How has your new entrepreneurship program helped teach and encourage students to start their own businesses?
SHAHABUDIN: In the first year, students complete a two-credit module designed to give them awareness, and to create a buzz about business on campus. I have found that students are very scared about entrepreneurship. They do not have the confidence. They want to be employed rather than create their own job. But then jobs are scarce. We have to help them develop an interest in entrepreneurship. We create a buzz through banners and buntings. First year students play a simulation game where they create a business model and sell a product. This year, our partner, Stevens Institute of Technology in New Jersey secured Bluetooth headsets from the Bose Corporation of the United States as the product. The students are also exposed to local and international entrepreneurs, who share their experiences with them. In Junior Entrepreneurship in the second year, students learn how to form a company. They are then given a real product to market. They must pitch and sell their product to receive funding. We piloted this with five groups of students and they all did very well. In the Senior or Advanced Entrepreneurship module in the final year students go through the whole process of registering and launching a company, registering the IP, making a prototype and developing the product further, making a business plan including the financials, and selling the product. Last year, we launched five companies. I was very thrilled. Some of these companies were very successful. One of them was re-branded when the students graduated, and it has already secured two contracts. This program has proven that students can do it. They just need a challenge and the support to do it. I am very encouraged. Of course not all students will be entrepreneurs. Those who do not go through the process of starting a company will be attached to small and medium sized enterprises. They will work with these companies, and learn about entrepreneurship by acting as “consultants” in solving the problems faced by the companies. We have already documented our experience in a manual which we will share with other universities. I am very happy with what we have done. It is a different approach to learning, but it was a risk worth taking.
How has the Innovation Fund at UKM benefited Malaysia’s economy?
SHAHABUDIN: We set up a fund called the Innovation Fund to help our researchers. They must propose a business plan for their invention which is evaluated to determine its commercial potential. The fund, up to RM 200,000 ($66,000). is for them to develop a prototype that investors can examine. About ten start-up companies have already received funding. The idea is to attract investors, gradually dilute our share, and finally spin-off the company. By doing this, we not only commercialize the product, earn revenue for the university, and create jobs, but also develop new types of human resources that are critical for our economy. Technological innovations create high-income jobs that are essential for the Government Transformation Programme to a high income economy. Together with the Innovation Fund, we also conduct academic entrepreneurship capacity building workshops. Out of this, we get not only entrepreneurs but also Chief Executive Officers, Chief Financial Officers, and Chief Technical Officers to mange a technology-based company. We have created 33 Chief Executive Officers here at UKM start-ups, and they have gone on to create many more jobs in their respective companies. The government’s goal is to create jobs, and that is what we have done. We are doing a fairly good job of commercializing our products to meet the needs of the new economy. Our job is transformation through technological innovation. It is not simply creating a product or an invention. We give it financial or commercial value through innovation. I think we are on the right track and we will be looking at more ways to grow this program. Universities have this huge potential to contribute to the growth of the economy of a country. The experience of research universities in the US shows that this is true. Students, and later alumni, researchers, and academics are all creating jobs and wealth. At the same time, we are developing human capital that we feel the country needs. These are people who are very entrepreneurial and innovative in their approach to work.
How many students are attending UKM? What is the breakdown of local to international students?
SHAHABUDIN: We have about 22,000 - 23,000 students. About 26% of them are postgraduates because we are a research university. The aim by 2015 is to have 50% undergraduate, and 50% postgraduate. We plan to cap our intake to no more than 25,000 – 26,000. Of the postgraduates, about 1/3 are international students. As a public university, we have a 10% cap on international undergraduate students. We intend to attract more international students by developing special undergraduate programs. I feel these programs are very important. They increase the diversity of the campus. I am asking every faculty to have at least one international degree program in addition to the short-term mobility program, of about 4-5 weeks. In the short term mobility program, international students are exposed to Malaysia’s sustainable tropical heritage, and the indigenous people of Malaysia. We find that these modules are attractive to international students. In fact the Intercultural University of the State of Mexico has asked UKM to help them develop a student mobility module similar to our “indigenous people” module. It successfully implemented the module last summer and UKM students participated in the experience. We find there are many similarities between Mexico and Malaysia. Mexico is a great window to Latin America. It is very fortunate for us that Enrique Peña, Mexico’s President, supports our initiative. This coming year, one hundred Mexican students will come to UKM. In East Asia, we are strengthening our collaboration with South Korean universities. We are looking past the collaborations with traditional countries such as the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, and Canada. In addition, we encourage our students to join the international mobility programs of our partner universities.
What has UKM done to promote the Malay language?
SHAHABUDIN: Apart from the mandate to promote Malay as an academic language on campus, we now promote the Malay language internationally by teaching Malay to international students, not just on our campus, but outside the campus as well. This has attracted attention. We have received requests to create special programs from certain countries that want their students to learn the Malay language.
Has Malaysia been successful in establishing itself as a hub for higher education? What challenges still remain?
SHAHABUDIN: Part of the role of the public university is to help in the branding of the country. When students select a course they look at the country first, and then choose the institution. With the exception of some renowned institutions, for the most part students choose the country first. We can do our job by raising the academic profile of Malaysia. While we are not obsessed with the rankings of our universities, I believe we have to pay attention to them. It is best to look at the indicators that are used in the rankings, and to take steps to improve our performance. After all some of the ranking indicators that are used are appropriate for a research university and UKM is a research university. Having several universities in the top 200-300 in the world or top 100 in Asia will elevate the higher education profile of the country. Coupled with political stability, affordability, and good quality of life, Malaysia will become an attractive destination for education. Education is a National Key Economic Area (NKEA) in the private sector driven Economic Transformation Programme. However, there are many areas in which public universities can work with the private sector to attract international students. Islamic finance, medicine, and health are some examples. UKM collaborates with private universities in Malaysia, such as Allianze University in the north, in delivering an undergraduate medical program. We collaborate with KPJ University to deliver postgraduate programs in clinical medicine. Malaysia is a safe country. It is multicultural. The weather is nice. We have a very good system of accreditation and quality assurance. I put that in place before I was Vice Chancellor. These are things that attract students. For the Arab students, they are attracted by the halal label. They can go anywhere and eat. It is very convenient.
Our job is transformation through technological innovation. It is not simply creating a product or an invention. We give it financial or commercial value through innovation. I think we are on the right track and we will be looking at more ways to grow this program. Universities have this huge potential to contribute to the growth of the economy of a country. The experience of research universities in the US shows that this is true.
What is your future outlook for Malaysia’s educational sector? Which indicators are showing positive signs and which remain challenges?
SHAHABUDIN: International enrollment is increasing. The private sector really needs to get its act together. We need to consolidate. We have small institutions. We need to build strong higher education institutions. We have too many medical schools. We need to build good medical schools that will attract the students. Consolidation is a very important challenge. Incentives are also important. The ability to pay is important for students. We have a loan scheme but we need to address sustainability very urgently. In the early years, the “twinning” programs with foreign institutions helped built the capacity of the private colleges which were later upgraded to university status. This shows that collaboration can build capacity and reduce the fragmentation in the private sector. In the United States, the good universities are the private universities. We should have similar aims for Malaysia. In the public sector, research universities are beginning to bring research to the market place. By embracing innovation and entrepreneurship as a culture, research universities can contribute significantly to economic growth and job creation.