Paving the Way Forward

THE Covid-19 pandemic has hit many sectors – including private higher education – hard.

Like any other industry, private higher education institutions (PHEIs) are sailing through choppy waters.

Faced with the challenges of rising costs, competition from neighbouring countries, and continuity of high-level quality programmes and facilities, these institutions are looking to the government to ensure that a recently launched plan to help the sector regain its position as the region’s leading education hub and a main revenue contributor to the country, is implemented.

Launched early this year, ‘The Way Forward for Private Higher Education Institutions: Education as an Industry (2020-2025)’ charts the path for PHEIs to achieve agile governance, more autonomy and greater sustainability.

It has become more crucial now as the sector attempts to weather the challenges brought on by the virus.

Comprising medium and long-term strategies, the document forms a strong basis to address issues that are facing the sector, Malaysian Association of Private Colleges and Universities (Mapcu) president Datuk Dr Parmjit Singh said.

“While it is important to take immediate measures to ensure the industry’s sustainability, it is equally important to look beyond the current movement control order (MCO) and the post Covid-19 scenario.

“It is critical to work on the sector’s recovery phase immediately post-Covid-19 and the reforms that must be instituted to ensure that the industry can continue contributing to national development,” he said.

He added that private higher education is a main income generator for the nation, contributing over RM31.5bil in tuition fees and student cost of living to Malaysia’s coffers in 2018.

“Once this pandemic is over, we need to ensure that everything is in place to reboot the economy.

“Education is an important part of a student’s life and we have to give our students the best academic experience possible, even during the MCO.”

Universiti Putra Malaysia Educational Studies Faculty Assoc Prof Dr Ismi Arif Ismail — whose core research area is in the higher education sector — said the trajectory of the six-year ‘Way Forward’ document will be slightly delayed considering the crisis facing the globe.

“However, the beauty of having the document is that there is something that the PHEIs can refer to, reflect and redesign with regard to how they should operate alternatively in order to thrive amidst this crisis and bounce back to continue the excellence.”

Sunway Education Group chief executive officer Elizabeth Lee said people have been talking about the “new normal” once the MCO is lifted and how post-pandemic will be about recovery.

“Tremendous financial hardships are already arising from Covid-19 and empowering PHEIs to educate more Malaysians in a more innovative – and even radical way – will help reduce the government’s burden of providing public higher education for the rakyat,” she said, adding that the ‘Way Forward’ may need to be reviewed and revised.

The ‘Way Forward’, she said, is deeply rooted in IR4.0 but that alone is not enough for the post-Covid era.

“The document has become more pertinent and essential in light of what has happened. But a transformation and radicalisation of strategies outlined in the plan may be necessary before the content is put into action.

“The Higher Education Ministry must be embolden to make courageous decisions which are much needed under the current unique circumstances.”
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