Leaders in the Civic Engagement Movement December 2013

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Located in Southeast Asia and separated into two regions by the South China Sea, Malaysia (West Malaysia and East Malaysia) shares borders with Thailand, Indonesia, and Brunei. Today’s Malaysia, which is multi-ethnic and multi-cultural, is home to the Semang, Senoi and Proto-Malay (or Orang Asli, aboriginal people). More than 130 languages are spoken in Malaysia: Malay (the mother tongue of the majority ethnic group) is the national language, English is taught in primary and secondary schools, and standard Chinese is an important language in business.

Malaysia is a constitutional monarchy which gained independence from Britain in 1957 and merged with Sarawak and Sabah to form Malaysia in 1963. Malaysia follows a federal system with significant power held by the states. The national government includes a bicameral legislature and a prime minister. The Barisan Nasional, a coalition of regional and ethnic parties, has ruled Malaysia since independence, often using gerrymandering, election-rigging, and even violence to keep its hold on power. Particularly under Prime Minister, Mahathir Mohamed (1981-2003), Malaysia diversified and grew its economy significantly, but political reforms have proven more elusive (Malaysia, 2013).

Restrictions on freedom of assembly, association, and expression have limited the growth of autonomous civil society. For example, under the Societies Act of 1996, the government can refuse to register NGOs. Ethnic and religious tensions –particularly between predominantly Muslim ethnic Malays and Chinese, Indian, and other minorities– are also barriers to civil society. Despite these obstacles, many NGOs operate throughout Malaysia, and periodic waves of protests demonstrate popular desire for political reform (Malaysia, 2013).

Higher education in Malaysia is governed by the Ministry of Education, which provides funding and manages accreditation and quality assurance. Starting in 1998, some public universities were granted increased autonomy and were encouraged to seek financial resources through research and linkages with industry. Private universities were first allowed in 1996, and today there are 20 public universities, 33 private universities, and about 550 other higher education institutions in Malaysia. University enrollment has increased significantly in the past two decades. Academic freedom of faculty and students is limited by the Universities and University Colleges Act of 1971, but the Act was amended in 2012 to allow students to engage in political activities off campus (Malaysia, 2013).

Community engagement is a fairly recent development in Malaysian higher education, but the government has increasingly encouraged universities to become more engaged. In 2007, the government created the new post of Deputy Vice Chancellor for Industry and Community Partnerships at the top four public research universities including Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, and in 2008 the Malaysia Qualifications Agency first required community engagement as an element of the quality assurance process (Watson, 2011; 90). The growing emphasis on community engagement in Malaysian higher education is also demonstrated by the recent creation of Asia Engage, an umbrella organization based at the National University of Malaysia and supported by Malaysia’s Ministry of Higher Education (Asia Engage, 2013).

International Medical University (IMU)
Established in 1992, the International Medical University is the world’s first partner medical school program with students starting their education in Malaysia and completing their degree at one of the 30 partner institutions in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the United States, Ireland, China and the United Kingdom. The main campus is located in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and IMU’s mission is centered on partnerships, “working with members of the IMU family, including alumni, industry and with the community” it serves. An “engaged” university, IMU developed the ‘IMU Cares’ program “to provide an effective channel for the direct involvement of staff, students and alumni (IMU Cares, 2013).

Under the IMU Cares program, both student and staff are actively involved in working with under-served urban and rural communities, non-governmental organizations for the disabled and less privileged. Involvement in community service includes health education, health screening and primary care treatment covering disciplines such as medical, dental, nursing, nutrition, chiropractic and pharmacy. The Kampung Angkat (Village Adoption) Project which is part of IMU Cares, was the first-place 2013 MacJannet Prize for Global Citizenship winner. The village identified for the IMU Clinical School in Seremban, is called Kampung Tekir, which was a village comprising of 500, mainly of indigenous people, of the Tenum ethnic group, 50% of whom were under 12 years old. At the time, only part of the village had electricity and running water, and the nearest health clinic was 20 km away. In Kampung Tekir, medical and nursing undergraduate students practiced their knowledge and clinical skills in a rural setting and villagers benefit from regular free health checks and health education, the treatment of minor ailments, and timely referrals to appropriate health centers outside of the village when necessary. The International Medical University is the first university in Malaysia that offers conventional and complementary medicine; it has also pioneered the world’s first Partner Medical School Program, which allows students to start their education in Malaysia while completing and earning a degree at an international university. IMU represents the Asia Pacific in the Kettering Foundation-Talloires Network research collaboration, which aims to explore regional best practices and perspectives in university civic engagement programs.

Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM)
Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) was established in 1970 to “preserve the Malay culture and language.” Today UKM has expanded to 13 faculties, 16 institutes and 18 centers; it encompasses an academic community of nearly 3,000 and a student population of more than 27,000. Its civic engagement and social responsibility mission includes laying “foundations” for students “to become caring citizens.” UKM is actively working to “contribute to nation building” and developing “a body of research relevant to the global community.” In 2009, UKM released a publication entitled “Strengthening Community Engagement: Nurturing Caring Citizens,” which serves as a vision statement and also outlines the university’s educational goals. As the publicly funded National University of Malaysia, UKM’s direction is guided by the national government. Dynamic leadership by Vice-Chancellor Sharifah Shahabudin and Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Industry and Community Partnerships, Saran Gill, has strengthened UKM’s civic engagement focus and achievements. Staff appraisal systems at UKM incorporate criteria to reward efforts in industry-community engagment and seed funds are available to professors who conduct socially responsible research (Watson et al., 2011).

UKM’s partnership with the Talloires Networks is substantial and sustained. UKM was a MacJannet Prize finalist in both 2009 and 2010 with its Kampung Kundang Ulu Community Enrichment Program (2009) and UKM’s Red Project (2010). UKM is also a Talloires Network Youth Economic Participation Initiative (YEPI) partner institution. Its Service-Learning to Support Graduate Transformation and SME Development Program is a strong example of UKM’s commitment to preparing their students for participation in the regional economy. Vice-Chancellor Sharifah Shahabudin is an active member of the Talloires Network Steering Committee and Deputy Vice-Chancellor Saran Gill has participated in the Kettering Foundation – Talloires Network collaborative research project and is currently participating in TN’s Faculty and Staff Professional Development program.

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