Building a strategic partnership

Maszlee (left) had an audience with King Salman (right) on behalf of Dr Mahathir. - Photo courtesy of Education Ministry

SAUDI Arabia has Malaysia on its radar for a strong strategic partnership, and is offering generous research grants to boost collaborations in the field of education as well as research development between both countries.

Education Minister Dr Maszlee Malik said the kingdom has invited Malaysian lecturers, professors and researchers to apply for the research grants, especially for science and technology subjects.

“Certain universities in Saudi Arabia, especially King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, which is headed by Prof Dr Tony Chan, have huge amounts of research grants.

“They welcome researchers as long as they can come up with high-impact research that can be translated into commercial purposes.

“We (the ministry) have identified a few areas that we can collaborate with Saudi researchers, including automotive, petrol chemical, renewable energy, aerospace technology and anything to do with digital technology which relates to Industrial Revolution (IR4.0), ” he said in an interview with StarEdu on Thursday.

The condition to get the grant is that applicants (Malaysian researchers) must be willing to collaborate with their Saudi counterparts, Maszlee said.

The amount of funds will depend on the impact and scale of each research, he added.

“We are communicating with Malaysian universities to get more candidates to apply for these grants.

“The Saudi government is hoping to start this collaboration as soon as possible, and does not limit the number of grants it is offering to us, ” he said.

Maszlee was talking about his official work trip to Saudi Arabia last Sunday.

The minister was sent as a special envoy on behalf of Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad to have an audience with Saudi King Salman Abdulaziz Al Saud and invite the monarch to be a guest of honour at the Kuala Lumpur Summit next month.

“Leaders from Muslim countries including Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Turkey and Indonesia will join us in discussing economic and civilisational issues, and how Muslim countries can help each other in those areas, ” he said.

While in Saudi, Maszlee also met his counterpart, Dr Hamad Mohammed Al Shaikh, for a discussion on further ties in education.

These included the research grants, a teacher exchange programme and 300 scholarships for Malaysian students.

Maszlee said Dr Hamad Mohammed was intent on expanding Saudi teachers’ world view via a teacher exchange programme with multicultural and multi-religious Malaysia.

He added that the Saudi government was equally impressed by the 21st century teaching and learning methods used by Malaysia, and hoped the teachers involved in the exchange programme could adopt them when they returned home.

Maszlee dismissed rumours that the Saudi teachers would spread ideology here.

“The teachers are here to learn our best practices.

“They will be trained by Universiti Pendidikan Sultan Idris and our institutes of teacher education on how to teach mathematics and science in English.

“Dr Hamad Mohammed told me that they are moving towards implementing the teaching of Mathematics and Science in English.

These subjects are still being taught in Arabic there.

“It has acknowledged that the future requires a good command of technology based on the language of technology, which is English, ” said Maszlee.

He noted that both ministries are in the midst of planning the exchange.

On the 300 scholarships, Maszlee said it will only be for students taking up science courses.

“All these courses are related to science and will be taught only in English.

“The universities that have been selected mostly consist of non-Arabs and international teaching staff.

“These universities are also known for their excellent research in petrol chemical, engineering, renewable energy, and especially petrol sciences, ” he said, adding that learning Arabic is not a prerequisite for applying for the scholarship.

He dismissed rumours that only students keen on taking up religious studies or Arabic language courses would bag a spot in the scholarship programme.

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