Interview

Prof. Dr. Azmawani Abd Rahman

Director Corporate Strategy and Communication Office of Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM)

UPM is the first university in Malaysia to obtain accreditation from ACCSB in business education. This accreditation is awarded to the Faculty of Economics and Management (FEP) and the Putra Business School.

ASEAN BUSINESS LEADERS: Can you give an introduction about Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM)?

PROF DR. AZMAWANI: UPM is a leading research university in Malaysia and our campus is located in Serdang, next to Malaysia’s administrative capital, Putrajaya. UPM is one of the country’s five appointed public research universities, and our history dates back to 1931 when UPM was first established as the School of Agriculture.

In 1997, the name was changed to Universiti Putra Malaysia by the Prime Minister, Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohammad, as a strategic gesture to portray the status of UPM as a centre of higher education capable of providing various fields of study, especially in science and information technology, which facilitate national development in the new millennium.
Now UPM offers more than 265 fields of postgraduate study in its effort to transform Malaysia into a higher education hub of excellence at the regional and international level.

As a world renowned centre of learning and research, UPM has attracted students and staff from around the world, making it a well-respected global entity.

ASEAN BUSINESS LEADERS: What do you observe about the developments in higher education?

PROF DR. AZMAWANI: Higher education in Malaysia is moving in an upward trend in terms of research impact and internationalization. A notable difference is in our research impact. Previously, we were focused on research publications, but nowadays we extend our views and switched our focus to the practical value that we can create from those academic papers. Research must not end as a paper publication since it must contribute to the betterment of the local community, society, and industry.

Research innovation needs to be commercialized. Commercialization of research is about how your product and research can benefit the industry, the communities and the university. It’s not only UPM, but other universities are moving in this direction as well. This is how we aim to create value and mutual benefits for communities, industries and universities. One example of how our research has given great and internationally-recognized impact is the fiber optics samples that we have provided to the Japanese aerospace industry.

Various establishments in UPM, such as our Putra Science Park and cutting-edge research institutes, have provided us an ideal environment to move forward consistent with the changing landscape of global higher education. We have established various collaborations between our researcher and the industry through technology transfer from the laboratory to the market and commercialization of UPM’s innovative intellectual property.

Another development is increased expectation for public universities to generate their own income to be sustainable. This is consistent with Malaysia’s higher education blueprint’s aim to reduce the dependency of public universities on government funding. At UPM, we have created more income-generating platforms such as intensifying our effort to secure private and international research grants, research commercialization, and establishment of the Centre for Management of Waqf, Zakat and Endowment (WAZAN), a specific entity focusing on income generation. Other approaches at UPM include capitalizing our expertise and resources in providing training and consultation services to industry and government agencies.

ASEAN BUSINESS LEADERS: What is the role of internationalization in UPM?

PROF DR. AZMAWANI: Our vision is to be a world-renowned university. That can be achieved through the establishment of international faculties, with which we can collaborate on research and publications. We have a target to get prominent international lecturers and academicians that are specialists in areas aligned with our faculties as well. We believe that they can contribute to the internationalization of our research excellence and extend our global networks. A certain percentage of our academics have to be from international background. Internationalization at UPM also reverberates throughout our internationally accredited academic programs and our globally recognized research excellence.

We have to benchmark our internationalization efforts. One of the points is the internationalization of students. What does it mean? They must have one semester studying abroad. All of our graduates should have international exposure. We also received inbound students from various countries. International students coming in to UPM is important so that we can provide an international environment in teaching, learning, and campus life. English is our medium of instruction, and we incorporate intercultural communication in our programs. Our policies and structured strategies are important to attract them and to ensure they have a good experience.

In our post-graduate programs, we are also welcoming international students. The high number of postgraduate enrolment is a benchmark to see that we are accepted as an internationally reputable university.

Furthermore, our students need to be relevant once they have graduated from UPM. Are they accepted in overseas companies and institutions? To answer that question with a yes, our programs need to have international accreditation. This is why benchmarking is very important.

For example, UPM is the first university in Malaysia to obtain accreditation from ACCSB in business education. This accreditation is awarded to the Faculty of Economics and Management (FEP). AACSB accreditation is the hallmark of excellence in business education, and less than five percent of the world’s business programs have been recognized by this prestigious accreditation body.

This is part of our strategy to keep track of our international repute. In the research area, for example, we must be published in internationally reputable journal. In fact, one of the key attributes to get promoted in UPM is through your international standing in research activities, publication, and promotion of your area of expertise.

ASEAN BUSINESS LEADERS: Can you elaborate on the industry linkages with UPM?

PROF DR. AZMAWANI: Industry linkages are very important, we need our academics to be able to have a network so that we can penetrate into the industries and communities. This is reflected in our governance and strategy. At UPM, we have a specific deputy vice chancellor responsible for high impact industry and community linkages and overseeing several entities and units in UPM in supporting industry linkages activities. This demonstrates our commitment on how we can give back to society, which is one of our strategic pillars: boosting Industry and Community Networking Services.

To ensure the effective deployment of our strategic objectives, all staff and student activities are linked and aligned to the strategic objectives, missions and vision of the university. For instance, there is a specific point in our yearly assessment to link the steps and performance of industry linkages with our evaluation. We also have a few centers in UPM to help foster our collaboration with the local community and society. We want our staff and researchers to give back to society and this can be done through community projects. Everyone in UPM understands that and it becomes part of our culture. There are different levels on which we engage with the industry and community. This moves from simple communication, to collaboration, to real partnership. Every level has value and we need to monitor that and ensure that our partnerships are sustainable. UPM has specific system, called the Industry & Community Relationship Intelligent Systems (ICRIS), to structurally capture, record, and analyze activities regarding industry linkages at UPM.

ASEAN BUSINESS LEADERS: What is the importance of Industry 4.0 and what is the role of technology in UPM?

PROF DR. AZMAWANI: We have a comprehensive strategy on Industry 4.0 which is implemented on all levels in UPM. One of the initiatives, is the “future classroom”. We also need to adjust our curriculum and content delivery. Through the “future classroom”, new innovations in the area of mobile applications, gamification and immersion are introduced to meet Industry 4.0 in education. It is aimed at promoting the learning ecosystem and technology-assisted teaching to make it more conducive and fun for students and other campus citizens. We often invite our industry partners to give us input and advice on modes of delivery. We cannot operate in isolation.

Our ‘smart campus’ development plan is consistent with the transformation requirement in Industry 4.0 revolution. Developments like Smart Desktop For Student lab, Putra EduCloud, One Staff One Mobile App, and Bring Your Own Device will not only strengthen the teaching, research, and administration, it will solve some inefficiency problems and save cost as well. Meanwhile, our cutting-edge research facilities and equipment enable our researchers and students to pioneer research topics with results that is relevant to the industry and community, through methods that are globally accepted and replicated.

ASEAN BUSINESS LEADERS: How do you present and communicate the values of UPM in the international field?

PROF DR. AZMAWANI: It is important for us to make an impact through research, and achieve steady growth in terms of ranking and international benchmarking. UPM traditionally has a focus on agriculture and forestry research, but now we are competitive internationally and we can compare ourselves with other established research universities. For the last two years we have been growing very strongly, especially on commercialization of our research. We have a strong culture that drives people to move forward. Our values are communicated well through our work culture with our international students and international research collaborators.

ASEAN BUSINESS LEADERS: How can Malaysia maintain its own cultural values in this increased internationalization of the higher education sector?

PROF DR. AZMAWANI: When we are talking about globalization and diversity of the society, Malaysia is an open country that has managed to maintain its strong cultural identity. In our programs we also measure soft skills such as ethics and professionalism, which is very important in the global workplace. You have to be culturally sensitive to score well in these categories.

At UPM, we know we have to make sure that our values are retained. Our language, Bahasa Malaysia, needs to be preserved. We make Malaysian language skills a compulsory basic class for international students. This is how they can learn about our country and make the best of their experiences when they are interacting with local people. UPM celebrates different cultures and we organize a yearly cultural day in which every student can represent their culture through different activities. This is the role that the universities play to motivate students to learn and be open-minded to new cultures.

The presence of international students makes the local students think as well. It forces them to be aware of their own values and think critically when they have to explain what their cultures and beliefs are. That doesn’t mean that you will lose your own values – quite the opposite, because you are becoming more aware of them. UPM creates a good environment for students to learn new perspectives. Even lecturers should be ready, because when we were students in the past, we did not have many international exchanges, but now it is part of our daily interactions. This is a shift and we have to be a part of it.