APPOINTING the right man to helm a varsity could be a tough call for any education provider.
Candidates need to be identified, the shortlist needs to be vetted and after all is said and done, the process of agreeing terms could prove to be a pickle.
There were no such problems for Inti International University, however, when they appointed Prof Walter Wong as their new vice-chancellor last December.
An engineer by trade with over 40 years of experience at renowned institutions under his belt, Prof Wong is well-travelled and work commitments have taken him to Australia, Britain, Norway, the United States and even Papua New Guinea.
Such transcontinental experience would satisfy most but Prof Wong remained unfulfilled as he always wanted to share his experiences with his Malaysian colleagues.
This, he finally did several years ago as deputy president (academic) at a foreign branch campus in the Klang Valley.
Satisfied, Prof Wong was ready to hang up his boots but Inti came knocking and his retirement plans were indefinitely put on hold.
Having been there and done that – more than once – it would take something special to convince Prof Wong and the opportunity to helm Inti was one such motivator.
And the vice-chancellor’s post had nothing to do with it as Prof Wong played that role before in Papua New Guinea.
“It was the opportunity to head a university in the Laureate network,” said Prof Wong when pressed on Inti’s pull factor.
“Inti is strategically positioned in the network and we are able to offer students worldwide education with our global reach.”
Laureate currently has campuses in Europe, South America and the United States.
Describing the opportunity as “fascinating”, Prof Wong pointed out that many Laureate institutions were leaders in their respective fields.
“In the field of hospitality and hotel management, Les Roches Bluche, Glion and Blue Mountains are the top hotel schools in the world,” he said.
“This is not the only niche field as Laureate has fine engineering schools in Paris as well. NABA and Domus, which are among the leading fashion design schools in the world, are also part of the Laureate network, along with the Media Design School – a digital design specialist institution.”
New leadership often ushers in an era of change and Prof Wong is fully aware of what is expected from him.
The vice-chancellor elaborated that raising Inti’s profile as a university and catering to the needs of Generation-Y students of today were his top priorities.
Prof Wong explained that outdated practices – like teaching solely from books or notes – had to be shed and the teaching pedagogy had to be tweaked.
“Teenagers today are so computer savvy and you cannot afford to ‘lose’ them by teaching from notes,” he said.
“Instead, lecturers can bring in real-life examples. If a bridge collapsed, a lecturer could raise that example and facilitate discussion into the ‘how’ and ‘why’.
“You obtain feedback and enhance the learning process at the same time.”
Moving away from the classroom, changes are also afoot at the structural level and acquiring the long-desired university status required Inti to move away from franchise programmes – something it had traditionally been known for.
“It may seem that Inti is going against history but this is a good development for me – not just for Inti but the entire Malaysian higher education scene,” he continued.
“It gives us the opportunity to build on our own strengths, foster academic development and nurture our staff.”
An improved showing in the Rating System for Malaysian Higher Education Institutions (Setara) is also high on Prof Wong’s agenda.
In the 2009 inaugural rating which focused on teaching and learning, Inti attained Tier 4 (Good) status and Prof Wong is aiming for Tier 5 classification for the institution to achieve self-accreditation status.
“Setara was done in 2009 when Laureate had just come in, so the rating doesn’t reflect on them,” he said.
“The beauty of the audit is that you know where you really are so let’s confront the issue.”
Doing so successfully would require Inti to excel in research and development (R&D) – an area not commonly associated with private providers – as an R&D component will feature in future editions of Setara.
However, Prof Wong is relishing the challenge and the institution’s staff can rest assured that he will be leading by example.
Having published around 170 articles in refereed journals, conference proceeding papers and research reports, Prof Wong had also obtained around RM60mil in research grants from industries, government and universities.
Despite this, Prof Wong concedes that building a decent R&D track record takes time and the foundations had to be right before things could take off.
By foundations, Prof Wong was referring to often overlooked aspects like training in journal applications and submissions – which are necessary procedures before scholarly work is published in Scopus and ISI-indexed journals.
“Around 100 papers were published last year and we are still at a fledgling stage,” he said.
Outlining a 10-year period to achieve this, Prof Wong pointed out that writing a paper was easy but producing one that significantly contributed to society involved a lot of hard work.
Prof Wong was quick to point out that Inti was not totally raw in this area – the varsity has made a name for itself in the fields of plasma and Traditional Chinese Medicine.
“I will drive the agenda carefully as you risk turning people off if you push too hard,” he said.
“As for rankings, I’m not looking at the top 100 or 200. Let’s focus on the fundamentals and the ranking will come in time.”
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