2 February 2023

13th AUN Rectors’ Meeting: Four Unique Interdisciplinary Approaches through Universiti Malaya’s Lens

AUN Writer Team

By Chanya Chinsukserm, AUN Programme Officer

Previously, Singapore Management University (SMU) thoroughly introduced the approaches to interdisciplinary education and research in last-week's feature about the 13th Rector's Meeting. Today's article will continue to present the insightful perspectives towards interdisciplinarity of Universiti Malaya (UM) with Professor Dato’ Ir. Dr. Mohd Hamdi Abd Shukor, Vice-Chancellor of UM, serving as the second contributor to Agenda 2 “Interdisciplinarity and the Future of ASEAN Higher Education.”

Professor Dato’ Ir. Dr. Mohd Hamdi Abd Shukor brought in UM’s interdisciplinary approaches through 4 different directions: Academic Programmes, Research, Industry Engagement and New Rationalization Entity. The concept of interdisciplinarity at UM is to learn a single subject from multiple perspectives, which is proven to boost learning outcomes and enthusiasm for learning. Interdisciplinary teaching also allows students to think critically, identify their own prejudices, accept the unknown, and respect ethical quandaries. The goal of the interdisciplinary approaches is to redefine problems outside of traditional boundaries and reach solutions based on a new understanding of complex situations. This could be done by appropriately combining ideas from various disciplines or different branches of learning or fields of expertise.

1) Academic Programmes
Universiti Malaya's Institute of Advanced Studies (IAS) offers the following interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary programmes:

  1. Biodiversity and conservation
  2. Biosafety and biosecurity
  3. Nanoscience and nanotechnology
  4. Natural resource management
  5. Ocean and earth sciences
  6. Photonics sciences
  7. Renewable and sustainable energy
  8. Arts and Humanities
  9. Social Sciences
  10. Sciences
  11. Interdisciplinary

Furthermore, two interesting interdisciplinary undergraduate academic programmes were presented at the Meeting, namely:

  • Bachelor of Islamic Studies and Science (Sarjana Muda Pengajian Islam dan Sains – SMPIS)
    It is the first double-major programme introduced in Malaysia. It equips the students with an integrated course between Islamic Studies and Sciences with the aim to generate Muslim scientists in various critical fields to face the challenges within the Muslim community. Students can register at the Academy of Islamic Studies and choose one of four majors from the Faculty of Science, namely Applied Chemistry, Biology, Environmental Management, and Physics. Career opportunities are widely ranging from science officer, tutor, researcher  entrepreneur and etc.
  • Bachelor of Languages and Linguistics 
    It is a double-degree programme with a variety of language selections. Two languages were presented as examples, namely French and German. The discipline for French language is ‘Communication’ with the option of one year of mobility in INALCO Paris, France. The discipline for German language is ‘Tourism Management’ with the option of two-year mobility at Konstanz University of Applied Sciences, Germany.

Additionally, Master of Advanced Studies is a non-consecutive programme tailored for “specific groups of working professionals with well-defined needs for advanced degree work” or postgraduate degrees. It is an advanced studies programme that tends to be interdisciplinary and focused more on meeting the needs of professionals than academics. Moreover, the programme enables one to deepen and extend professional skills or set the stage for a new direction in respective professions.

2) Research
In pursuing interdisciplinarity, UM seeks to excel as a premier research university in Malaysia and internationally. It develops and advances specialised research areas at the frontier of knowledge and cutting-edge technology, with the potential to be a leader on a national and international scale. UM also fosters collaborative multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary research both internally and externally by improving the quality of learning opportunities as well as research opportunities and resources, developing research skills, and continuously improving the quality of its research monitoring along with the output.

In addition, the Impact-Oriented Interdisciplinary Research Grant Programme (IIRG) is launched by the Research Cluster to enhance the impact of UM research. Researchers should create projects with an impact beyond academia. The Research Cluster will focus on research areas with promising performances and experts-ready with critical mass (Niches) and emerging areas (Thrust) in alignment with UM's aspiration to be the preferred partner in research and champions in leading interdisciplinary research. 


Impact-Oriented Interdisciplinary Research Grant Programme (IIRG)

3) Industry Engagement
UM has established the UM Industry Liaison Office (UM ILO) which is a one-stop centre for industries to connect and explore engagement opportunities. UM ILO helps create professional and integral relationships between industry and related stakeholders within the University. It facilitates discussion and communication, coordinates mutually beneficial strategic cooperation, then establishes and strengthens collaborations between both parties.


UM Partnership Collaboration with Industry

4) New Rationalisation Entity
The illustration of UM’s new rationalisation entity is the merging of Faculty of Economics and Administration with Faculty of Business and Accountancy as identified in the timeline below:


Merging of FBA and FEA

UM is also taking additional steps toward the new rationalisation, such as:

  • forming the Industry Advisory Council (IAC) to strengthen governance and streamline industry engagement through policies, guidelines, and a handbook;
  • researching and mapping the spectrum of industries alongside national policies; and 
  • identifying the targeted industry segment and strengthening the existing ad-hoc approaches to research partnerships with a more thematic and industry-focused engagement approach.

Lastly, Professor Dato’ Ir. Dr. Mohd Hamdi Abd Shukor presented some further steps to foster interdisciplinarity in one’s insitution. Firstly, the institutions must clearly define the purpose of having interdisciplinary approaches. This also requires a whole institution's approach in order to overcome many academic and administrative barriers. Furthermore, the institution must take action to create specific interdisciplinary research opportunities using institutional funds, as well as value interdisciplinary expertise and skills among academic staff.

Article by: Chanya Chinsukserm