1. How does Universiti Malaya (UM) attract Nobel Laureates to work at the university? What are the ways and means to maintain momentum of research work by academic staff besides monetary awards? Hew T. S. Petaling Jaya
Nobel Laureates are among the busiest people on earth! They receive literally thousands of invitations to attend meetings and conferences as well as to conduct joint research. UM is most fortunate to be able to have three Nobel Laureates agreeing to become UM Nobel Fellow and to serve on the UM High Impact Research (HIR) Advisory Council.
Why, then, do they agree to work with UM? First and foremost, we must have good international networking in research. UM has been encouraging internationalisation in research for a few years now, especially with Ivy-League universities. The current target set for UM to break into the top 100 world ranked universities by 2015 and the provision of a generous HIR grant from the Higher Education Ministry (MOHE) shows the serious commitment of UM to high quality research. With the additional funding and a commitment of 5 years, we can then use this as a selling point and approach them for joint collaboration.
2. In general, how do you rate the quality of Malaysian students and how can the nation bring back the glory days of excellent English in our quest towards a fully developed nation? David Teh, Malacca
Having good scientific English is, of course, very important in international research. Besides sourcing for the most current information through journals and scientific writings, the ability to communicate with our international partners is of paramount importance. Under the MOHE HIR grant, we have insisted that all HIR projects must have international partners and that our researchers, staff and students, must conduct part of the research overseas, using the latest cutting-edge technologies available there.
Generally, Malaysian students are strong in their fundamental knowledge but weaker in their communication skills. But the good Malaysian students are ever ready to be trained and polished up to perform better.
The Government is well aware of the importance of English and has been pushing for the improvement in this aspect.
3. How can the private sector assist the Government in raising the standard of English to a much more commendable and competitive level? What can the Government do to make higher studies more affordable for lower income groups? Bernard Gideon Lim, Penang.
The two parts of the question are closely related. As a nation, we have committed ourselves to working towards Malaysia becoming a competitive and developed nation with a high-income economy by the year 2020. This can only be done through a close partnership between the public and private sectors in developing high-calibre manpower having core competencies including a strong command of the English language. Since the greatest assets of our nation are our citizens, there is the need to widen access to education and training at all levels of society and at every stage of life.
The Government has, for many decades, provided large allocations for free or highly-subsidised schooling right up to tertiary education. This level of support has to be continued and managed more efficiently so that no one is denied opportunities to develop one's potential.
The public-private sector partnership can support the provision of more places at vocational schools, community colleges, polytechnics and continuing-education institutions for those from lower-income families regardless of ethnic background.
Many of these schools and institutions can be sited in rural areas to enable the economically-disadvantaged to participate. The curriculum needs to be updated to include the use of the English language from the earliest levels. It is timely for the private sector, through the practice of philanthropy, to partially fund these initiatives and provide attachment opportunities for more students.
4. If you had to fill in a 10-point list describing quality education, what would be the first point on the list and why? Marisa Demori, Ipoh
In any wish list of attributes to show that one has received quality education, we would expect to find critical and independent thinking, emotional intelligence, innovativeness, creativity, communication and leadership skills, attitude towards lifelong learning, a familiarity with technology, an ability for intercultural understanding etc. However, I believe that above all these attributes, the mark of a quality education is developing personal integrity and sound character in its graduate. In the absence of integrity and character, the society is in danger of having citizens that could bring more harm than good that will result in corruption and abuse.
5. First of all, congratulations to UM for ranking 167th in the QS World University Ranking 2011/12. What are UM's strategies to push itself into the top 100, and when is this expected to happen? Daniel Faiz, Petaling Jaya
We were delighted that UM was ranked 167th in the recent QS ranking. Since 2009, UM had embarked on a number of strategies such as formulating the Standard Academic Targets (SAPT) for Academics principally requiring all academics to publish their research papers in the best journals in their fields as indexed by the Thomson ISI/WoS, the Bright Spark Program to recruit the best students into the academic career path, the Academic Icon programme to bring the top researchers to work at UM under short-term and long-term periods.
To continue into the Top 100, we have formulated the UM Transformation Plan consisting of three parts Academic, Human Resource and Financial. Under the Academic plan, there will be more money for research, the employment of many more top students and staff etc. Under the HR plan, a new scheme that rewards performers and penalises non-performers will be in place.
Finally, under the Financial plan, UM is now embarking on private projects that will generate sustainable income in the long term. The projects include the health metropolis, commercial development, private university etc.
6. While the aim is for UM to be among the top 100 universities worldwide, how does the university plan to compete with other universities that are also eyeing to be in the list and how will UM maintain its pace of improvement over the others? Jo Ng, Hartamas
We expect that additional to the SAPT, the UM-declared thrust to do high-impact research specially funded by the Government will assist UM to move up the ranks of world-class universities. We expect it to be very challenging and our many pronged approaches will assist to build up the human capital that pursue world-class quality research as well as meet the national agenda of educating the best brains in Malaysia for its development and progress as we work towards the 2020 Vision.
The SAPT that we have formulated will continue to be revised as the level of our staff performance rises over the years. With the elevation of the KPIs in the SAPT, we will be providing greater rewards for high performance under the new HR Transformation plan.
7. Is it true that the number of women undergraduates has far exceed that of their male counterparts and is this a concern, and what can be done to balance things out? Gerard Tan, Kuala Lipis
The university does not discriminate students based on gender, race, religion or their ability. Rather the university promotes, encourages and enhances student learning. The percentage of female students is higher than their male counterparts in almost all IPTAs and this trend has started since early 2000. The criteria for admission to the university is based on merit thus only qualified students are taken in.
8. While tertiary education is important, it does not undermine the benefit of having strong extra-curricular activities? What is your view on this, and we hear of a mismatch of what the universities are producing and what the private sector wants, and is this being addressed in UM? David Gan, Seremban
Getting a degree is important and it is the ultimate reason why many students pursue their education at university level. UM has long recognised the need for all-rounded students. Students who do not engage in extracurricular activities might not benefit from the university's experience in term of developing their potentials. We have taken steps to address the issue through its academic programmes and student activities. The General Student Attributes as required by the job market have been embedded in the programme outcomes which encompasses knowledge; and the seven soft skills elements (communication, leadership, teamwork, entrepreneurship, ethics and professionalism, critical thinking & problem solving and life-long learning & information management).
9. How will UM increase the number of its international students when English is still not widely used in undergraduate programmes and what is UM doing to improve English proficiency of graduates? Iskandar Arif, Segambut
The demand for places in UM from foreign students is large and is constantly growing. In fact UM has also been raising the entrance requirements for international students over the years but yet the number of applications we reject is far higher than those offered.
The reason for this is simply the proven high quality of education and research in UM and the ranking results that it has achieved globally in the university ranking exercises. In other words, our reputation is known throughout all corners of the world.
English has been made compulsory for all undergraduate students as of the academic session 2006/2007. With the new academic session of 2011/2012, all students including international students are streamlined into two categories according to their English proficiency based on their Malaysian University English Test. To further enhance students' competency in English language, student activities are conducted in dual languages. The Student Affairs Division also conducts programmes, workshop and seminars by international consultants.
10. What are your views on the sprouting of private colleges and universities in Malaysia? Although they provide alternatives of higher education for school leavers, are there concern on the quality of education provided? Muhammad Ryan Muhammad Faiz, KL
The change in higher education landscape in Malaysia which involves the establishment of private colleges and universities is a consequence of the Government's policy on liberalising higher education to meet the challenges of globalisation and internationalisation.
Yes, I am always concerned with the sprouting of new institutions and in this regard the Malaysian Qualifications Agency and the enforcement officers of MOHE must diligently work without fear or favour to enforce the quality standards that has been set and not to bow under pressure from substandard institutions.
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