Open varsity concept for UM

IN a bid to upskill and reskill Malaysians, Universiti Malaya (UM) will be introducing flexible, industry-relevant courses.

And, the country’s highest-ranked varsity will be starting with its own staff.

Some 500 courses will be available next semester and the varsity has identified 500 of its employees to join the classes, UM vice-chancellor Prof Datuk Dr Mohd Hamdi Abd Shukor (pic) told StarEdu.“We have identified their learning gaps and we want them to sign up for course subjects that are relevant to them.

“They have to go to the faculties, join the classes and take the exams. We allow them three hours per week to attend these classes, ” he said, adding that it would take a total of 42 hours to complete each subject in 14 weeks.

The initiative, he said, is part of the UM strategic plan for 2021-2025, which was launched on Feb 9 in conjunction with his first 100 days as vice-chancellor.

The plan, he said, consists of five pillars – income generation, teaching and learning, research and innovations, entrepreneurship, and talent.

“The talent pillar is about investing in our people. If our people ‘tak elok’ (not good), the whole university crumbles.

“We want to ensure that our lecturers, executives and those in operations are well-trained and have specific abilities through these soon-to-be open courses, ” he said, adding that the varsity’s professors are also encouraged to sign up.

“I am an engineer and if I want to learn about environmental law, I can just go to the law faculty instead of paying money outside.

“We’re also allowing the industry to come in and join our classes but they will have to pay a token sum. People can choose whether they want to study all the subjects in a course or just a few subjects.

“If they join the course, they will get a certificate to say that they have successfully completed the course with details of how many credit hours and grades they have obtained.

“Eventually, once they have enough credit hours, they can perhaps pursue a masters degree. It’s called micro degree stacking.”

Regulatory and accreditation issues still need to be sorted out before its plan for micro degree stacking can be implemented but Prof Mohd Hamdi believes it is the way forward in the democratisation of knowledge.

“We want to be leaders in introducing new educational concepts. We don’t want to wait for the whole (regulatory and accreditation) process to complete before rolling out the plan so we are going to introduce the courses first. Micro degree stacking can come later.”

The introduction of these new courses will see a mix of students, UM staff and industry professionals learning together in a classroom, he said, adding that universities should be where knowledge is generated and shared.

“It’s like the Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) platform except that we’re doing it on campus so UM will be seen as an open university for people to gain specific knowledge that they require, rather than an ivory tower for elitists.”

A new path forward

Prof Mohd Hamdi said the varsity has identified five new core values it wants students and staff to embrace.

POISE – which is the acronym for passion, oneness, integrity, sincerity and empathy – are values that are part of the varsity’s staff promotion, recruitment and retention criteria.

UM has also come up with a new vision and mission.

“The previous mission was to become an internationally renowned institution of higher learning, which we have already achieved.

“So we needed to have another compelling vision, which is to become a global university impacting the world.

“And, our new mission is to push the boundaries of knowledge, and to inspire and nurture leaders, ” he said, adding that he was “very confident” of the varsity achieving its vision and mission “despite our limitations”.

“I have been in this system for 26 years. I have seen the development of this university.

“When done properly, a transformation can go beyond what was initially intended.

“If the government helps a bit more, UM can fly beyond our expectations. Don’t underestimate the potential of this university.”Do more, do better

Prof Mohd Hamdi, however, said the working in silo mentality is still very strong.

He said there is a need to break free of the myopic and self-serving mindset.

“Interdisciplinary work that impacts the nation is important.

“Researchers must see how their work can link to the government’s strategic plans and policies, and how they can create an impact on the industry.

“It’s not just about publishing papers.

“The questions everyone has to ask are: Where is this going? What’s next? Does the work influence policymakers?

“Work on demand-driven research rather than an individually-driven one, ” he said, adding that the greatest challenge in bringing any unversity forward is in ensuring that it has the best talents.

“We can’t simply retrench low achievers nor do we want to.

“We want them to work hard and work smart so that they can do better for themselves and for the institution.

“We are not here to chuck people out but we need to work harder on improving not just the lecturers, but the whole spectrum of people in the organisation, ” he said commenting on the recently introduced KPI (key performance indicator) which some academicians have described as “unfair”, “difficult” and “near impossible”.

Prof Mohd Hamdi, however, argues that the KPI centres on what they are supposed to do as part of the job.

“For example, as a professor, I publish two or three journal articles but it becomes a problem where when I publish, I include other professors’ names in it.

“So essentially, it’s four professors, for example, sharing the credit for one journal article when only one person actually did the work. The rest are just piggybacking on that person. That is abuse of the system.”

The new KPI, he explained, was introduced to ensure quality output. Some, he said, are not used to it because they have been given the leeway to circumvent the system.

“That’s why these individuals find the new KPI ‘difficult’. The high achievers tell me my KPI targets are too low.”