What new initiatives is Allianze University College of Medical Sciences currently involved in?
WAZIR: Allianze is currently looking at ways to advance the education of our students. We are now beginning what we call eMeducation, which is the implementation of digital ways to bring information to our students. We have designed a format where students can get access to our lectures, and communicate with our lecturers online. We have been doing this for a while now. By the first quarter of 2013, every student will have access to eMeducation. All of the lectures will be able to be accessed online and students will be able to complete reviews and assessments online as well. This is the way of the future. We are also looking at ways to help the community. We will be embarking on alternative complementary medicine and other programs outside the medical field as well.
What makes Allianze different from other medical education institutions?
WAZIR: Our main focus is to maintain the quality of education. We do not compromise on quality. As a result, we are always improving our syllabuses, our resources, and our teachers. We aim to improve all aspects of education, not only in the classroom, but in life as well. We have strong core curriculum activity. We have a very special program to build professional development. At the end of the day, we aim for our students to become complete people. We will educate them here, but our goal is that they will go on to become successful members of society who help the community. This is a focus that makes us unique. Our students have three camps they must attend while getting their degree, including this personal development program, and the feedback has all been positive. It teaches them to be a strong person outside the classroom. Every student has to take core curriculum courses each semester during their first and second years. They focus on culture, art, or anything related to uniform student activities. We want the student to understand how to function in society, how to mix with the community, how to plan their life through entrepreneurship, how to balance their finances, and many other activities. These programs are what set us apart from other universities.
Under the Economic Transformation Programme, one of the NKEAs is to develop medical education clusters to address the shortage of doctors. What are the current supply and demand ratios? What are your projections for the future?
WAZIR: Looking at the current numbers of medical schools and the number of students, I believe in the next five years we will have a doctor/patient ratio similar to other developed countries. We will have about one doctor for every 500-600 people. The other issue here in Malaysia is that we do not have enough specialists. In order to have more specialists, you must have more doctors. Even though we have many medical schools here, and there are a good amount of medical students studying abroad, we will be alright if we know we can create a job for them later on. We will also create competition for them to excel. We will create good doctors who will study further to obtain a specialist degree. The ratio of doctors to patients will reach a developed country ratio very soon, maybe in three to five years. This will increase the specialist/patient ratio. Looking at Malaysia as a whole, as an education hub, we aim to motivate the younger generations, who will become doctors, to study in Malaysia. This will help them become a complete person, which will benefit them when they return to their home countries. As a whole, the many medical schools in Malaysia have done very well. Of course, Malaysians still go abroad to study medicine. The number is actually greater than the number of people who stay in Malaysia. We are looking beyond that, not only to educate Malaysians, but to educate people from around the world.
What are Malaysia’s competitive advantages in education compared to the rest of the region?
WAZIR: Before you can educate a young generation to study medicine, you must look at the medical services in Malaysia. Malaysia’s medical services alone are better than many other countries’ in terms of delivering healthcare services. We are in the position to educate the young generation in this field. Malaysia also has strong teachers in the field to educate our new students. Our secondary and tertiary education is taught in English here in Malaysia. This helps attract students from all over the world. If you look at our books and our teachers, they are all in English. We have many good teachers from all over the world; from India and Myanmar, to the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand. There is no difference in terms of level of teaching and level of services here in Malaysia. Many universities from all over the world have a base here. Malaysia is a tropical country, and we have different sets of diseases from western countries. If you would like to train in the ASEAN region, Malaysia is the best place to do so. The Malaysian community is better than many others in nearby countries in terms of training new doctors for the future.
How many students does Allianze have? What are your projections for international students over the next 5-10 years?
WAZIR: Allianze began our focus on medical programs, and only in the last few years have we expanded the field. As a result we only have 3,500 students. This is a large number for medical schools. We have less than 5% foreign students at the moment. We have many Indonesian students joining our program. In the past year we have been looking at other markets around the world to attract students from. In the first quarter of 2013, we will see many students from Thailand, the Philippines, Indonesia, and other countries. In 2013, we are aiming to have 10% - 15% foreign students. Before 2015, our target is to have 50% international students, and 50% Malaysian students.
What partnerships does Allianze currently have and what are you pursuing in the future?
WAZIR: Allianze University College of Medical Sciences has many academic partners. We partnered with a university in Indonesia because their population is ten times larger than ours. We need to have a good network with universities in Indonesia. We have a good program we started more than ten years ago, and we have produced more than 200 doctors with Universitas Sumatera Utara, which is the third largest in Indonesia. We have a very strong network with them. We have a good relationship with Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia. People can take their medical programs here. It is important to have a link with a good university locally. As a university whose main focus is medical, we look to Ireland as they have done great work in this area. There are a lot of good doctors there and they have a great history there. We are linked with the National University of Ireland Galway and University College Cork. I think we can learn a lot from these interactions. When we start our own programs we will take all the good points from every program we are part of now. We want to make arrangements with new universities. We will see what we can learn from them and what they can learn from us so we can add value to both. Students that study with us will have exposure not only in Malaysia but also in other countries as well. This is very important for the future generation.
What research initiatives are you currently involved in?
WAZIR: We have three important initiatives. First is education, second is service, and third is research. During the last 5-10 years, we have focused on creating new programs and new syllabuses for the students as an effort to develop education. Lately, we have been looking at the service initiatives. In the next 5 years, we will continue to develop services. We will set up clinics, hospitals, and other services areas. A numbers of teachers in our university are starting to focus on research. Our research subjects now mainly come from the interests of our pioneer teachers. Our research will grow in the future. Right now we need to be strong in education and service. When we have more manpower, we will be able to focus our energy on research even more. In our research, we want to be practical. We want it to be relevant to our community. We want to focus on research and development (R&D), and we want to learn and apply new things. I think this is the area of research we are working on. As a new university, the concentration on research is not a main priority but in the last two years it has become an emerging focus. By 2015, we want Allianze to be a world-class university for research. In order to produce good research, we are looking to develop a few centers of excellence in our university. We have appointed a new deputy Vice-Chancellor to focus on new innovation and post-grad research.
If you would like to train in the ASEAN region, Malaysia is the best place to do so. The Malaysian community is better than many others in nearby countries in terms of training new doctors for the future.
How do you create funding for qualified medical students who cannot afford to attend a post-secondary institution?
WAZIR: We have seen this trend in the last few years, where there are many applicants who are qualified to study medicine in any part of the world, but they cannot afford it. There is a limitation in what the government can give, and the rest must come from the student. We have been working with our bank, who agreed on a funding mechanism to pay for the students’ fees. For the first five years, we are their guarantor. They will pay back the bank after they complete their studies. Many students are a part of this program. These students are very smart and motivated, and money is the only issue preventing them from going abroad, or joining a university in Malaysia. Some of them choose to be in a public university. But for ones that do not, this fund has been very helpful. Any student who is qualified to join our university has an opportunity to receive this loan. Once they become a doctor, they will repay the loan over a period of time. Prior to this there were many students who would never have dreamed of studying medicine, but now they are able to. Some of them are looking to become doctors, and others are looking to become specialists in the future. I believe this has created a very good opening for many students. We also give students incentives in the program as a mechanism to perform well. If they do well we will guide them to becoming our future leaders and teachers in this university. These incentives help them perform well. I think the last figures showed that we have over 200 students in this program, and Maybank is giving enough money for us to train another 100-200 new students every year on this scheme.
What has the government done to promote medical education in Malaysia?
WAZIR: I think the Malaysian government has done a great deal to promote Malaysia as a higher education hub. We have had many activities abroad to promote this, not only in medical education, but also in other fields. As a medical education center, we are here because our services are good. We are able to match the level of education given to the students in other countries. The government is trying to bring in students to Malaysia who want to study medicine. The Malaysian government is on the right track in promoting this. As a medical university, we will go along with the rest of the programs for education in Malaysia.
What are your general thoughts on the future of medical education in Malaysia?
WAZIR: Malaysia is the right place to study medicine for Malaysians, young generations from tropical countries, and even for those from further abroad. Malaysia has a strong doctor program, but Malaysia also has many post grad centers for students to become specialists. We will begin to see many doctors from other countries looking to come here to gain their specialization. This is currently happening in many of our public universities. This trend is going to continue in the future because our undergrad program is very strong, which results in an increase in post grad programs. This will not only benefit Malaysians, but other students from around the world as well. Malaysia has many advantages compared to other countries around the world. There are a lot of advantages in Malaysia for those who want to study any subject, but specifically for medicine. First, this country is politically stable. You do not see people fighting in the streets. Patients in Malaysia are much easier to communicate with, and they are very receptive. As a program with students who want to study medicine, many need clinical training. They need to learn to hold patient’s hands, take blood, and examine them. They can get this training from the courses, as well as from the patients. Malaysia does not have a strong language barrier that prevents them from doing certain things properly. The environment is good in Malaysia. There is sun every day. The infrastructure is good. Rural and urban areas are not far apart, and can be reached easily. It is a place that is very comfortable for many people. The hospitality is also great. The Malaysian community is multi-racial, and we get along very well. For people who want to study here it is a good place to be, whether you are from Malaysia or from other parts of the world. Traveling to and from Malaysia is also very easy. Malaysia has many good airports, access roads, and many mechanisms that make travel quick. In five years of studying here, one can travel all over Asia. People from Europe, Australia, New Zealand, or the Middle East, can come and experience Asia. Malaysia is not only a center for medical education, but a center for education as a whole, at the levels of both undergraduate and post graduate.