Malaysia’s Education Blueprint envisions significant changes in how the higher education system will operate over the next decade. It will place different demands on all stakeholders, and will result in major changes in behaviours, mindsets, and outcomes.
In a global knowledge economy, Malaysia must create a talent pool that is flexible, forward-thinking and progressive. My objective is to reform our higher education system so that our output transforms from graduates who are job seekers to ones who are job creators and balanced citizens with an entrepreneurial mind-set. To achieve this goal, the Ministry of Higher Education has launched several projects in the past few years – success in each project is taking us one step closer to our objective.
Commercialisation of Ideas
As centres of new knowledge and technology, universities must play their part to assist with problem solving for industry and society. The Ministry of Higher Education has devised a strategy that promises long-term success for all stakeholders – students, academia and industry. Commercialisation of ideas refers to the process of introducing an income-generating and sustainable solution to the market. This strategy leverages universities’ expertise to combine knowledge and technology to solve problems via consultations, contract research, licensing and training.
While commercialization of products has been at the centre of previous strategies, it is not the core business of the university because it involves huge investments such as the purchase of machinery and other items for production. Our core business is to produce talent that meets the needs of the country and carries out research activities for sustainable development of the nation – the very essence of commercialisation of ideas.
The strategy works through a two-pronged approach:
University-driven research is initiated by academic researchers to meet a need in society or industry at a local or global level. This original research could lead to the generation of intellectual property rights, the creation of spin-off companies due to technology licensing and the development of skilled research talent that can fuel the Malaysia’s economic growth. While university-driven research may take longer to reach the market, it plays a critical role in providing us with a competitive edge in the global knowledge economy.
Demand-driven research is initiated by industry to address the specific needs of a sector or community. Accordingly, the solutions developed typically have a faster time to market. Researchers working in demand-driven projects stand to produce more industry-relevant research due to better understanding of industry pain points. Our Public-Private Research Network (PPRN) initiative is one such example whereby the Ministry links universities with companies to solve real-life business problems.
More than just talk
To bring our Commercialization of Ideas initiative from idea to execution, we have collaborated with the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation to create Symbiosis – a comprehensive programme that covers aspects of commercialisation as well as entrepreneurship. At the end of the program, selected students will lead start-up companies to commercialise technologies developed at universities and research institutions.
Symbiosis start-ups will be able to apply for funding from the Malaysia Technology Development Corporation and receive nurturing and other support services just like any other companies within MTDC’s ecosystem. The numbers are already promising: 75 active startups, 163 technopreneurs within the Symbiosis Programme at various stages of commercialisation activities, and 84 jobs created since inception.
New Education Partners
One of our challenges is to reduce the higher education sector’s reliance on government funding. That means universities must build more partnerships with industries, endowment funds and other bodies. Government expenditure on higher education has been rising at a rate of 14 per cent per annum driven largely by subsidies to public universities where up to 90 per cent of expenditure is government funded. While private universities are primarily funded by student fees, around 48% of their students benefit from student loans from the Higher Education Fund Corporation.
From a funding perspective, institutions will move away from a heavy dependence on government resources to having all stakeholders sharing responsibility and contributing towards the future of the education system. Today’s mass production delivery model of higher education will evolve to a mass customisation model where technology-enabled innovations are able to deliver and tailor education to unprecedented numbers of students – as witnessed by Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs).
If you look at it closely, this factor connects with what I mentioned earlier about the Commercialisation of Ideas – if universities produce research that drives industrial growth and progress, there is no reason why funding partnerships cannot be formed with the corporate sector.
We have an ambitious goal under our Vision 2020 programme to reach an international enrolment of 200,000 by 2020, making Malaysia the sixth largest education exporter globally. We are targeting further growth within Southeast Asia, as well as from China, India, and the Gulf Region. Our goal is to promote Malaysia as an international education hub with a difference: one that is valued by students for its competitive advantage in providing value-for-money higher education and that balances quality and affordability with the added value of rich cultural experiences.
The Ministry has set up Education Malaysia Global Services (EMGS) – a private agency tasked with developing and implementing high-impact promotional activities. The agency will work along similar lines as agencies which promoted Malaysia as a hub for tourism and biotechnology.
In addition, prominent international research laboratories will be set up where universities, industry, and organisations can work as co-collaborators. This initiative will build domestic capacity for high-impact research projects, and enhance Malaysia’s profile as a global knowledge contributor, further attracting top students and academics to our country.
There are also plans to offer more innovative programs that appeal to a wider student base. This could include joint degree or double degree programmes with world-renowned institutions or short-term executive education programmes for working professionals. We also aim to promote inter-ASEAN student exchange programmes such as through volunteerism activities – this is already happening with our Yayasan Sukarelawan Siswa (Students Volunteers Foundation), hold international conferences to discuss ASEAN concerns, and to continually engage on matters of quality assurance, accreditation and join collaboration.
We have an excellent window of opportunity to define Malaysia’s future for the better and usher in long-term economic growth in the coming decade. What will make us successful is our willingness to adapt to new and better ways of teaching, collaboration and administration.