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BERITA SEMASA
Semua Koleksi

Big plans afoot
08 June 2008
In an interview with StarEducation, the new Higher Education Minister talks about the steps he is taking to transform the Malaysian higher education sector. HIGHER Education Minister Datuk Seri Mohamed Khaled Nordin was "gifted" with two important policy documents by his predecessor, Datuk Mustapa Mohamed - the National Higher Education Strategic Plan and the National Higher Education Action Plan (2007-2010).

Both plans chart the future of higher education, and are aimed at ensuring that Malaysia can attain world standards in the not-too-distant future.

Khaled now has the responsibility of translating the Strategic Plan into action. He has indicated that this will be his primary focus and has no intention to reinvent the wheel.

To a certain degree, education is not a new field for Khaled. In his previous capacity as Entrepreneur and Co-operative Development Minister, Universiti Kuala Lumpur and the various MARA colleges were under him.

Now three months into his current portfolio, Khaled has a clear idea of what he should do. First on the agenda is the reorganisation of the ministry itself, details of which will be announced on June 13.

"We need to restructure the ministry to support the implementation of the Strategic Plan. Some departments will be streamlined and even merged," he told StarEducation in a special interview at his office in Putrajaya last week.

The next major announcement is expected to involve the apex university (that is, one that has great potential to be world-class).

Five public and two private universities have submitted proposals to come under the accelerated programme for excellence. Institutions identified as apex universities will be given additional assistance, Khaled said.

"Every university that has applied has put forward its plan and the budget required to carry it out. We will make an announcement on this in July."

Another issue that he has set his sights on is graduate employability. According to findings under the ministry`s Graduate Tracer Study 2006, 30.7% of graduates remained unemployed six months after their convocation.

The study involved 132,900 graduates from 18 public universities, 18 polytechnics, 34 community colleges and 13 private institutions of higher learning from all over the country.

To improve their marketability, last year the ministry instructed universities to beef up undergraduates` soft skills by making it compulsory for them to take courses in entrepreneurship, communication and English language, among others.

Khaled has taken this one step further by introducing a more structured and centralised internship programme for final-year students in public universities.

"We want to ensure graduates are equipped with skills and experiences related to their fields of study as employers have raised the issue that they lack essential skills, such as communication," he said.

The Higher Education Ministry will coordinate the programme and inform the respective universities of vacancies available. For a start, Bank Negara is offering 500 places under this programme.

Khaled also plans to work with the Entrepreneur and Co-operative Development Ministry to further expand the entrepreneurship programme.

"Now the focus is more on creating awareness on entrepreneurship among university students.

"We want to go beyond that to see how they can benefit from some of my previous ministry`s programmes and facilities.

"Personnel from there will go to the campuses to facilitate students` involvement as they have funds set aside for university graduates," said Khaled, who is from Johor and holds a law degree from Universiti Malaya.

Another landmark event that took place after he took over the helm was the long-awaited release of the Rating System for Malaysian Higher Education Institutions (Setara) 2007, last month.

Setara has finally brought some measure of transparency and accountability to the public higher education sector, with universities being given star ratings based on indicators like their facilities, academic programmes and research activities.

When asked whether universities that score highly should be allowed to differentiate themselves and start charging "five-star" fees, Khaled said that the hotel analogy should not apply to higher education.

"That`s not the reason why we came up with Setara. We want all universities to get as many stars as possible.

"The main objective is for universities to improve their standing and for us to help them do so."

Both his predecessors, Datuk Seri Dr Shafie Mohd Salleh and Mustapa, stayed about two years each at the ministry.

Malaysian academics and students hope that Khaled will get more time at the helm, and the support he needs, to translate the Strategic Plan into action.

Source : Star Online

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