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While the core business of higher education is to develop skilled workers, another key economic driving force is the research, innovation and development aspects of universities and institutions of higher learning. File photo
While the core business of higher education is to develop skilled workers, another key economic driving force is the research, innovation and development aspects of universities and institutions of higher learning. File photo

It has been quite a history of debate and the corresponding restructuring of the Education Ministry (MoE) and the Higher Education Ministry (MoHE).

The Higher Education Ministry was formed on March 27, 2004 and merged back into the Education Ministry on May 14, 2013 before a re-split on July 28, 2015. The merging happened again after the last general election, arguably as part of the new government’s agenda focusing on rightsizing.

Let’s do some stocktaking. There are 6,111 preschools, 7,776 primary schools and 2,426 secondary schools. Student enrolment in primary and secondary schools total 4.7 million, with 424,000 teachers.

These numbers were extracted from Malaysia Educational Statistics (July 2018). Looking further into the statistics, we have different kinds of schools with different focuses, including special education and religious schools, in urban and rural regions.

In addition, there are also private schools, including those under
different agencies.

In the higher education sector, we have 20 public universities, 447 private institutions (including branches of foreign universities and colleges), 36 public polytechnics and 103 public community colleges.

The number of students enrolled is roughly 1.3 million (based on Statistik Pendidikan Tinggi 2018). The number of academicians (main teaching workforce of public universities) was 31,528 in 2018.

The sheer size of stakeholders involved with the Education Ministry proves to be a challenge, considering there are a lot of different aspects to these two branches of education.

For higher education, while the core business is to develop skilled workers, another key economic driving force is the research, innovation and development aspects of universities and institutions of higher learning.

The correlation between multiple innovation indicators (including patents and research expenditure) and per capita economic growth (“Does innovation promote economic growth? Evidence from European countries”, Rana P. Maradana et al., 2017) suggests that universities can do much more in promoting constructive innovation through research and development to propel the nation to greater heights.

One of the key focus areas in the recently announced Shared Prosperity Vision 2030 agenda is to enable local industries to move up the value chain, utilising innovation and strengthening technical and vocational education and training and science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

To achieve this vision, improving the synergy between universities (via the Education Ministry) and other government agencies is imperative; notably with the Energy, Science, Technology, Environment and Climate Change Ministry on how to work together to ensure our economy is powered by local competent research and development as well as the workforce.

Apart from that, universities could also be at the forefront of Industry 4.0 by developing competence skillsets among graduates, as well as working with local industries for the future economy.

The Public Universities Deputy Vice-Chancellors (Research & Innovation) Committee constantly discusses and deliberates on such issues of research and development, among others, in public universities.

Perhaps the government could use these facts and figures to explore the best management model for the Education Ministry to make an informed decision.

The writer is chair of the Public Universities Deputy Vice-Chancellors (Research & Innovation) Committee

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the ’New Straits Times’

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