Leaders in the Civic Engagement Movement December 2013

Vice-Chancellor Datuk Noor Azlan Ghazali, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia

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Vice-Chancellor Datuk Noor Azlan Ghazali, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia

By Lorlene Hoyt

On January 1, 2014, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia’s (UKM) Prof. Datuk Dr.Noor Azlan Ghazali, Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Academic and International Affairs will succeed Prof. Tan Sri Dato’ Seri Dr. Sharifah Shahabudin as the Vice-Chancellor of the University.

Dr. Azlan was all praise of the Vice-Chancellor who has brought the University to a higher level of excellence and has set the strategic direction for the future of the University. He plans to journey on the path the Vice Chancellor has set and is “looking forward and excited” to continue the University’s active participation in the Talloires Network. In particular, he will “personally pay close attention” to the Graduate Transformation and Small and Medium Enterprise (SME) Development Programme, one of the Talloires Network’s eight Youth Economic Participation Initiative partners.

“UKM is the national university of Malaysia,” he began. “It was established in line with the wishes of the public. The University, therefore, has the moral responsibility to create a positive impact on the public especially in developing the human capital of the country as well as the lives of people.” Dr. Azlan believes that preparing the next generation of responsible citizens is a critical task of UKM. He added that “all faculties have a role in making sure that everyone in the community has the opportunity and ability to improve their lives.”

Dr. Azlan attributes his commitment to civic engagement to his parents. They were both teachers and community leaders. “Since my young age,” he explained, “my parents were very involved with improving the quality of living of the people in our community.” Following in his parents’ footsteps, Dr. Azlan applies his expertise in economics to enhance public welfare through “various aspects of national socio-economic planning and initiatives targeted at creating a better living for all.”

When prompted to highlight a civic engagement achievement, Dr. Azlan pointed to his role in leading the Knowing ASEAN Programme at UKM. Through this effort, he organized study visits to four ASEAN countries including Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia and Burma (Myanmar), “to understand and appreciate the economies and communities in ASEAN.” In each place, the group visited government agencies, universities, multi-national corporations, historical sites and community development centers.

In 2006, when Dr. Azlan was Dean of the Faculty of Economics and Business at UKM, he left to serve in the Prime Minister’s Department as Director of the Malaysian Development Institute, in the Economic Planning Unit. Leaving the ivory tower of academia, there, he “worked on the ground dealing with reality” and began to rethink and “reframe the role of the university in the nation.”

Recently, he led the University Ambassador Programme under the National Blue Ocean Strategy (NBOS) to deliver programmes and services “to the public that are high in impact, low cost, and rapidly executable.” The strategy involved a “mass of youth volunteers” who were mobilized for “nation-building activities” in rural areas. By “becoming agents for change,” students help to spur growth in Malaysia while creating “a more inclusive society,” he explained.

Civic engagement is “well-institutionalized” at UKM as evidenced by the establishment of a Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Industry and Community Partnerships position in 2007. The seat is held by Prof. Saran Gill, who is both the Executive Director for AsiaEngage and a Visiting Scholar for Engagement Australia.

Dr. Azlan affirmed that UKM faculties are encouraged to engage with local communities as well as NGOs and private industry, explaining, “Sure, scholarship is important, but there is much more to academia than academic scholarship. While producing graduates will always remain one of its mainstays, the University also has an obligation to the wider society.” He pointed to the challenge of supporting university civic engagement in “developing countries like Malaysia,” noting, “the idea of academic excellence and university rankings place real demands on academics.” He continued, “However, there is no clear framework on how to measure the impact of scholarly work on communities. So, we must convince the campus community that improving lives is something we all must do.”

In looking to the future, Dr. Azlan urged that engaged scholars “focus attention on sustained partnerships and impact.” When universities are engaged with partners for a longer term, he said, “You can see improvement over time.”

As for the Talloires Network, Dr. Azlan emphasised the “need to share our experiences and cases of engaging the society,” explaining, “It is important that we create a set of cases from different regions and share those experiences widely.” There is a need, he added, to “provide strategies on how to work well with communities.”As our conversation came to an end, he concluded, “I’d like to see a session like this at the next global conference.”

Deputy Vice-Chancellor Prof. Datuk Dr. Azlan Ghazali is a Professor of Economics in the Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia’s Graduate School of Business. In 2011, he completed the Mason Program in Public Policy and a Master of Public Administration at Harvard University. He currently serves as Head of the Economic and Management Cluster for the National Council of Professors, Malaysia. He earned a Doctor of Philosophy in Economics, a Master of Business Administration and a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration at the University of Nebraska.

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