21 May 2020

The Future of Higher Education has Begun

Commentary by Prema Ponnudurai, Head of Department, Department of Liberal Arts & Humanities, School of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Taylor’s University


Recently, an article from Asia Sentinel has reported that Covid-19 will see the result of imminent collapse of the private education sector in Malaysia. A large majority of these medium and small universities will face financial loses and high debts with low-income generating avenues. 

Now, the biggest challenge is for universities to swiftly put into place new strategies to generate income and maintain a delicate balance of restructuring to become leaner in their operations while upholding their key propositions.

At the end of 2019, I co-published a book chapter entitled ‘Future- Ready Universities: Embracing the 4th Industrial Revolution’ in the book entitled ‘Preparing 21st Century Teachers for Teach Less, Learn More (TLLM) Pedagogies’ little realizing that our future strategies will soon become our present realities.

Below are the three (3) key strategies I propose universities should implement to stay afloat and relevant:



While this form of university-industry collaboration has long been established by both stakeholders, there is opportunity for these collaborations to be intensified further. As the Malaysian Global Innovation and Creativity Centre predicted that about 40 percent of small- and medium-sized enterprises will have to wind up their operations if the COVID-19 chain of infection persists, a win-win method would be to increase the duration of internships. With longer involvement of students with the industry, the industry partner will be able to leverage on this long-term manpower resource and students will have vast opportunity to hone in on workplace to gain new skills.

In February 2020, The Malaysian government revealed a Covid-19 Emergency Economic Stimulus Package with an allocation of 100 million ringgit (US$45 million) to aid businesses affected by COVID-19 focused on upgrade the skills of its workers. This includes provisions to improve the digital skills of employees and funding for short courses, which is opportune for universities to develop these needed programmes and a new source of added revenue.



The recent pandemic has accelerated our reliance on technology and we have seen the emergence of terms such as emergency pedagogies and pandemic pedagogy, or emergency remote teaching. Lecturers today are grappling for the most reliable, accessible and user-friendly platforms for their classroom continuity in a short time. It is imperative that in making these choices of platforms and alternative teaching methods, students are placed as central to the learning process. As such, increasing accessibility to synchronous and asynchronous on-demand learning is vital.

Universities having invested vast amounts in their ICT infrastructure, now must utilize these facilities at optimum levels in order to develop innovative online teaching skills and maintain high quality of education. Universities need to transition from emergency remote teaching to quality online learning.  With course material content developed and maintained online, over dependency on physical presence of students and staff will be reduced thus enabling lifelong learning.



Last, we must acknowledge that knowledge is easily acquired with availability of multiple resource points today. The fallacy that students should be taught everything must now be carefully prioritized and divided into ‘must know’ knowledge, ‘should know’ knowledge and ‘nice to know’ knowledge when selecting content.  The content today is ubiquitous, easily attained and learners can acquire them on a need to know basis. Educators are not in a position to overeducate, but to be more prudent in their selection of content within the curriculum. As a result, this will then lead to the transformation of the classroom into an arena for discussions, collaboration and critical thinking while indirectly imparting the needs for the 5th Industrial Revolution and personalizing teaching and learning for the learner.

With this roadmap for higher education institutional reforms given the current times, it is imperative that educators need to shift their mindset with the realization that teaching is not tantamount to learning. Learning will have to be redesigned with refined purposes and only then will we be prepared and equipped to navigate the current global situation successfully. These steps and more initiatives are urgent if we are to secure education as a highly sought commodity now and beyond this period.  

Prema Ponnudurai
Head of Department, Department of Liberal Arts & Humanities, School of Liberal Arts and Sciences