UKM VC: Students to Design Their Own Programmes (second part of three part interview)

Wednesday, 20 July 2011 00:00
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By  S. Sivaselvam
Pix by Saliman Leman

BANGI, 20 July, 2011 - UKM is introducing contract learning as part of its student-centred learning strategy, said Vice-Chancellor Prof Tan Sri Dato’ Wira Dr. Sharifah Hapsah Shahabudin.

In contract learning the students, within the broad framework of the university’s learning outcomes, decide on the activities they want to do on their own to achieve those outcomes. These can include leadership, teamwork and management abilities.

“The students can design their own programmes and they will get these accredited, with supervisors to see that they achieve the outcome that they set out for themselves.”

In tis second part of her interview with UKM News Portal, she spoke of how professors are important at different levels. At the micro level, where they deal directly with the students, they can exert a very profound influence on the students with regard to the way they think and behave.

“It’s not just the knowledge that is being transmitted by the professors, but also how the professors help the students to think and imbibe values which are important for us as a nation.”

While previously “we left it too much to professors to their own devices, perhaps now we should be a bit more systematic and that’s what we are trying to do with the outcomes-based approach and the student-centred learning,” she said.

“At the classroom level, we can set guidelines on what professors should also be doing, rather than only considering themselves as people with knowledge and transmitting that knowledge.”

While knowledge is everywhere - on the Internet, in books and journals – she felt that what professors must do is to help students learn how to access this knowledge that is available. They must learn to show students the world, guide them on how to evaluate such information, how to use it, so that they can make changes to the things that they are concerned about.

“So, at this micro level, we determine what outcomes we expect the students to achieve, how the professors design the teaching and learning to help students achieve this,” she added.

“It would mean things would have to be outside the classroom. You cannot impart a lot of the things we want to in just lectures, for example, because a lot of it the students have to observe and experience themselves.”

Combining these two, the professors helping the students, and the students coming up with their own teaching-learning activities, then it becomes contract learning, a contract between the university and students.

“It tells the students that if they are allowed to do certain things, they must fulfill their contract in terms of the outcomes. At the micro level, we are progressing fairly well,” she said.

At the recent National Professors Congress in Kuala Lumpur, the chairman of the National Professors Council, Prof Emeritus Datuk Dr. Zakri Abdul Hamid, wanted professors to take on the role of national thinkers, visionaries as well as an intellectual tonic and problem solvers, who can help the country’s leaders solve people-related problems.

He spoke of how the late Prof. Syed Hussein Alatas and Royal Prof. Ungku Aziz impacted the lives of Malaysians. In other words, he sees professors as serving the community beyond their universities.

To this, Prof. Tan Sri Sharifah Hapsah points out that there are many other professors too who have been doing a lot for the community at large, such as in Islamic banking and on social issues. There are a sizeable number of professors who have actually introduced projects that could become models of development.

If Prof. Zakri is speaking about a collective basis, with a more organised level of input, she said that is what the Council is all about, and it already has several clusters on various disciplines.

“If they (Council members) can get their act together to study an issue and come out very quickly with well reasoned proposals to the government, that’ll be one very big input, particularly when the government spends a lot on consultancy,” she added.

Prof  Sharifah Hapsah contended that UKM is already a consultancy, as it has groups of people working on projects and they submit recommendations or studies.

“So now, if instead of doing this at the university level, we are going to do it at the National Professors Council, I’m not quite sure how this is going to work out in the end. This is because at the university we are doing a lot of consultancy work already. We have been contributing significantly to various projects undertaken by both public and private sector agencies.”

She felt that the Council could probably come out with some good ideas about how universities should be governed or work out programmes for universities on how they should move forward.

It should in fact look not only at the direction of higher education but look at the whole education system, from preschool right up to PhD and beyond, even continuing education.

“Professors should be thinking very seriously in the area of continuing education, because that’s where you are required to keep the economy going. Once you graduate nobody’s holding your hand, and you must learn how to learn on your own. Perhaps professors can think about how this can be effectively done. They can also help chart research areas,” Prof Sharifah Hapsah said.

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