Six leaders of Malaysian private higher education institutions (PHEIs) recently shared their insights and concerns during the Vice Chancellor’s panel on Ensuring the Relevance of Tertiary Education in an Industry 4.0 World. The event was held at the National Education and Learning Summit 2020 in Kuala Lumpur on 28 July 2020.
The day-long summit was organised by Kingsley Strategic Institute for Asia Pacific in collaboration with National Association of Private Educational Institutions (NAPEI) and Malaysian Association of Private Colleges and Universities.
Prof Dato’ Dr Ansary Ahmed, Founding President and CEO of Asia E University, acted as the moderator.
Prof Dr Sulochana Nair, Vice Chancellor of Binary University, said the pandemic has opened up the weaknesses of the education ecosystem. It has shown the need for changes, such as in the Higher Education Ministry’s role from being a regulator to a facilitator.
She stressed that the university is still relevant but not in its current form. In the future, lecturers may be brought in to teach a course for just one semester or deliver programmes without being attached to any university, with learning delivered mostly on online platforms.
She said universities must train students to be critical thinkers, and to be adaptive, flexible and able to work beyond their disciplines. This is because those who are adaptable and flexible can easily learn more on the job, she stressed.
International University of Malaya-Wales (IUMW) Vice Chancellor Tay Kay Luan said the pandemic and Movement Control Order (MCO) have caused a drastic drop of up to 60% in student recruitment and enrolment at private higher educational institutions.
He said IUMW is now focusing its efforts on online delivery and training, and on development of its faculty. He emphasised the need for private universities to work collectively. New partnerships between educational institutions and the industry should also be forged.
WOU Chief Executive and Vice Chancellor Prof Dr Lily Chan said the University aims to look into making personalised adaptive learning happen for students. This would take into account learner diversity, performance and speed of learning. Some top universities in the world are already doing this.
As an open distance learning (ODL) institution, WOU can offer programmes and be relevant in the IR 4.0 world since its students are mostly working adults. She stated that WOU must however take another look at its curriculum, re-prioritising some of the skills that the students need to learn, like communication and digital literacy which are important in today’s environment. She suggested offering foundation courses in simple coding to every student who enters the University.
Prof Chan said that learners today must have knowledge of different disciplines. She cited as an example knowledge of digital literacy, climatic changes, social aspects and communication for an engineering student. “So how do we integrate knowledge from different disciplines and re-imagine education curriculum in the future?” she said, prodding the participants to think.
Responding to a query on how important lifelong learning is in the IR 4.0 era, she said: “We need to work with industry. Courses can be blended if the students are in industry. Can we round up technicians and engineers in similar industries to work with universities like WOU to provide learning? This may or may not need to lead to a degree. We can do a lot of simulation, as a new innovation in teaching.”
Prof Zita Mohd Fahmi, Vice Chancellor of Quest International University, said the current quality assurance (QA) system must transform in view of changes within universities and their programmes, in response to Covid-19.
She said an online degree and a conventional degree must be of the same quality, with QA being an important instrument to assess the learning. She said universities should think creatively about how to embed the expected competencies – such as agility, adaptiveness, cognitive skill, resilience, technological competence, lifelong learning – in the programmes.
She added that the scenario brought by Covid-19 has illustrated the need for consultation, fast communication and quick decision-making. She cited the need for immediate training to prepare lecturers, systems and students for online teaching and learning during the pandemic.
Senior Prof Dato’ Dr Khalid Yusoff, Vice Chancellor and President of UCSI University, said that as we embrace IR 4.0 universities must expand their roles to train citizens for the future. He urged the institutions not to neglect human elements like critical thinking, innovative thinking and creative thinking.
Prof Graham Kendall, Provost and CEO of University of Nottingham Malaysia, asked the crowd to imagine a future world where robots deliver lectures.
He shared that for him, IR 4.0 is the merging of the physical and the digital world. He stated that people are already talking about IR 5.0, with one definition describing it as when machines really show intelligence. “But we need to define what machine intelligence is,” he added.
He then issued a challenge for Malaysia or any public-private partnership to take up, which is to have a robot deliver an undergraduate lecture and answer any questions from the students, and at the end of that lecture, the students do not know that they have had a lecture from a robot. He felt that this is something to aim for and would set us apart from the rest of the world.