UM lays out plans to boost research, innovation

KUALA LUMPUR: Universiti Malaya (UM) is undertaking steps to further strengthen its research ecosystem as part of the strategies to put the university in the forefront of top-notch research worldwide.

Acting vice-chancellor, Prof Dr Awang Bulgiba Awang Mahmud said these included restructuring its academic programmes to make them more versatile and in line with the needs of the fourth industrial revolution, setting high criteria for foreign staff and student admission, and strict annual appraisals and promotions based on research works.

"We also plan to set up a research park that will capitalise on our facilities here. Our second generation of incubator, which is already in place, is expected to be operational by the end of this year," he said, adding that the facilities were expected to increase collaboration between the university and industries.

UM currently has 50 research centres, with three of them accorded High Centre of Excellence (HCOE) status by the Higher Education Ministry, he told Bernama in an interview here.

A medical doctor by practice, Dr Awang Bulgiba was appointed acting vice-chancellor on May 1, this year. Prior to this, his portfolios included serving as deputy vice-chancellor (academic and international), deputy vice- chancellor for research and innovation and director of the global planning and strategy department.

During his time at the global planning and strategy department, Dr Awang Bulgiba was also instrumental in drafting and executing the five-year strategic plan (2011-2015), which saw the university propel to become among the top-notch universities in the world.

The Strategic Plan (2011-2015) focused on fixing numerous fundamental issues, especially with regard to research, internationalising its programmes, re-positioning the university as a highly competitive global international higher learning institution, as well as strengthening its international networks and collaborations.

Dr Awang Bulgiba said the second phase of the strategic plan, which runs from 2016 to 2020, meanwhile, would further fine-tune and improve on those aspects.

"For instance, in the research area, we started to focus on higher quality research rather than mere numbers and mediocre ones. Our aim is that our research is to have positive impacts on society and industries," he said, adding that currently, UM was having 2,800 formal and informal collaborations with its local and international partners in extensive fields of research.

"Currently, UM is the top research university in Malaysia, and we are working to better ourselves to be on par with the world's top universities," he said.

The strategic plan proved to be a success when UM was ranked 114 in the 2017/2018 Quacquarelli Symonds World University Ranking, putting it on the verge of breaking into the top 100 universities in the world.

"This is the best ever ranking so far, and we hope to break into the top 100 university ranking in 2020," he said.

Dr Awang Bulgiba said UM was also making efforts to generate its own revenue through partnerships with industries in research work.

Citing the collaboration with local glove maker Top Glove, he said the UM-Top Glove tie-up had resulted in a win-win situation, where the manufacturer had provided grants to UM researchers to carry out research and innovation in solving some of its industrial problems.

He said the revenue generated from research work currently only amounted to RM8 million to RM10 million, but eventually, UM would strive not only to generate more income, it also hoped to be financially independent.

"We hope that by 2025, only half of our operating budget will come from the government, and we are also preparing for the day when eventually we can wean ourselves from government funding," he added. — Bernama