Your 10 questions for Prof Tan Sri Sharifah Hapsah Syed Hasan Shahabudin

Prof Tan Sri Sharifah Hapsah Syed Hasan Shahabudin

Featuring Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia vice-chancellor Prof Tan Sri Sharifah Hapsah Syed Hasan Shahabudin.

What is the secret to UKM's success in maintaining good quality education although the university uses Bahasa Melayu (BM) as a medium of instruction in its teaching? Will there be any changes or fine-tuning in the language policy in the wake of globalisation and internationalisation of higher education worldwide? Mohd Shah Abdullah, Nilai

There is nothing incongruent about providing quality education and using BM as the medium of instruction in Malaysia or in the national languages of other countries. Quality is assured through the establishment of clear vision and goals which are aligned to the educational needs of the country. The curricula are then devised to meet the objectives of the educational goals and the learning outcomes as defined in the Malaysian Qualifications Framework. Different teaching and learning strategies are adopted to ensure that students gain the range of learning experiences to help them achieve the learning outcomes.

With regards to BM, UKM is committed to upholding and promoting BM as a language of knowledge by creating its academic value nationally and internationally. Apart from using it as a medium of instruction and publishing academic materials, UKM also increases the academic value of BM by consistently maintaining the quality of its journals and getting them indexed by international databases such as Scopus and ISI Web of Science. The academic value comes from citations received internationally.

UKM recognises that the diversity that accompanies internationalisation is quintessential to progress in higher education, research and service. In addition to the recruitment of international students and faculty, we encourage greater mobility as well as interaction of academic staff and students with colleagues and peers from around the world. As such UKM embraces multilingual and multicultural literacy to enable us to share our knowledge and to gain from others. The UKM Senate, in response to the national policy on Mathematics and Science in English has agreed that overall, 50% of the courses at UKM are conducted in English.

Would you consider education as more of a vocation than an ambition? What is your advice to those intending to pursue education as a vocation? Bernard Kean Hyn

If your ambition is to be a teacher, then you must know that teachers can break or make an education system. Thus, we need great teachers who can drive student performance. Such teachers are not only academically endowed with knowledge and skills but, more importantly, they have a consuming passion to help students learn. They believe that education is a noble profession and they will go the extra mile in their creativity and innovation to provide the best for their students. Good career development opportunities, better salaries and quality work environment do matter, but the reward for great teachers is the satisfaction of seeing their students accomplished.

The Government has committed a substantial part of financial resources towards education especially in increasing access and quality. Yet there continues to be a critical divide between basic learning in schools up to university and productivity/performance levels in the public and private sector.

Do you see it as imperative for the Government to make relevant reforms and what are some of the challenges in developing its rich human resource to fight corruption, minimise social vices, embark on substantive industrialisation and add value to its products? Hari Prasad, KL

The Government is to be congratulated for embarking a review of the education system, allowing nationwide open debates and dialogues for input and feedback. More importantly, we should applaud the Government for acknowledging the shortcomings and showing strong determination to transform our education system to best serve the needs of our children and the country. If everyone support this national aspiration rather than narrow sectoral interests, I am sure we can achieve economic success as well as the overarching on a comprehensive and inclusive goal of national unity. However, we must always remember that learning does not take place only in schools and other formal systems. Parents, families and the community must also be responsible for imbuing good values, ethics and spirituality for developing good citizenry and a sustainable society.

What are the reasons for the decline in the quality of our graduates? Do many lack fundamentals and communication skill? What can we do to halt the decline in quality of our graduates? Dr Gue See Sew

When we had only one university, competition to get in was very stiff. So, naturally only the best of the best were enrolled. I dare say that such students will graduate well despite the university education. However, that was the elite system. When we embarked on the democratisation of higher education, more people gained access to higher education, which is a very good thing. It also means that universities are receiving students with a wider range of abilities. This includes being ICT savvy in connecting and accessing knowledge from the wider world. We have to be prepared for the diversity in student intake.

To maintain and enhance standards, the Government is to be commended for formulating the Malaysian Qualifications Framework (MQF) which defines the general competencies that are required at each post school qualification level. It is the responsibility of the institutions to devise their curricula and to include teaching-learning activities that will ensure that students achieve the learning outcomes specified in the MQF. Apart from knowledge and skills, the MQF specifies competencies in other domains such as social skills, professionalism and ethics, communication and interpersonal skills, problem-solving and decision-making as well as being innovative and entrepreneurial.

As a member of the special commission set up by the Government to improve the quality of education, what is the commission's stance about improving the quality of public universities or IPTA as questions arose from society about the decreasing quality? Natashya Rahman, Ipoh

My individual view is that the review should use the “cradle to career” approach espoused by the Higher Eduaction Ministry. Education should be seamless, starting from early childhood, preschool, primary and secondary education to pre-university and higher education as well as continuing education. It is not about improving IPTAs only. We should look at the whole education ecosystem which includes private institutions. Perhaps we can review higher education as phase 2.

The main objective of tertiary education is about nurturing excellent future graduates who can stand on their own feet, and are innovative and creative in achieving growth and success in a fast changing and competitive working environment. How has UKM worked towards achieving this objective?

Two initiatives have been introduced. The first is to make the curriculum more student-centred with respect to generic skills. This is done by introducing learning contracts whereby students can design their own activities for achieving specified outcomes such as leadership, communication, English proficiency, problem-solving and so on. A Centre for Accreditation of Learning has been established to assess the student's proposal and to award credits. This approach allows creativity and innovation to flourish because students have the freedom to select their own areas of interest and learning strategies that are fun.

The second initiative is the introduction of the hands-on academic entrepreneurship module spread over 3-4 years. An objective we try to instill in our students is that they should create their own jobs as entrepreneurs, or if they are employed they should always try to be a change agent by innovating in their organisations.

As a research university, UKM is committed to inculcate and nurture an innovation and entrepreneurship culture in education, research and service, in collaboration with the Stevens Institute of Technology, New Jersey. Beginning with a compulsory fundamental entrepreneurship course aimed at also creating excitement and buzz about business, the students go on to the junior start-up year where they experience the process of starting a business, including managing the risks and then move on to the senior start-up year where they actually take their idea to the marketplace by registering and launching a company. For students not in the start-up route, UKM collaborates with SMECorp to enable them to undergo the same entrepreneurship process by acting as “consultants” to the SME.

There are now so many choices in the country in terms of tertiary or university education, compared with some 20 years ago. What changes will you like to see in our Malaysian education system 10 years from now, taking into account the vast developments and changes we see in a global perspective? Chua Bing Guan, Malacca

Although the environment will continue to change, the aspirations that we have must never change and we must continue to strive to achieve them. We must continue to raise quality and standards to be abreast with trends and requirements in an increasingly globalised social media world. We must provide access to all and ensure that students achieve the minimum standards.

Above all, we must ensure that our schools and higher education institutions will be the preferred choice, upon which we anchor our national unity.

How can local universities encourage students to be more widely read about social issues, philosophy, political science or other social/anthropological studies that are not listed in their subjects? Alina Maya Yung, Petaling Jaya

Such opportunities are already available through the wide offering of courses in the university curriculum. What we should do perhaps is to allow more choices to the students from the first year. In UKM, we are exploring the liberal art and science programme as a way of producing more balanced graduates. In addition to classroom work, students have a chance to explore such topics through their engagement with communities, activities in the residential colleges and international mobility programmes.

What is it like being the head of one of the largest and well-equipped universities in Malaysia? Sandy P. Maniam

To know that I'm carrying on the great legacy of my predecessors and that I have great colleagues who are working with me on the journey to transform UKM into one of the leading research universities in the world.

As vice-chancellor, do you always find yourself caught between striving for the sake of education and managing the business of the institution? How do you manage the challenge of maintaining the university's academic objective while juggling the business? Kayla David, Johor

In UKM, we make a plan and then we find the resources needed to achieve the goals, strategies and activities in the plan. There is no juggling between academic priorities and business. Business serves the academic interest.

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