With research funding now made available, the private sector has to put the money to good use, reports GAVIN GOMEZ.
PRIVATE universities and university-colleges can now apply for research grants under the Intensification of Research in Priority Areas (IRPA) scheme – a decision that has been described as “a long-time coming” by the industry.
“Previously, private institutions did apply but were always turned down by the Science, Technology and Environment Ministry, for various reasons,” says a private college operator and Malaysian Association of Private Colleges and Universities (Mapcu) member.
IRPA grants were only made available to private universities last month.
Announcing this on Tuesday, deputy director-general of education (private education) Datuk Hassan Hashim said the move is expected to enhance Malaysia as a preferred study destination, with intellectual property being an added value to private institutions.
Inti College vice-president (academic affairs) Dr Koo Wee Kor says access to IRPA would be a boost for the industry as private universities and university-colleges had a lot to contribute to research, especially in areas where public universities did not focus on.
“I foresee research by private universities and university-colleges focusing on less traditional areas such as filmmaking and graphic design,” he shares.
Dr Koo is no greenhorn when it comes to research. During his 17-year tenure with Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM), his research spanned Australia, Japan, Italy and England, he has over 40 international publications to his name.
He adds that while the private institutions would still do research in information technology and the sciences, it is their work in newer areas that would be significant.
Hassan says he hopes the country’s private universities and university-colleges, numbering 21 now, would seize this opportunity to get more involved in research.
Among the conditions to qualify for the grant are: an institution must have been in operation for at least three years, have adequate facilities for research (including usage of public universities’ facilities for research), be able to develop an innovative idea or product, and the project must not adversely affect the everyday operations of the institution.
A college operator says the Science, Technology and Environment Ministry should be entirely transparent about how it awards the grants as institutions were previously turned down for “all sorts of reasons that seemed more like excuses”.
Says Dr Koo, the next step would be to extend this privilege to private colleges as well. “This could be the start of something very good – the creation of a research culture at college level.”
But can the private sector which measures everything by the bottom line afford to let their staff go on sabbatical, the college operator says it depends on each institution’s staff development scheme.
“But I am sure at the university level, it will not be an issue,” he added.
It has taken a long time for the private education industry to gain access to IRPA funds.
“The matter was first highlighted to the ministry two years ago and was raised at various meetings. We are glad that the Education Ministry has pulled through for us,” says a college operator. e said.
LimKokWingty-College of Creative Technology president Tan Sri Lim Kok Wing describes the decision as g news as it would increase competitiveness in the industry.
“We (private operators) can now be on equal footing with public universities when it comes to contribution in to research.”
He adds d that institutions would now have to equip themselves adequately to cope with the demands that come with having a research culture – including allocating more time for lecturers to conduct research and employing more staff so as not to disrupt the everyday operations of the institution.
“At our institution, we promote creativity as it involves thinking along less traditional lines. We encourage students to use their imagination to spark new and creative products!” he adds.
As the newest institution to be granted university-college status, it is no surprise that Lim is excited about the prospect of exploiting grants by IRPA.
“We already have our Malaysia Design Technology Centre (MDTC) and once we move to our Cyberjaya campus, we will have a design bank,” he adds.
With research funding now made available, the private sector has to put the money to good use and not let time and staff constraints hinder its development of a research culture.
“It’s going to be a challenging task,” says a private college operator.