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I am impressed by the theme of this conference, which is "The Future of Higher Education". The theme represents a perennial issue for all parties associated with higher education and universities, but for Malaysia we began to address this issue since becoming an independent nation and reemphasized the effort in full seriousness more than two decades ago with the introduction of Vision 2020 and the modernization of education through technology in the Multimedia Supercorridor concept. We have done these and are continuously improving them because we know that the future is what we get from what we do today.
We have come a long way in realizing these goals and I am proud to say Malaysia has embarked on the right path in transforming the institutions of higher learning and higher education to be on par with the best.
Universities are now changing in a fundamental way. They are aggressively moving away from the model of the first generation university, which is the teaching as university and away from the model of second generation university which is purely science- or basic research-based to what is now called the 'third generation university' which actively pursue the exploitation or commercialisation of the knowledge they create.
The first generation universities play the role of repositories of mankind's accumulate knowledge, values, and best practices and are tasked with producing educated and skilled manpower for the immediate communities or nation at large. In this model, universities are seen as places where students acquire new content skills and abilities, refine their thinking, language, and communication skills, and graduate with humility and a lasting desire to seek more learning. These universities take pride in the number of books and articles that they published, in the number of books and journals that they have in their libraries, and in producing able and responsible citizens to the world. There are many examples of universities functioning in the first generation mode and the oldest of it is the Al-Azhar University in Cairo.
The second generation universities are research universities that focus on science and the application of scientific thinking in all areas but do not regard the application of their know-how as their primary task. Their main focus is basic research which is the search for new truths, to push the boundaries of knowledge by presenting new paradigms, theories and models to explain the world and to publish their findings for all to read. The engagement is mostly academic and confined to selected peers to set the records straight or to shift from one paradigm to another. The universities take pride in the number of awards won, the number of names of their students and academic on the new theories and models proposed, and the number Nobel Prize winners and nominees on their payroll.
The third generation universities still perform the roles of the first and second generation universities but their new pursuit is the exploitation or commercialization of the knowledge that they create. The third generation universities are advanced research universities that give high importance the objectives of scientific research and education but aggressively leverage on the active involvement of their students and academic staff in starting their own technology-based firms or creating partnerships with technology-driven enterprises. Leading universities in the US such as MIT, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Stanford University, Harvard University and University of Cambridge in England are leading examples. Higher learning in these institutions would be vastly different from those in the first of second generation universities.
The transformation of universities all over the world into the third generation university is driven by many forces. The first is funding. To be and remain top universities and be able to continue carrying out cutting-edge scientific research these universities must seek alternative fundings as the cost of such research has risen above the budgets thegovernment can provide. So full scale university-industry collaboration for basic and applied research will become a necessity and to create win-wins situation for all.
The second trend is globalisation. Most universities currently enjoy a regional monopoly concerning the intake of students and the hiring of academic staff. With improved opportunities to study and work abroad, or to study online universities have now to compete for the best students and the best academic staff. On the other hand, globalization also means that successful exploitation or commercialization of would instantly put the institutions on the world map.
The challenge for universities in Asia and South East Asia that is the focus of this conference is to be third generation universities, to be truly global, able to compete with other longer established universities out there and offer the same capacity of becoming the nucleus of outstanding teaching and research endeavors and able to incubate and launch new enterprises as well as attract numerous partners from the industry.