Tertiary institutions today are both globally connected and locally engaged as they play their roles in helping to develop globally-minded citizens,acting as conduits to international partnerships, helping to create the conditions for industry collaboration and social innovation, as well as be agents of social change, inclusion and mobility.
But what are the priorities in ensuring national tertiary education is fit to shape societies of the future and meet the future needs of students, businesses and communities amidst issues such as new technologies and changing boundaries?
These were among the questions raised at the recent Going Global 2018 higher education conference in Kuala Lumpur.
Held for the first time in the Asean region since its inception in 2004, this year’s conference was co-hosted by the Ministry of Higher Education Malaysia (MOHE) and the British Council, with the Asean Secretariat as supporting partner. The conference theme Global Connections, Local Impact: Creating 21st Century Skills, Knowledge and Impact For Society-Wide Good was discussed at 40 sessions over three days.
Welcoming guests at the opening ceremony, British Council Malaysia director Sarah Deverall said it was fitting that the conference was held in the Asean region which has focused on harmonisation of higher education over the last few years with great success.
“With a combined population of more than 600 million, Asean is the third largest global market for education. Asean recently realised a five-decade dream of bringing together its 10-member state, including Malaysia, to form an economic community, bringing social progress, stability and greater opportunity to the region.
“With 15 million students enrolled across the region, at the heart of the transformation is the role of tertiary education and its contribution to society and cultural understanding, economic growth and employability.”
Deverall, who highlighted Malaysia’s achievement in attracting international students, added: “Malaysia has taken a long-term approach in its commitment to education, with a growing reputation as a regional education hub in Asean. With a goal of 250,000 by 2025, Malaysia has attracted approximately 170,000 international students to its institutions, creating diverse student bodies and rich cultural educational environments.”
Figures recently released by the United Kingdom’s Higher Education Statistics Authority show that Malaysia has raced to the top of the table in hosting transnational students pursuing UK qualifications internationally. Numbers sourced from the 2016/17 academic intake show that Malaysia boasts 74,180 students, with China coming in second with 70,240 and Singapore third with 48,290.
MOHE secretary-general Tan Sri Dr Noorul Ainur Mohd Nur gave an overview of the
Malaysian higher education landscape, home
to 1.2 million students.
“Malaysia’s gross enrolment ratio in 2016 of 44 per cent is higher than most of the Asean countries and higher than the world average of 37 per cent. We are very proud of our success stories on the global front,” she said while emphasising the importance of establishing global higher education connections for the benefit of local communities as they face the challenges of the 4th Industrial Revolution.
Vongthep Arthakaivalvatee, deputy secretary general for socio-cultural community at Asean, said the handling of issues that impact education depends heavily on international cooperation as much as national action.
“We need to make sure our education system is marked by quality, credibility and innovation,” he said, adding that education and training for qualified human resources is the key factor for social and economic development in a globalised world.
Dr Ayesha Khanna, co-founder and chief executive officer of ADDO AI, an artificial intelligence advisory firm, said that with the disruptive challenges of artificial intelligence and automation come as many opportunities. Predictions of job losses in numerous white-collar sectors such as banking and law can be scary, but new jobs are also inevitable and open exciting possibilities.
“Any kind of work that is repeatable can be mimicked by a machine,” Ayesha said. “However, creativity and humanity have never been in more demand as technology performs the routine and the mundane.”
The challenge for learning institutions is to find the right balance between theory and applied learning, because artificial intelligence depends on sector expertise.
Another speaker, Professor Janet Beer, trustee of British Council and president of Universities UK, said: “We have an exciting and challenging agenda at Going Global. Universities have always drawn ideas from far and wide... in their local and international context. Here in Malaysia the value of transnational education is very well understood. But how can higher education better connect with, and serve, people across all levels of society?”
Sam Gyimah MP, UK Minister of State for Universities, Science and Research, addressed the conference by video.
He said: “We are particularly keen to help students from disadvantaged backgrounds benefit from international experiences which is why the Department for Education here in the UK recently doubled the number of internships for disadvantaged young people through the British Council’s Generation UK programme. At the same time we are welcoming record numbers of international students to the UK.”
Education is at the heart of the Malaysia-UK bilateral relationship with five UK branch university campuses and 80 Malaysian local and private universities which have partnered with UK universities.
Going Global 2018 marks the 70th anniversary of the British Council presence in Malaysia.
The event featured 150 speakers, 30 exhibitors and attracted 1,000 participants.