KUALA LUMPUR: Universities must advocate the passion for the disciplines of both the sciences and the humanities, said Sultan of Perak Sultan Nazrin Muizzuddin Shah.
Sultan Nazrin, who is the chancellor of Universiti Malaya, said a true university must nurture not only the crucial science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects, but also the humanities, the knowledge that comes from history, philosophy, religious studies, anthropology, languages, literature and the creative arts.
The ruler said while the priority of universities in the 21st century was to equip their students to face today's challenges, for the world of tomorrow, and in the age of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, there was a need to have philosophers, historians and writers as well.
"In preparing the minds of the next generation for the challenges ahead, we must ensure that all students, regardless of subject specialism, are digitally and technologically competent.
"At the same time, we must ensure that all students have the opportunity to develop their creativity, as well as a strong sense of ethics and values.
"The leaders I have most admired at the universities where I studied have always embodied these values, passionately advocating for pure as well as applied study, and for the pursuit of wisdom in all its forms.
"At a time when technical training is more and more sought after, while the humanities are defunded and deprioritised in education systems throughout the world, advocacy for them by university leaders is more critical than ever," said Sultan Nazrin in his royal address titled Shaping University Leadership for Higher Education in the 21st Century held at the Asia-Europe Institute in UM today.
The royal address was part of the Higher Education Leadership Academy (AKEPT) Global Series in collaboration with UM.
The ruler added it was crucial to ensure that today's students had both the skills to take practical actions, and the wisdom to direct those actions to productive and worthwhile ends.
"To make advances in Artificial Intelligence (AI) and genetic engineering, for example, we need scientists and engineers.
"But to be able to properly consider the risks and the ramifications of such developments, as well as the gains, we also need philosophers and theologians with expertise in ethics and moral hazard.
"We need historians who can tell of occasions in the past when apparent progress has had catastrophic unintended or unexpected consequences.
"And we need creative individuals who can dream up hitherto unimagined new solutions to our various problems."
Citing climate change, Sultan Nazrin said not only technological solutions were needed, but also changes in human behaviour.
"Literature and the arts can teach our students the true value of the beauty of the vanishing natural world, which in turn will foster their desire to be good stewards of the earth, the oceans and the air above us."
Sultan Nazrin also highlighted four key components of success for higher education institutions in the 21st century.
"First, a successful 21st century university must recruit and retain good students, preparing them for employment in the global marketplace.
"Second, it must also nurture quality faculty, who produce valuable research while being committed to great teaching.
"Third, it must also have sound finances and a sustainable campus
"Last but not least, it must create a vision that will inspire the loyalty and generosity of alumni for years to come."
Sultan Nazrin, however, said that it was not that simple with mounting global financial pressures and the ever-more apparent impacts of the climate crisis, the present landscape for higher education institutions was turbulent, challenging and uncertain.
"Rapid technological change, a changing labour market, geopolitical shifts and tensions, populist backlashes against multiculturalism and globalisation, the impact of the recent pandemic and fears of future ones – all these and more make the role of universities not only much more difficult but also much less clear.
"What should universities stand for in the 21st century? What values should they uphold and inculcate? What essential purpose in society should they fulfil?
"These are the key questions with which university leaders must grapple, to chart a course for their institutions going forward.
"They must be forward-looking, agile, adaptable. They must think carefully about the value that their courses provide to students in the global marketplace."
He said universities would need to continue to adapt and innovate in response to the new challenges and opportunities of the 21st century.
"Research shows that the most successful universities across the globe are, indeed, those whose leaders are committed to academic values and to achieving the four success metrics I outlined above."