In an interview with StarEducation, the new Higher Education Minister talks about the steps he is taking to transform the Malaysian higher education sector.
HIGHEREducation Minister Datuk Seri Mohamed Khaled Nordin was "gifted" withtwo important policy documents by his predecessor, Datuk MustapaMohamed - the National Higher Education Strategic Plan and the NationalHigher Education Action Plan (2007-2010).
Both plans chart thefuture of higher education, and are aimed at ensuring that Malaysia canattain world standards in the not-too-distant future.
Khaled now has the responsibility of translating the Strategic Planinto action. He has indicated that this will be his primary focus andhas no intention to reinvent the wheel.
To a certain degree,education is not a new field for Khaled. In his previous capacity asEntrepreneur and Co-operative Development Minister, Universiti KualaLumpur and the various MARA colleges were under him.
Now threemonths into his current portfolio, Khaled has a clear idea of what heshould do. First on the agenda is the reorganisation of the ministryitself, details of which will be announced on June 13.
"We need to restructure the ministry to support the implementationof the Strategic Plan. Some departments will be streamlined and evenmerged," he told StarEducation in a special interview at his office in Putrajaya last week.
Thenext major announcement is expected to involve the apex university(that is, one that has great potential to be world-class).
Fivepublic and two private universities have submitted proposals to comeunder the accelerated programme for excellence. Institutions identifiedas apex universities will be given additional assistance, Khaled said.
"Everyuniversity that has applied has put forward its plan and the budgetrequired to carry it out. We will make an announcement on this in July."
Anotherissue 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 theirconvocation.
The study involved 132,900 graduates from 18 publicuniversities, 18 polytechnics, 34 community colleges and 13 privateinstitutions of higher learning from all over the country.
Toimprove their marketability, last year the ministry instructeduniversities to beef up undergraduates` soft skills by making itcompulsory for them to take courses in entrepreneurship, communicationand English language, among others.
Khaled has taken this onestep further by introducing a more structured and centralisedinternship programme for final-year students in public universities.
"Wewant to ensure graduates are equipped with skills and experiencesrelated to their fields of study as employers have raised the issuethat they lack essential skills, such as communication," he said.
TheHigher Education Ministry will coordinate the programme and inform therespective universities of vacancies available. For a start, BankNegara is offering 500 places under this programme.
Khaled alsoplans to work with the Entrepreneur and Co-operative DevelopmentMinistry 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.
"Personnelfrom there will go to the campuses to facilitate students` involvementas they have funds set aside for university graduates," said Khaled,who is from Johor and holds a law degree from Universiti Malaya.
Anotherlandmark event that took place after he took over the helm was thelong-awaited release of the Rating System for Malaysian HigherEducation Institutions (Setara) 2007, last month.
Setara hasfinally brought some measure of transparency and accountability to thepublic higher education sector, with universities being given starratings based on indicators like their facilities, academic programmesand research activities.
When asked whether universities thatscore highly should be allowed to differentiate themselves and startcharging "five-star" fees, Khaled said that the hotel analogy shouldnot 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.
Malaysianacademics and students hope that Khaled will get more time at the helm,and the support he needs, to translate the Strategic Plan into action.