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Yale University in the United States had seen a drop in its world rankings.

ATTRACTING academic talent (students, teachers and researchers) and digital education are some of the topics discussed at a roundtable during the Asia-Pacific Association for International Education (APAIE 2019) conference and exhibition in Kuala Lumpur recently.

Another was on universities concentrating their resources to develop breakthrough products to meet international demand.

The session, entitled “Which universities will lead in Asia-Pacific in 2030?”, featured Russian Far Eastern Federal University (FEFU) international relations vice-president Dr Viktoria Panova, University of Sydney Pro-Vice-Chancellor (global engagement) Professor Kathy Belov, and QS Enrolment Solutions managing director Andy Nicol as speakers.

Panova said educational developments were driven by internationalisation, performance management and close cooperation with employers.

Other drivers included digitisation, acquisition of modern facilities and talents to conduct breakthrough research and strong government support.

She said to succeed in the Asia-Pacific education market, universities must show flexibility and readiness to customise learning and research.

By this, she meant employing a variety of digitisation and analytical tools, including artificial intelligence (AI), as well as methodological models to chart out customised learning paths.

“The age of open information sources opens the door for re-imagining every model of a university’s function.

“It changes not only the way universities have to teach, but the mechanism they use, for example, AI and cloud systems in teaching and learning.”

She said international experts are seeing a step-up in digitisation efforts at Russian universities.

Most of the universities under the country’s “Project 5-100” have been testing digital learning platforms and are actively engaged in developing massive open online courses.

“This will definitely create a new wave in educational policies over the next few years.”

She said with the growth of innovation, higher-learning institutions will become devoted to research and development.

Panova said there is growing demand for greater integration and collaboration between higher-learning institutions and the industry.

“Mutual projects with business and industry allow universities to narrow the gap in what employers require and what education can provide.

“It makes a clear orientation towards the actual needs of the economy and industry,” she said.

Responding to such trends, she said FEFU had established an innovative infrastructure with relevant projects that were closely connected to contemporary trends.

“Higher-learning institutions will be further impacted by demographic shifts and increase in enrolment, where new students are coming from developing regions, which will contribute to the growth of education as an industry.

“It accounts for about US$3.3 trillion (RM13.5 trillion) and it is continuing to grow as there are more young people to educate. It is projected that the number of prospective students will increase from 212.6 million in 2015, to 332.2 million in 2030,” she said.

Belov said 30 years ago, the University of Sydney was a very small campus with only 745 students compared with 63,000 today, where 22,000 are pursuing postgraduate courses.

And 25,000 of the total are international students.

She said in the last eight years, Princeton and Yale Universities in the United States had seen a drop in their world rankings, and were replaced by others such as Stanford and ETH Zurich.

“So how many more will we see dropping in the next 10 years, and the challengers will probably come from Asia,” said Belov in her talk entitled “Future leaders: Predicting the Asia-Pacific’s top universities”.

“I think universities should play a critical role by responding to challenges and to do this well, we need to work together to be globally engaged, to be networked, and we may need to work in multi-disciplinary teams.

“So one of the things we’ve done in Sydney over the past couple of years is to change the structure of our organisation. We’ve moved away from having 16 faculties and collapsed them to just six.

“Leading universities will be producing globally-employable graduates, and I think that’s critically important for us. That’s something that’s a real priority.

“We’re pleased to see our employability rankings at No.5 worldwide and No.1 in Australia.

“For example, Bachelor of Advanced Studies students are given an additional year to allow them to do more mobility internships so they can develop their skills and gain industry experience by working in teams.

“As part of this new curriculum, our students will have access to the open learning environment, where they can do courses on statistics, ethics, entrepreneurship, leadership or travel to Bahrain, for example, for mobility internships.

“There are lots of these options that have zero credit points, which they can just do for fun, or they can come with a couple of points as part of their degree studies.”

Belov said 50 per cent of her university’s students will be exposed to some international experience by next year.

“I think the top universities in this region by 2030 are going to be financially secure in tackling global challenges, and they’re going to be producing globally-employable graduates with strong language skills, teamwork and multi-disciplinary skills.”

Nicol shared the success factors in higher education, which includes reputation, quality, the ability to bridge the skills gap and good relationships with employers.

Nicol said it was immensely important for higher-learning institutions to build their reputation with students and employers.

“I think international students have increasingly associated institutional quality with post-study employment outcomes.

“Institutions that can bridge the skills gap and best support student employability are best positioned for success.

“Another success factor is good relationship with employers, which will drive competitiveness among the institutions,” he said.

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