Muhd Fadhil Abdul Rahman, CIVICA Research Associate & Senior Research Officer, Merdeka Center
Malaysia’s education system has been noted as one of the most organized and structured in Asia. The effort to spur growth of Malaysian education is governed by the Malaysian Education Blueprint, which intends to spark a new trend in the way young Malaysians learn and acquire knowledge, while developing necessary skills and competencies to enhance future marketability. The massive hard work put in by the Government (under the jurisdiction of Ministry of Education and Ministry of Higher Education), in collaboration with state and local education authorities / agencies is reaping the rewards. At present, there is a number of local public universities recognized as among the top global higher learning institutions, while the critical approach formulated to develop higher-order thinking skills among school-going students is widely acknowledged.
Truth be told, significant progress has been made at local institutions in terms of research output (number of publications, innovative products, patents and international awards) as well as soft-skill development of students / undergraduates. These are key criteria towards being recognized as sophisticated and up-to-date institutions, and most academicians and students have taken up the challenge. Yet there are multiple aspects which require immediate rectification, pertaining to the academic and administrative components of the local universities, especially the public ones.
Regarding the content of courses being taught in local universities, it is common to see the same topics and syllabus being presented to the students over a certain period of time, sometimes up to 5 to 10 years. This issue is highly discouraging, as it exposes the lacklustre efforts to assimilate the current industrial trends and academic research with the needs of university students. In addition, the methods of teaching should be broadened to incorporate two-way communication as a staple – as outlined by the idea of blended learning and utilization of e-technology highlighted in the Malaysian Education Blueprint (Higher Education) 2015-2025.
At the same time, the level of participation of students in academic / course-oriented programs and events must be improved. As observed in Malaysian universities, particularly public institutions, students are only interested in regular activities that satisfy their academic requirements (e.g. classes, lab sessions, examinations, assignments etc). Thus, there may be issues related to application of knowledge in real-world setting, as well as truly internalizing the concepts presented in a certain subject. By engaging these students in alternative learning methods such as visits, topic / course-based competitions, conferences and symposiums from an early stage of undergraduate life, they will realize the importance and relevance of their subjects, and pay greater attention towards enhancing their capabilities.
Another point of consideration is the quality of research output, with regards to the academic content, commercialization and impact towards society. More often than not, the studies being conducted and presented as findings are kept within the bounds of academic world, and not well-disseminated to the public as reliable and concrete solutions for day-to-day problems. Also, the studies, which are often funded by government grants, do not seem to provide financial sustainability for the researchers and affiliated institutions. Thus, there is a real need for researchers and postgraduate students alike to learn the best ways of marketing real-world solutions to the world.
One more aspect that local higher learning institutions must overcome is the overdependence on government support, primarily in terms of financial assistance. The recent cost-cutting measures implemented by the Malaysian government on higher education sector dictates the current operations in universities, which are suffering because of the surprise move. The university administrators must realize that this era requires independent effort from all associated parties to ensure the long-term success and sustainability. Efforts to generate income should be stimulated by the universities themselves, through association with alumni, private organizations or foreign-based institutions. Extreme care shown by the government must be tolerated by the universities, by showcasing the real abilities of the academic population.
Finally, universities should gauge closer relationships with industry players and professionals to identify any noticeable lapse in existing curriculum and work on relevant skill set of students. These two issues are prevalent among undergraduates especially, as highlighted by employers. As the focal point of future workforce, universities (both public and private) must establish clear agreements and mechanism to provide mutual benefits. This shall lead to a positive outcome for the nation, and help to drive the country in order to achieve modernization.
Higher education is an important component of a country’s progress. The inability to adapt to current and future climate of modern environment may hinder our desired vision of being a developed nation within the next few years, as we might fail to produce the competent and relevant talents required for upcoming plans. Universities have to accept the fact that change is the only constant in the global world, and act accordingly to push towards greater academic status and more progressive values that benefits global population. Consequently, Malaysia and its higher learning institutions will be known as more than just ‘universities’, and shall lead to a dawn of a new era within the realm of academic institutions worldwide.
(This article was first published on August 3, 2017.)