Saturday, March 22, 2008

Prof Dato Dr Sharifah Hapsah Shahabudin Vice Chancellor Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia - Ranking Is Here To Stay

New Sunday Times November 11, 2007

RANKING IS HERE TO STAY Dr Sharifah Hapsah Shahabudin Vice Chancellor Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia I was in Pattaya when the telephone incessantly rang with reporters wanting my comments on the academic reputation survey (ARES) results released on 2 November 2007 by Higher Education Minister Datuk Mustapa Mohamed. Not having the details at hand I could only manage to welcome the fact that we now have our own instrument for rating our universities. A labour of love has finally come to fruition, imperfect may be, but a step in the right direction for Malaysia. The rating instrument was conceived after YAB Prime Minister in his 2005 budget speech announced that Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) will be ranked to increase their competitiveness. As Director of the Quality Assurance Division (QAD) of the Ministry of Higher Education then, I convened a group of academics headed by Professor Dr Che Husna Azahari to identify aspects or domains in higher education that are critical for quality assurance and develop indicators for measuring them. The group engaged multiple stakeholders (government, public and private HEIs, professional bodies, employers, professors, students) from the start, thus injecting relevance into the system. It also consulted benchmark partners consisting of reputable institutions in ASEAN, Asia and Australia. The instrument has multiple themes which give consideration to important issues such as access, equity, quality, efficiency, sustainability, nation building and values. The measures focus on output, outcomes, results and impact rather than only inputs. They inject fairness by comparing similar institutions divided broadly into research, comprehensive and discipline specific universities. The instrument moved to the National Accreditation Board (LAN) when I was appointed the Chief Executive Officer and it will now be managed by the Malaysian Qualifications Agency (MQA). The qualitative academic reputation survey (ARES) measures the perception of various stakeholders (employers, academics, professional bodies) about the performance of public universities in the nine domains. The six point Likert scale measures quality of research, academic resources, academic faculty’s reputation, students’ university of choice, quality of academic programme, quality of postgraduate experience, research contribution to society, preparation of tomorrow’s leaders and quality of graduates. It also measures the overall perception of quality.
New Sunday Times November 11, 2007
Perception, particularly of peers and employers or recruiters of graduates, is an important aspect of quality measurement. In fact it forms fifty percent of the Times Higher Education Supplement (THES) ranking methodology. The intuitive elements are usually based on some experience or knowledge of the institutions being evaluated. However perception is always combined with quantitative measurements. In the quantitative SETARA (which stands for Rating System for Malaysian Higher Education), actual data is collected and analysed in six areas. A score of one to five is allotted for each indicator based on predetermined benchmarked standards for the following areas which can be reported individually: academic faculty’s reputation, students’ university of choice, quality of research, quality of academic programme, resources and management. When SETARA is released later it will be possible to match the reality with perception. It will also be possible to compare the performance of Malaysian HEIs with the benchmark partners (for example, in 2005 comparable data was obtained from the National University of Singapore, University of Melbourne, Indian Institute of Technology, Mahidol University and University of Technology Sydney). In reporting ARES, it is unfortunate that only the overall ranking was highlighted. The unidimensional information is not very helpful in helping individuals make choices, institutions to self improve, employers to recruit and government to make policies. An overall position does not indicate the relative strengths and weaknesses of an institution. A good rating system which provides accurate and transparent information can help prospective students for example to choose institutions and programmes of study based on their own priorities. For instance, students who are sports inclined would give higher priority to domains dealing with physical facilities, in addition to discipline ratings. For Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, knowledge of the details of each domain would help us in self improvement, benchmarking, goal setting, strategic planning and forming strategic partnership. Generally the results should also encourage a healthy debate on issues and challenges that are critical in higher education. Whilst it is good to have a rating system of our own we must always keep sight of international developments. Many countries now have some kind of rating/ranking system. In countries such as The Netherlands, Thailand, New Zealand, Korea, Malaysia, Pakistan, India, Argentina, Tunisia, Nigeria, and Kazakhstan, ranking is the responsibility of a government or accreditation agency. Professional associations or universities are rankers in countries such as China, Slovakia, Ukraine, Russia, Australia, Germany, Romania, Kazakhstan, Taiwan and Japan. The media (newspapers, magazines) play prominent roles in the United Kingdom, Germany, the United States, Canada, Italy, Germany, Poland, Romania, China, Hong Kong, Ukraine and Japan.
New Sunday Times November 11, 2007
The Times Higher Education Supplement (THES) in the UK and China Shanghai Jiatong have a strong international dimension. Whilst emphasis should be given to the local instrument, where possible comparisons should be made with instruments that have international dimensions. This would give an indication of where we stand in global higher education and spur us to adopt good practices for self improvement. The announcement of the results publicly is a very welcome change for inducing a culture of accountability, transparency, quality and competition. This is exemplified by the voluntary submission of the institutions to the rating exercise. We should accept the results and strive for improvement. The results will vary from year to year because improvements, some of which involving very fundamental reforms, may take time to reveal themselves. Further, the ranking methodology itself, just like international instruments such as THES, is still in its infancy and is subject to continuous improvement and development. Dato Mustapa has initiated many changes to make higher education serve the needs of knowledge generation, wealth creation and nation building in more innovative ways. The Higher Education Strategic Plan launched by the Prime Minister on 27 August is the blue print for the strategies and actions to be taken to fully integrate Malaysia in the knowledge and innovation economy. As I fly home from an international destination such as Pattaya, I’m happy to be reminded that the rating of public institutions and the implementation of the qualifications framework within a broad quality assurance formulation are attempts to benchmark nationally and internationally. Rating and ranking are here to stay. We must learn how to use them to the maximum advantage for the sake of higher education and the country.

Stop Talking About Polarisation, Work For Unity

Bicara Naib Canselor : Stop talking about polarisation, work for unity

THE community of university students is a microcosm of society at large. Their behaviour generally reflects the behaviour of society.

A unique feature of this community is the temporal collectiveness lasting three to five years, depending on the courses they are taking.

Thus their relationship with each other is relatively fragile and they tend to gravitate towards the comfort zone.

In the context of Malaysia, the comfort zone for human relationship is usually ethnic, gender and age-based. The political parties are one attestation of the phenomenon.

Snapshots of their behaviour and their interpretation have to take into cognisance this sociological context.

An example of such a snapshot is the first-hand account of the perceived lack of inter-racial mixing on campus reported in the New Straits Times on Jan 26, 2007.

The journalists made their conclusion based on a few hours observation of students in the canteens, cafeterias and bus stops as well as interviews with a few of them.

Based on those few hours, is it fair and valid to single out the university as a place of racial polarisation, just because they are not mixing in the canteens and bus stops?

Supposing the journalists had snooped around the canteens of schools, private higher education institutions, government offices and other eating places, would they not find people of the same race eating together as well?

If they had picked one or two people at any bus stop and asked them about racial polarisation, would their answers be any different from the answers given by the university students who were interviewed?

Talking about the construction of images in his seminal book, Ways of Seeing (London, BBC 1972), John Berger said: "We only see what we look at. To look is an act of choice. As a result of this act, what we see is brought within our reach - though not necessarily within arm's reach."

Even in the most beautiful woman, if we are determined to find some flaws, we can always make a convincing case of the small blemishes under the make-up, the faint wrinkles around the eyes or the fat deposits in the thighs.

In the NST report, the journalists were asked to find out whether it is "true that there is lack of inter-racial mixing on campus".

It seems like a deliberate "choice" was made to look for the invisible wall that separates us by ethnicity.

A picture accompanies the written words to construct an image that conjures up or strengthens the representation of racial polarity on the campuses of public universities - a self-fulfilling prophesy.

What if the journalists were sent out to look for unity? Would the story have been the same? What if the journalists had been more scientific in their approach and not taken snapshots which are not representative at all? An episode in a movie does not tell the whole story. Certainly there is more to a student's life than snippets in a canteen.

Why not talk to members of the Students' Representative Council of Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM), for example?

Find out from them how they take great pains to involve all races in their activities, be it sports, culture, literary, welfare and other co-curricular activities.

Find out how they ensure that all races are represented in the committees of the residential colleges.

Ask them to relate how the non-Muslim students help to serve food at the breaking of the fast during Ramadan in the residential colleges.

Find out who had the innovative idea of creating Chinese music using traditional Malay instruments.

Ask them whether their lecturers had composed multi-racial student groups to work together on the various academic assignments.

Why not talk to the university administration about their plans for better inter-ethnic relations?

In UKM, for example, a Chair and Centre for Ethnic Relations are being established. Student adoption programmes aimed at helping students understand how families of different cultures live are being organised with the National Council of Women's Organisations.

Such spirited enthusiasm for national unity can never be captured by snapshots of limited scope.

Let us stop looking for invisible walls. Even if we think that one exists do we need to blare it out to the whole world?

Why not concentrate on breaking it down?

The situation in the university is far from ideal. Of course, we will have some polarisation. How can we not have some polarisation when we inherit students who come from different school systems?

Instead of harping on polarisation, let us focus on the efforts the Ministry of Higher Education together with other ministries, the universities and society at large are putting in to realise the national agenda of unity and integration.

The Minister of Higher Education should be congratulated for announcing the ethnic relations module on Jan 25.

After much consultation and scrutiny by the Cabinet, the module was welcomed by most quarters and the universities look forward to using it.

In UKM, the module will be supplemented and reinforced by various activities planned within a unity framework. A small step, perhaps, but a step in the right direction nevertheless. Society needs to hear more of such steps to sustain the momentum on unity.

Everyone has a role to play in forging unity.

Instead of playing up the negative, the media, in particular, has a heavy responsibility to propagate and ingrain in the minds and hearts of the people ideas about unity rather than polarity.

Our students are trying very hard indeed to realise the opportunity.

Unity is also their agenda. Give them time to work out their similarities and differences, experiences and feelings. Let us not negate their efforts and disappoint them with sloppy snapshots.

Let us stop shouting polarisation and work with them for unity.

As Rabindranath Tagore once said: "I have become my own version of an optimist. If I can't make it through one door, I'll go through another door - or I'll make a door. Something terrific will come, no matter how dark the present."

by Prof. Dato’Dr. Sharifah Hapsah Syed Hasan Shahabudin
Published in New Sunday Times, January 28, 2007

Lessons in unity and volunteerism

Bicara Naib Canselor Lessons in unity and volunteerism

WHEN the floods swept away homes, vehicles, furniture and even people in several states, our students were away on their semester break.

The campus was almost deserted but that did not deter the few students who were around to mobilise their friends to volunteer their services in the badly-hit areas.

With the help of the Student Affairs Department, the students planned and organised the logistics for cleaning up the devastation caused by the floods.

So there I was in the drizzling rain, just after midnight on Dec 26, to flag off three busloads of eager students and a truckload of provisions and cleaning apparatus to Kota Tinggi.

They were in Kota Tinggi for two nights and three days and cleaned up several schools.

On hearing about our students' volunteerism, the Higher Education Ministry asked Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia to co-ordinate similar activities by the other universities to cover a wider area.

UKM was assigned to the Pagoh area. The students had by then returned from the semester break and many more volunteered to help during the weekend.

The students, in collaboration with the National Council of Women's Organisations (NCWO), also manned a flood donation centre.

On Jan 7, together with two deputy presidents of NCWO, I joined the students in Pagoh.

It was a sight to behold. Seven busloads of students from all ethnic groups, Malay, Chinese, Indian and others, were busy cleaning national schools, national-type schools, religious schools, surau, masjid, balai raya, museum Bukit Kepong and the homes of the villagers.

They sprayed, scrubbed and wiped walls, furniture, driveways, and soaped and cleaned whatever they could help salvage, from school items to home appliances, cooking utensils and crockery.

Those who needed medical attention were referred to the accompanying HUKM mobile clinic.

The students laboured hard but none complained. They understood the meaning of volunteerism and humanitarianism.

Seeing the students interacting with each other on that day made me realise that we need to be clear about our collective goals and look at new ways of forging and preserving our unity.

Evoking shared experiences and feelings is critical.

Unity is not just about listening to lectures, reading about each other's culture or understanding our history.

While the cognitive aspect is important, unity bonds at the emotional and social levels.

In Pagoh, it was about sharing the same compassion for fellow beings inneed, such as comforting the crying makcik who has lost everything in the floods.

It was having the same desire and compulsion to help the IT university student who has lost his computer and notes; feeling good and appreciated when the imam of Masjid Kundang Hulu asks them to adopt his village and, later, feeling exhausted together.

When darkness fell on Pagoh, tired bodies but invigorated spirits piled into the seven buses to return to Bangi.

Their minds will reflect on the importance of mosques to the Malays and temples to the Indians in Panchor.

They will understand that the loss of a computer is devastation to a multimedia student, regardless of whether he is Indian, Chinese or Malay.

They will understand why the Indian women appreciated being given sarees and the Malays being given telekong.

In their hearts, they will never forget this shared experience and they will never be the same again.

Pagoh has been a very unique classroom for a valuable lesson in life.

The spirit of Pagoh has to be created and recreated again and again in the student's total learning experience on the campus to achieve the desired outcomes of knowledgeable, skilled and responsible citizenry.

The students have demonstrated magnificent unity which transcends differences and bonds them in pursuit of a common aim. The university cannot do anything less to support and facilitate the learning and socialisation process.

As vice-chancellor, I am truly proud of my students for showing the way.

by Prof. Dato’ Dr. Sharifah Hapsah Syed Hasan Shahabudin
Published in New Sunday Times, January 21, 2007

A model for society - Wawancara khas dengan The Sun

The Sun 26 May 2007

Professor Datuk Dr Sharifah Hapsah Syed Hasan Shahabudin was appointed Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) vice-chancellor in August last year, making her the second woman to helm a Malaysian public university. The medical doctor, who turns 60 this year, has a long history in academia and is also well-known for her other work, including as National Council of Women's Organisations (NCWO) president. She speaks with JACQUELINE ANN SURIN about her plans for UKM. 26 May 2006

TheSun: Since you were appointed vice-chancellor of UKM in August last year, what key challenges have you begun to address? And what are your priority areas going forward?

Well, let's not say 'key challenges', ok, because everyday is a challenge to meet the goals we have set. But, I think maybe we can say 'major changes'.

Major changes?

Ya, major changes that I see as very strategic and important for us to move forward. So, my focus has always been on human resource. Looking at what we have in the university and motivating them to continue improving.

We have academic staff, we have administrative staff, we have support staff in the technical area and so on. And then, we have students, both post-grad and undergrad. These are the people in the university. And each of those components need to understand what it is that we are doing, why we are doing it and where we are going. So, that's my first focus, and it still is. It's the staff. I put my priority on academic staff. The two ends are the top senior professors, and the lower, my pool, the pool of academic staff will be my lecturers, and people whom we recruit and we send off for training for PhD and so on. They represent my potential, my future for UKM. So, I feel if I take care of this lower end and the top end, that they are retained and continue to be mentors to the younger group, then I have a better chance of building UKM the way I want to go. And I start with academic staff, then I will have to move on to the administrative staff because they are also very important and critical in the work of the university. They are the ones who will be looking after the academic staff. Then the technical staff who need to be retrained, re-tooled, sometimes because we have moved on. For example, laboratory skills. We need to be upgraded. Computer skills, we need to be upgraded.

So, I really feel if I do take care and look at them in terms of, um, lifelong learning opportunities and better conditions for them to work in, then the chances of us realising our objectives will be greater. So, that's my main focus and a lot of my energy actually has been in that. I invest a lot of time in looking and making sure that the staff are happy. Then, it's pursuing our core mission, that of research, teaching and our services in terms of our expertise either through consultancies or service to the community. And to me, these three things you can do very well once you have these core things sorted out - your human resource, your facilities, the infrastructure, and so on. Of course, they go simultaneously. Now, it becomes more important because we are supposed to be a research university. And we have to look at how we are going to re-orient ourselves, and what it means to be a research university. I think we need to ask that question. And the university, the people in UKM, need to sit together and decide. We need to ask, 'What are we? What problems do we have? What are our strengths? And where are we going?' I keep on telling everybody, we cannot be known for a hundred things. So, we need to be very clear what we will be known for in research. Where are our strengths, then we pour more resources in building up those strengths, while encouraging the others to come on board. Because we have to be strategic. Resources are limited. You mentioned just now that you are also looking at staff retention, especially of your senior professors. Is staff retention a problem right now? No, I think we are doing quite well... the retention is not a problem. What we are trying to do is to recruit more people from outside. So, the idea is to have more diversity in the university in terms of academic input. And that's why we also have the research institutes going out, like Ikon which is the Institute for Occidental Studies, um, they really need scholars from say, the Western hemisphere, including Australia and New Zealand, to establish links, whether they are here or not here, but we have these linkages with them, either as honorary or adjunct professors. The professors who are here, I don't think we have a problem retaining them. Once the government says they can be extended up to 65 years (of age), they go on contract because they would have been pensioned off according to the legal requirements but after that, they remain as contract professors. A lot of them are very productive. So, we will not lose them. So, they will continue to supervise and research. Is the promotion process an open process in UKM? Is it open and transparent? Ya, I would say it's transparent. What we do is we have clear criteria which we share with everyone. And they put in their application, and they are evaluated by internal as well as external referees. Three are international referees and three are internal. And the internal also give an evaluation of their personality. And when an academic is promoted, are his or her credentials openly made known as well?

Actually, the credentials are quite known because the CVs (curriculum vitae) of these people are (an) open secret. Now, you see with the directory (a national directory of academics in public universities by the Higher Education Ministry) that was launched on March 1, all professors are encouraged to put their publications, their ten best, their research and so on in it. That's for public access, so you're free to go and compare whatever within the same field. Not everything is there, they may have more things when they put in (applications) for promotions but the point is to make it objective. The transparency comes from having the criteria and procedure and the people know about it, and well, if they think it's not fair or not objective, they can always ask for changes. But it goes through a consensus. When we put up the criteria, for example, it's presented to, say, the heads of divisions, they all look at it, and they agree. So, if we agree, we apply the criteria and the decision-making is done - and I chair for (applications for) professor - then there's the board member, Senate representative, faculty rep, so the committee is known as well. And we also have what is called a peer review process, so they have to undergo peer review first - which is people from the same field who will evaluate the candidate. And this is a very important step in the whole promotion exercise. Because if you cannot get through the peer review, then it's difficult to get through elsewhere. Then, it becomes a different kind of promotion, right? So, it's a very stringent process, I think, and we should be proud of those who have been made professors. They would have made their contributions, they would have published, they would have supervised students, they would have done research and so on. Ok, you talked earlier about keeping academic staff motivated. And one of the complaints that we hear a lot about is that academic freedom and independent thought is restricted by laws like the UUCA (Universities and University Colleges Act) and the Statutory Bodies Discipline and Surcharge Act. What are your views on these two pieces of legislation? Ok, I see it this way. I think sometimes laws are made because there is a group, small group perhaps, who will go to extremes and can do damage, ya. So, laws are there to protect the country perhaps from er, unnecessary commotion or disturbance or whatever, for security or whatever. But in the main, I think you need not fear.
But it's just that they have this nagging feeling that 'What if they decide one day to impose this on me?' So, then they may go to self-censorship and not talk. But I always feel that if you have something to say, and you back it up with the proper methodology and you can defend, you can stand by your findings, why not? Ya, you go ahead and present it. But you must know at what platform you want to present because that will be tied up to your motive. I think all these Acts are done because of the motive factor, not the content matter. Because you can take your content to many, many places and present. But some people have different motives and they do it in a way that is quite damaging to many parties, ya.
You need actions to be taken but do you need to publicise it all the time? You can do research, you as an academic, you study and you have ideas but there are avenues for you to present your ideas, right? And if it takes a higher level to act on your ideas, then work in such a way that you can get those ideas presented. And that comes with the skills of being an academic. You just don't go shout everywhere and if people don't understand the issue, you really get into trouble, you know.
Um, and I think it's a matter of knowing how and where to voice your opinion and to let your ideas flow. Um, as far as I'm concerned, I allow. For example, my lecturer whose study got quoted (child and youth psychology specialist Dr Khaidzir Ismail whose 'High-Risk Female Youth Profile' study, commissioned by the Selangor government, found that out of 887 secondary school respondents, all but one had had sex). Now, as far as I'm concerned, his study is sound. The problem is the sensationalisation of his study (by the media in late February). Now, that is inappropriate. Because then it gives rise to a lot of alarm and er, unnecessary problems. Because the public as a whole, they do not understand research methodology. They see something and if the newspapers play it up in the wrong way, then they are going to believe it.
And that's dangerous. So, you must also know when and where to publish. In a reputable journal? Or do you speak to the press? You know, so these are the things which are associated with these Acts that have been put up. Because, strictly speaking, if you don't do it correctly, you can be subject to disciplinary measures. That's right, and one of the criticisms of the Act is that it is actually quite broad in its definitions, so that, if somebody, for example raises a criticism against a government policy, then whether or not his or her criticism is valid, the Act can still be used to silence the academic. No, I don't agree. Depends on how, where you're saying it. Suppose you've organised a seminar and you present a paper, and you give your views. That's academic freedom. Within the confines of the seminar, anybody can stand up and criticise or talk about your paper, disagree with you and so on. And you can defend or not defend. That is what I mean by academic freedom. But, if you, if you out of the blue you just come out and you just criticise without any platform or anybody to act on, I think people may take it negatively. And they're saying, you're purposely doing it to criticise whereas your intention may not be so. Er, so I think this is a very delicate issue. I, for one, would, er, would seriously question my academic who just goes to the press one fine day and talks about whatever he wants to say, which is quite highly critical, for example, for the first time, ok. I would think, like, if you have such an important idea to tell, say to government, or to another body, why don't you use the channel that we have? Which is what? An academic journal? One is an academic journal. We should publish but these people may not read. Another one is of course to come up with the idea and go to the proper platform because as far as I know, the government is very open. Every ministry that I know of has got this committee that deals with other agencies or they invite people from universities and NGOs (non-governmental organisations) and so on to come and have dialogues with them. Now, you are at liberty to present your ideas but in a way that they feel is not ridiculing them, not saying they are stupid. I don't see why we should do that. I think we should work in a very constructive way, er, and that is why I say it goes back to the motive. Why are you doing it? You sincerely want to work with government and here is your idea, then do it. Now, it's different when you've done it and they still don't pay heed, ah, then that's a different thing altogether. Then perhaps you need to use other means, if it's something that is critical, if it's something that is really necessary that it should be said. But, I cannot see a situation like that happening. I have not seen and I am old enough, and I have gone through, and I have worked with NGOs, and we have made representations, we haven't had to go and demonstrate. We bring our ideas to the table, if they think it's a jolly good idea, they take it up and they do it. If they don't, they'll tell you, 'I think this is not workable.' And they tell you why. So, this academic freedom comes with responsibility. You cannot have any freedom without responsibility and that responsibility is really in your intention and your motive. Are UKM staff and students expected to sign the Aku Janji pledge which is another bone of contention for some people who say that there isn't enough academic freedom?
Ya, it's again linked to this thing - you are serving (us, the government) and we are employing you, and we would expect you to, ah, follow the policy set by the institution. I think it's tied to that kind of general concept about belonging to an institution and subscribing to its philosophy, and not doing anything that would bring ill-repute to the institution. So, it's a kind of, ah, a promise, perhaps. Maybe, stronger than promise?
A pledge? Mmhmmm, don't know what to call it actually! (chuckles) I don't know what to call it but almost like a contract. It's almost like, 'I'm going to take you. You're going to work with me. I respect the work that you do. I'll take your ideas but you have to accept - because you're coming to work for me - you have to accept my philosophy and the ideas that we have in this institution.' If not, it's going to be anarchy. People come and work in an institution and they don't subscribe to the philosophies, the principles and the values of that institution. What do you think? But isn't the Aku Janji pledge or contract an additional layer where the academic and student, are in a sense saying that they will not challenge government which is ultimately, in the case of public universities, your employer, right? And that becomes problematic because then are you saying that academics are not allowed to question government policy? Ya, if you take it like that. I suppose this is open to interpretation by different universities. But I would take it that, you come and you're willing to (abide by the government's rulings) - because government pays our salary, right? I am also paid by government. That when I work in UKM, this is what the university is all about. You believe in it, and you would like to sign up to this and work with us. But, if you have something to say about the university, about the policy, then say it. Say it in the university. You have to go outside and say it? And this is exactly what I tell the students. But I think the spirit of the Aku Janji is not about being in line with the spirit of the university. It's about being in line with government. Ya, we are government, aren't we? We are salaried by government! Government gives us money to run the university. Are academics required to get the VC's permission before they can speak to the media? Ah, they can speak to the media, so long as I think they don't unnecessarily talk on areas that are not really in their field of expertise, ya. So, if it's in their area, people are asking them about, er, social problems or about medical treatments in particular areas, they are free to talk. And they don't really need the VC's express permission? No! They don't. But, if they want to talk about policies on health services or something, then I think they really need a group to, I would advise them, if you have this, you better go and talk to the Ministry of Health and discuss with them whether your ideas are good. Why do you have to go to the media, ok? For nothing, your ideas may be good but if you have not spoken to the ministry, then, you know, this is just human nature. Don't you think so? It's human nature. But, it doesn't happen because I think our people have got good linkages. They work well with the Ministry of Health, so I think, it's not a problem, if you want to do it properly. UKM was founded to be a national institution that used Malay as the medium of instruction. But, today, many see UKM more as an ethnic Malay institution rather than a national institution, primarily because a lot of, if not nearly all of, the top positions are held by Malays. And that's an unfortunate situation, obviously. What are your views on this? And do you think that faculty members of any ethnic background in UKM can rise based on meritocracy to positions of leadership in the university?
Ok, firstly, UKM perceived as a Malay institution, you will have to say, all the universities are that then, I suppose. Why single out UKM?
I guess, because of the 'National' part in your name? (Chuckles) That's the first misconception I want to correct. If you just single out and say UKM is Malay, eh, why not look at the other institutions, as well? So, that's one thing that I think, er, I would say is (a) prejudice. Secondly, if you look at our student population, we're not a Malay institution. Our student population almost accurately reflects the population in this country. And we pride ourselves on it because we feel that now we can do a lot of things that will be national in character and be a model for the nation, in terms of unity and so on. We can get our students to do this and we can be the model for the country. So, actually, it's an advantage. Now, with regards to staffing, because of this perception you've just told me, ok, we've not been able to recruit the non-Malays. Because they think it's Malay. So, it's a vicious cycle that we are going to break, ya. So, we have informed the deans. Actually, it's merit. But if you don't come, then the good Malays come in, and they are good, it's not that they are no good. They are good, ya. But because the non-Malays do not come because of this perception, then we do not have them. But now, we will actively go and recruit and we welcome applications from them to join us. Now, once we have the pool, I don't see why they cannot rise. Ya, if they are doing work and so on. In fact, I already have the deputy director of Ikmas (Institute of Malaysia and International Studies), Prof (Dr) Tham Siew Yean. The deputy director of Pusat Pembangunan Akademik (Centre for Academic Advancement) is Prof Imran Ho (Abdullah), and oh, we've got a couple of others. And I've been working and I do take notice. For me, if you work and you produce, your performance is good, I'm race-blind actually. So, you're actively trying to develop a culture where people are confident that it is meritocracy which will take them upwards? Yup, because I have set the criteria. And they all know what I need in a leader because these are leadership positions, ya. To be the faculty dean or deputy dean or head of programme or chairman of schools, and director of institutes and so on. The first thing I did when I came in was to say what are the things I look for. Now, I know you're good, your research, your content-wise, you're ok, right. What I'm looking for is leadership ability, ability to communicate, ability to handle crisis, and so on. But do you think that, until there is a diversity of races in key leadership positions in the university, people will continue to have this perception that it has become a Malay ethnic institution rather than a more multi-racial, national institution? Well, I hope my being here as vice-chancellor will also change this perception because I've never been known to be mono(-race), ya. All my work, all my life, it's reflected in my voluntary work as
well, and I work in a multi-cultural environment and I value that. I really value that. So, I hope that perception will change, even with the change of my being here as vice-chancellor, I hope that will substantially change the perception of the public.
Ok. You're the second woman to be appointed VC of a public university, after Datuk Rafiah Salim at Universiti Malaya. Do you think this is a mark of progress for women in Malaysia?
Of course. What do you expect me to say? You can expect a few more (grins).
Do you think it's taken too long for women to be appointed VC?
(Laughs) Er, let's say that, er, there's always a time. The time will come. The other day somebody said, what (was it)? 'Great things come for those who wait'. So, women have been waiting.

Niche areas identified - by Bonda

Niche areas identified

UNIVERSITI Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) has identified six niche areas to focus on.

They are self-identity, development of the environment, renewable energy, health technology and medicine, climate change as well as nano technology and material science.

PROF SHARIFAH HAPSAH: The niches will showcase the university's strengths.
Its vice-chancellor, Prof Datuk Dr Sharifah Hapsah Syed Hasan Shahabudin, says these niches will showcase the university's strengths in existing and new areas.

“The niches have been carefully chosen to ensure all staff are able to contribute as we do not want anyone to be left out.

“Even if they are not directly involved, they can contribute to the development of policies which can affect the whole community,” she says in her New Year message to staff last week.

The identification of these areas, she adds, does not mean that there will be no academic freedom.

“There will be space for new ideas to grow.

“Many other fields at the university's faculties, institutes and centres of excellence such as Information Technology and Communications, Biotechnology and Lifelong Learning are cross cutting and it is important that these are strengthened and developed with the niches.”

Prof Sharifah Hapsah says UKM is able to become a better research university if it harnesses its strengths in the niches selected.

Self-identity is important as the history of the university's establishment resulted from the struggle to have an institution that places importance on Bahasa Malaysia, she explains.

“The name of the university itself which has 'kebangsaan' means it must aim for a national philosophy, vision, mission and objective.

“In a globalised world, the university's history and national branding enables UKM to build a national identity and sovereignty,” she adds.

As a national university with students representing the many groups in the country, Prof Sharifah Hapsah feels it must also be the pioneer in national integration and self-identity.

For the development of the environment, she notes that UKM has successfully integrated its multi-disciplinary research in areas such as eco-tourism and services that improve the quality of life as well as care for the environment.

Likewise, she adds, there is a need for the country to focus on renewable energy.

“This is critical to the environment and the future of humankind,” she says, adding that researchers from several faculties are focusing on studying energy.

On health technology and medicine, she says the focus will be on products, processes, strategies and policies, which help in diagnosis and treatments.

“We already have centres of excellence within the UKM Hospital (HUKM) and several faculties such as Medicine and Allied Health Sciences which are carrying out research on cancer, stem cells and anti-oxidants.”

On climate change, Prof Sharifah Hapsah says the university's strengths lie in areas such as Environmental Science, Space Science and Marine Science.

Nanotechnology and Material Science are cutting edge fields at the university through several departments and faculties.

These include the Microelectronic and Nanotechnology Institute and the Faculty of Engineering, which have good networking with other world-renowned institutions.

“This niche can bring together researchers from various disciplines,” she notes.

As one of four research universities, UKM must concentrate on education, research and expert services to improve human capital and come up with effective innovations for the community.

“In the move to become a prestigious research university based on its niches, we must continually improve our delivery system,” she adds. – By KAREN CHAPMAN