By Shahfizal Musa
Pix Shahiddan Saidi
BANGI, 8 May 2012- A regional conference on how institutions of higher learning can engage their communities to help resolve problems such as the environment and poverty is being held at The National University of Malaysia (UKM).
About 150 participants from 13 countries are attending the three day conference which ends tomorrow on: Higher Education-Community- Industry Engagement: Forging Meaningful Partnerships across ASEAN and Asia.
Vice Chancellor of UKM, Prof Tan Sri Dato' Wira Dr Sharifah Hapsah Syed Hasan Shahabudin when officially opening the conference yesterday said engagement by institutions of higher learning in their communities needed to be intensified so that problems the communities faced could be handled more effectively.
Community engagement is where universities undertake activities to help alleviate the most pressing problems the communities faced by among others empowering the poor with entrepreneurship skills to enable them to be self sufficient.
Prof Sharifah Hapsah said community engagement is not something new but is a universal mission of higher institutions of learning worldwide.
There exists a social contract between a university and the society where the university is expected to contribute by applying the knowledge it has for the well being of the community.
UKM, she said, has always been involved with community engagement giving several examples of UKM’s activities which have benefited the community.
One is the PERMATApintar Negara, a center for gifted students with extraordinary intelligence. UKM have also undertaken programmes to empower youth at risk and labeled as delinquents who were normally forgotten. The programme Perkasa Remaja has successfully transformed them into useful members of the society.
There is also a programme to help single mothers start their own small businesses to enable them to be independent.
She said that such engagements needed an integrated approach involving all sectors including non-governmental organisations and industry partners to ensure greater impact on the society.
Community engagement activities must also consider their sustainability to ensure that any endeavor taken will be successful and not neglected or abandoned halfway.
Prof Janice Reid, Vice Chair of the Talloires Network Steering Committee and Vice Chancellor of the University of Western Sydney in her plenary session speech said that higher institutions of learning have the obligation to listen to and engage their communities.
Universities are no longer viewed as the ivory towers where knowledge are stored but are now judged by their contributions to their communities.
By emphasising on the importance of community engagement, universities will create graduates who are socially responsible and passionate in giving back to their communities.
Community engagement will improve the quality of education in universities while improving the socio-economic conditions of society as their graduates will be actively involved in initiatives to combat poverty. This will in turn increase public support for universities.
UKM, is the secretariat for AsiaEngage and through it is leading three university networks for the region: the Asia-Talloires Network of Industry and Community Engaged Universities (ATNEU), the ASEAN University Network on University Social Responsibility and Sustainability (AUN-USR&S) and the ASEAN Youth Volunteer Programme (AYVP).
The conference is organised by UKM with the collaboration and support of the Ministries of Higher Education and the Ministry of Youth and Sports, Taillores Network, ASEAN University Network and ASEAN.
AsiaEngage provides universities, colleges, NGOs, foundations and industries a solid platform to collaborate and connect to engage communities.
Deputy Vice Chancellor (Industry and Community Partnership), Prof Dato’ Dr Saran Kaur Gill; Rajesh Tandon, President of Soceity of Participatory Research Asia and participants from Brazil, Brunei, Cambodia, Hong Kong, India, Japan, Pakistan, Philippines, Taiwan, Thailand, Vietnam and Malaysia took part in the conference.