By Muhamad Amin Azfar Ab.Aziz
KUALA LUMPUR (Bernama) -- A decade after its establishment, the Malaysian Qualifications Agency (MQA) has to meet the challenge of modifying its qualifications framework in line with the current needs of industry and global higher education developments.
This is to ensure that the programmes offered by tertiary institutions match current industry requirements in order to prepare their graduates to adapt to technological changes and be able to contribute to the nation's economic development.
Set up on Nov 1, 2007, MQA is the implementer of the Malaysian Qualifications Framework (MQF) as a basis for quality assurance of higher education in Malaysia.
MQA is responsible for the accreditation of higher education programmes to ensure that they fulfil the set criteria and standards. The agency also facilitates the recognition and articulation of qualifications.
MQA Deputy Chief Executive Officer (Quality Assurance) Prof Dr Hazman Shah Abdullah.Hazman said having just celebrated its 10th anniversary, it was time for MQA to reflect on its journey thus far and plan for the next 10 years.
"Our (qualifications) framework has to be modified and updated to meet the current needs of industry.
"The industry's requirements are different now, whereby a lot of existing jobs may become obsolete in the next five or 10 years and, on the other hand, technological changes are taking place faster than we think," he told Bernama in an interview, here recently.
He added that the big challenge for higher education institutions now is to start preparing their students for jobs that have yet to be created.
SOFT SKILLS IMPORTANT TO MEET INDUSTRY NEEDS
Being an integral part of this country's higher education ecosystem, MQA would continue to oversee the updating of the tertiary-level curriculum infrastructure in terms of its framework, programme standards and accreditation process to enable agency to drive the change in the nation's education system.
Hazman also said that apart from academic qualifications, employers pay particular attention to the personal qualities of the graduates before hiring them.
"Every graduate should not only have to be competent but must also possess the relevant soft skills so that they can communicate effectively, work as a team and work in a cross-cultural environment," he said, adding that graduates should also be able to do self-learning and strive for self-improvement.
"It's not just about what they learn in university; it is about continuous learning.
"They must also be resilient because the work culture is getting more competitive and tough, so they should be mentally strong to withstand pressure."
He added that the workforce has to be prepared for changes because "we are now undergoing an age of disruption and even jobs that we thought were safe may face changes in six months time".
Hazman said MQA\'s challenge in the next 10 years is to ensure that all higher educational institutions and their programmes keep abreast of changes in industry.
"We don't want (higher educational) programmes to remain static and later become outdated," he said, adding that MQA has to ensure that all higher education institutions modify their programmes in accordance with industry needs.
"It's our responsibility to facilitate them and enable them to move forward (with the times)."
ALTERNATIVE ROUTE TO HIGHER EDUCATION
On MQA's Accreditation of Prior Experiential Learning (APEL) programme, Hazman said it was among the agency's key achievements since its introduction in 2011.
Through APEL, individuals who have sufficient work experience but lack formal academic qualifications can get a chance to pursue their studies at a higher educational institution.
In other words, APEL provides an alternative entry route to higher education at certificate, diploma, bachelor's degree and even master's degree levels.
According to Hazman, this year MQA received 3,900 applications for APEL and last year, 1,000.
"We expect the number (of applications) to increase next year," he said, adding that the agency was trying to create more awareness of APEL among tertiary institutions and the public.
APEL comes in two modes, APEL (A) and APEL (C). The former allows an individual to gain access to a tertiary institution even if he does not have formal academic qualifies but has work experience.
In the case of APEL (C), an individual's prior learning, based on his cumulative experiences (knowledge and skills), is assessed for the purpose of awarding credits for the course he is pursuing under an academic programme.
"Before APEL was introduced, it was difficult for those without formal (academic) qualifications to enter a higher institution.
"Formal (classroom) learning is one thing, but experiential learning should not be ignored," said Hazman.
It is estimated that within 10 years, APEL would constitute a major part of MQA's work, adding that the agency might also consider introducing APEL (Q), whereby qualifications can be conferred based on an individual's experiential learning.
"APEL (Q) is practised in many countries," he said, pointing out that an entrepreneurship degree, for example, can be conferred if the appraiser was convinced that the individual's portfolio of experience has enabled him to achieve the same outcome as he would have in a formal learning environment.
Currently, MQA is still focusing on APEL (A) and (C) and has a long way to go to overcome various challenges.
Once those challenges have been met, the agency would go for the next level which, he added, would require a lot of planning, including gaining the confidence of employers, employees, higher education institutions and policymakers.
MQA'S COLLABORATIONS WITH FOREIGN COUNTERPARTS
MQA has been making a mark on the international front by collaborating with its counterparts in other countries.
In 2017, it signed a memorandum of understanding with the Association of Indian Universities in New Delhi, India, on the mutual recognition of equivalence of higher educational qualifications.
It also signed a memorandum of cooperation (MoC) with the National Recognition Information Centre for the United Kingdom this year that was aimed at fostering and promoting technical cooperation through exchange of information, staff and experts.
MQA also extended its MoC with Australia's Tertiary Education Quality Standards Agency to further strengthen their technical cooperation and enable the two agencies to support and learn from each other.
MQA is also continuing its cooperation with Taiwan's Higher Education Evaluation and Accreditation Council. The two agencies had signed a memorandum of arrangement in 2011 to promote technical cooperation between them.
In July last year, MQA and Japan's National Institution for Academic Degrees and University Evaluation signed a joint statement to allow the two agencies to recognise non-professional bachelor degrees awarded in both countries based on the compatibility of their quality assurance practices and outcomes.
Meanwhile, to facilitate comparisons of higher education qualifications across participating ASEAN member states, MQA has begun the process to align itself with the ASEAN Quality Assurance Framework (AQAF) and to reference the MQF to the ASEAN Qualifications Reference Framework (AQRF).
Among the ASEAN member states involved in the pilot AQAF framework project are Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand.
After the endorsement of AQRF at three ASEAN Ministerial Meetings in 2016, the Malaysian National AQRF Committee was established to reference the MQF to the AQRF.