THE world today is very different from what it was when Universiti Teknologi Petronas (UTP) was first established a quarter of a century ago.
Increasing pressure in the education sector implies that institutions of higher learning need to maintain a competitive edge in academic excellence, education delivery, research outcomes and positive student experience.
For UTP, the proliferation of technology and the spread of digitalisation, in particular technologies related to the Fourth Industrial Revolution (IR 4.0), presents opportunities for the university to innovate its delivery systems, transform the way it markets the academic programmes, as well as enhance the student experience, says UTP vice chancellor Prof Dr Mohamed Ibrahim Abdul Mutalib.
Officially established on Jan 10, 1997, the vision for UTP from the very beginning has been to be a leader in technology education and a centre for creativity and innovation.
Over the years, the university, located in Bandar Seri Iskandar in Perak, has grown into the country’s leading private university – the recent rankings of the Times Higher Education (THE) Emerging Economies Rankings placed UTP second among all institutions of higher learning in the country, just behind Universiti Malaya (UM).
The varsity offers 14 undergraduate programmes and 41 postgraduate programmes through the Faculty of Engineering as well as Faculty of Science and Information Technology.
Its academic programmes are consistently recognised as some of the most reputable globally.
Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) in the 2021 World University Rankings by subjects, for example, ranked both UTP’s petroleum engineering and mineral and mining engineering subjects at Top 50; Top 150 for chemical engineering; Top 200 for civil engineering and Top 250 for electrical and electronics engineering.
In 2021, UTP added another feather in its cap when it made it for the first time to the Top 500-600 band of the THE World University Rankings.
In the last 25 years, UTP has produced more than 21,000 graduates from 70 countries who are employed in various sectors, specifically energy and technology and has also created many successful entrepreneurs.
At the university’s 21st convocation ceremony to be held from Jan 10 to 14, 1,366 undergraduates and 238 postgraduates will be receiving their certificates.
“This 21st convocation ceremony is a special one as the first day of the convocation session marks the day of the university’s establishment. It is made even more special with the appointment of Tan Sri Dr Mohd Hassan Marican to helm the university as its fourth chancellor,” Prof Mohamed Ibrahim shares.
Mohd Hassan has been instrumental in the establishment of UTP as exactly 25 years ago, he was the one who received the invitation letter for PETRONAS to set up UTP from the then Education Minister.
He was also the first chairman of the board of directors for the varsity and was very much involved in the development of this campus. He was also the pro chancellor of UTP from 2003 until 2010.
Come a long way
“When we set up the university 25 years ago, the concern was providing facilities for teaching and learning, as well as research.
“The focus was on equipping the university with impressive physical facilities to give students a good campus experience,” Prof Mohamed Ibrahim shares.
With digitalisation and IR4.0 technologies such as data analytics and virtual reality, and the adoption of blended learning – which was accelerated by the pandemic – the university is exploring ways it can capitalise on these advancements for further growth.
“The cost of education is increasing because the cost of providing education is rising, so you have to find ways to manage this.
“One way of managing costs is to take advantage of collaborations with subject matter experts from industry and other institutions of higher learning.
“The university may not need to have all the required expertise in-house. Even during the Covid-19 pandemic, we were able to continue with the adjunct lectures in the hundreds from the industries, thanks to our virtual platform.
“So, there is nothing stopping us from securing experts from leading world institution such as Harvard or MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) to deliver some of the classes or modules virtually if we need them,” he explains.
He also does not discount the possibility of using virtual reality for the purposes of research or to conduct experiments.
“Through a virtual reality platform, for instance, we can use the facilities of our partners, in industry or at other universities, to carry out experiments.
“So, there isn’t a need to acquire all the equipment to deliver the curriculum and in this way, we are able to optimise our resources and making it more affordable for the students,” he says, adding that affordability is a key issue as scholarships are not as abundant as before.
“Data analytics can also help us in our marketing, in terms of where to target our programmes and identifying potential students based on their exam results.
“Eventually data can also be used not just to tailor the university experience for students but allow us to track their progress,” he reveals of the possibilities.
Roadmap to excellence
One of the university’s pioneer faculty members, having joined UTP as a lecturer in the chemical engineering department in 1997, Prof Mohamed Ibrahim has had a unique opportunity to witness UTP’s growth first-hand.
While paying tribute to the successes of the last 25 years, UTP, he says is not resting on its laurels.
He explains that UTP has already embarked on a plan to transform the university to ensure that it is more self-sustaining by reducing its dependency on the national oil corporation.
“For UTP to excel in research is critical, and for us this too presents opportunities to be more self- reliant and build that financial strength towards becoming world-class university.
“In the past, research was geared towards raising our profile and reputation, which meant that the focus was on publication and generating intellectual property in the form of patents, trademarks or industrial design, but not on monetising the research,” he elaborates.
“Today, we have a few technologies that have been developed with significant commercial application. So, we see opportunities for collaboration. In addition, there is also the knowledge and capability that can be commercialised through consulting activities and short courses for industry,” he adds.
Prof Mohamed Ibrahim believes that the next goal for UTP is to wider spread of its internationalisation.
“We have brought an international community of students to UTP through student exchanges and collaborations among students and staff with global institutions of higher learning. These are the foundation blocks for taking UTP towards global prominence.”