In conversation with
YBhg. Prof. Datin Paduka Dr. Aini Ideris

Vice Chancellor | Universiti Putra Malaysia

ASEAN Education Spotlight: How does it feel to transition into your new role as the leader of this institution and how do you find balance between your passion for teaching and your new duties as Vice Chancellor?

Dr Aini: I take my current role as an opportunity to contribute more to the university. I joined Universiti Putra Malaysia as a tutor after I obtained my Doctor of Veterinary Medicine ( DVM) degree. As I moved up to various roles, there were always a lot of things I wanted to achieve to bring the university upwards. Being in my position now, I can achieve the things I believe need to be done for our university. I see it as a great opportunity and a duty that’s been handed to me. As an established university, trying to bring ourselves to higher levels is harder than trying to improve ourselves as a non-established university. My task now is looking at how we can make our name more internationally known and to strengthen our connections and networks for collaborations in the future.

I find it very difficult to balance my passion for teaching and my duties as a Vice Chancellor. I’ve hardly had any time in the last 6 months to go to the labs – I do drop by once in a while but the students mostly come to see me. My classes are always the first thing in my mornings, so I always make time for them in my busy schedule. Sometimes, students come to my house as well over the weekend to complete their write-ups, while I finish up other work related matters.

Following on the recent launch of Malaysia’s Higher Education Blueprint, how would you identify your current role and what are the goals you have set in place?

Dr Aini: We have a strategic plan set in place. The first and most important goal is for our students to have a holistic education. We also have strategies implemented on how to make advances on our research and development, commercialisation and innovation. As an agricultural university when we first started, we also want to maintain our original identity. 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.

Having your focus on building strong industry connections, how do you create balance between commercialisation and creating the right values in your students?

Dr Aini: As far as our students are concerned, the teaching and our curriculum won’t change apart from us trying to improve and enhance it from time to time. We are getting our students more involved in the development of our curriculum with the activities provide for them. We guide them through their years of development here so that they are confident by the time they graduate. When it comes to generating income – we try to do that by having our veterinary teaching hospital open 7 days a week from just weekdays and we also have people on call for emergencies. We are an agriculture-based university so we utilise the skills we have in this field for income generation. Most of our commercialisation however, comes from our research. Our university has always had the highest number of products being commercialised and we now have 36 start-up companies, which is also the highest number in the country.

In what ways do you assist with the development of small and medium enterprises?

Dr Aini: From time to time, we invite the industry and get our researchers to pitch their products. At the university, we have the Putra Science Park and we have a facility called the InnoHub where we have various training programmes for people to come and take part in. Occasionally, we also have guests from overseas who come here to learn how to commercialise their products. We groom the potential researchers so they learn the necessary techniques, and then we invite the industry to come and partner with the makers of the products. We also aim for the researchers to create a spin off company, a company of their own, instead of being taken over by a big company.

Do you foresee ASEAN as the research hub of Asia?

Dr Aini: 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 ASEAN Association of International Higher Education 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 ASEAN Agriculture Universities when I was Deputy Vice Chancellor and we met periodically to discuss how to enhance our collaborations in regards to teaching and research.

What is Malaysia’s role in uniting the ten member states and creating one identity among them?

Dr Aini: Malaysia being the Chairman of ASEAN makes it easier for us to voice our needs and how we would like to do certain things. The Minister of Higher Education is really active now, which makes us very happy because he takes a very hands-on approach. He is able to bring the universities to work together and we fit that approach well and we are part of the system of collaboration.

In regards to your future internationalisation plans, where would your focus be?

Dr Aini: We already have collaborations with many universities in all the ASEAN countries, so we just need to strengthen our relationships with more activity between us. We don’t want to only look at the Southeast Asian countries but also form relationships with other Asian countries such as Japan, Korea and Taiwan.

What is your message to the young leaders who are about to graduate and how would you encourage the spirit of lifelong learning in their hearts?

Dr Aini: The most important thing is for one to love what they are doing. You have to be passionate and dedicated. If you love what you are doing, things will fall into place and you won’t find it too difficult. My philosophy since I was young is that I never say “no” to anything. Even if I don’t know how to do something, I will first accept the challenge and figure it out along the way. You need to interact with people and be confident in your abilities and that is how people will notice you. If you strive for perfection, high quality will follow and high quality leads to excellence. So I would say for the readers, to love what you do and keep in mind these three things – perfection, quality and excellence, and you will fly.

If there was one main thing you would like to accomplish as the leader here, what would it be?

Dr Aini: The one thing I want is excellent staff. They are the most important component of the university and are our assets at the end of the day. If you have people who are committed and dedicated to what they are doing, it will bring up not only their skills but those of our students as well. By having an excellent support staff, I’m sure our students will be amongst the top students and will only get better. Our vision is for our university to be an internationally renowned university and the only way to get there is by having excellent students and staff as a key component.