5 April 2020, Sunday | 03:54pm

Charting a new path for tertiary learning


IT IS a glossy and thick document which charts the direction of higher education for the next 11 years.

Or as it says in its executive summary, the blueprint was developed by Malaysians for Malaysians and will equip Malaysia for the final leg of its journey towards becoming a high-income nation.

Ambitious plans indeed, and the Malaysia Education Blueprint 2015-2025 (Higher Education) was drawn up in order to achieve them.

It is obvious that much work has gone into preparing the new blueprint. Just as important is for the Education Ministry to see it through the next 11 years and to ensure that these are not just pipe dreams.

Although the blueprint mentions that “these measures are not intended to be exhaustive and may evolve over time”, it is important that the framework which sets out its plan of action is adhered to.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak who launched the blueprint earlier this week, has rightly pointed out that implementation is key.

And, on the road to delivering a comprehensive and necessary transformation of the higher education system, everyone involved has to truly understand what the blueprint is all about.

It took about two years for the blueprint to be ready.

After consulting more than 10,500 individuals and referring to studies by the World Bank, Unesco and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the blueprint will now guide the transformation of Malaysia’s higher education landscape.

An extension of the National Higher Education Strategic Plan 2007-2020, work on the new blueprint started in 2013 with the ministry collecting input from multiple sources through town hall sessions, forums and public feedback through their web portal.

Based on discussions and feedback from local and international academia, leaders of Malaysian higher learning institutes and the general public, the ministry recognised the “shifts” needed to transform the system.

They include holistic, entrepreneurial and balanced graduates; talent excellence; nation of lifelong learners; quality technical vocational education and training (TVET) graduates; financial sustainability; empowered governance; innovative ecosystem; global prominence; globalised online learning and transformed higher education delivery.

With more public consultation and under the guidance of the Cabinet, the 10 shifts were then identified (see table).

Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin said these shifts will support the five aspirations – access, quality, equity, unity and efficiency – as outlined in the blueprint.

By 2025, the ministry hopes to allow more access to higher education by increasing tertiary enrolment rates from 36% to 53%. This would require an additional 1.1millon seats, mainly in technical and vocational education and training (TVET), private higher learning institutes and online learning.

Muhyiddin said the ministry targets to have an enrolment of 650,000 TVET students by 2025, a 2.5-fold increase.

“Besides that, online learning will be expanded through initiatives such as a compulsory 70% ‘blended learning’ model for all courses and more usage of massive open online courses (MOOCs),” he added.

“Quality” would encompass quality of graduates, institutions and the overall system.

“We want to change the mindset of graduates from being ‘job-seekers’ to ‘job-creators’,” Muhyiddin added.

To ensure that “the system is not overtaxed and execution fatigue is avoided”, the ministry has carefully planned the strategies and initiatives of the 10 shifts across three waves.

This is to build successively on the system’s capacity and capabilities, and the readiness level of higher education institutions improve.

The first wave will focus on establishing the building blocks of transformation; the second will introduce more structural improvements to accelerate change and the third will strengthen the global prominence of Malaysia’s higher education system.

Najib is confident that the blueprint will create well-rounded and talented graduates.

“With the blueprint, our universities are set to transform as we set benchmarks that are of global standard,” he said.

Najib also said he was pleased that the new blueprint emphasised the efficiency and productivity of the public universities.

This, he said, would be an incentive for these varsities to increase the number of publications and research and development.

“Increase performance, increase productivity, increase efficiency and we’ll increase your budget allocation,” he told the over 2,500-strong crowd at the launch of the blueprint.

He was also happy that the new blueprint will now allow varsities greater autonomy.

For the blueprint to be successful, Najib stressed that “it’s all about execution, execution and execution.”

Muhyiddin who is also Education Minister, is taking on the mantle by chairing a Putrajaya higher education committee that will be set up to realise the targets in the blueprint.

The committee will include Second Education Minister Datuk Seri Idris Jusoh, public sector leaders, the Performance and Delivery Unit, academics, industry leaders, non-governmental organisations and other experts.

“It will be hands-on for me as I will monitor the implementation of the plan.

“We are committed to making tough decisions, whenever necessary, to ensure that the quality of outcomes meets the expectations of the rakyat,” said Muhyiddin in his speech.

“Other than that, the blueprint would be reviewed regularly, with reports published annually.”

The ministry also aims to ensure equal education opportunities for all Malaysians and is committed to improving the enrolment and completion rate of students from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds.

While there is no widely-accepted method to gauge unity, the ministry is committed to ensuring the enrolment reflects Malaysia’s ethnic mix.

This is to provide students with shared values, experiences and common aspirations by embracing their diversity.

When it comes to efficiency, the ministry aims to maximise the return on investment in higher education while maintaining the government’s current expenditure level per public varsity student.

To ensure financial sustainability, public varsities will have to reduce their dependence on government resources by focusing more on monetising assets, carrying out research and development, and obtaining endowments from alumni members, Najib said.

“When it comes to management of public universties, the ministry will shift from being ‘tight controller’ to ‘ regulator and policy maker’,” Muhyiddin added.

Overall, the blueprint proposes major changes in the higher education system in order to keep up with, if not stay ahead of global trends in the sector.

These changes include the CEO faculty programme, where senior industry or public sector leaders are invited to teach in public varsities.

Also, the new funding formulae for public varsities means there will be less funding from the government.

The proportion of block grants will be reduced. And, a significant proportion of funding from the government to institutions will come in performance funding as well as per-student funding.

Greater levels of investment in higher education can also be expected.

In addition to government funding, more funding will arise from endowment funds and other income-generating sources.

This move will provide Malaysians with equal access to high-quality education that meets international standards.

It also calls for more intensive and frequent engagement, collaboration and partnerships with the industry and the public.

Source: The Star Online