Harnessing Quality in
Prof. Dr. Mokhtar bin Abdullah
Quality has become one of the top issues faced by higher education in recent years. lt has received serious attention globally, and has been widely debated not only within the private walls of universities but also under the spotlight from critics outside the institution that include regulating bodies, government, and industries. Universities across the globe are increasingly pressed to find ways of proving their worth in the preparation of students, the quality of graduates they produce, and how well these graduates are accepted by business and industries. Higher education confronts persistent demands from stakeholders to attest the worth of courses offered in today’s increasingly competitive higher education market and how conducive the learning environment is for students in the course of their studies.
As a response to the stakeholders demands, UNISEL has embarked on a comprehensive university-wide transformation agenda, comprising both infra-structure and academic. Over the last one-year, UNISEL carried out aggressive rehabilitation and maintenance works on its infra- structure facilities. These include rehabilitating air-conditioning in the classrooms, lecture theatres, the main library, and creating a new image for the main campus in Bestari Jaya as a green campus. This is part of UNISEL’s strive to provide students with exceptional learning experience, quality academic programmes, a vibrant campus life within a spectacular environment as well as dedicated academic and non- academic staff who are committed to the success of each student.
As a proactive measure and an important part of the academic transformation agenda, UNISEL started with the rationalisation of faculties in which the number of existing faculties was reduced from eight to only four faculties. The purpose of this is to optimize and consolidate the academic strength of the newly-formed faculties as well as to create a more balanced and multi-disciplinary academic programmes to offer for future students. Each academic programme will have to incorporate contemporary elements of e-business and entrepreneurship, communicative skills, ethics, and humanities. Strengthening the e-learning platform is also part of the teaching and learning strategies designed to improve the quality of education. With diminishing resources and increasing competition, the challenges may seem insurmountable, but nevertheless UNISEL can, and is doing much to foster academic quality particularly teaching, research, and improve student learning outcomes.
Like any other academic institutions in Malaysia, The quality of academic programmes offered by UNISEL are subject to external scrutiny by the Malaysian Quality Agency (MQA)- the regulating body responsible for overseeing the academic quality of all higher education providers in Malaysia. Assessing the academic quality is a standard practice in most higher education institutions around the globe. According to the British Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) academic quality is defined as a way of describing how well the learning opportunities available to students help them achieve their award. It is about making sure that appropriate and effective teaching, support, assessment and learning opportunities are provided for them. In addition, for professional courses (e.g. accountancy and engineering) in UNISEL, the courses offered are subjected to review and accreditation by relevant professional bodies, such as MIA and EAC, respectively.
In addition, UNISEL has taken a step further in assuring the efficiency and effectiveness of its deliveries by implementing quality management system based on ISO 90072075. This best practice is to be implemented across all academic and non-academic processes. This will ensure uniformity of quality in all work systems that ultimately leads to a culture of quality excellence across the organisation.
The fundamental changes in employment over the past 50 years have revealed a clear trend that university graduates are entering a world of employment that is characterised by greater uncertainty, speed, risk, complexity and interdisciplinary nature of working. University education, and the mode of learning whilst at university, will need to prepare students for entry to such an environment and equip them with appropriate skills, knowledge, values and attributes to thrive in it. There is a strong drive to build and create knowledge together with an understanding of working life and reformulate the concept of knowledge in learning situations. Tighter connections with working life through different academic projects provide authentic opportunities to learn both generic and professional competencies as well as to build networks and pathways for employment after graduation. Learning rooted in working life could help institutions to interpret and respond pedagogically to the challenges of this environment, using other forms of teaching and learning patterns, like project-based learning. At UNISEL, undergoing industrial training or internship for a period of at least three months in government agencies and companies is made compulsory for students before they can complete their studies. The purpose of this industrial attachment is to expose students with real-world working experience in to corporations and industry.
The new trend also signifies that higher education can no longer be owned by a community of disciplinary experts who transmit knowledge to students. Both the complexity and uncertainty of society and the economy will require institutions to continuously adapt while upholding quality standard. In practice, institutions like UNISEL will have to learn how to best serve the student community. Student- centered approaches have become the focal point of the teaching learning process in many areas of the world. With this view of learning, the role of university educators has to change. In addition to being, first and foremost, a subject expert acquainted with ways to transmit knowledge, university educators are now required to have a effective pedagogical skills for delivering student learning outcomes. They also need to co-operate with students, colleagues from other disciplines, and with external stakeholders as members of a dynamic learning community. ln light of this, it is a requirement for faculties in UNISEL to have an advisory panel whose members are appointed from the industries who will give their expert opinions in the development of new academic programmes.
Even though UNISEL is a state-owned university, it is a private university. Being a private institution UNISEL has to behave like a business enterprise. From a financial point of view, UNISEL has recurring cash flows and outflows that need management. In the past ten years, the finance side has become an all-important aspect of UNISEL’s function. Demand-driven models pertaining to student intake, state funding which is confined only to capital expenditures (CAPEX), local and international fee disparities, increasing course fees, competition for research grants, cost-cutting measures and pursuit of income have become norm. Revising the relevance and value added of courses being offered by faculties and matching them with the current and future needs of industry will help UNISEL towards becoming a ‘lean’ higher education institution.
UNISEL aims to become a renowned academic institution at both national and regional levels. In this regard, UNISEL is determined to emerge as respected institution known for its excellence in research and innovation. UNISEL has established several centres of excellence (CoEs) associated with six strategic thrusts, namely, Bio-technology, Maqasid Shari’ah, Motor-Sport Engineering, Halal Industry, Democracy and Electoral Studies and Epistemology. The CoEs shall serve as platform for researchers in UNISEL and from other institutions to carry out research works, have intellectual discourses, and publish their scholarly works in these areas of studies. Recent developments have witnessed some strategic net-workings between UNISEL and some leading industries such as Microsoft, Selangor Halal International, Invest Selangor and several others. These strategic networking hopefully will lead to smart partnerships and meaningful collaborations in research and innovation that will benefit both UNISEL and the strategic partners.
In this globalization era, UNISEL has to spread its wing abroad by offering quality academic programmes to prospective students who are in need of higher education in other countries. ln response to this challenge, UNlSEL has taken the right moves by creating a smart partnership with a local institution, lNSlGHT, to establish a UNlSEL branch campus which is the first branch campus by a foreign university, in Dhaka, Bangladesh. The official launching of the UNlSEL branch campus is to be held in September 2017 and the first batch of 500 students are expected to enroll in academic programmes at diploma and degree levels. Apart from being an academic institution, the UNlSEL branch campus will play a unique role where it will become a meeting point or platform for business communities from Bangladesh and Malaysia, particularly those from the state of Selangor, to discuss potential business ventures and investment opportunities in both countries.
The pursuit of quality excellence in higher education institutions such as UNISEL is a never-ending journey. With the changing needs and increasing demand of the stakeholders in both government and industries, the level of quality of education in UNISEL has to be continually enhanced. The susceptibility to the stakeholders’ expectation is essential for UNISEL before it can emerge as a highly respected and reputable higher education institution at national, regional and global levels.