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Quality Education a Key Component to Enhance Fourth Industrial Revolution

22/Nov/2019


The Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) is set to send ripples of change throughout the world, and will require both big and small businesses to innovate, to stay relevant and competitive in the global market or risk becoming defunct. The 4IR refers to the shift towards digitalisation, as advancements in technology such as the Internet of Things (IoT), Artificial Intelligence (AI), and automation are poised to dramatically change the way we live our lives.

In this regard, education has been identified as one of the main components and key factors that propel the success of 4IR. In Malaysia, at tertiary level, the Ministry of Higher Education (MoHE) has set forth new initiatives/programmes as part of its effort to cultivate holistic, entrepreneurial and balanced graduates to be globally competitive.

The Ministry has introduced a range of initiatives such as the integrated cumulative grade point average (iCGPA), in addition to its existing academic-driven CGPA system, the 2u2i Programme and CEO@Faculty Programme, to address the challenges and critical needs of 4IR. As the country embraces the Industrial Revolution, these are some of the important aspects that we must look at:

  • Digital disruptions are happening every single day. We need to preserve our core values, ethical principles and Malaysian identities as we embrace 4IR.
  • Innovation amongst Malaysian universities is key competitive factor of Digital Transformation in 4IR.
  • Higher education leaders/providers should exploit the potential opportunities brought by 4IR with much responsibility and wisdom, by providing digital leadership for their institutions.
  • Constantly adapting to the changes as part of the Malaysia Higher Education 4.0 initiative to meet the needs of 4IR.

The education sector has always enjoyed the highest national development budget which symbolises the commitment of the Malaysian government towards education. The quality of higher education is assured through the Malaysian Qualifications Agency (MQA) which undertakes the implementation of the Malaysian Qualifications Framework. MQA is also responsible for quality assurance and the accreditation of courses and other related functions, covering both public and private higher educational institutions.

The provision of higher education is well regulated. Below are some of the legislation:

  1. The Education Act 1996 (Act 550)
  2. The Private Higher Educational Institutions Act, 1996 (amended 2009)
  3. The National Council of Higher Education Act, 1996
  4. Malaysian Qualifications Agency Act 2007 (replacing the previous namely National Accreditation Board Act 1996 which has been repealed)
  5. The Universities and University Colleges (Amendment) Act, 1996 (amended 2009)
  6. The National Higher Education Fund Corporation Act, 1997 (Amendment 2000)

The internationalisation of the higher education sector is a high priority for MoHE. Efforts have been made to improve the world ranking of Malaysian universities; to have 200,000 international students by 2020; to create more 'Malaysian Chairs' at universities abroad; and to collaborate and cooperate with world-renowned universities on research and academic matters.

The government will continue to create a friendly environment and invite more world-class foreign university branch campuses or faculties to be set up in Malaysia. Some of the well-known foreign universities with branch campuses in Malaysia include Monash University (Australia), the University of Nottingham (UK), Curtin University (Australia), Swinburne University of Technology (Australia), Newcastle University School of Medicine (UK) and University of Southampton (UK).

Other initiatives undertaken by local higher learning institutions include the establishment of Malaysian university branch campuses in other countries and increasing transnational education collaboration with overseas institutions. Malaysian higher education is also aggressively promoted in many parts of the world through road-shows.

MoHE also aims to have 20 Research Excellent Centres which are of international standard by 2020. The nation has also targeted to achieve 100 researchers, scientists and engineers (RSE) per 100,000 workforce by the year 2020. The 11th Malaysia Plan (2016-2020) sets to improve the quality of academic staff by increasing the number of academics with PhDs in public universities, for both research universities and other public universities.

Quality Evaluation Audits in Place

 

The country’s first rating system, SETARA (Rating System for Higher Education Institutions in Malaysia) was implemented in 2009 to measure the performance of undergraduate teaching and learning in universities and university colleges in Malaysia. The SETARA result was measured using a six-tier category with Tier 6 identified as Outstanding and Tier 1 as Weak.

Subsequently, another rating system was introduced in 2011 - MyQUEST (Malaysian Quality Evaluation System for Private Colleges) was used to evaluate private colleges in Malaysia in terms of the quality of students, programmes, graduates, resources and governance. The MyQUEST rating categorised an institution as either excellent, good, or weak. The institutions would also receive a rating based on their level of achievement, ranging from 1 star (poor) to 6 stars (excellent).

The route to quality is evolving continually and Malaysian higher learning institutions will have to continue to be at the forefront of adopting best practices. Quality evaluation audits like SETARA and MyQUEST are in place to ensure compliance, governance and a measurement of the quality of the learning and teaching standards. 

 

While these help to keep public and private education providers on their toes at the compliance and regulatory end, perhaps we should look at how quality can be readily assessed from the perspective of the end user (the student/parent). 

 

Higher learning institutions should measure student satisfaction, graduate employability figures three months after graduating, a professional body’s accreditation (if any), staff-to-student ratios, and enrolment and attrition rates in a more holistic and readily available format. It will certainly be a good practice to have these metrics captured annually and published in their information kits (such as their websites, prospectus and leaflets).  

The two rating systems serve as a reliable reference for students and parents in their selection of institutions and programmes of study offered by various higher learning institutions, and in acquiring quality education as we move forward vis-à-vis embracing the Industrial Revolution.

An Overview on the 4IR

 

Without questioning on the importance of technology and the Internet, they have the ability to cause numerous disruptions in our environment, such as the emergence of driverless cars, which utilises a combination of technologies. It is important to democratise the Internet, or to ensure that it not only remains affordable but usable to many or risk becoming ‘a country without roads’.

Democratisation of technology gives power to the consumers, the citizens, and to all of us. The democratisation of technology can benefit SMEs, citing Uber and Grab as examples of companies that are disrupting the transportation industry, which has existed for many years. Other notable examples include Netflix, Spotify, Airbnb, etc. These are the early signs of companies (that are) coming from nowhere and disrupting traditional industries. Therefore, we need to realise that it is going to happen, it is going to change and we need to embrace the change.

For the uninitiated, technology is changing rapidly and it is imperative that business models need to change as required. Take Blackberry and Kodak for example, who would have thought that these two conglomerates would fall simply because they failed to adapt. Nevertheless, 4IR is not just about technology, but also other dimensions, such as urbanisation and the country’s demographics.

The whole world has become more urbanised, and even Malaysia is following that trend. In the 1970s, we had an urbanisation rate of about 25%. Today, we are already at 75%. It is projected that by 2050, it will be 90% or so. While the country’s population growth is expected to grow in the coming years, the number of youth is expected to shrink due to declining birth rates. Some people even anticipate that the country will fall by the wayside as it struggles to grapple with the pace of change, adding that Malaysia in general is underestimating the scale and speed of this change while there is a lot of ‘wait and see’ approach in the private sector.

Having a multidisciplinary skill set is important, such as great innovators like Albert Einstein and Isaac Newton - a good example of how it can benefit an individual, leading to their outstanding achievements. In this aspect,  training in universities need to be multidisciplinary as well, with many universities focusing too much on specialisation that they miss out on gearing students for ‘the breadth of knowing’

4IR and the Age of Optimisation

Innovative technologies defining the Industrial Revolution hold the promise of a path to environmental sustainability. How do we go about to transforming the world’s workplaces, with expectation of countless jobs being created and eliminated at a rapid pace, with the many social implications such disruption entails? How to achieve an innovative, competitive and environmentally sustainable economy which is fundamental to our national well-being? There are major opportunities and rewards, but serious risks are also abundant in the decisions made today.

According to IT experts, the world is entering ‘a technology-driven Age of Optimisation’ bringing about more sustainable production and consumption. These technologies ‘could answer the grand global challenges of adequate food, clean water, energy, the environment and global health’. Digitisation, sensorisation, and big data will help optimise all aspects of manufacturing production.

We will have the ability to illuminate the operation of every machine and device, the cut of every blade, every movement of material, and the consumption of energy minute by minute - providing insight for greater efficiency, waste reduction and lower energy consumption. Other examples of high-tech driven change include sensor-enabled smart farming, focused down to square meter scale, with irrigation water delivered precisely when and where needed, while saving energy.

With sustainability heavily dependent on innovation, these experts have outlined 10 guiding principles for nations, regions and cities to succeed in ever more fierce global trading rivalries and achieve environmental sustainability. The principles emphasise key competitiveness drivers:

1.     Research and development;

2.     Education and training for all;

3.     Sustainable and responsible natural resource development;

4.     Strong intellectual property rights;

5.     Open trade;  

6.     A stable, transparent, efficient and fair environment for business investment, formation and growth.

For the record, the world’s three past Industrial Revolutions evolved from the invention of the steam engine, the electrification and expansion of industries for mass production and the digital revolution produced by computers and information technologies.

Meanwhile, 4IR is being driven by the convergence of advanced technologies, as mentioned  earlier, and in addition - robotics, nanotechnology, biotechnology, materials science, energy storage and quantum computing.

In summary, this transformation has the potential to disrupt almost every industry in every country and is evolving much faster and with greater impact than any of the previous industrial revolutions. And in an ever more globalised world, Malaysia is compelled to embrace 4IR in order to remain competitive. Gearing towards that, the country needs to:

1.     Strengthen talent development;

2.     Set clear governmental directions;

3.     Increase awareness;

4.     Focus on the 20% of corporations with the conviction to embrace 4IR;

5.     Leverage large corporations;

6.     Create a conducive business ecosystem;

7.     Improve Internet infrastructure;

8.     Focus on the service sector.

The nation needs to be better prepared to confront the profound challenges ahead.  Our future competitive advantage will rely largely on our strength and depth of science and technology-based innovation capacity. Otherwise, our ability to compete in the global marketplace will be severely jeopardised. If we do not do the right things today, especially in the field of education, and by providing quality education, when the time comes, it will be too late, as the real outcome of what we do today will only be realised 20 to 30 years from now.

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