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On 1st February, 2007, Northern Malaysia University College of Engineering (or KUKUM in Bahasa Melayu) underwent a change of name. It is now Universiti Malaysia Perlis (UniMAP).
The following paragraphs record the history of TUCN-Malaysia - which is a network of four then university colleges (all of which have, like UniMAP, undergone change of names to be UTHM (in Johore), UTeM (in Melaka), and UMP (in Pahang). These were formerly known as KuiTTHO, KUTKM, and KUKTEM, respectively). The TUCN-Malaysia may not necessarily be relevent now that the then four university colleges have been rebranded as universities. However, its history is presented here as a record.
Until 1999, Malaysia had thirteen public universities offering a variety of academic programmes. Along the way, there were numerous discussions by members of the academia and the industry alike that questioned the quality of education provided to the Malaysian youngsters, particularly in the area of science, technology, and engineering. Graduates were deemed to be lacking the appropriate technical competency to perform tasks required of them at their work place, and that the resources needed to retrain them are draining the coffers of the industry, who reportedly preferred graduates of overseas universities. Local graduates were also said to have very poor interpersonal and communication skills, thus breeding a feeling of inferiority, which may have led to substandard work quality.
There was no rigorous study done to prove or disprove this claim; only intense series of arguments that were mainly based on hearsay. These arguments were at times highly emotionally charged. Figures of graduate employability, commonly used to challenge whatever allegations put forth, did not hold water, as this figure fluctuated fiercely, in accordance to the country’s economic climate. On the graduates’ ease of adoption upon being employed, many responded that there was no way a university or any institution of higher learning could provide sufficient course of study such that upon graduation the student could walk right into the industry and perform the jobs required of him/her. No education system was capable of this, and neither should any aspire to be like that. After all, tertiary education was just that – education -- not training. On the communication skills of the graduates, it was thought that this was an unfair contention, as local graduates underwent education entirely in Bahasa Melayu. This issue, of course, touched the peripheries of national sensitivity (ie. that of the use of the national language) and hence, opinions surrounding it were rather mild. Against this intricate backdrop, there was a general feel amongst many quarters that perhaps a slightly different model of education system should be introduced.
Not long after that, the government set up a task force to look into this possibility. The task force came up with a proposal of a new technical education system called the ‘National Technical University System’ (‘IPTA-model2’). The finding of the study was presented twice to the Minister of Higher Education (at that time Minister of Education) – in 1998 and 2000. This new system was developed based on models such as the fachhochscule (FH) in Germany, the IIUT system in France, the polytechnic university system in Hong Kong, and a few others. The common ground for these models was that of the ‘hands-on’ approach, whereby students undergo intensive practical sessions. An approach of this kind is believed to help make better graduates, in a sense that they can directly perform tasks expected of them in the industry without having to undergo a long and rigorous training at their work place. Hence, the main feature of this new ‘breed’ of education model is that of preparing students for applications-related training for professions which require the application of academic knowledge and methods.
Towards the end of 2000, the Technical University System was formally approved by the Cabinet, and two ‘technical university colleges’ (‘TUC’) - KUTKM and KUiTTHO - were officially established. This was then followed by KUKTEM and KUKUM (Kolej Universiti Kejuruteraan Utara Malaysia). Based on observations and studies performed since its inception, the education model used in these four TUC’s have been adjusted appropriately, so as to fulfill current and local needs.
Hence, the original intent of the establishment of the TUC’s is to generate highly skilled engineers who can help realise the country’s National Industrial Master Plan. Highly skilled engineer means they have a good mastery of engineering skills, which comprises both theoretical competency as well as practical competency. TUC graduates can be referred to as ‘application-and-practice oriented engineers’. They should be competent in carrying out practical tasks while having sufficient theoretical knowledge. The academic programmes these graduates go through fulfill the requirements stipulated by accreditation bodies and that of the industry.
The model of education system practiced at the TUC’s are not identical with one another, albeit being highly similar. The general commonalities of the four TUC’s are:
* Focusing on specific engineering disciplines only
* Having a relatively small student population (typically not more than 10 000 students at any one time)
* Students spend more time in practical sessions than in lecture rooms
* Relevant experiments are carried out as close as possible to the time the material is presented during lecture
* Apart from classroom Lecturers, students are also aided by ‘Teaching Engineers’ who are stationed in locations where practicum is performed
* Enhanced collaboration with the industry
* Practical sessions comprise of experiments in laboratories, teaching factories, computer-aided individual learning, industrial training in the industry, and final year projects
* An emphasis on entrepreneurship and communication skills
With more practicum required of the TUC’s, the implication (especially financial implication) is enormous. This means that more laboratories and teaching factories need to be built, and that more teachers (ie. teaching engineers) should be hired. However, the government, at least for this initial start-up period, has expressed and indeed shown full support, and has been ever so willing to spend however much it takes to implement it.
The circumstances that led to the introduction of the Malaysian TUC’s is somewhat similar to the beginning of the fachhochschule institutions in Germany in the 1950’s. Namely, it was the lamentation about the lack of young and qualified engineers in the country that preceeded the birth of the fachhochschule. (However, the roots of the fachhochschule can be traced into the time when training was given to aspiring craftsmen and practitioners in 19th century German society.)