Currently, only about 15% of Vice-Chancellors and 8% of Deputies have significant and relevant overseas management experience
A new study conducted by The Penang Institute analyzing the latest data from 2013 by Malaysia’s Ministry of Education found that poor leadership from the top management may be the cause of financial pressure and poor overall quality outcomes seen at private institutions in Malaysia.
The research examined publicly-available data and studied the diversity of top management teams in Malaysia’s private higher education institutions (HEIs) and found them to share disproportionately high similarities in terms of background, demographics and experience.
Penang Institute General Manager and Serdang MP, Ong Kian Ming stated that “[the] data showed that around 90% of Malaysian Vice-Chancellors were men and only 20% of their Deputy Vice-Chancellors were women.” Age was also highly concentrated – 56% of Vice-Chancellors aged sixty years old & 32% in their fifties – showing close to nine out of 10 being aged in their fifties and above. What is even more worrying is that, the next generation were also close to the end of their careers. Almost half (47%) of Deputy Vice-Chancellors were in their sixties with 34% in their fifties.
Additionally, while a good proportion have international degrees – VCs at 65% & Deputy VCs at 68% – only around 15% and 8% of VCs and Deputy VCs respectively have significant overseas experience. Furthermore, in general more than 70% of Chancellors come from the public university system and therefore lack commercial management experience.
The research also compared two universities with a similar background the further drive its point.
Universiti Tun Abdul Razak was established in 1997 and became a well-known university. In 2007, it split into two entities, namely, UNITAR International University (UIU) and Universiti Tun Abdul Razak (UNIRAZAK), both of which were structured and managed differently.
UIU was put under the control of Ekuiti Nasional Berhad (EKUINAS) under the management of six director, all of whom came with strong commercial experience. On the other hand, UNIRAZAK was managed under Yayasan PINTAR, a charitable trust.
The result was, at the end of 2013, UIU had positive assets and reserves. UNIRAZAK, by contrast was experiencing significant losses and registered negative assets and reserves.
A similar case was brought up by Ong last year, when Alliance University College of Medical Science (AUCMS) was under financial duress and as a result has to close down due to financial problems, with 2,000 students and 500 staffs let go according to media reports.
All these seem to point towards a worrying trend that brings to light possible mismatches that stem from the leadership and management of private institutions in Malaysia. The advent of modern technology, connectivity and social and digital media channels are changing the way that millennials are consuming and engaging information. Understanding this dynamic to better understand and connect with millennials is crucial and takes a concerted effort from having a much more diversified management team carrying both international experience and commercial know-how.
Higher education is a growingly competitive sector that needs leaders that not only understand the academic aspects of the business, but more so the commercial and industrial know-how coupled with integrated marketing knowledge to more effectively manage a higher education institution. Private HEIs should start to take more serious considerations to have a more holistic and long-term overview on the management of its institution, and the first place to start among other things is on the people at the top, as that spells initiatives and plans that will have direct implications on the business.