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Maszlee: Bringing Malaysia’s higher education system into global prominence

  • New students moving into campus with the help of family members.

This is the second of three parts by Education Minister Dr. Maszlee Malik about reforms in the higher education sector.

Part 1: Maszlee: Bringing back university autonomy with academia integrity

By Dr. Maszlee Malik

When given the freedom to strive, universities must also work towards thriving globally. Local universities, both public and private, can no longer be insular about our place in the world. We need to compete and share our knowledge with the world while learning from the world itself. The time is over for Malaysian academics to be known as “jaguh kampung”. The government is now working on formulating ways with academics to be the subject matter experts and references of their respective fields.

Here I refer to a few exemplary figures like Prof Dr Ng Kwan Hoong from Universiti Malaya, the first scientist from Malaysia to receive the Marie Curie Award. More recently, we have Dr Abdul Rahman Mohmad from Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) who published in the academically renowned Nature Materials journal. This proves to me that we have the talent and ability to succeed at an international level. The ministry together with the universities are also developing means to push more potential researchers and professors to the global world via big data and artificial intelligence.

We must therefore create an environment for our institutions and talents to stand among giants. The ministry is reforming our regulations, and some examples of what we have done include increasing the collaboration between Malaysian and foreign universities. One of the highlights of my recent visits to the United Kingdom, France, China and Japan is this. For our universities to thrive, we must work with the best partners in their respective fields. The government will always welcome collaborations with any institution abroad, whether via branch campus, micro campus or research collaboration. We encourage more initiatives such as the collaboration between the University of Sheffield’s Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) and Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM), Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM) and Dyson, UKM with Peking University and Tsinghua University, Universiti Sultan Zainal Abidin (UniSZA) and International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM) with Durham University and many more.

We are also encouraging greater movement and mobility of students and academics between institutions and countries. It will start with the public universities among themselves, then between the public and private at the national level, and then towards a more regional level. As the Chair of the Southeast Asian Ministers of Education Organization (Seameo), I am personally looking into building a stronger mechanism for credit transfer as well as academic and student mobility for the entire Asean region. We are also looking into partnerships between Asean and countries like Japan, Korea and the European Union to enhance the extent of our mobility.

For universities and research institutes, this also means increased availability of capital, talent and research opportunities to boost the quality of our research. Industries and private sectors are being engaged in this manner to create more impactful researchers and to further strengthen the mutual beneficiary relation between the universities and the private sectors.

Besides mobility, it is critical that we see to the preservation, generation and export of our knowledge. In humanities, particularly on Southeast Asian Studies, UniSZA recently obtained the Malcolm MacDonald digitized manuscript from the University of Durham. At Durham, we signed an MoU that will lead to the largest digital repository of manuscripts in Southeast Asia (especially manuscripts from the Malay corpus of knowledge). This is to complement that of the British Library and Royal Asiatic Society.

I am pleased to say that UniSZA is also working with the Moroccan government to digitize Islamic manuscripts preserved by several custodians.

My recent visit to Beijing International Publishing Forum 2019 also paved the way for our best literature to be offered to China and the world.

Amid all of these efforts we must never forget our roots and language. Appreciation of literature is importantly needed because of its value in helping us to know ourselves better. This is where we have introduced the [email protected] to inculcate a love of our literature and national heritage; and further develop our publishing industry, reading habit and learning culture. We are also working with publishers and universities abroad to make sure our own literature and academic publications will be seen on the shelves and in directories of prominent libraries from all around the world. It is my hope that these efforts will make our academics the reference for global scholarship in this field.

Finally, we are doing more to push our global brand in education. We are already an attractive destination to learn English, being the third most proficient country in Asia; and have strong niches in hospitality, Southeast Asian Studies, engineering and Islamic Studies including Islamic banking, finance as well as halal certification. We have the globally respected institutions such as the International Center for Education in Islamic Finance as well as the Malaysian Accounting Standards Board.

But to further our global aspirations, we need to have a more robust environment and as such we are easing our rules and regulations to make it more attractive for international bodies and institutions to enter and for our local institutions to reach out. We want to offer our best to the world and benefit from them in return.

(Dr. Maszlee Malik is Malaysian Education Minister.)

Part 3: Maszlee: Developing future-proof graduates


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