Time to rethink higher edu

TOMORROW marks the start of a new year, bringing with it the opportunity to enhance Malaysia’s education sector.

In particular, the tertiary education sector needs to embrace lifelong learning, technical and vocational education and training (TVET) and flexible digital learning if we are to meet the Prime Minister’s call for prioritising quality education in the year ahead.

Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim on Nov 7 stressed the need to improve academic performance in schools and institutions of higher learning.

This, he said when launching the pilot project on redeveloping dilapidated schools at SK Bandar Baru Bangi in Selangor, would be a priority in 2024.

While the Education Ministry is engaged in fine-tuning the new 2027 school curriculum, private tertiary education providers are calling on the Higher Education Ministry to prioritise improving the country’s post-Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) education system to better address current challenges and to keep up with evolving global trends.

TehTehNational Association of Private Educational Institutions (Napei) secretary-general Dr Teh Choon Jin said the ministry should focus on redesigning the current system to embrace lifelong learning and to foster a flexible learning system that enhances accessibility to higher education.

“Recognising that a significant number of post-SPM graduates may not be enthusiastic about pursuing higher education, it becomes crucial to make tertiary education more appealing and adaptable,” he told StarEdu.

He added that focus should be placed on aligning educational programmes with industry needs to mitigate underemployment issues.

“Given the dynamic nature of the global higher education landscape, it is imperative for the ministry to ensure that Malaysia remains competitive and responsive to emerging trends,” said Teh.

The ministry, he said, should also spearhead efforts to accelerate the digitalisation of higher education and optimise the digital learning ecosystem.

This, he added, includes digitally-supported in-person learning, hybrid and online learning models, digitally-native pedagogy, and the development of industry-relevant microcredentials and massive open online courses (MOOCs).

He said flexible education systems such as the Accreditation of Prior Experiential Learning and MOOCs should be strengthened to allow more people to access them.At the same time, a comprehensive overhaul of TVET programmes needs to be carried out, he said.

ParmjitParmjit“Higher education institutions must proactively adapt to technological shifts and disruptions.

“This entails fortifying the digital resilience of higher education by ensuring that all public and private higher education institutions in the country have access to a robust learning management portal and incorporate digital learning seamlessly into their ecosystems,” he said, adding that by doing so, the ministry can proactively address the evolving needs of learners, align educational offerings with industry requirements and position Malaysia as a progressive player in the global higher education landscape.

Teh said the RM16.3bil allocation received by the ministry in Budget 2024 is sufficient to facilitate the implementation of these initiatives.

With the recent appointments of Datuk Seri Dr Zambry Abdul Kadir and Datuk Mustapha Sakmud as the new Higher Education Minister and Deputy Minister, respectively, Teh said education providers are confident that they would see the effective implementation of the strategies and initiatives agreed upon by stakeholders prior to the Cabinet reshuffle.

Prof MushtakProf Mushtak“The experience and dedication of the new leadership are anticipated to contribute positively to raising standards across the board in the higher education sector,” he said.

Its president Datuk Parmjit Singh said the Malaysian Association of Private Colleges and Universities (Mapcu) hopes the Higher Education Ministry will continue working together with the private higher education sector to implement proposals put forward to the National Review Committee.

He said a lot of work had been done in putting forward proposals under the committee.

“These cover a broad range of areas, including enhancing the employability of graduates, enabling institutions to be more agile through fit-for-purpose governance frameworks, ensuring the sustainability of institutions and most importantly, ramping up the internationalisation agenda.

“These proposals are aimed at ensuring that Malaysia gains prominence as a global hub of educational excellence, as well as future-proofing talents in a rapidly changing global environment,” he said.

The National Review Committee was formed under former higher education minister Datuk Seri Mohamed Khaled Nordin and was tasked to review the National Higher Education Policy and ensure the ministry’s plans and agenda were in line with the national aspiration of developing Malaysia Madani.

Prof HamisahProf HamisahIn his 2023 New Year address, Mohamed Khaled said the committee had three months to present its findings, mostly centralised on improvements for the ministry.

The committee is chaired by Pemandu Associates president and chief executive officer Datuk Seri Idris Jala, with academician and virologist Prof Datin Paduka Dr Khatijah Mohamad Yusoff as the deputy chairperson.

It is also formed by a diverse, distinguished and highly experienced panel of industry experts, including Parmjit, who is also Asia Pacific University of Technology & Innovation (APU) chief executive officer.

Over those three months, the committee had reviewed a total of 45 policy documents and collected survey responses from 134 higher education institutions.

Vice Chancellors’ Council for Private Universities (VCCPU) chairman Prof Mushtak Al-Atabi said Malaysia’s commitment to fostering an inclusive, innovative and impactful educational environment requires a comprehensive strategy that addresses multiple facets of the local higher education sector.

“A key aspect of enhancing the quality of higher education is the regular review and update of the curriculum and programme offerings.

“Equipping graduates with sustainability skills, such as carbon literacy, is another opportunity to be realised,” he said.

A purpose-driven education, he said, not only ensures relevance to the evolving job market, but also instils a sense of purpose, empowering students to create a positive impact.

Equal access to education across diverse socio-economic backgrounds is another important aspect of enhancing the quality of higher education, he added.

“This can be achieved by enhancing financial aid programmes, introducing more flexible payment options, and collaborating with corporate entities and foundations to establish scholarships and funding avenues, particularly for the less abled and underprivileged students,” he said.

Focusing on the cultivation of a specialised talent pool, he emphasised that establishing partnerships with industry leaders is crucial for achieving this goal.

This, he said, can be achieved through internships, cooperative programmes, and practical training opportunities.

“Private higher education institutions can also contribute by implementing adaptable learning pathways, recognising prior learning, and offering flexible scheduling to meet the specific and diverse needs of Malaysian students,” he said.

Prof Mushtak, who is also Heriot-Watt University Malaysia (HWUM) provost and chief executive officer, added that strengthening governance, transparency and accountability mechanisms is also crucial for the improvement of the higher education sector.

“Further supported by clear performance metrics and student feedback systems, this can certainly cultivate a culture of ongoing assessment and improvement through institutional evaluations that will foster adaptability and innovation within the local higher education industry, be it public or private,” he said.

The higher education sector, added Prof Mushtak, needs to thoroughly examine its financial sustainability to ensure the maintenance of quality amid increasing costs.

“Achieving this goal may require embracing innovative thinking, adopting entrepreneurial behaviour, and seeking governmental support to facilitate resource sharing and maximise efficiency,” he said.

He also said there needs to be more efforts and strategies to put the country on track to achieve the target of 250,000 international students and become a regional educational hub.

He said it is an excellent time to consider Malaysia for international studies, thanks to its affordable living costs and tuition fees, along with a wide range of programme options.

“This will pay multiple dividends, including helping the nation attract the best skilled individuals globally,” he said.

UCSI University vice-chancellor Prof Datuk Dr Siti Hamisah Tapsir said it’s time for the ministry to prioritise monitoring the progress of the Malaysia Education Blueprint 2015-2025 (Higher Education) as there are too many policies that have been put out by the ministry.

She also said higher education institution heads and board of directors should not be made up of political appointees or politicians themselves.

Prof Siti Hamisah, who is a former deputy director-general of the Higher Education Ministry, said these institutions should be led by those who are in the higher education sector.

She also called for funding to be provided for students involved in apprenticeship or industry-based learning, even outside the country.

Students’ wishes

I’d like more industrial exposure and greater digitalisation in tertiary learning.

Covid-19 forced everyone to shift to digital classes, so let’s fully explore what we can do digitally by incorporating it into physical lessons.

It’s possible as students and lecturers are becoming tech-savvy.

Some theoretical subjects are very heavy.

These are usually industry-related, so visits to the relevant companies and factories can make these subjects more interesting and easier to understand.

Industrial visits offer good learning opportunities as students get to see firsthand what they will be experiencing fresh out of university.

The visits also provide meaningful exchanges and networking opportunities with industry players.– Adiliya Amira Sudinar, 20

Ensuring more access to advanced technology and resources in universities is imperative.

Some subjects require the use of advanced equipment and providing easy access to these will make the learning process much more engaging and effective.– Sabrina Zami, 20

I’d like to see more guidance towards an independent learning environment. It is crucial to ensure resources, information and important announcements are transparent and available at our fingertips.

Have open dialogue between faculties and student bodies to improve administration, instead of sticking to a one-size-fits-all solution.

When you’re in medicine or any course for that matter, it is difficult to keep track of the latest developments because new materials are not widely available.

Having a centralised system where everyone can access new knowledge is crucial for tertiary students. Also, faculty-curated past year questions with answer schemes should be made available to all so that students can have discussions and better prepare for exams.– Kamali Kannan, 23

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