This article first appeared in New Straits Times on March 21, 2018
There is mainstream acceptance that the core catalyst for the development of a nation is its “intellectual capital”.
It is key to a country’s transformation towards a “knowledge economy”. How effective a nation harnesses this intangible asset will determine the difference between success and failure.
According to PT People Power International president director Dr Suresh Marcandan, education in general ― tertiary education in particular ― is a great equaliser in societies.
He said education is the most potent weapon to alleviate poverty, as well as the reducing of crime and other social ills.
Higher education plays a crucial role in sustaining a nation’s competitive advantage.
“The Higher Education Ministry’s vision is to make Malaysia a centre for higher education excellence by 2020.
“However, a comparative analysis conducted by Universiti Sains Malaysia in 2016 found that when the three top public universities (University of Malaya, Universiti Teknologi Malaysia and Universiti Utara Malaysia) were compared with private and foreign universities in Malaysia, they were ‘inefficient in income generation and in managing inputs, which included the government operating grants’. They have become complacent.
“It is paradoxical that Malaysia spends almost five per cent of Gross Domestic Product on education, but has been ranked the fifth most expensive place to get a university education, relative to its household income.
“These statistics are worrying, and begs the question whether the Malaysian higher education sector is well-positioned to contribute towards the lofty vision of the ministry ― to identify, nurture, develop and retain talent to meet demands of a changing workplace landscape created by the ‘digital age’ and driven by innovations.
“In the context of higher education, the main areas of nation branding are intellectual capital and brain power, magnet for talent, country of origin effect and destination for aspiration.”
Marcandan was a guest speaker at the Jeffery Cheah Institute on Southeast Asia’s public lecture held at Sunway University recently.
His lecture was on whether the higher education sector is contributing towards the sustainable competitive advantage of Malaysia.
PURPOSE OF HIGHER EDUCATION
According to global interpretations, the purposes of higher education, among others, are to identify, nurture, develop and retain the best talent in the country; to be a catalyst for innovation by creating a conducive environment; and to turn students into thoughtful and interesting human beings.
But Marcandan asked what do the students want and what is the core business of a university. He questioned if the core purpose of higher education is to teach students in a holistic manner so that they could contribute to the good of society.
A 2016 survey done by IBM Institute of Business Value in the United States of America found that higher education provided more practical knowledge and applied educational experience in terms of critical-thinking approach, decision-making, problem-solving and creative skills.
Marcandan said the purposes of higher education, as defined by Murdoch University in Perth, Australia, was to build a nation human capital by developing and disseminating knowledge, education, research and independence as well as informed public commentary.
Also, he added, the purposes were to be a creative force for current and future generations as well as provide outstanding education so that every student would become an innovator prepared for their future careers.
“Not forgetting to provide life-changing solutions to complex world challenges, to be of service to society as well as to play a key role in the economic and social wellbeing of communities,” he added.
KEY BARRIERS TO HIGH-QUALITY EDUCATION
A critique of the Malaysian higher education landscape was made claiming that phrases such as “education hub”, “innovation hub” and “knowledge economy” do not walk the talk.
The poor quality of academicians and a reward incentive system that discourages them from delivering high-quality teaching and research, are among the main factors.
Besides that, Marcandan said, merit was seldom used for recruitment, selection, continuing professional development, remuneration and rewards or career progression of staff.
“In addition, rewards and recognitions are based on disciplinary research, which is unrelated to the quality of teaching or learning.”
He added that poor government management of public education institutions was also a factor.
“In particular, excessive government control over their activities, such as lack of autonomy, merit in selection of staff and political interference, contribute to a lack of ability to transform.”
Malaysian universities need to make their presence felt and create impact in relation to the benefit of the community.
A John Hopkins University study this year stated that higher education institutions should put the philosophy back into the Doctor of Philosophy.
Based on the study, multi-disciplinary collaboration was vital as most doctoral curricula aimed to produce narrowly-focused researchers rather than critical thinkers.
“Most PhD curricula are unlikely to nurture big thinkers and creative problem-solvers that society needs. They are not viewing their work through the lens of social responsibility. They are unable to apply theoretical knowledge in statistical tests in laboratories. They make frequent mistakes in choosing an appropriate set of experimental controls and have difficulty in explaining work to non-experts.”
Marcandan said his parents taught him to never compromise on core values, such as honesty and integrity. They also said knowledge was appreciating as opposed to depreciating and education should be holistic.
“My passion was teaching and conducting applied research, but I could not pursue my passion as there was a wide gap between academic and practice, which was yet to be bridged.
“My title is Doctor of Business Administration, obtained after rigorous ‘applied research’ in the subject of ‘Translating Strategy into Action in the Aussie IT Industry’.
“I have years of experience as a chief executive officer.
“I was involved in running businesses, hence, I had no time to publish academic papers.
“My teaching experience was discontinued as I did it part-time while maintaining a full-time corporate job. Academics appeared to be intimidated by ‘corporate professors’ entering their ‘Ivory Towers’.
“But, it turned out to be a blessing in disguise. I was left with no choice but to become an entrepreneur, and went on to build multimillion-dollar businesses in Asia.”
What will kill the traditional higher education system? Marcandan said 10 to 15 years ago iPhones, Uber or Facebook did not exist.
However, many jobs would be done by intelligent machines in future and students would rely heavily on online search engines, lecture notes and recorded lecturers, including virtual and augmented realities (VR, AR). And Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are also gaining widespread recognition.
“How do we overcome this? We do it by improving the teaching and learning experience to ensure they (teachers) deliver what computers cannot,” Marcandan said.
“For example, improve apprenticeship, mentoring and working experiences, because adults learn best with and from each other in solving problems.
“We should remove barriers to entry by tech giants, such as Cisco, Intel, Google and
Microsoft, as these leaders of innovation should be allowed to enter the higher education market.”
“Institutions should run like a business enterprise by entrepreneurs, who make strategic investments that generate revenue streams and capital gain to derive additional income,” Marcandan said.
“Remuneration and rewards need to be linked to performance and delivering key performance indicators to reduce administrative ‘bloat’.
“Focus on applied research in collaboration with corporate entities as well as making research commercially viable, monetisable and of benefit to the society at large.”
He said higher education institutions should rethink their policies.
“Firstly, they should create a higher education lobby group that coordinates sector efforts and attracts philanthropy and endowments.
“Secondly, establish a merit-based system in all aspects of higher education as education should never be compromised by politics.
“Thirdly, leverage the power of alumni, not only for word of mouth referrals, but to also attract endowments.
“Fourthly, reduce entry barriers to encourage creation of industry-specific ‘corporate universities’.
“And lastly, produce students who transform Malaysia into a producer, not merely a user.”
Source: New Straits Times