need to keep up with future IT trends, such as cloud computing and cybersecurity – even now, countries like Vietnam and Thailand are ahead of us.

“We used to be a referral point, when the Multimedia Super Corridor (MSC) was conceived, and now we’re left behind,” laments Prof Khairuddin.

He explains that the reason students are cautious of pursuing a career in the IT sector has to do with how it played out years ago.

“So at that time, we produced say 30,000 graduates, and the requirement from industry was about 20,000.

“Unfortunately, the absorption of graduates was only 10% - only 3,000 managed to get jobs.

“Our study found that this was because there was a mismatch of skillsets; what the industry needs are professionals in hardcore computer science, software development, systems design, rather than what we call multimedia.

“Multimedia graduates are still important in the creative industries, but even these industries are looking for people with programming and technical skills,” he says.

In response to this need for IT graduates, UniMY was set up following a proposal by the National ICT Human Resource Taskforce.

Located in Putrajaya, the university enrolled its first batch of students in 2013.

“The taskforce itself was an informal group of academics, industry professionals, businessmen and government officials – we just got together to discuss the situation and propose new ideas,” says Prof Khairuddin, who is also the taskforce’s chairman.

“The (then) Higher Education Ministry later officially appointed us and endorsed the idea of local a boutique IT university.

“Since this was to be run as a private university, the ministry invited Prestariang Berhad onboard,” he says.

He adds that the university aims to remain small and focused.

“We plan to have only 3,000 students at a time and 20% of these will be post-graduate students,”

“Our industry partners, such as Dell, IBM, Microsoft and Huawei are also actively involved in our curriculum design.

“Right now, we’re working on fitting in industry certification modules into the existing curriculum – so students can graduate with these certifications on top of their degrees,” he says.

The university currently has 70 students, all in their foundation year, and expects its first batch of undergraduate students in September.

UniMy’s biggest challenge however, is in convincing students to pursue careers in IT.

“What we need are people with good problem solving and logical thinking skills – a foundation in mathematics is important, but it’s just a tool.

“A solid foundation in science and mathematics is usueful, but it also depends on which area you wish to focus on.

“For example, business computing and information systems are suitable for those with a limited science background,” adds Prof Khairuddin.

Although UniMY currently only offers undergraduate courses in computer science and software engineering, a wider range of courses will be available in the later half of next year.

These new courses include undergraduate degrees in computer engineering and business administration (with a specialisation in management information systems), as well as diploma programmes in business computing; business technology; multimedia technology; computer sciences; and information systems.

The university also hopes to enrol international students and begin Masters and PhD programmes in 2015.

Aside from producing graduates with the right technical skills, Prof Khairuddin also aspires to inculcate what he calls “meaningful values”, such as empathy and leadership, among his students.

“As a start, volunteerism will be the overall theme of our extracurricular activities. This is because students can indirectly gain other skills while carrying out such activities.

“Too often, universities try to “teach” soft skills like leadership in an isolated and classroom-like manner. Getting an ‘A’ in a class on entrepreneurship or ethnic relations does not mean you will able to actually run a business or get along with others.

“I also don’t want to encourage ‘one-day-community-service’ sort of programmes – what kind of impact can you possibly make by simply visiting an orphanage for a day?

“Students should carry out long-term programmes to create something of value,” he says.

Tags / Keywords: UniMY


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