We also have created the “Path to ASEAN” partnership, is a partnership of second-tier universities in the ASEAN region because it is important to facilitate mobility in this region.
ASEAN BUSINESS LEADERS: You have been appointed in February 2019 as the new Vice Chancellor of UiTM to spearhead the University's strategy to open up and to internationalize. Can you please give an introduction about UiTM?
PROF. AZRAAI: UiTM is a public university and was founded in 1956 to help rural Malays by making higher education accessible to everyone. Since then, we have grown into one of the largest universities in Malaysia and we have 35 campuses around the country. It is a comprehensive university and we offer more than 115 programs, including the arts, design, accountancy and business, medicine and many more. We have a strong foundation in business-related programmes, for example, and UiTM offers some specialist courses that are not available anywhere else.
UiTM’s primary role is to provide quality education at the graduate level to the "bumiputeras" or indigenous people of Malaysia. However, at the post-graduate level, we are opening up the university to any student, both coming from different ethnicities in our nation, as well as international students. There is no limit for international student intake, so we want to increase this number.
On top of that, we have already started mobility programs for our students that are both inbound and outbound. This year, we are targeting 2,000 student exchanges, but we aim to reach 5,000 student exchanges within the next 3 years.
We are also looking to increase our pool of international staff. At the moment, the number is quite limited – we have almost 60 international staff.
This idea to open up the university and to raise its international profile is a new strategy, and it is my role as the new Vice Chancellor to implement this strategy in a more aggressive way.
The biggest challenge is to make our presence known at the global level. Our current approach is to engage in different international collaborations and partnerships, which we aim to double within the next 3 years. We have good opportunities to start partnerships with universities worldwide, which is my current responsibility.
ASEAN BUSINESS LEADERS: The higher education sector is getting more competitive, and it will be quite challenging to change the strategic direction of a large university like UiTM. How do you see the university moving forward?
PROF. AZRAAI: One of my biggest challenges is to change the mindset of people. In the past, we tended to focus inwards and only looked at the national market. Now, we have to look beyond Malaysia, and we have to compete in an international setting. The world is our playing field.
Our university is like a sleeping giant. We have a big potential, with 35 campuses throughout the country and the largest enrolment of students. This potential has not been fully tapped on to offer the opportunities that we have internationally. The good thing is that our lecturers and staff are becoming more aware of our potential and our strengths, and we understand that we can grow tremendously.
In the past, we have pioneered a lot of programmes and UiTM has been leading the way in higher education in Malaysia. But just because we are the pioneers, we cannot afford to have a complacent mindset. We have to continue developing and progressing so that we can become more competitive, not just nationally but also in the international arena. In my position, I have to engage with everyone in UiTM to give them the confidence that we can do more, and do better.
ASEAN BUSINESS LEADERS: What are the advantages of studying in Malaysia?
PROF. AZRAAI: ASEAN is an emerging market and Malaysia has a central location in the region. We are home to a cultural melting pot. We want to welcome students from the ASEAN region to study in Malaysia, which is a country they can easily adapt to.
We have good quality education here. It doesn’t matter if it’s a public or a private university, because all the education programmes provided are monitored and regulated by the MQA, which stands for the Malaysian Qualifications Agency.
ASEAN BUSINESS LEADERS: What are the opportunities for collaborations and partnerships?
PROF. AZRAAI: We are planning to further expand our international partnerships. UiTM has initiated the “better universities partnership”, which is a collaboration with universities in the US, the UK and Shanghai. It is an exciting initiative because we have universities that represent different parts of the world and cultures. Through such internationalization, our students have the opportunity to create a global mindset and to enjoy a unique student experience.
We have also created the “Path to ASEAN” partnership, which is a partnership among second-tier universities in ASEAN countries because it is important to facilitate mobility in this region.
ASEAN BUSINESS LEADERS: Internationalization is important to stay relevant in the global workplace, but it also comes with challenges. What are those challenges in your opinion and how does UiTM deal with this?
PROF. AZRAAI: The job market has become a global job market. It is our responsibility to prepare our students for the international workforce, and we have to teach them according to global standards them so that they can work and compete within the region. That is why the student mobility programs are important. It helps them to learn different skills, as well as to be culturally sensitive.
Although we have the pressure to adapt to a global mindset, it is also important to maintain our Malaysian culture and values. UiTM seeks to strike a balance throughout our activities and curriculum so that our students can compete globally with their values intact. This is so that they are able to handle success once they leave the campus, while keeping their integrity and stand against corruption.
ASEAN BUSINESS LEADERS: Technology is changing rapidly and universities are struggling to keep up with technological developments under Industry 4.0 . How does UiTM face these challenges?
PROF. AZRAAI: Indeed, technology develops very quickly and it is sometimes challenging to anticipate the next changes. UiTM has just launched Industry 5.0 to push ourselves to be one step ahead. We are bringing in new learning approaches by using new technologies, and MOOCS are a part of our studies. It is a continuous process to improve our learning experience.
Our lecturers and academic staff are also re-tuned to communicate with the tech-savvy millennials these days. This requires a new way of teaching and delivery of the study content. We have to create a good learning environment that is aligned with their needs. Hence, we are upgrading the facilities on all of our campuses to bring it up to standard.