The key tertiary education initiatives that were highlighted by Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad in the Education Minister 2020 Mandate last week were lauded by members of the academia.
With “Realising Shared Prosperity through Education” as the focus for the Education Ministry this year, schools and tertiary institutions are emphasising on preparing human capital that is skilful, productive and effective, as well as can meet industrial demands.
Dr Mahathir, who is acting education minister, had elaborated on key areas ranging from the need to develop good values, the formation of a more comprehensive law to replace the Universities and University Colleges Act (AUKU) 1971 to improve the quality of public universities, as well as raise public interest in Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) programmes.
He also touched on initiatives to galvanise the synergy of the research and innovation ecosystem to enable universities to produce high-impact research and provide greater support to the private education sector to help grow the economy through the provision of quality higher education that promotes international student participation.
In terms of the younger generation, Dr Mahathir said, there would be greater emphasis on the Service Learning Malaysia-University For Society (Sulam) programme.
Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM) Vice-Chancellor Professor Datuk Dr Wahid Omar said the institution’s involvement in Sulam had impacted communities and its students positively.
“Since 2014, UTM has been embarking on an initiative to produce graduates who can contribute to the wellbeing of communities through the introduction of Service-Learning in our education curriculum.
“The quality of life of the communities has improved due to the contribution of UTM students.”
He said the programme had allowed the students to inculcate good values, as well as receive an enriching learning experience.
To ensure the nation’s continued economic growth and productivity, Dr Mahathir said the Education Ministry, along with other ministries, would this year focus on the implementation of the TVET Empowerment Strategy Plan.
Universiti Malaysia Perlis (UniMAP) Vice-Chancellor Professor Dr R. Badlishah Ahmad said the plan would ensure that stakeholders could see the overall view of the TVET empowerment agenda.
He, however, cautioned on its implementation by saying: “Firstly, the plan must be followed by key strategic initiatives that address issues, and that its initiatives must be provided with proper support.
“Secondly, the plan should allow for flexibility as changes in industries develop dynamically and rapidly. This is because what is relevant today, maybe obsolete tomorrow. This issue must be recognised and addressed throughout the implementation of the plan.
“Should all TVET providers make concerted and cohesive efforts during the plan, its objectives of closing the skills gap and reducing the nation’s dependence on foreign labour can be achieved.”
In terms of research and innovation, Dr Mahathir said, he hoped to see industries and universities co-investing in research that would benefit communities, particularly in solving the problems faced by small- and medium-scale industries (SMEs).
Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research and Innovation Affairs) Professor Datuk Dr Abdul Wahab Mohammad said it was time that research and innovation were looked upon seriously by universities and industries.
“The mindset of the industries has to change as they must work with universities on research and innovation. In this respect, the Education Ministry must come up with a better framework so that industries can play a significant role,” he said.
Meanwhile, Malaysian Association of Private Colleges and Universities president Datuk Dr Parmjit Singh was grateful that Dr Mahathir singled out the contribution of private higher education institutions into the economy, which goes beyond the traditional role together in transforming students into employable graduates.