WITH the year fast drawing to a close, Higher ED looks back at the highlights and events that have shaped and influenced the tertiary education space.
This year, Malaysia took great strides to provide inclusivity and quality education to various levels of the society.
Increased pathways were created for access into education at various higher education institutions (HEIs). There was a keen focus on making tertiary education provide graduates with relevant skills and knowledge that would fit both industry demands and society needs as well as push further the pursuit of knowledge.
These were all drawn up via a clear framework stipulated in the Education Minister’s 2019 Mandate that was unveiled in January where four key directions were cited for higher education ― quality, autonomy, collaboration and internationalisation ― that aimed to bring back credibility to universities.
Education Minister Dr Maszlee Malik advocated increasing the visibility of academics’ works and nurturing a discourse culture in universities to solve society’s problems and develop the nation as a means to achieve quality higher education.
Ethics and integrity were given emphasis where university publication should reflect the mastery of academicians and be regarded as universal references.
The quality of research grants should be increased to ensure knowledge transfer and translation of great works.
Maszlee announced that student empowerment woud be emphasised through efforts like the abolition of Section 15(1)(c) of the Universities and University Colleges Act 1971.
Students’ Unions would be established to increase students’ decision-making roles. International Islamic University Malaysia was selected as the first university to be the pioneer.
In preparing students to become society’s troubleshooters, universities must create collaborations with various parties, such as schools, polytechnics and vocational colleges.
To help local communities, public universities could provide training to improve the quality of the teaching and learning process in schools.
To make Malaysia an international education hub, Maszlee said there must be an increase in international students and local universities must establish more campuses abroad through the satellite university method.
For Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET), the ministry would continue to improve its institutional capabilities to be on par with other educational pathways.
A harmonised accreditation system with quality assurance would be established to enable student mobility in TVET institutions.
The quality and delivery of TVET programmes would be increased to improve the skills of graduates through an industry-led approach, removing duplication of programmes and resources, increasing cost effectiveness and expanding TVET funding.
HAPPENINGS in the tertiary education gradually ramped up from early March prior to the release of SPM and STPM results.
Plans on access, wider pathways for furthering education, autonomy and quality education were generally made good on as the year progressed.
The Education Ministry announced special pathways to public universities for four groups, namely, people with disabilities, athletes, Orang Asli and those in the B40 group in early March.
Students from these priority groups do not have to compete with the mainstream group to pursue their tertiary studies.
In line with the ministry’s Education for All concept, this initiative follows in the footsteps of developed countries in prioritising the admission of athletes into varsities.
Some 51,191 students from B40 group benefited from the special routes to public universities and special training institutes, of which 32,282 made it into public universities.
Also in March, Universiti Malaya made history when its campus election became the first in 50 years to be independently run by students.
It is a testament to students’ capability to uphold democracy and be responsible citizens.
The electoral process was organised by the Campus Election Committee 2019 comprising 19 student leaders who were given the mandate by UM’s vice-chancellor last year with full autonomy.
Improvisations were carried out to benefit students such as coalitions were allowed to be formed and contest under one logo.
The election was conducted in the second semester to familiarise new students with the university environment and their student leaders.
PROGRESS ON UEC
Decision on whether to recognise the Unified Examination Certificate (UEC) continues to be a hot issue.
On April 3, Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad said that only the government could make the decision to recognise the UEC.
The UEC is the unified examination for Independent Chinese Secondary Schools which does not follow the national education system.
The Unified Examination Certificate Task Force, an independent three-man panel appointed by Education Ministry in 2018, updated the NST that it was actively gathering views on this matter from various stakeholders, individuals and entities including associations, political parties, scholars and parents.
As of last month, the task force was reported to be in the midst of finalising the report.
MORE SEATS FOR MATRICULATION
In April, the Education Ministry announced that it was increasing the student intake into the matriculation programme to 40,000 from the present 25,000.
While the quota system, which allocates 90 per cent of seats to Bumiputeras continue to be in place, seats for non-Bumiputeras increased proportionally to 4,000.
Education Minister Dr Maszlee Malik said the system is in line with the matriculation programme’s vision to encourage more Bumiputera’s involvement in the sciences.
HEIGHTENED FOCUS ON TVET
To formulate more relevant policies to implement the TVET agenda according to industry needs, the TVET Empowerment Committee named Maszlee chairperson in May.
Later in August, the committee (JKKPTVET) was formed in line with the government’s hopes to make TVET a mainstream choice, instead of an alternative. The move is expected to help create a skilled workforce by 2030.
GOING UP THE RANKINGS
Twenty Malaysian universities were featured in the QS World University Rankings 2020 released in June.
Produced by global higher education consultancy Quacquarelli Symonds, the list ranks the world’s top 1000 universities.
In its second consecutive year in the top 100, Universiti Malaya made Malaysia proud by climbing up to the 70th position from 87th globally.
In the 200 rank are Universiti Putra Malaysia ― from 202 to 159; Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia ― 184 to 160; and Universiti Sains Malaysia ― from 207 to 165.
Universiti Teknologi Malaysia climbed from 228 to 217.
UCSI University went from 481 to 442, the highest for a private university in the country.
According to Quacquarelli Symonds, Malaysia’s progressive performance was due to improving results in two key surveys ― Academic Reputation and Employer Reputation.
However, Malaysian universities’ research impact has room for improvement. Only five of Malaysia’s 20 entrants improved their performance in Quacquarelli Symonds’ Citations per Faculty indicator.
The Education Ministry announced that a new Act would be created to abolish and replace several higher education-related Acts, including the Universities and University Colleges (AUKU) Act 1971 and Private Higher Educational Institutions Act 1996 (Act 555).
According to the ministry, the move was aimed at having a more efficient and sustainable governance and financing structure in efforts to support universities’ academic freedom and autonomy.
Chaired by Maszlee, a meeting was held on June 22 to discuss the policy framework and findings of studies by independent academic researchers.
The abolition of the Acts was in line with the government’s promise to bring back credibility to local universities.
ALTERNATIVE POSTGRAD PATHWAYS
In July, the Malaysian Qualifications Agency revealed that there would soon be alternative pathways to provide opportunities for working adults and undergraduates to have a PhD qualification.
MQA chief executive officer Datuk Dr Rahmah Mohamed said the agency was carrying out an implementation study of the next phase of the Accreditation of Prior Experiential Learning (APEL) programme where work experience could be translated into a masters or doctoral degree, or speed up the process of getting a PhD.
Defined as a systematic process involving identification, documentation and assessment of prior experiential learning, the programme thus far has created access to certificate, diploma, bachelor’s degree and master’s degree study programmes to individuals with working experience but lack or are without proper academic qualifications.
MQA targeted to introduce APEL T-8 and APEL Q next year that would give access to PhD level qualifications. APEL T-8 is an extension of APEL A, which provides higher education opportunities based on a person’s working experience.
APEL Q awards master’s and doctoral level academic qualifications without class attendance.
The purpose of the various initiatives is to ensure there is a growth in the number of postgraduate degree holders, in line with the country’s aspiration of becoming a high-income nation.
In September, the Higher Education department shared that it had instructed all universities to identify and reshape their academic programmes to enhance students’ job opportunities and be in line with industry needs.
This led to a confusion among students currently pursuing certain courses and their parents were particularly anxious about the status of the said programmes that would no longer be offered by public universities in the country.
The then Higher Education department director general Datuk Dr Siti Hamisah Tapsir highlighted that the idea behind the move was essentially to revise strategically and systematically courses currently offered at universities to keep abreast of change and market developments or risk stagnation.
To level up human capital in the country, Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng, when tabling Budget 2020 in Parliament in October, announced an allocation of RM64.1 billion in 2020 for education ― reflecting the government’s commitment to provide quality education at different stages of life for the rakyat.
From the sum, a whopping RM5.9 billion is dedicated to mainstreaming TVET which include, among others, funding to strengthen the synergies between the public and private sectors through increased allocation for State Skills Development Centres and Public Skills Training Institutions as well as expanding pathways for TVET graduates to pursue further studies and secure jobs.
To encourage adult learning, Lim said the Employees Provident Fund will be allowed to facilitate the withdrawal for qualifications attained at certificate level, especially for accredited programmes that are in line with the nation’s IR4.0 aspirations.
The withdrawal scheme will include members’ parents and spouse.
A RM20 million allocation will be made available to be matched by another RM20 million from the Human Resource Development Fund towards having working adults take up professional certification examinations in fields relating to IR4.0.
Emphasis on learning opportunities under MARA and Yayasan Peneraju Pendidikan Bumiputera for low-income and rural bumiputeras through education institutions such as Kolej GIATMARA and Universiti Kuala Lumpur will be continued with an allocation of RM1.3 billion for education institutions under MARA for 2020, with a further RM2 billion allocated for student loans, benefiting 50,000 students. In addition, RM192 million is also allocated for professional certification programmes under Yayasan Peneraju.
To drive economic growth in the digital era, the government encourages the provision of technology scholarships, training and upskilling for digital skills for communities in need through the concept of Digital Social Responsibility (DSR).
DSR is the commitment by businesses to contribute to digital economic development while improving the digital skills of the future workforce.
Enhancing the research and development framework was also cited as a key strategy to drive economic growth in the new economy.
For that, Lim announced that the government will allocate RM30 million for R&D matching grants for collaborations with industry and academia to develop higher value-added downstream use of palm oil, specifically tocotrienol in pharmaceuticals and bio-jet fuel.
“To promote commercialisation of R&D from the public sector, research universities, beginning with UM, will establish a one-stop Innovation Office to transform intellectual property into commercially exploitable opportunities,” said Lim.
In November, the Education Ministry announced the replacement of the science/arts streaming system in upper secondary into a system where students can choose from 89 elective subjects grouped in two packages: STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths), and Arts and Humanities under the new Secondary Schools’ Standard Curriculum (Upper Secondary) or KSSM Menengah Atas.
This will give students a taste of what they might pursue at tertiary education level and maybe even get a headstart in their desired future careers.
In a briefing, Education Ministry deputy director-general (policies and development) Dr Habibah Abdul Rahim advised students to pick their subjects wisely because it paves the way for their future.
She added that the students can change subjects midway through schooling but noted that it will not be an easy feat because there will be a lot of catching up to do.