WITH its breathtaking Datai beach, tax-free status, exciting international events, lush padi fields, beautiful coral reefs, plush hotels and enchanting local culture, it’s no wonder that French president Jacques Chirac is one of Langkawi island’s most ardent admirers.
With the government aspiring to make it the number one island resort destination in the world, Universiti Utara Malaysia (UUM) could not have found a better place to set up its new Tourism and Hospitality Research Institute (IPPH).
Attracting over two million local and foreign visitors a year, Langkawi serves as an ideal site to conduct research and training in the tourism and hospitality industry.
“The focus is to turn the IPPH into a tourism laboratory which will conduct research on hotels, tourists, and the industry’s expenditure,” says school of tourism management dean Assoc Prof Dr Shaharuddin Tahir.
A database on Langkawi will also be created using up-to-date statistics on the island’s economic activities and people.
“Our research will provide valuable information to the district of Langkawi and the State Tourism Action Council to assist in attracting a larger number of visitors to the island,” he adds.
Apart from research, two certificate courses by the National Vocational Training Council (MLVK) in Tourist Guide and Information Technology will also be conducted at the institute.
A total of 100 students will commence the MLVK courses during its first intake in May this year.
UUM’s building project, at the cost of RM23mil, includes facilities such as a computer lab, lecture halls, 80 hostel rooms, 10 semi-detached and two bungalow units, fully managed by Uniutama Management Holding Sdn Bhd (UMSB), a private subsidiary company owned by the university.
Accommodation at the institute is also open to the general public and would be especially convenient for parents of students.
“Recreational packages are also available, including island hopping, fishing, car rental, and jungle-trekking,” says UMSB administration supervisor Abdul Manaf Romli.
Strategically situated 30 minutes from the Kuah Jetty and 15 minutes from the Langkawi International Airport, the institute is built on a 25ha piece of land previously owned by Mofaz Air.
Through the Human Resource Development Fund, short courses related to tourism and hospitality will also be conducted at the institute, including counter service courses in English.
“Students at the main campus in Sintok, Kedah, will also be able to use the training facilities at the institute for practical work and more hands-on experience,” says Dr Shaharuddin.
The university’s initial plan to relocate its faculty of tourism management and open a new faculty of international studies at the institute could not be carried out due to space constraints.
“We are looking at another location in Langkawi to build the faculties and construction will take place as soon as possible upon being given land by the local government,” says UUM Vice-Chancellor Kol. Prof Datuk Dr Ahmad Fawzi Mohd Basri at a press conference recently.
The launch of the research and training institute in Langkawi is also in line with the university’s aim to become a world-class university by 2005.
“We are constantly upgrading our programmes and sending our staff overseas for further training to produce quality lecturers and students,” says Prof Ahmad.
Lecturers are sent to Australia, the United Kingdom, India and other parts of the world to complete their masters and doctorates.
“By 2005, 70% of our staff should have PhD qualifications as we are serious about achieving our vision. Indirectly, this move will also foster closer ties between our lecturers and universities abroad,” he adds.
The university, which received its MSC status in 1999, also holds an “express scheme” for its graduates who excel in their studies to become tutors at UUM. They are later groomed to become full-fledged lecturers at the university.
To mark the university’s 20th anniversary in 2004, a total of 10 schools will gradually be upgraded to faculties beginning this month. An additional three faculties will be introduced: communication and modern languages; international studies; and management and law.
The university will also offer an additional 40 courses apart from its existing 34 undergraduate and postgraduate programmes in the next few years. They include the Bachelor of Science in Network Computing, Bachelor of Arts in Entrepreneurship, and Bachelor of Arts in Sports and Recreation Management.
“UUM is a management university, therefore there are no current plans to expand our scope to conduct engineering courses,” he adds.
Recently, the university signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Myanmar Education Ministry and James Cook University, Australia, to create additional pathways for student and lecturer exchange, and sharing of resources.
The university is expecting 5,042 students for its next intake in May, bringing the total number of undergraduates to over 20,000 by the end of this year.
“As we are a fully-residential university, a new college at Bukit Kachi will be completed by June 1 to house up to 4,500 students in its 16-block unit,” says Prof Ahmad.
The RM99.6mil college located 3km from the main campus is a new addition to the
current 14 colleges, which are named after corporations including Guthrie, Proton, and Maybank.
Apart from local students, UUM also accepts students from Indonesia, Cambodia, Thailand, and exchange students from Australia. Ten students from Palembang, Indonesia, will enrol in May.
To cater for its expansion, UUM also plans to develop a 135ha university township at Bukit Risda to include hotels, a business centre, and accommodation for foreign students and expatriates.
With the increased student intake, precautions are being taken to reduce accidents on campus.
“Every year, an average of three students die of motorcycle accidents. This is the reason we banned such vehicles and encouraged students to use our bus facilities instead,” he adds.
Soon to be introduced on campus are electric bicycles which costs RM1,000 each. The bicycles are battery operated and can be recharged.
“To avoid illegal racing on campus, a new international go-kart circuit at the university is currently under construction and is scheduled to be ready by the end of the year,” says Prof Ahmad.
The 1.2km circuit equipped with 30 go-kart units is also aimed at promoting the country’s motor sport industry while serving as an additional extra-curricular activity for its students.
“It will come with pit-stops, a grandstand, a control tower and VIP rooms, in compliance with the standards of the Federation of International Automobiles,” he says.
Apart from the sport, students can choose from up to 80 clubs and societies available on campus. The various activities include social work, sports, art of self-defence, political science, photography, and the Reserve Officers Training Unit (Palapes).
“We encourage them to strike a balance between academic and extra-curricular activities, which is why it is compulsory that they participate in at least one activity of their choice,” he adds.
The university looks forward to hosting the 22nd Commissioning Day of the Palapes from public institutions of higher learning. UUM assistant director (public relations) Suraya Deraman says the certificate presentation will be held on May 10 at the Mu’adzam Shah Hall.
A total of 862 cadet officers from nine public institutions of higher learning will receive their certificates from the Yang di-Pertuan Agong at the ceremony.
Another unique programme conducted by the university encourages students to become young entrepreneurs and to practise their management skills.
Program Siswaniaga allows students to start their own business and pocket 100% of the money they earn by selling their products and services at the university’s premises.
“The Mall” is where 29 student-managed companies are located. Among the businesses are computer repair outlets and shops selling headscarves and accessories.
“Students come up with their own capital and pay rent for the premises. It’s a very independent venture,” says Suraya.
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