By : Prof Dato' Dr Ahmad Bashawir Hj Abdul Ghani
The process of democratisation of education for all, particularly in developing countries like Malaysia, has resulted in the mushrooming of both public and private higher education institutions (HEIs). This phenomenon and the exponential growth resulted in greater competition among universities to attract students. So as to ensure one's competitiveness, ranking and accreditation have become a fundamental measuring indicator for quality and marketing point. Thus, it is not surprising that these academic institutions have poured in significant amount of their resources into acquiring this value added recognition.
Accreditation assurance of quality
Accreditation is viewed as a symbol of excellence and quality assurance. Although accreditation is a voluntary exercise, HEIs may not be able to compete nor survive without it. In most countries, there is a quality control establishment overseeing the quality assurance practices and accreditation such as the Malaysian Qualification Agency (MQA). The endorsement by the MQA provides assurance to the stakeholders, especially students and the industry, that the programme advertised meets certain quality standards.
In the context of Universiti Utara Malaysia (UUM), the university is actively engaged in internationalisation activities and venturing into international collaborations in marketing our academic programmes and establishing itself as the top business and management educational institution in Asia. As such, an internationally recognised accreditation is a must have and being a university whose niche area is in business and management, the one that is most sought after is the internationally renowned Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business International (AACSB). UUM is proud to have received the accreditation since 2016 and making us one of the elite few in Malaysia.
There are a number of international accreditation agencies for business study programmes in the world. The AACSB International is the most prestigious and oldest global accreditation body for business schools in the world. It provides the quality assurance needed and at present, there are over 1,700 member organisations, and more than 840 accredited business schools worldwide. Attaining AACSB accreditation means that the school is among the top five per cent business schools in the world.
UUM in very elite group
The AACSB accreditation is very relevant to both businesses and institutions of higher learning because it draws on both communities for input and information. AACSB is an official certification or acknowledgement that a degree programme offered by a business school has met all the standards set by the awarding body, such as offering a robust and challenging curriculum, providing effective career development, and constantly demonstrating a commitment to innovate and contribute new knowledge to the field of business studies. UUM is among the first in Malaysia and one of the very few universities in the world (less than five per cent) to qualify into this very elite group. We are indeed proud that our business degree programme has been accredited by the internationally acclaimed AACSB, which is acknowledged for its very high requirement standards. We have successfully endured the arduous and vigorous application process that took the university almost seven years to achieve and fulfil all the education metrics set by AACSB.
What makes the accreditation unique and most sought after is the continuous quality enhancement being introduced as in the case of the latest AACSB 2020 Standards. It covers three broad areas which are namely, strategic management and innovation; learner success; and thought leadership, engagement and societal impact.
Continuous improvement is core to AACSB accredited institutions and it must constantly hedge its own achievement and strive to be better. UUM takes cognizance of this requirement and our business study programme has been continuously enhanced to meet the evolving nature of the learners and to respond to the dynamic job market and the dictates of Education 4.0, which is beyond the student-centred learning. It is about empowering students to structure their learnings within the intended learning objectives. For business study programmes, equipping students with the right transferrable skills is vital to meeting the rapid changes in business knowledge. Thus, innovation in curriculum is of the utmost importance. At UUM, students get to experience a holistic learning experience as the curriculum adheres to these strict requirements.
UUM highly ranked in the world
One of the values upheld by AACSB accredited institutions is social responsibility. It requires HEIs to engage with the community, including businesses, as part process of enriching students' learning experience. Students at UUM are highly encouraged to share and put into practise their academic knowledge to help improve the community well-being through service-learning projects. Various classes have embedded the community service activities in various class assignments. For example, the Risk Management and Insurance Seminar class periodically organises community outreach programmes with selected schools in the states of Kedah and Perlis with the aim to increase awareness on insurance and safety at school. The community at large benefits from this knowledge transfer engagement while the students stand to gain leadership, teamwork and communication skills in managing the projects.
Being the only university in the country that specialises in business and management studies, UUM has managed to carve its way and make an impact internationally by being ranked highly both by the Times Higher Education (THE) and the QS World University Ranking. In view of all these achievements, we have to ensure that our students stand to benefit fully from such exposures. Therefore, in line with the AACSB accreditation, UUM submitted an unsolicited proposal to Beta Gamma Sigma (BGS) USA with the intention to set up the 1st ever BGS chapter in Malaysia, and the 5th in Southeast Asia. We successfully achieved this honour in 2016 and our students have since continued to achieve many successes. One notable achievement was when the UUM chapter became the recipients of the 'Highest Chapter Honour' among the top five per cent business schools in the world in 2017.
UUM is fully aware of how influential and significant BGS society is. To be part of it is a privilege and to be the 1st ever BGS chapter in Malaysia, is indeed an honour. At the individual level, it is the highest recognition a business student anywhere in the world can receive. Only universities accredited with AACSB can establish the BGS chapter. As of today, there are only around 566 BGS chapters around the world and most of the chapters are located in the United States of America.
Stringent selection process
All selected UUM BGS members (students) were put through a very stringent selection process in compliance with the requirements set by BGS USA. Not only are they high achievers and top performing students with first class CGPA pointers and representing the top 10 per cent in their respective programmes, they are also active students in co-curricular programmes with minimum SIRA points of at least 100.
Subsequently, all shortlisted candidates must undergo further interview sessions in which their leadership quality, communication, problem-solving, as well as critical thinking skills were tested. In short, UUM BGS members were noted for their crystallised intelligence, as well as fluid intelligence.
Being a member, there are many benefits one can enjoy, both at UUM and from BGS USA. At UUM, various leaderships and industry engagement programmes are already in the pipeline for the selected ones. Its members will be given priority to participate in exchange programmes, internships in Multinational Corporations (MNC), and many other up-skilling workshops. One can also access various resources from the main BGS website, as well as participate in various programmes in the United States.
UUM aims to be top business school in Asia
Moving forward, it has become an important agenda for UUM to embark on Product Branding and Marketing exercise as part of our strategy to expand and evolve internationally. The AACSB accreditation provides UUM with leverage towards achieving these objectives. The University has set clear objectives in becoming the top business school in Asia and to expand beyond the Malaysian shoreline and into other countries.
Although considered still young among the more established counterparts in Malaysia, UUM recently achieved another milestone when a Provost was appointed in January 2019 to helm its city campus in Kuala Lumpur, also known as the UUM KL City campus. The experience and knowledge gained from the accreditation process have been put to good use in developing a clear strategy for the attainment of a competitive, dynamic, robust and resilient educational environment to support the learning process, as in the case with our city campus. It made us believe in the need to define, develop and operationalise a new pattern of behaviour, thinking and interaction between the institution and private sectors that would in turn spur UUM comparative advantages in an increasingly competitive and unpredictable global education environment.
One of the strategies adopted by the University in product branding and marketing is to develop international partnerships with world leading industry players and reputable institutions of higher learning, which represent well-known brands and are acknowledged for the quality of their products and services. One notable example was an accord with Qatar Airways, where a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was signed which allows the University to tap into the carrier's extensive network of destinations around the world to market our study programmes. The marketing approach developed by Qatar Airways in Product, Pricing and Promotion Strategies are most relevant to the rebranding and marketing exercise envisioned by UUM and sets to improve its image and visibility. The collaboration with a leading international industry player also bodes well for UUM's quest for a stronger international academic presence and in support of Malaysia's plan to become the hub for academic excellence in the region.
The diversity of the current and prospective students who look for study-abroad opportunities after their college years requires universities to establish strategic linkages across the globe. Institutions with international accreditations have the advantage because it allows for effortless transfer (credit hours) as the curriculum meets the same standard as measured by the international accreditation agencies. With the AACSB accreditation, UUM is in a better position to attract more international students to pursue their studies here.
Exposure to global experience
In addition, students enrolling at AACSB accredited institutions have access to global experience. Malaysian students at UUM are exposed to global experience by engaging with international students on campus, as well as the opportunity to experience studying abroad through student mobility programme. This is made possible when the standardisation of quality assurance by AACSB International opens up new market for international academic collaboration allowing mobility of students between AACSB accredited members. As of year 2019, UUM College of Business (COB) students had participated in mobility programmes in ten countries and internship programmes in 20 countries all over the world.
Better chance of jobs at top business organisations
Graduate Employability (GE) is indeed a very important factor for all the stakeholders. All said, graduates from AACSB accredited universities have been shown to stand a better chance of being employed by top business organisations and accorded attractive salary. In fact, some employers prefer hiring graduates from AACSB accredited universities.
Furthermore, many MBA and other graduate business study programmes prefer applicants who have received undergraduate study programmes associated with AACSB. With regard to GE, UUM is proud to be among the best in Malaysia in 2019 with more than 92 per cent of its graduates employed upon graduation. UUM is now ranked in the 251-300 band in the QS World University Ranking 2020 for Business and Management Studies, and for the first time, the University is in the 201-250 band of the Times Higher Education (THE) Young University Rankings 2019. Undoubtedly, the industry will benefit tremendously from the high calibre, well-prepared graduates from UUM College of Business.
The year 2020 started with a 'bang' of sorts when the world was seized with developments around the current COVID-19 pandemic. Many countries continue to grapple with the new realities emerging almost daily as a result of the pandemic and the search for the vaccine is still proving difficult and illusive. Given that no vaccine is on the near horizon, educational institutions will most likely be forced to introduce the 'work from home' (WFH) concept to both, staff and students alike, for a foreseeable future.
And the pandemic's multidimensional nature – its widespread impact on the economy, society, technology, organisations, and public health, will necessitate universities to be bold and brave in making the required transition from traditional approaches to novel methods in the education process.
Pandemic a blessing in disguise?
The pandemic may indeed be a blessing in disguise. The virus knows no boundaries and it spreads unabatedly throughout the world. Similarly, digital revolution affects everyone. In the education process, it dictates that the aspect of andragogy and pedagogy be reformed accordingly so as to remain relevant.
As social distancing becomes the 'new normal', universities have moved operations and teaching online, also known as remote learning, in order to provide students and staff a safe learning environment. Remote learning has long been practised in developed countries and has been shown to offer many advantages. In this respect, UUM has produced the roadmap for digitalisation of its education process that is contained in the 'UUM Digital Campus' blueprint. The present health concern has somewhat accelerated the overall implementation of the roadmap much earlier than anticipated.
The conversion to online courses has been enabled by the mass mobilisation of faculties to convert their classrooms to virtual ones. Our best online educators have stepped up to hold workshops on everything, from the basics of learning management systems to the integration of synchronous and asynchronous teaching techniques.
The University will have to be innovative and creative in adapting the teaching and learning (T&L) and assessment process by introducing alternative methods such as modularity in course models, embedded virtual learning for students in residence and Hyflex Model where the traditional teaching is conducted in tandem with the online method. The COVID-19 pandemic has presented the University with an unprecedented situation that tests all the above core values and our mantle in handling the fallouts. Indeed, we are witnessing a new dawn in remote learning and if universities are to survive and prosper, a paradigm shift is the way forward.
In summary, attending an AACSB-accredited business school means that the students have access to the best curriculum, the best educators and the best learning environment. Universiti Utara Malaysia prides itself with gaining the accreditation from AACSB International. It signifies quality assurance in education and the adoption of best practices at the University as enumerated in the AACSB standards.
Prof Dato' Dr Ahmad Bashawir Hj Abdul Ghani is the Vice-Chancellor of Universiti Utara Malaysia (UUM)
(The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of BERNAMA)