Importance of research and innovation for Malaysia and ASEAN

The goal of higher education has always been to develop and nurture professionals that are relevant to industry and can contribute towards economic development. Globalization has caused industry to expand rapidly and Southeast Asia is no exception. Consequently, it has become vital for ASEAN’s educational institutes to integrate research and development into their teaching methodologies and collaborate with each other so their graduates can be valuable to the region’s growth.


Higher education in Malaysia: an ever evolving scenario

In the past decade alone, Malaysia has become globally recognized for its research publications and patents. It has become a major destination for international students because of the support both the public and private sectors have shown for the advancement of the country’s higher education setup.


While speaking to FDI Spotlight, the VC of Asia Pacific University of Technology, Ron Edwards, had to say about the outlook of scientific development in the region: I can see Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand leading the way in terms of scientific development. I can also see topics of relevance for this area getting more attention than in more developed countries. I read in your report from last year that Malaysia is now attracting more students from abroad than Malaysians going overseas, which is a very interesting development.”


In light of the drastically evolving technological landscape of the world, the Ministry of Education has accepted that the higher education system needs to evolve continuously to stay abreast of global trends. The recently implemented Malaysia Education Blueprint (MEB), besides focusing on essential technical and vocational training (besides traditional academics), also aspires to impart an entrepreneurial spirit in students, so they can capitalize on technological advancements and innovations to actually create jobs, as opposed to merely seeking them.


In this regard, the ministry has formulated the ‘2u2i’ scheme, whereby university students in Malaysia will spend their first two years learning in their institute, their third year in industry and their final year creating and growing their own business startups.


Furthermore, the government has introduced the ‘CEO @ Faculty Programme’ which brings leading CEOs from the industry to public universities where they advise and assist the faculty and students, and share their experiences from the industry with them.


The Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM) is one institute that has embraced the government’s efforts for boosting the role of innovation and development in higher education wholeheartedly. To quote Prof. Datin Paduka Dr. Aini Ideris, the Vice Chancellor: “When the new blueprint came out, we planned our goals around it and incorporated what was required from the blueprint into our strategies. We have also implemented the “2u2i” programme the Minister spoke about, where students study for 2 years in university and spend 2 years in the industry. We also have our industry partners such as Sime Darby and Felda Corporation to aid us in supporting this programme. We need partnerships with big corporations such as these for us to be sustainable and they are very happy to take our students on as well.”


Other institutes are following suit. Professor Graeme Britton of Raffles University (Iskandar) says that they are in close collaboration with the industry, and that they create new programmes or modify their existing ones to match then needs of the industry. A major tool for connecting to the industry are internships, and in the professor’s own words, All our students go through internships, which is a big part of linking with the industry, and we get feedback through the internships.”


Prof. Dato Syed Ahmad Hussein, the VC of Perdana University, seems to have a particularly entrepreneurial and hands-on viewpoint pertaining to polytechnic programmes: “Polytechnics do not need to have programmes that have a close relationship with industry because they are industry.


Malaysia’s role in creating regional research collaboration opportunities

Malaysia, being the current Chairman of ASEAN, is uniquely suited for setting an example for all member states in this context, and so far, has stood up to the task admirably: the Minister of Higher Education is playing an active role in getting the universities of the member countries to collaborate, enabling them to pool their resources for research and development to yield a richer working environment.


Universiti Putra Malaysia has been at the forefront of bringing Southeast Asian universities together. Dr. Aini was optimistic when asked if she foresaw ASEAN as the research hub for Asia: “Of course, ASEAN universities are actually collaborating a lot under various groups and are carrying out a lot of activities together. I am now the President of the Association of Southeast Asian Institutions of Higher Learning (ASAIHL) and we have just held our board meeting in Taiwan. We are currently arranging for a big conference at the end of the year. Strengthening the group is very important. I was also a board member of the Asian Association of Agricultural Colleges and Universities (AAACU) when I was Deputy Vice Chancellor (Academic & International) and we met periodically to discuss how to enhance our collaborations in regards to teaching and research.”


According to Professor Jim Mienczakowski, the Pro Vice-Chancellor of Curtin University Sarawak Malaysia, the future holds a great deal for shared research initiatives: ‘We are very positively moving to work with academics in other institutions on shared research projects and sharing resources. We are about to open a bioresearch and development centre in which we have had a lot of investment from the Sarawak Government. This will be open on a commercial basis to do foundational work for various industries, but also to provide services with other universities.”


Going global with higher education

Malaysian institutes have not restricted themselves to regional collaboration alone: many are taking concrete steps to work with their counterparts in East Asia, Asia Pacific, Europe, North America and so on.


The University of Nottingham operates a campus in Malaysia, and its CEO, Professor Christine Ennew, believes knowledge exchange is benefiting the local economy: We have access to expertise and experience in the UK, and are able to share that with universities and businesses in Malaysia. Knowledge exchange influences teaching and core academic provisions for the students. We have many things we’ve pioneered in the UK that we’ve been able to bring to Malaysia, and we’re in a position where we can share some of those innovations with others to create a trickledown effect.


International collaboration enables Malaysian universities to tap into the innovations, experience and methodologies that have proven successful in developed countries, and foster interaction with students from diverse backgrounds, so their own students can appreciate the problems faced by the planet as a whole, and come up with solutions which will benefit everyone in the long run.