Building blocks for blueprint success

Hands-on: Prof Zaini says that the blueprint is realistic as the initiatives can be implemented by the ministry.

It took two years to come up with the higher education blueprint, and the man who helmed the project is optimistic of its smooth implementation.

THOUSANDS of hours spent poring over every single word and colour choice in the thick glossy document.

Over 60 people - who made up the writing team - worked on more than 20 drafts of it.

Finally, the Malaysia Education Blueprint 2015-2025 (Higher Education) was launched last week by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak.

Education Ministry secretary-general II Prof Datuk Seri Dr Zaini Ujang, who helmed the team, joked that after two years, he was “tired” of the blueprint.

The amount of hard work that went into “this mammoth project” was not a joke, though.

“In the past, we used to assign chapters to different authors. They turned out to be independent of one another.

“Most of our old documents are like that,” he said.

But this time, the ministry “saw the importance of integrating the entire blueprint”.

“In the final stretch, we went into the minute details. Our choice of colours, fonts and choice of words, too,” he said.

The process of “deciding which words to use” in the blueprint was one that took a lot of careful thought and planning.

“In the document, you can see the connectivity between all the chapters. Our terminology, concepts and ideas throughout were synchronised,” he said.

It has been “an interesting journey” for Prof Zaini. But, the most challenging part about forming the blueprint was “getting the commitment of the team”.

“We had no idea when our work would actually end. We were given a date when the final document must be ready for printing.

“But, it was hard to get people in the team to commit full-time when they have their other responsibilities as well,” he said.

Smiling, he added that “in the end, the blueprint is a success. The end product made every bit of hard work worthwhile.”

A strategic blueprint

Two years ago, the ministry acknowledged that it was time to review the National Higher Education Strategic Plan 2007-2020 as phase two of the plan would end this year.

“This blueprint is crucial to outline what is new in higher education. We didn’t want to use what we planned back in 2006 because much time has passed since then.

“There have been a lot of new developments and so we need to update our strategies,” said Prof Zaini.

On how education has developed, he gave the example of the shift from computer-based learning to mobile learning.

“Now, many people learn through mobile devices. Students already have this ‘machine’ - their handphones. So, we have to leverage on it,” he said.

This, he said, fell under the “globalised online learning” shift, one of the 10 shifts in transforming the higher education system.

Prof Zaini said the strategic plan was focused on achieving excellence from this year onwards. That is why “there is at least a 50% overlap” between the plan and the blueprint.

“It is not that we’re creating something completely new. We’re simply enhancing our old initiatives,” he stressed.

The “rebranding” was also in line with the merging of the Higher Education and the Education ministries, said Prof Zaini.

“We wanted to synergise the ministries and blueprints. The new blueprint builds on our education aspirations,” he said, adding that it was “important to have similar aspirations across a system”.

The right man for the job

Prof Zaini’s experience as vice-chancellor of Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM) for five years before joining the ministry made him the right candidate as the blueprint’s main author.

Having served as special officer to Najib who was Education Minister from 1997 to 1998, Prof Zaini was involved in higher education policy matters, particularly the corporatisation of public universities.

He is also believed to be the youngest person to head a Malaysian public university.

Under Prof Zaini’s leadership at UTM, many programmes were implemented that made the university in Skudai, Johor, one of the top higher education centres in the country.

These included an endowment programme to help the students financially as well as fund research and other projects.

So, it came as no surprise, then, that Prof Zaini’s contributions to the blueprint coincide with his previous efforts.

“In the ministry, not many people have an overview of the whole education system,” he said.

Prof Zaini added that he was fortunate to have “been in both positions”, allowing him to see the total picture.

“My favourite parts of the blueprint are of course the parts I contributed to. I was the lead author for chapters Five, Six and 10,” he said.

Prof Zaini was referring to the chapters on financial sustainability, empowered governance and transformation of higher education.

Looking ahead

Under the blueprint, an annual report is scheduled to be released to “track the progress and outcomes”, he said.

However, he declined to reveal more information until the announcement by Deputy Prime Minister and Education Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Mohd Yassin in June.

“The public can look forward to more information on how the annual reports will be compiled then,” said Prof Zaini.

Asked about the likelihood of the blueprint being a success, he responded positively.

He said the initiatives (see table) “are things the ministry can definitely implement”.

“The ministry does not ‘promise the sky’ with this blueprint.

“This is a very realistic blueprint where we know our potential. I am very optimistic,” he said.

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