Big plans for polytechs

Premier institutions usher in a new era of human capital development.

WITH the introduction of a premier status and greater synchronisation with the service industry, polytechnics look set to play a pivotal role in producing the nation’s 21st century workforce.

The Higher Education Ministry unveiled its Polytechnic Transformation Plan, bearing the tagline “Transforming Lives”, on Thursday and three premier polytechnics were selected to spearhead the ministry’s efforts.

The chosen institutions are Malaysia’s first polytechnic, Politeknik Ungku Omar in Ipoh (Perak), Politeknik Salahuddin Abdul Aziz Shah in Shah Alam (Selangor) and Politeknik Johor Baru (Johor).

Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, who launched the plan at the Putrajaya International Convention Centre, said that the move was part of a greater effort to transform Malaysia’s education system.

“I believe this plan is an important effort to improve the quality of vocational and technical education,” he said in his speech.

“The national economy is becoming more service-based, and polytechnics must address the changes by offering courses in digital animation, design, finance and new fields like nanotechnology.”

The three premier polytechnics will now focus on niche fields which address specific needs in the services industry.

Like the nation’s apex university, the premier institutions will enjoy high levels of autonomy.

Centres of technology will be established at the institutions to serve as hubs of reference, research and collaboration with local and international institutions.

To ensure quality, the institutions will be benchmarked against renowned technical institutions in Germany, Austria, Sweden, Norway and France.

According to ministry director-general (Polytechnics and Community Colleges) Datuk Imran Idris, the selection process was rigorous and the ministry had a hard time deciding between the six finalists, which included Politeknik Seberang Prai in Penang, Politeknik Kuching in Sarawak and Politeknik Sultan Haji Ahmad Shah in Pahang.

“Thirteen polytechnics applied for premier status and the playing field was trimmed to six finalists,” he said in a telephone interview.

“They (the polytechnics) were evaluated based on their presentation before the selection panel, their strategic plan and the extent of their collaboration with industries.

“We want them to be icons, promoting a culture of excellence to other polytechnics, and I am confident that they will meet our expectations.

He added that the ministry would evaluate the performance of the three institutions before elevating other polytechnics to premier status.

Also present at the launch was Higher Education Minister Datuk Seri Mohamed Khaled Nordin, who said that human capital development was not the only agenda, as the plan also sought to restore public confidence in local polytechnics.

“The plan seeks to make polytechnics the preferred choice of students – a viable alternative pathway to traditional university education,” he said.

“With the changes we are implementing, polytechnic education should no longer be seen as a second-chance route for weaker students.”

Mohamed Khaled confirmed that certificate-level courses would no longer be offered at polytechnics for the July 2010 academic session.

“Polytechnics will now focus on diploma and higher diploma courses,” he said.

“We have more than 90,000 students applying for diploma courses at polytechnics annually, but we only have around 25,000 places.

“Doing away with certificate courses will free up many spots and when four more new polytechnics are completed, we can offer up to 60,000 seats.”

There are currently 27 polytechnics in Malaysia, including the three premier institutions.

The establishment of premier polytechnics, centres of technology and greater research collaboration is merely phase one of the transformation plan.

Phase two of the plan involves the introduction of more hands-on courses and the enrolment of international students, while phase three involves the formation of a Universiti Politeknik by 2015.

Mohamed Khaled said that the establishment of the university would allow polytechnic students to pursue post-diploma qualifications without having to move to other universities.

Deputy Higher Education Ministers Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah and Dr Hou Kok Chung were also present at the launch.

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