We Sustain our Growth Momentum by Focusing on the Market’ : Professor Tan Sri Anuwar Ali, President and Vice-Chancellor, Open University Malaysia

The Open University Malaysia (OUM) is the largest Open and Distance Learning institution in Malaysia with over 50,000 students. In terms of teaching and learning, the OUM utilises the blended approach that combines printed learning materials as the main learning resource supplemented by face-to-face interactions at regional centres and online learning through specially designed Learning Management System. In a conversation with Professor Tan Sri Anuwar Ali, the President and Vice-Chancellor of Open University Malaysia, Digital Learning tries to elucidate how Open University empowers a geographically dispersed group of students to participate in a collaborative learning environment.

 ? Could you elaborate on how and why the OUM was established? What are the various programmes of the Open University?

Open University Malaysia or better known as OUM was established in the year 2000. It was born from the idea of our holding company formed by the consortium of eleven public universities in Malaysia. The main objective for the establishment of OUM is to democratize education, by which we mean that education should be made accessible and available to all.  We are offering a second chance to people from all walks of life to pursue an academic qualification which they had missed without having to offer themselves for full time programmes at a single designated location.

In terms of programmes, OUM offers from diploma right up to the PhD level. Our popular programmes are Business and Information Technology related degrees, and our degree in Education has the most number of enrolments.

 ? What are the approaches employed in OUM, for the process of teaching and learning, and how do they meet the needs of ever-changing borderless world?

At OUM we adopt the blended pedagogy in the delivery of all our programmes. We have developed comprehensive printed modules, which were designed on the basis of self-managed learning. We have developed and implemented Learner Management System to provide the platform for on-line learning, and at OUM, we still do offer the face-to-face sessions. This approach that we have taken helps us to meet the changing scenarios in this field, especially in our programmes conducted outside of Malaysia. We find that this blended approach can be catered (based on the location) in deciding on matters

 ? What have been the milestones for the OUM?

Looking back, we have come a long way, and looking ahead, we see a longer path. We are fortunate that we have supportive academics and staffs who constantly strive to bring out the best in them. As mentioned earlier, if the enrolment forms a basis for success, then we have one. Our ISO certifications for Tan Sri Abdullah Sanusi Ahmad Digital Library and the Center for Instructional Design and Technology are our milestones. Accreditation of our programmes by the National Accreditation Board is another. OUM had won the Asian Association of Open Universities’ Best Paper Award, Merit Award for Education & Training Learning Management System from MSC Asia Pacific ICT and also the Technology Business Review Award for Excellence in Education (Provision of Continuing Education).

such as whether the face to face sessions should be increased or whether the on-line component be reduced.

 ? Who are your target group? Has the OUM been successful as an alternative channel for tertiary and life-long education?

OUM’s target markets are the working adults, who for some reason or another had missed the opportunity to obtain the academic qualification and some who intends to enhance their current qualifications. We are stepping into our sixth year of operations, and we have an enrolment exceeding 50,000 students. If this means that we are successful (for having the largest number of adult learners at a single institution in Malaysia), I would definitely attribute this to our government’s initiatives to promote human capital development and the concept of life-long learning in our race to achieve the developed nation status. Being the nation’s pioneer Open and Distance Learning institution, we are proud to play a small role in this.

We are stepping into our sixth year of operations, and we have an enrolment exceeding 50,000 students. If this means that we are successful (for having the largest number of adult learners at a single institution in Malaysia), I would definitely attribute this to our government’s initiatives to promote human capital development

 ? Where do you see the main challenges for such Open University programmes?

In terms of challenges, this makes a few. The quality of learning materials is very important. We strive to provide the best in terms of content, with good support during the delivery of the courses. The other challenge would be the attrition rate of students. In open distance learning institutions throughout the world, the attrition rate of students can be as high as 40%. Fortunately, at OUM we manage to cap to less than half of that industry rate. This could be attributable to the positive steps taken by the Learner Services Center that provide counseling and advisory services.

 ? How far has the national policies supported such Open University initiatives?

As I had mentioned earlier, the Malaysian government’s emphasis on human capital development and life-long learning had placed the importance of academic qualifications to face the future challenges. We have the various ministries’ support to implement programmes for their staff. Financing for our programmes are available and further, the fact that OUM had been appointed by the government to be the national center to assess prior learning clearly shows the seriousness of our government in this matter.

 ? How do you see the market for private ventures for online or distance education in Malaysia? How do you compare Malaysia’s market to the rest of Asia?

The market in Malaysia is big enough for private ventures for on-line or distance education. The issues that I could foresee would be the high capital investment and sustainability. In this business, the return on investment is not immediate. Comparable to the rest of Asia, many universities in other countries are also going on this open and distance learning mode. It is a good step, and we are willing to share our experience and expertise in this industry with others.

? How has been OUM partnering with the industry? In what way has the industry supported the university?

The industry-academia partnership could be interpreted in many ways. We do work very closely with the industry by offering programmes that are designed and developed based on the input from the industry. The Ministry of Defence is one example, the other being NestlBy way of support, we use many facilitators from these and other industries. I think that this approach is better to position the students learning closer to the practices adopted in industries.

What do you hope to achieve for the University in your role as the
President? What is your future plan for OUM?
As the President and Vice Chancellor of OUM, I have focused on three fundamental thrusts for 2007 and beyond to enable us to be recognisedas one of the mega universities in Asia by 2015. Firstly, we have to sustain our growth momentum by focusing on marketing and business development initiatives. OUM would also be consolidating learner-centered activities by making our graduates relevant to the future development of OUM. Finally, OUM would also be strengthening organisational capacity and refine internal processes by enhancing our human resource capability, especially the number of academics or faculty members. All these, I hope would steer us to reach greater heights in our industry among other great open and distance learning providers in the world.  franchised and external degree programs in partnership with Malaysian institutions. Malaysian institutions are also setting up programmes in over a dozen countries and the number is growing. Malaysia attracts over 30,000 foreign students for higher education each year, compared to 15,000 to 18,000
students in India and 140,000 in China. As a result of their higher GDP spending on higher education, Malaysia along with Singapore and China have emerged as global players in the cross-border higher education thereby attracting many reputed universities from the advanced countries and hosting a large pool of
globally mobile students. The Malaysian approach to Higher  ducation is thus very “businesslike”. The role of universities is seen as supporting business and that universities themselves should run as businesses. Public universities have
been “corporatised” meaning that they should run along business lines, seeking cost recovery and thus depending to a lesser degree on public funding. The number of international students in Malaysia 40,686 in 2004 which includes 25,939 international students in private higher education institutions, and 6,315 students in the public higher education institutions with the remaining in the schools level. The students mainly come from China, Indonesia and Middle Eastern country. Ministry of higher Education has set up a target to get 100,000 foreign students to be registered in Malaysia by the year 2010. As one of the steps in making Malaysia the centre of educational excellence, the ministry also plans to establish four education promotional offices at four  ifferent countries  namely Jakarta, Ho Chi Minh City, Dubai and Beijing, that have the potentials to sent their students to Malaysia.

ICT in higher education
The rapid growth of information technology (IT) globally has also spurred the growth of e-learning projects in higher education in Malaysia. In higher education, Malaysia had supported distance learning and is today of the leading
countries in the application of digital information technologies to education. Although the first generation of distance learning was mainly paper and print based, the country quickly graduated to audiocassettes,  audio conferencing,
audiographic conferencing, one-way, to video, two-way video and computer conferencing. In 1996, Malaysia saw the launch of its first satellite; the Malaysia East Asia Satellite, Measat-1 and later Measat-2. Measat-1 and Measat-2 represented a category of new generation satellite for direct users service by television users in homes as well as institutions. Users only need a small 500 cm antennae and a receiver. In short the transmitter allowed for voice, data and video transmission, which was suitable for interactive distance learning. With the increasing demand from adult working population for selfdevelopment and upgrading of skills, universities and instituions are increasingly adopting and implementing distance education. These programmes are either ‘crafted’ in their conventional faculties, delivered through the establishment of a special unit or institution under the universities or creating separate institutions. In 1971, Universiti Sains Malaysia (Science University of Malaysia) in Penang started to use distance learning with the admission of students pursuing degrees in humanities and social sciences. In 1990 MARA Institute of Technology(now known as Universiti Teknologi MARA) started offering diploma programs in public administration, banking and business studies. In 1995 the government directed all nine universities operating in Malaysia at that time to open their doors to distance learning. However, inspite of the credible progress in Malaysian higher education in the wake of vision 2020,  experts have often pointed put that much of this development had happened without any specific policy direction from the government forb higher education. While the vision 2020, when formulated in 1991, had focused on IT revolution and privatization, it had not identified  nstitutions of higher education as  critical players in the revolution. Although, the Vision identified skilled Malaysian labour as the critical missing variable that was holding back the possibility of sustained economic growth, it had not placed university-based research at the
forefront of the country’s development strategy. Various key researches have revealed that for IT education to deliver its potential, national government must have policies in place and ‘ICT integration in education’ as key priority. This will make university education more dynamic and innovative. The privatisation drive of the government did support and encourage domestic private sector and foreign investment in higher education and several positive filter effects happened in the overall higher education space, including the increased interest to explore ICTs to expand the reach of higher education through distance learning. However, Malaysia has only it is only after 2000, that Malaysia has consciously turned to IT learning  strategies as a way to accelerating educational development and creating world class universities.

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