(FILE PIC) A shot of Universiti Kuala Lumpur (IUKL) graduations at a recent convocation ceremony. NSTP Pic by ROSELA ISMAIL.

KUALA LUMPUR: The positive progress among Malaysian university students is evidence of the growing innovation, and research and development field in the country.

The Higher Education Blueprint 2015-2025 has clearly stressed the importance of university graduates being equipped with essential knowledge in this field as that is what drives a nation forward.

Higher Education Ministry director-general Datin Dr Siti Hamisah Tapsir said the ministry introduced the Research Universities (RU) Initiative to cultivate the R&D culture and accelerate its growth 10 years ago. However, it is only now that the ministry are reaping the benefits after five RUs recorded an increase in R&D postgraduate students.

"There has also been an increase in publications and citations (594 per cent, according to Thomson Reuters), international collaborations, patents filed and more. To date, the ministry has recorded over 28 per cent in Return of Research Investments (RoRI) from the RU initiative – a positive yield from the commercialisation of ideas and research products," she said in a statement today.

This was in response to an article published on Sept 7 titled "Malaysia not churning out suitable graduates for innovation, R&D: Professor".

The article quoting Professor Dwight H. Perkins of the Harvard Kennedy School touched on a number of matters concerning Malaysia's higher education state.

On the statement Perkins made about Malaysian universities not producing the type of graduates needed to drive innovation and R&D, Siti Hamisah said it was untrue as the ministry recognised the importance and the need for balanced holistic and entrepreneurial graduates as stipulated in Shift 1 of the blueprint.

Furthermore the ministry, she said, has several landmark achievements, among which include the introduction of the Integrated Cumulative Grade Point Average (iCGPA) initiative in 2015, the first of its kind in the world across 20 public universities. It not only assesses students' knowledge, but also their problem solving, information management, and entrepreneurial skills.

The ministry is also expected to introduce a Higher Education 4.0 Framework soon to ensure that Malaysia's higher education institutions are ready for the disruptions that will take place, and are able to equip the future graduates with what is needed for the era of technology convergence.

Others initiatives she said included Malaysia MOOC (the world's first nationally coordinate MOOC initiative), CEO@Faculty Programme (where top industry CEOs are appointed as adjunct professors and teach up to 30 hours per year in public universities), 2u2i (a work based learning programme to give undergraduates greater industry exposure), and APEL or Accreditation of Prior Experiential Learning (to enable individuals without formal academic qualifications to use their experience to enter university).

Siti Hamisah added that over this short span Malaysia has produced many innovative graduates, among which are Joel Neoh, a graduate from Monash University Malaysia who is a serial innovator involved with GroupOn Malaysia and Catcha Media, and Noorain Mohd Said, a University Malaya chemistry graduate who applied her knowledge to innovate new types of organic body care products, which earned her millions while she was still studying.

"Then there is a group of students from Universiti Tenaga Nasional who created a car-sharing application to help ease traffic congestion and another group from Multimedia University who developed a software that recognises locations based on pictures of buildings," she said, adding that these are but some examples to show that the innovative mindset of Malaysian graduates are growing.

As for the issue of Malaysia losing its top talents to other nations, she said this merely indicates that Malaysians are sought after by overseas universities and for employment.

"In 2015, World Bank lead economist Truman G. Packard stated 'many talented Malaysians come home after being based abroad, which brings many benefits for the country'. This is a concern but we're on the right track and measures are being taken to bring experienced Malaysians home," Siti Hamisah added.

She also explained that issue of autonomy in the Malaysian higher education scene, especially the presidencies has been long debated but the problem has been addressed in the Higher Education Blueprint, where the ministry recognises it must shift from "tight controller" to "regulator and policy maker".

"Currently the power to appoint key public university posts are legally vested in the minister, nevertheless the appointment process is thorough (i) the Board and academic associations, where they can nominate candidates and give consultation to the minister, (ii) the ministry, which has a selection committee of eminent persons who advice the minister, and (iii) the Higher Education Leadership Academy (AKEPT) that conducts a profiling of the candidates.

"Appointments are not left to chance or whims and fancy," she clarified in response to Perkins' statement that universities' presidencies were picked by the government.

Hamisah admitted that there are still many challenges ahead and the ministry is working hard to address these challenges.

"Indeed there are some bad apples but they are the exception rather than the norm."

Recently, she said Higher Education Minister Datuk Seri Idris Jusoh delivered a keynote speech on autonomy where he himself acknowledged that "greater university autonomy is required for future success".

She added that all university lecturers have to pass rigorous academic vetting in order to be appointed as faculty members. A PhD is a minimum requirement and there is no compromise in the quality of lecturers.

"Most of Malaysia's higher education success stories are the result of the hard work and effort of our home grown academics and researchers. Some have even been recognised by Thomson Reuters as 'World's Most Influential Scientific Minds', she said.

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