Interview

Prof. Dr. Taufiq Yap Yun Hin

Vice Chancellor of Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS)

We want to set the right example and with that in mind, the UMS EcoCampus was initiated in 2013 as a part of the Eco transformation program. We focus on sustainable development, ecological protection and resource conservation.

ASEAN BUSINESS LEADERS: This year, UMS is celebrating its 25th anniversary. Can you please give an introduction about UMS? What is your vision to build the university's capabilities and excellence?

PROF. TAUFIQ: UMS is a comprehensive public university established in 1994, and we are celebrating our silver jubilee this year.

Back in 1995, our first intake comprised of 205 students across three schools that are now known as faculties, which were the School of Science & Technology, School of Business & Economics, and School of Social Sciences.

UMS has expanded and grown steadily to the current ten faculties that we have here, and our student enrolment is around 17,000 now. About 86% are undergraduates and the rest are postgraduates, and some 4% of these students are international students originating from 36 different countries. The total number of UMS alumni is about 66,700, so we have a wide network. Now, we are the largest university in Sabah and our main campus spans 1,000 hectares of land.

To achieve our mission, vision and objectives, UMS is currently focusing on nine key result areas: Teaching and Learning, Research and Innovation, International Visibility and Reputation, Governance, Leadership and Delivery System, Financial Sustainability, State and National Development, Environmental Sustainability, Holistic Student Experience, and Industry/University 4.0, which are detailed out in the UMS Strategic Plan 2018-2022.

Going forward, we are very excited to start the UMS hospital so that we can continue to bring value to UMS and to the community as a whole.

ASEAN BUSINESS LEADERS: What are some of the specialization programmes and/or focus areas of UMS, and how does UMS add value to these sectors?

PROF. TAUFIQ: Due to our location, we have the right setting and advantage to study tropical flora and fauna diversity, forest ecology, hydrology, geology and eco-tourism.

In terms of research, our primary focus areas are aquaculture, biodiversity and environmental sustainability, agriculture and food, tourism, public health and smart healthcare, poverty alleviation, security and public transport, and indigenous culture and language. Additionally, UMS has four research institutes, namely the Institute of Tropical Biology and Conservation, Borneo Marine Research Institute, Biotechnology Research Institute, and Borneo Institute of Indigenous Studies.

Other research areas are based on the needs of Sabah and the local community. The research topics need to be community-centred, multidisciplinary and translational.

ASEAN BUSINESS LEADERS: Sabah, Borneo, is famous for its biodiversity and rich tropical rainforests. What is the role of environmental sustainability for UMS?

PROF. TAUFIQ: Our state is known worldwide for its biodiversity, and we have always attracted a lot of international efforts to protect our natural environment. UMS is actively partnering with government agencies, private sector companies, NGOs and international bodies to initiate research and education on biodiversity in Sabah. Most of these activities are undertaken through UMS’ Institute of Tropical Biology and Conservation.

We are also playing our part on campus to set the right example. With that in mind, the UMS Eco Campus was initiated in 2013 as a part of our Eco-transformation program. We focus on sustainable development, ecological protection and resource conservation. The role of the UMS eco-campus is also in line with many of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

We have to play a leading role in taking care of our natural environment because it closely intertwines with the local community. Unfortunately, some of the locals are not well educated about sustaining the natural environment. For example, they dump trash in the rivers, which will eventually end up on the beaches that we have here. That is why UMS also plays an active role in society, such as starting community awareness campaigns to help the locals understand the environmental issues we are facing and take relevant actions. We also organize events to clean up the beaches and collect the rubbish.

ASEAN BUSINESS LEADERS: What is the role that UMS plays to close the gap between industry and academics, and is the university open to any create any industry partnerships?

PROF. TAUFIQ: In our research on biodiversity, UMS collaborates with private and public sector, as well as NGOs. We have also been working closely with the industries in other academic and research activities. To further enhance UMS-Industry partnership and collaboration, the university has established the Centre for Industry and Community Network (CICN). In addition, all faculties are actively engaging the relevant industries in relation to curriculum review and industrial training.

UMS enriches and enhances the student learning experiences by expanding industry collaboration in the design and delivery of programs. This includes conducting field works, industrial and community engagement, internship, structured internship and mobility programs either nationally or internationally, with the aim to meet the growing and changing demands of the industries. On top of that, it also opens up opportunities for career development for individuals.

ASEAN BUSINESS LEADERS: What are the challenges that universities face to provide a balanced education in the modern technological world and making the transition to Industry 4.0?

PROF. TAUFIQ: It is very important to keep up with technology, especially in education. Our graduates need to be capable to work with the technology in the industry with a keen sense of entrepreneurship. UMS is committed to produce such future-ready graduates.

To embrace Industry 4.0, UMS has identified “Transformation towards University/Industry 4.0” as one of the key result areas in its Strategic Plan. Various strategies and initiatives have been identified and are currently being implemented in relation to this agenda. Among others, this includes the digitization of the teaching and learning process in UMS.

We have to train our students and lecturers on the implementation of technology in the classroom. Our staff and students now have access to an integrated ICT system where they can communicate with each other to deliver study materials and hand in assignments, thus providing a holistic learning environment.

However, we do face some challenges. Due to the large size of our campus, the ICT infrastructure needs to be up-to-date. Also, technology changes quickly and we have to ensure that our graduates have the right skillsets in the business environment. That is why we have established collaborations with companies such as Huawei and Microsoft on programs like Data Science and Cybersecurity.

ASEAN BUSINESS LEADERS: What are the unique opportunities and advantages of working or studying with the UMS and being located in Sabah?

PROF. TAUFIQ: Our collaborations with international universities means our students get the opportunity to study abroad. We also welcome foreign students, who can expect to enjoy a wonderful and holistic student experience while in UMS. We also invite international staff and academia to join UMS.

Sabah is a great place to work, study and live in. Our campus is near Kota Kinabalu, a safe city located on a gorgeous coastline with majestic mountains in the background. We also have the most beautiful sunsets! The locals here are welcoming and friendly, and they speak English very well, which makes it easy for anyone to settle here.

However, the uniqueness of Sabah as a study destination is inadequate to sustain UMS as a preferred university if it does not offer the right courses that are internationally relevant. That is why various strategies and initiatives towards enhancing the internationalization of UMS are being implemented under the stewardship of the Centre for Internationalization and Global Engagement.