By Jimmy Teo Hui Thian (email@example.com)
Prof Dr Zakaria Ismail has more than 30 years' experience in teaching, researching and consulting with many public and private universities prior to
joining Open University Malaysia as Dean of Faculty of Business and Management (FBM). He obtained his bachelor's degree in agriculture from the University of New England, Australia. He completed his MBA at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia before leaving to pursue his doctorate at the Kent State University in the United States. Prof Zakaria's areas of expertise include organizational behaviour, management and human resource management.
Jimmy Teo: Prof, what would you consider as your biggest responsibilities as Dean of FBM?
Prof Zakaria: Right now, I would say there are three main ones. The first would be to ensure that the Faculty serves its external customers (learners, learners' sponsors, potential employers and so on) and internal customers (assessment unit, registry, and others) well by meeting or exceeding their expectations in terms of quality, timeliness and dependability where our academic programmes and services are concerned.
The second is to ensure that FBM academic programmes remain relevant to market needs and become the first choice in business management, human resources and accounting for working adults. Finally, it is to ensure that our faculty members and staff talents are optimally developed, harnessed and recognised so that a strong culture of belonging and ownership takes root in the faculty.
JT: What has been your greatest challenge up to this point?
Prof Zakaria: I think, the greatest challenge up to this point has been developing our academic staff expertise to a level where every one has the necessary knowledge and competencies to do high quality academic work independently or the least with minimal supervision. Academic work here includes tutorial delivery, course assessment, mastery of knowledge, and research and writing ability. We also want to develop and get external tutors involved in these areas.
JT: What can you say about the programmes offered by FBM?
Prof: The faculty offers many programmes which are industry-relevant. Programmes such as the Bachelor of Business Administration, Bachelor of Human Resource Management and bachelor of Management have been selling well. These are what we call the STAR programmes of the faculty. Apart from these, I think our Bachelor of Accounting is a potential STAR, even though we have yet to receive MQA accreditation for it. As for postgraduate programmes, our MBA is a hot favourite. It is also offered in Yemen, Ghana and Bahrain.
JT: Aside from the quality of the programmes, what other pull factors do you think would attract potential learners to OUM?
Prof: Quality is one thing but the more important question potential learners should ask is: Is the programme relevant to the demands of their present and future jobs? This is to say that programmes must not only have accreditation from MQA and recognition by professional bodies, they must also be industry-relevant and up-to-date in curricula.
The other reason for potential learners to come to OUM is of course our flexibility, accessibility, and affordability. Our reputation speaks for itself. You can find many positive testimonies, written articles and glowing word-of-mouth from friends or relatives of learners who have studied at OUM.
JT: Has the business environment changed much since your student days? How so?
Prof: Yes, the business environment has not only changed since my student days, it has been revolutionised in all aspects such as ICT in business (process and networking), globalisation, demographics (age, gender, education level), regionalism, the influence of WTO and so on.
JT: Are these changes reflected in the programmes offered by FBM? Can you give us an example?
Prof: As I mentioned earlier, our programmes are very relevant to contemporary times. During my early days, there were no specific programmes in business or management. At that time there were only economics and commerce. But now, you not only have many types of business, management and related programmes but also many areas of specialisation within these programmes. There are too many examples to mention but I will name a few: e-commerce, logistic and supply chain, international business, international finance, Islamic finance, Islamic management, hospitality and tourism management, forensic accounting, green accounting, and so on.
JT: Information technology has changed almost everything. How have these changes shaped the programmes offered by FBM?
Prof: (Laughs) I knew this question would pop up. It is a very popular but relevant question. Indeed, ICT has created a very dynamic environment where innovations and new processes and management techniques are being introduced within a very short span of time. This is why our programme structures have to be updated regularly so that they are not outdated and become irrelevant to the industry. The courses also need updating because of these changes. For example, business practices can no longer be taught within the local context; they need to go global. This is why learners must be taught to be resourceful and IT savvy in order for them to be able to seek information through the internet and to ultimately widen their thinking, perspectives and decision- making capabilities.
JT: What do you think is the way forward for FBM?
Prof: To me, it's simple. The faculty must be sensitive to changes in the business environment and be aware of market and industry needs in order to improve on the existing programmes. We need to constantly update our learning materials, content delivery, assessment instruments and learning support. We also need to plan and introduce more innovative and market relevant programmes, apart from developing faculty-industry relationships especially with the relevant professional bodies and industry captains.
JT: How do you propose to meet the challenges of the 21st century?
Prof: The 21st century poses many new challenges. One of them is meeting the rising demand and expectations of the customers (learners and sponsors). With globalisation and the free flow of information, learners and the general market will be better informed about what their needs are and from whom and where they can get the services to fulfil their needs. Therefore, for the faculty and OUM generally, we need to fulfil our learners' and stakeholders' expectations and aspirations so that they are satisfied with their experience with OUM, thus becoming our willing ambassadors. I think the winning formula could be to constantly develop the talent of our academic staff and external tutors, and to be closer to our customers by understanding and meeting their changing needs.
(TCX would like to thank Prof Dr Zakaria, more fondly known as Prof Zack among faculty members, for taking time to do this interview.)