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Roundtable discussion: Directions for IPTS 

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THE early 1990s were the boom years for the private higher education industry. Back then the industry was largely self-regulated and private colleges were free to develop partnerships and linkages with overseas institutions. 

Fast-forward 10 years and the situation has changed tremendously. Bureaucracy, red tape and over-regulation are stifling the industry and has hampered its growth, say operators.  

The participants in the roundtable discussed the direction of private higher education and the likely challenges.

Responding to criticisms, Higher Education Minister Datuk Mustapa Mohamed has said the private higher education sector can expect clearer directions from the Government and more effective implementation of policies. 

“Some areas like policy and legislation need time to be looked into, but others, like immigration matters, can be resolved more quickly,” the minister said. 

Mustapa added that the ministry was currently drafting a policy or roadmap on the targets and vision for private higher education institutions (IPTS). 

As a peaceful country with a reasonable cost of living – both attractive factors to foreign students – the Government’s aim of having 100,000 foreign students in Malaysia by 2010 should be achievable. To give a clearer understanding of the situation, StarEducation organised a roundtable involving the major players in private higher education on March 7. 

Below are some excerpts of the points raised and issues discussed at the meeting. 

Roadmap needed 

Asia Pacific Institute of Information Technology (APIIT) managing director Dr Parmjit Singh thinks a roadmap is important but is sceptical about how successful it will be.  

“So many roadmaps have been drawn up in the past. There is always much enthusiasm in the beginning but many don’t really take off.  

“What we want is a roadmap which will actually be implemented and followed, rather than the shifting and changing that occurs whenever there is a change in the person in charge,” he says. 

Consistent policies are vital, says Dr Parmjit who is also the Malaysia Association of Private Colleges and Universities (Mapcu) deputy president. 

National Association of Private Educational Institutions (Napei) president Dr Mohd Thalha Alithamby believes there is a real need for a roadmap. 

“We need a roadmap to know where we are going and how we should address manpower needs in the country,” he says.  

International Medical University provost and deputy vice-chancellor Mei-Ling Young says it is imperative that private education operators know what is expected of them. 

“We should not be playing a supporting role as like public universities, we too are educating the country’s youth. 

“It is important that those in the ministry who are drafting policies regarding private education understand the industry, and not base policies just on public universities alone,” she explains. 

Student friendly 

In order to meet its target of attracting 100,000 foreign students by 2010, there is a need for the country to appear really friendly so that students feel safe and confident of being treated well. 

Things such as student identity cards are necessary, says Mapcu president Tengku Shamsul Bahrin as students cannot be expected to carry their passports everywhere. 

“Even as tourists, the first thing we do when we reach the hotel is to put our passports in the safe for security reasons.  

“So it is unfair to expect students who move around so much to carry theirs around,” he says. 

In March last year, former Higher Education Minister Datuk Seri Dr Shafie Mohd Salleh had announced that foreign students in IPTS would receive special identity cards, issued by the Home Ministry which would be valid for four years, and can be used when students move about.  

The document would carry information about students such as their names and nationalities as well as the programmes and institutions they are enrolled in. 

According to Tengku Shamsul, some foreign students did indeed obtain the student identity cards. 

“Unfortunately the Government stopped issuing them about four to five months ago due to technical problems,” he says. 

As of January 2005, there were 40,686 foreign students in the country, with 25,939 in private institutions, 6,315 in public institutions, 3,376 in public schools and 5,056 in private schools. 

KDU College principal Dr Chia Chee Fen concurs, saying that as IPTS are already spending so much to attract foreign students to study in the country, it was important that they feel comfortable here. 

“We have two staff just to sort out visa problems which our foreign students face,” she adds.  

Accreditation 

There is a need for government-to-government (G-to-G) recognition of Malaysian qualifications, opines Sunway University College executive director Elizabeth Lee. 

“This is very important because we have been asked to increase the number of international students to 100,000 by 2010 and without this recognition, it is just very difficult. 

“One of the problems we face is how programmes are approved under the National Accreditation Board (LAN),” she explains. 

Presently, LAN approves the programmes first with accreditation coming two years later. 

“When students come to us, we say we have approval for our programmes but they are always very worried about what will happen if we don't get accreditation.  

“I feel that if the government has enough trust in us to approve the courses in the first place, then accreditation should be given at that point,” she adds. 

Stamford College Bhd special projects senior director Kumar Menon concurs, saying that IPTS, like their public counterparts, teach and train students too. 

“But our programmes are not automatically recognised by the Public Services Commission,” he adds. 

Malaysian Allied Health Sciences Academy (Mahsa) Sdn Bhd chairman Datuk Dr Megat Burhainuddin says the Higher Education Ministry must have a mechanism to handle all problems and enquiries. 

“”They should emulate what other countries are doing, that is, state their policy and requirements clearly on a website so that everyone understands what is needed,” he says. 

Binary University College president and chief executive officer Joseph Adaikalam believes the Government should start taking proactive measures now by sending qualified students who do not obtain entry into public universities to IPTS instead. 

“This is an opportunity for the Higher Education Ministry to take the complementary role played by IPTS to a new level.  

“Smart partnerships will certainly help reduce the shortage of university places and help the Government achieve its human capital development objective,” he says. 

HELP University College president Dr Paul Chan believes it is important for officials from LAN to understand the current practices. 

“We have some courses that are combinations of subjects such as Managerial Psychology but when they come to accredit, they think it should fall either under Management or Psychology,” he says.  

Ninth Malaysia Plan 

Perhaps one way of showing private education operators that they are the Government's partner in providing access to education is to ensure they are included in the Ninth Malaysia Plan (9MP). 

In the past, Dr Parmjit said private education was not mentioned in the Seventh and Eighth Malaysia Plans. 

“Only words of encouragement were given. There were no solid steps or activities within the plan.  

“There should be a total chapter devoted to us if we are serious about making education an industry,” he says. 

University College Sedaya International vice president (academic) Kit Chin concurs, saying that the private education sector should be considered an equal partner. 

“We are not seen as on par with the public universities although we are also educating youths; instead we are always seen as wanting to make money only,” he adds.  

Dr Chan concurs, saying that private education is already contributing to the nation’s GDP. 

Dr Mohd Thalha believes whatever suggestions IPTS operators have made can be incorporated into the 9MP. 

“The five-year plans are broad parameters; I don’t think they will set out the operational side of things in great detail,” he adds. 

As Taylor's College president Ooi Chee Kok believes, ultimately the IPTS have to work together to attract foreign students. 

“If the Government can't promote us, we can do it together,” he adds. 

Let's do it this way

Below are some suggestions and comments from the roundtable discussion. 

· IPTS courses should also be recognised as entry into Government jobs with a separate pay structure.  

· Intellectual property - institutions should be encourage to develop and export their IP. 

· There should be a full chapter in the Ninth Malaysia plan for us, not like in the previous plan where we are mentioned in a line. 

· There needs to be a definitive policy statement which states what IPTS is and where it is going. 

· Instead of setting up community colleges at high cost, use existing IPTS to train the students. 

· We need to catch up with the others as people are learning from our model and bypassing us in so many ways. 

· Branding Malaysia as an educational destination is important as students choose country first before institution. 

· What percent is the contribution of education as an industry to the country's GDP? 

· LAN should come and see what we do rather than what we don't do. 

· Does the Government recognise IPTS' qualifications? If the government does not accept it, then how can other countries do so. 

· Public universities should have strong branding in research to attract foreign students. 

· IPTS should be allowed to offer double majors. 

· LAN should be more flexible in staffing and curriculum requirements to allow IPTS to meet changing needs. 

· The police should be a friend not a foe to foreign students. 

Related Stories:Equal partnership sought 

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