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AFFORDABLE TOOLS: Universities can supplement existing infrastructure and free up resources
MALAYSIA has set for itself an ambitious goal to become the region's premier centre for higher education, aiming to attract 200,000 international students to its shores by 2020, on top of its local student intake.
Success will mean that Malaysia would have been able to shake off stiff competition from neighbouring Singapore or even Indonesia, rake in billions in educational revenue and add significant depth to the country's manpower pool to ensure future growth in a knowledge-driven economy.
However, high costs of building infrastructure and the speed required to attract students and roll out curriculum effectively could pose major bottlenecks.
The price of failure will not only be lower student enrolment and insufficient skilled workers but also will deny Malaysia the opportunity to position itself as a leading global player in offering off-campus online education -- another opportunity which can have major benefits for the country.
Malaysia is already one of Asia's leading educational hubs. Strong government support, robust infrastructure, availability of good instructors conversant in English language and relatively lower costs of fees as well as student accommodation compared with the likes of Singapore, have helped both private and public educational institutes to flourish.
Encouraged by the success over recent decades, two new education hubs have been launched with strong government backing -- Iskandar Malaysia in Johor and the Kuala Lumpur Education City (KLEC).
But will the students come in the droves as expected -- from 90,000 international students currently to 200,000 by 2020? And what are the major bottlenecks which can curtail this grand plan?
International experts have often cited that Malaysia's higher education system suffers from lack of high-impact research at post-graduate level coupled with insufficient teaching experts and outdated approaches to research and training, which are often lacking in innovation.
These, together with insufficient access and linkages to the global education community, have left Malaysia producing graduates who may not adequately meet market demands. Behind these challenges lie three fundamental issues.
The first and most serious is the lack of resources. University administrators and educational authorities are over-burdened and unable to cope with the demand while ensuring quality.
In other words, there are not enough qualified people to offer qualitative work. There is a deficiency of both good student administrators as well as qualified faculty who can be enticed to come to Malaysia, teach and facilitate world-class research.
The second is that Malaysia's education system often trails Western and even Singapore and Hong Kong institutes of higher learning in terms of best practices.
Not being on par in terms of curriculum, student administration, online management and interaction with administrators as well as faculty from other institutes may mean that Malaysian colleges may lose out in winning exchange opportunities and accreditation. This in turn compromises the attractiveness of Malaysia as an education hub. Finally, even with substantial direct and indirect government support, all university administrators have to find the most cost-effective balance between achieving educational goals and reasonable tuition costs.
Large capital investments in student life-cycle management solutions have often deterred migration to the next level of competence. This sets up a vicious cycle. Failure to invest in costly on-campus infrastructure reflects ineffective administration, leading to higher costs to hire administrators, inefficiency and missed opportunities. These in turn prevent institutions from allocating resources to attract experts and conducting high-impact research, consequentially leading to lower ratings of the colleges.
Awareness through the Internet and ready availability of rankings of colleges indicate that higher education has become increasingly transparent and competitive.
Many countries once considered as laggards in offering higher education have moved up the ladder and are seeking to position themselves as education centres, with precisely the same goals as Malaysia -- increasing knowledge base, acquiring efficient workers and building an educational hub to attract talented faculty as well as securing revenue from college education.
The common denominator which can address all three problems is how quickly and effectively Malaysian educational institutions can harness technology as a major accelerator and differentiator.
By using affordable IT tools, yet being on par with global best practices, Malaysian universities can supplement existing technology infrastructure and initiatives in the country to free up resources, hire top talent, increase post-graduate research, improve teaching methods and help graduates meet the needs of the market more effectively.
Major technological advances in recent years, in particular cloud computing and virtualisation, have levelled the playing field for university administrators. Advanced solutions such as the Oracle Campus Solution (for which Mahindra Satyam will provide end-to-end solutions, hardware, application software from Oracle, implementation and ongoing management) now allow Malaysian institutions to address student life-cycle management -- from recruitment, enrolment, administration to financial information management via the affordable private cloud model.
Lower cost and speed in implementation and real-time management of administrative aspects will allow Malaysian colleges and education administrators to match best practices globally.
More importantly, it will address the resource issues so that manpower and funds can be channelled towards improving curriculum and hiring better faculty, helping the country to become a knowledge centre and position itself as the region's leading educational hub.