Dr David: Tell us something about yourself - your background, and work at OUM presently.
Prof Ghazali: I obtained my PhD in Agricultural Economics from the University of Hawaii in 1981. I have since conducted research with such institutions as the World Bank, the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) in Canada, and the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR). Today, I am Dean of the Centre for Graduate Studies (CGS) at OUM.
Dr David: On "putting knowledge to work", would you say that this is something the Malaysian higher education system should particularly emphasise? Why?
Prof Ghazali: Sure. To find innovative solutions to the economic challenges facing many countries including Malaysia in the 21st century, we will be dependent on a creative, knowledgeable, and highly skilled workforce. Putting or applying knowledge and skills to work on these challenges will help sustain our country's future economic prosperity and growth, foster social well-being, protect the environment, and ensure that we will continue to be competitive in the global economy.
Dr David: To what extent is "putting knowledge to work"
accented at CGS?
Prof Ghazali: Undergraduate education is important to create a stable economy because it provides students with foundational knowledge and work skills, and prepares them for a wide range of employment options. But it is graduate education that provides students with the advanced knowledge and skills that will secure our future sources of intellectual human capital, and drive innovations in the knowledge economy.
At CGS, most of our post graduate programmes provide students with opportunities to "put knowledge to work" through research and development in their respective fields of study. The emphasis has always been on applied or action research. CGS is currently developing industrial masters and doctoral programmes. These programmes will allow students who enrol with OUM to carry out applied and action research at their work places.
Dr David: Assuming that a particular learner graduates after spending several years doing a degree programme, but is unable to put the knowledge acquired to work in the field in which he/she was trained, who do you think should bear responsibility for that?
Prof Ghazali: I hope this does not happen with OUM graduates. If it does, then either we have failed to attract talented students or we have failed to deliver our products effectively. This is of course assuming that our products are relevant to what the market needs, and that the students know exactly what they want to achieve from higher education.
Dr David: Arguments have been made about how universities have become too utilitarian, for instance, in producing workers for the work force, instead of educating the learner holistically in ways that cannot always be translated into working skills. What would be your response to that?
Prof Ghazali: If there is merit in the arguments, then, universities have only been producing workers, not knowledgeable workers. Of course, we want workers who are practically-oriented and useful. However, what is more important is to have workers who are creative, knowledgeable and skillful.
Yes, we produced mostly workers in the 80's and early
90's when the economy was booming and the demand for workers increased significantly. However, things are changing, especially when employers found that many graduates could not perform as expected at the workplace. Many universities are shifting from teacher-centred to student-centred education; and emphasis is now given to not only academic achievement but also the ability of the graduates to master soft skills such as communication, problem solving, teamwork, and so on.
Dr David: Where would you like to see CGS in the next 5 years or so?
Prof Ghazali: I would like to see continuing efforts to identify and attract talented students to CGS. Improving programme completion rates is also important. In addition, we should provide the appropriate training and mentoring to students so that they are aware of the copious career opportunities in and out of the academe. We should also ensure that they acquire transferable skills so that they can function in a larger array of jobs.
Preparing future faculty is critical. We need dedicated faculty members who can shape our graduates to be creative, knowledgeable, and highly skilled individuals.
* Dr David CL Lim is Programme Coordinator of OUM's Bachelor of English Studies, Master of English Studies and the forthcoming Diploma in English for Professional Development.