Interview

Prof. Datin Paduka Dato' Dr. Aini Ideris

Vice Chancellor of Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM)

UPM is currently ranked 32nd best in the world (3rd in Asia and 2nd in Southeast Asia) in the rating of UI-GreenMetric World University Ranking, based on sustainability of green campus and environmental management.

ASEAN BUSINESS LEADERS: Prof. Dr. Aini, you have extensive professional experience in the academic sector, and as a distinguished scientist, you have received international acknowledgement for your research before you were appointed as Vice Chancellor at UPM in 2016. What are the values upon which you have built your leadership at UPM, and what is your vision in building the university’s capabilities and excellence?

PROF. AINI: I have always believed in giving my best in whatever I do – whether it is teaching, research, professional services, administration and others. Having a good track record makes it easier for me to convince others, and to lead by example. We have to be a good role model for the good of the university.

To achieve a higher level of excellence, we need to give great emphasis to the aspect of quality, perfection, accuracy and excellence in our work culture. Since the beginning of my role as UPM Vice Chancellor, I emphasized that all university leaders, staff, and students need to really understand the concept of ‘IHSAN’ and to express this value in their behaviour and work culture. ‘IHSAN’ encompasses every act or undertaking that is good and executed sincerely, correctly, skillfully, efficiently and effectively, with the purpose of achieving perfection, superior quality and excellence, even when no one is watching. Today, the values of ‘IHSAN’ are understood by everyone at UPM and have been incorporated in each and every of our activities. ‘IHSAN’ is the pillar of excellence in UPM.

In order to continuously build the university’s capabilities and excellence, UPM will continue to be the ‘Garden of Knowledge and Thought’ that builds goodwill. The university will produce not only workforce-ready graduates, but also those with superior personal qualities who are able to compete globally. Instilling the value of ‘IHSAN’ at UPM will enable us to discharge our duties with integrity, and prevent us from doing anything against work ethics. Each and every one at UPM needs to carry a good attitude, in order to uphold the university’s image and place the university’s interest above oneself. We recruit staff who do not only have excellent qualifications, but also good attitude and manners. We help them to grow in their career and motivate them to serve the university with excellence.

ASEAN BUSINESS LEADERS: What is the role of sustainability at UPM, and how do you steer the university and its student population towards creating valuable impact to the society?

PROF. AINI: Consistent with the Sustainable Development Goals, as a global citizen, we need to be part of the global initiative to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity. I believe that universities and institutions of higher education play a pivotal role in shaping the moral contours of students and society towards sustainability. At UPM, consistent with our main goals, we shoulder the role as sustainability agents through our graduates, research and commercialization, community and industry extension works and services, our agriculture niche, and our governance. UPM is currently ranked 32nd best in the world (3rd in Asia and 2nd in Southeast Asia) in the rating of UI-GreenMetric World University Ranking, based on sustainability of green campus and environmental management.

UPM maintains top position in Malaysia for nine consecutive years since the ranking was introduced in 2010. Successfully fulfilling more than 40 indicators covering 6 major scopes, namely land size and infrastructure, energy and climate change, waste, water, transportation and education, requires full commitment from UPM’s top management, staff and students towards creating valuable impact to the university and society. We organize many awareness programs within and outside the campus, involve in voluntary activities related to environmental sustainability, and so on.

ASEAN BUSINESS LEADERS: What is the importance of industry linkages to UPM?

PROF. AINI: Consistent with the initiatives of the 10 shifts in the Malaysia Education Blueprint 2015-2025 (Higher Education), sustaining the dynamic relationships between universities, government, industries and communities is pivotal. This is also well expressed in one of UPM’s strategic goals, which is boosting Industry and Community Networking linkages. Through the establishment of CiRNeT (Centre for Industry Relations and Network) and University Community Transformation Centre (UCTC), concerted efforts and various high-impact collaborations and activities with the industry have been carried out in UPM. I strongly believe that as a research university, our innovation and commercialization must give greater economic value to the industry and community. In this aspect, our Putra Science Park (PSP) supports technology transfer activities in UPM by moving the potential technologies and research from the laboratory to the market. To date, UPM has successfully generated a substantial amount of commercialization income, filing of intellectual properties, and establishment of start-up companies. This would not be possible without strong linkages with the industry. We also have ‘industry on campus’, which means the industry set up their presence on campus. As an example, Farm Fresh Malaysia has established its dairy farm on our campus, thus providing opportunities for real commercial training and research opportunities for students and staff without having to travel far away. We also have an accounting firm on campus which provides real-world practice for our students.

ASEAN BUSINESS LEADERS: Internationalization of higher education is very important for graduates to be relevant in a global workspace and for universities to attract academic talent. How does UPM strategize on its internationalization efforts, and what are the challenges and opportunities that UPM faces in attracting academic talent?

PROF. AINI: UPM’s vision is to become a university of international repute. Consistent with this vision, internationalization of higher education has always been emphasized for graduates to be relevant in a global market. We recognize that providing an international perspective to students is central in today’s global education landscape. Our view echoes through our continuous effort to increase the number of academic programs that are internationally accredited and postgraduate joint and dual degree programs through collaborations with renowned international universities. At UPM, we have a structured strategy to promote, facilitate, and support international mobility and education of students and academician. Through our global engagement with various international entities, we assist faculty, centres, universities and external entities in collaborative networking arrangements.

Our reputation and international standing have provided us with great opportunities in attracting academic talents. At UPM, we retain and develop the best talents through ensuring the right ecosystems are in place and providing them with opportunities to realise their potential. We give them an inspiring environment and access to some world-class infrastructure and facilities for the benefit of both education and research. Meanwhile, like any other higher learning institutions in the world, the limitation in terms of financial resources remains the biggest challenge in attracting prominent international academic talents. However, we manage to reduce some of the challenges, through our international networking, strategic partners and collaborative efforts.

ASEAN BUSINESS LEADERS: Malaysia is positioning itself as a regional higher education hub and has a competitive climate of public and private higher education institutions. What are the advantages of Malaysia as a higher education hub, and what is the experience that students can expect while studying at UPM?

PROF. AINI: Malaysia is a popular destination for international students seeking higher education due to several advantages the country offers. Some key reasons are value for money, a wide range of courses available with English language as a medium of instruction, and a safe and vibrant environment. Malaysia is also a multiracial and multicultural country. Due to that, we can easily accommodate students of various nationalities together to foster racial harmony and encourage a closer rapport among each other.

At UPM, students obtain quality academic programs that are professionally and internationally recognized, and have experience a diverse learning environment. As students at UPM come from more than 80 countries, we create a truly international experience that places emphasis on cultural integration, creativity and collaboration across all learning and campus activities. Staff and local students are friendly, hospitable and always make international students feel welcomed and at home.