Education Sector in Malaysia: Interview Analysis

We want to offer the best of programs, the best facilities, but we have limitations because we are a private entity. I think this is a greater challenge. I am very proud to be in this industry, because it is evergreen. There will always be people who say that education is not important.

Interview with Hew Moi Lan, Group Chief Executive Officer of SEGi University Group

Hew Moi Lan, Group Chief Executive Officer of SEGi University Group

Tell us a little bit about your University and the various courses offered.

We have programs ranging from the certificate level right to the PhD level. We have more than 100 programs. Our programs range from Business, Engineering, Creative Art & Design, IT, Medical and Health sciences, industry optometry, Allied Health Sciences. You name it, we have it. We are all-rounders. We are the leaders in the para-education scene in terms of the population and in terms of our brand. We are very established. We have won a lot of awards for our brand names, e.g. Reader’s Digest  Award. Recently we won the Global Brand Excellence Award from England.

We have also been appointed by the Chinese government to be the professional center in Malaysia. We are the only private entity qualified to do that. Of course the other one is University Malaysia. But that is a government organization. Speaking about the private sector education in Malaysia, SEGi is the only one appointed by the Chinese government. This is testimonial of our position in the market.

The Chinese government will not endorse anyone unless they are leading in the country in the education scene.

What is your specific role in the organization?

My role is to look into the strategy with regards to private education, to the core group, how to move forward, how to grow, how to ensure quality with regards to education, how to ensure the set framework is followed through. It has two sides to it, one is the commercial aspect and the other is the quality aspect of it. When it comes to quality, there is a lot to take into consideration – the academic aspect, the student and looking into fulfilling the framework of the government. Education is a highly regulated industry.

We are governed by MQA, Malaysian Quality Framework, by the Education Ministry. Therefore, I have to supervise all these things. We also have a professional body. The lessons are subject to the approval of the medical board, to the regulation of dentistry program.

And then we have to look into being the education hub. What is the role of the private sector? How to draw the foreign students to Malaysia? What are we offering?

What is its role in Malaysia? How important is it for the overall strategy of Malaysia to become the international education hub.

Good afternoon. First of all, I am very glad to be able to share some of my thoughts and also to share how education in Malaysia has grown in the past few decades. I have been with SEGi for the last 30 years. I have seen the change that has taken place in the private sector, in private education. Speaking about the role of private education in Malaysia, our education system is unique. We have the public and the private sector. Our private sector complements the public sector. Now, the public sector is only able to cater to certain segments of the students. Therefore, private sector has been playing the role of offering the students that have either chosen to join the private sector or private university either by choice or because they have not been offered a seat. Therefore, private sector plays the role in offering them an education. This is a very important role. Education is very important in everyone’s life, because it decides the future of a person. That is why we are very proud to be in this industry.

Malaysia wants to be the education hub, wants to make a mark in the education scene. I strongly believe that Malaysia is capable of achieving this because of various points. One point is our education system. We were once a Common Wealth country, so in terms of private education in the university, we are very tuned to the overseas structure of education system like in the United Kingdom.

Many programs here belong to Universities in London, in UK, in other parts of the world. What we do is we bring this education package to Malaysia. We offer the same degree in Malaysia at a fraction of the price, while assuring the same quality as in the respective country. We have introduced the 3.0 program.

This means that the students study a 3-year degree program in Malaysia, but at the end of the day, the degree they get will not be known as a SEGi degree, but will be the degree of our partner university or the program that we offer on behalf of the partner in Malaysia. This attracts many foreign students. SEGi offers the most number of collaborative programs. We also offer many of our own home ground programs. These are programs developed by the SEGi University.

But this program is not standing by SEGi quality alone. This program is validated and approved by a professional body. SEGi has a wide range of programs. We have 100 programs. Some programs have links to some professional bodies like medical programs, dentistry programs and optometry program. In terms of quality, all these programs are fully controlled and validated by a professional body. A lot of students are of the opinion that the quality of the programs offered in Malaysia is at par with those offered in developed countries like United Kingdom.

They are able to send their children over here to study this program and get equivalent recognition in their respective countries.  Another aspect of our program is that we have links with the universities United Kingdom. We conduct the same courses here. Can you imagine that? You study in Malaysia, you pay in ringgit, but at the end of day you get a UK degree.

 The key here is affordability. We offer quality education; we change the ability of the student that can afford to pay. This is very important. Internalization of education is the key. The world has to be a single entity.

Students must be exposed to various parts of the society. They should not only be restricted to the environment of their own home country. They need exposure to the international environment. A very fine example is China. The Chinese have a very good concept. They allow their students, whether they are at diploma or degree level, to do one-year internship in a foreign country. We find this to be a very good concept. They are building a society; they are building a generation that is not restricted to the shallow or narrow environment of its own country. They are exposed to the world. We are working very closely with Chinese Universities and colleges to bring this school of students to Malaysia to do their internship, training, or study and they can then get their degrees and diplomas once they are back.

For this Malaysia is very driven towards meeting the needs of the world, especially the needs of less developed countries, where education is not fully developed. Malaysia has this important role to play. We are accessible and affordable to people and we can also assure quality.

Segi University
The nation’s largest private higher education provider:

One of the most important challenges that most SMEs and large companies face is talent. It is very challenging to find the right people or educated people and there is a lot of brain drain here. Do you believe that this is a challenge? How are you trying to ensure that people or the students that join Malaysian companies stay?

I would like to set myself as an example. I have been with the SEGI for the last 30 years. I joined this organization as a lecturer. I stayed on for 30 years. I think at the end of day, whether you stay or you leave a place depends on whether the place meets the needs of that person. We have to ask ourselves this. Do we meet the needs of our staff?

Do we meet the needs of the citizens? If you love the organization or the country, brain drain won’t occur. Normally when people leave an organization or a country to migrate to some other country or to join another organization, it always starts with some kind of dissatisfaction. We need to always work with the intension of making the staff happier, to fulfill their needs, to ensure that they have a proper career pathway. I do not think this problem is very serious. I have stayed with this organization for 30 years. I believe that I will retire in this organization. So, this is a fine example.

 I am very happy. Every place will have some problems or hurdles. It also depends on the person’s own attitude. We can either chose to see things as an opportunity or see it as a negative thing. So, we need to channel ourselves well. This is the key. Brain drain happens everywhere. I believe that by engaging the team, the staff, if the government engages the people, this can be controlled.

What would you identify as the major challenge that the education sector in Malaysia is facing?

One thing you must know is that education is like health. I believe there are two industries that touch people’s lives. One is education and the other one is health. Health care touches the lives of people. These two industries are among the basic needs of people. The challenge here is to provide the best at affordable prices. I think, as a private sector, that is our greatest challenge.

We want to offer the best of programs, the best facilities, but we have limitations because we are a private entity. I think this is a greater challenge. I am very proud to be in this industry, because it is evergreen. There will always be people who say that education is not important.

It’s a matter of the mode of delivery, the structure and development of the program. These are some of the things that will make us operational. Speaking about Malaysians, we also have to look at the affordability from the angle for the students – the fees, the government loan. These are a part of it. However, the greatest challenge of education is to provide the best keeping the fees in mind. The level of affordability is our greatest challenge.

Segi University
The RM300 million flagship campus is a hallmark of private higher education in the country. Strategically located at a 10-acre site at Kota Damansara, the purpose-built campus has academic library, research and recreational facilities, providing a complete learning experience for up to 12,000 students in this particular campus alone. The Group has 27,000 students in total.

As a private sector institution, what governmental reforms would you like to see enacted to facilitate the smooth operation of the education sector?

Recently, I did a bit of analysis with my team on the role that the government can play, the role that private sector can play. The government has two roles, one is that of the facilitator, the other one is of quality assurer – a body that ensures that quality is ensured.

However, as the facilitator, at this point in time, the role of the education minister or the government is in the initial stages. I believe that education has two phases. The first is development of programs that meet the needs of the society and the needs of today’s world. This is very important. So, we have to look into what qualifications do the people need to have to be efficient, productive, what are the latest requirement of the society or the world, the latest technology in IT etc. This is the developmental program. Of course this is subject to approval.

The other aspect is recruitment. After we develop and get the program approved by the Ministry, the second aspect is how we can recruit a student or a special foreign student to join us. For this phase, I believe that the government should play the role of the facilitator. How to help us to develop as program? How to give the right framework to our needs?

This is very important. If we are running against the tides of the waves of the government, our hands will be tied. We want to recruit foreign students. How to draw the right students? In every industry, there will be some bad apples and some genuine players. Therefore, we must be able to differentiate between them. We must extend support to the genuine players. It will be bad, if we use the same yardstick to measure everyone.  Here, I want the government to play the role of the facilitator.

The other aspect is delivery. The government’s role should be to deliver quality to ensure that this objective is fulfilled by the university, the colleges. Because here we are talking about the quality of the product. The product is the degree that the students get. We have to look into the following. Have they achieved the promised outcome? Do they have the qualifications to be employed? What is the quality achieved at the end of the day? I think the role of the government is to assure quality. They are indirectly the watchdogs here. They have the accreditation programs to accredit according to the program, according to the guidelines and the requirement and so on. We are fulfilling our part in delivering this aspect.

You touched on the aspect of attracting foreign students. What is your strategy here?

I must say that drawing foreign students has been a Malaysian dream for quite a few years. Being the largest private entity in education, we have a very critical role to play. How to ensure that we are able to share the government’s vision and mission to draw students here?

At the end of the day all students want one thing – quality education at affordable prices. If we can do that, and the government can facilitate things that allow us to do that, I think we will be able to realize their dreams and our dreams.

Which countries would you like to focus on?

We have students from all over the world. At present, we draw great numbers from countries like China, Central Asia and Indonesia and so on. I think this can grow further. At SEGi, we have developed many programs to this end. Like PhD program with research and so on. We would like to share this type of programs with all our collaborative partners all over the world. Hope we can work together to bring education to the next level. Research is the way forward to ensure that we are ahead of time.

What would be your most important message in terms of the university? What are the key differentiating factors that set you apart from any other university in the country?

To answer this, I must share with you my passions. Education touches people’s lives. By doing this, we send across the message that we care for the lives of the students, we want to ensure that they have a bright future; we deliver what they have invested in. They are able to have a good future, because we provide them the right education.

Can you mention some of the special partnerships?

We have worked on something called Valued Corporate Partner. We have worked out plans with big industry players to provide good internship programs to the students, so that we not only expose students to the classroom environment or to textbook theories alone, but also expose them to the real world. We want to prepare the students to face the real world. This is something we are very proud of.

How challenging is it to run a university of this size?

That’s a good question. I have a great passion for education. Therefore, I can view this as a challenge as well as a love for what I am doing. It is a tough job. I work long hours. Every issue is people-related, either a lecturer or a student. It’s a people-oriented organization.

My greatest challenge is to ensure that at the end of the day, everyone is happy. It is not easy to achieve this nowadays. We have very demanding parents, very demanding students and of course, we can also have very demanding professors. But at the end of the day, as long as everyone shares the same vision of wanting the best for the students, the best for the organization, nothing can go wrong. And I want to be a part of it. 

Can you give us a brief history of the organization? How did it evolve into what it is now? What are your future plans and strategies?

SEGi is a very big group. It was started by the founder. It started as a tuition center for professional courses. There were accountancy programs, professional exams and so on. Then gradually as years passed, after some acquisitions and mergers, after some change of hands at the management level, it has now become one of the biggest universities in Malaysia.

 I believe that SEGi will grow from strength to strength. I am very confidant about that. In terms of the students and the quality, the sky is the limit. All people here are very committed. We have a very good team. They work with me to achieve spectacular things.

What are your strategic goals for the upcoming years? Where would you like to see the university in a couple of years?

My dream is for SEGi to be the university. I want SEGi to be number one in Malaysia. In terms of the international market, people say that we always leave a sweet taste in the mouth. We have nothing negative, everything we offer is from the heart. What we give from the heart is true; everything else is just plain lip service. 

Would you like to expand or create more programs? What would be your strategy?

We would definitely be developing more programs. We would be expanding our programs. From MBBS programs, we would like to go up to the postgraduate level. From the postgraduate level, we would like to go to the PhD level.

This is the normal progression. In terms of expansions about location, we are not able to commence on it yet. But development of programs, expansion of areas, more exposure to students, enhancement of facilities and to ensure that the students get the best of facilities are definitely in the pipeline. It has been our strategic plan to ensure that the students get the best with affordable prices.

How are you approaching international networking with universities in New York, the US and around the world?

We are constantly working with them, attending conferences, sharing our views pertaining to how we are going to move forward, what is latest requirement, have there been any changes with respect to things. Therefore, I think we are very up-to-date in some of these collaborations. A lot of knowledge and framework sharing is taking place. We are not selfish. It should be a win-win situation for everyone. Everyone should win; some will win big, some small. 

What would be your message about Malaysia to the world?

Malaysia is a good country.  I welcome everyone to study in SEGi. I welcome you. If you ever consider moving to another country, consider Malaysia. It is a beautiful country with nice people. Thank you.

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