Malaysian public universities are losing touch with reality

Posted on: November 24, 2013, by :

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Public universities keeping their distance from industry players
Last updated on 24/11/2013 – 09:47

Posted on 23/11/2013 – 11:06

Hazlan Zakaria

PETALING JAYA: Public universities have a poor record to show when it comes to commercialising their research and development. This is not surprising because most of them are unable to work closely with industry players.

A commercial researcher, who did not want to be identified, said: “Public universities have been isolated in their ivory towers for a long time. Few, if any, ever engage industry.”

He said that public universities have become far too removed from industry, and as a result, they are not able to supply what the industry players need – be it employable graduates or effective commercial R&D collaborations.

For one, he pointed out that the accreditation body for public universities does not encourage teaching by industry captains.

“They [universities] are therefore insulating themselves from industry needs. How would they be able to carry out commercialisation successfully when collaboration between public universities and private sector companies is rare?”

As long as this goes on, public universities will continue to churn out unemployable graduates, he warned, as teaching syllabus does not conform to industry needs.

The same problem exists with commercialisation of research, which is not only a way to gain funding and claim ranking tables but also to generate entrepreneurs among graduates who can churn out jobs for others.

But one major hurdle remains: the disconnect between universities and industry.

This is probably a relic of a research culture in universities where researches are done not for commercial purposes but purely for academic reasons.

The Finance Ministry, which oversees the development of commercial R&D in universities, had acknowledged the problem, having sunk millions into supporting programmes to no avail.

“Our universities work in silos,” the ministry secretary-general Dr Mohd Irwan Serigar Abdullah said at a forum, adding that this is one of the reasons for the poor return on investment from Malaysia’s investment into public universities’ efforts to commercialise their R&D.

The government had issued a directive in 2004 for universities to start doing commercial R&D as part of efforts for them to self-generate funds.

However, academics have cited the lack of infrastructure for them to really commercialise their R&D, resulting in millions being spent by the government in supporting programmes, though no noticeable strides have been made.

The researcher believes the way forward is for universities to open themselves up to industry and learn to truly work together, or else risk being left behind in the changing landscape of tertiary education in Malaysia and around the world.

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Public universities in Malaysia have been in denial. Unlike their counterparts in the private higher education sector, it is not necessary for them to play ball with industry. They need not worry if their graduates hold irrelevant degrees or are lack of industry needed knowledge. The private sector colleges and universities will not survive for long if the graduates that they are producing cannot find jobs. Thus they have no choice but to engage industry wholeheartedly. Pragmatism is always good for survival.

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