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Lessons from Australia and Malaysia

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To help improve the education system of Sri Lanka, the OPA conference featured two top personalities serving the higher education sector in Australia and Malaysia. Innovation and Business Skills Australia CEO Patricia Neden, also the keynote speaker, said the key feature of the vocational and training in Australia is the strong industry engagement. “The education system in Australia is not led by academics or the Government. It is led by industry which is the centre of the system. When developing national occupational standards we first take the opinion of the industry. This way it is certain that the industry will acquire employees with the skills it requires,” she said. She further stated the Australian system has a strong emphasis on quality. For this purpose and to maintain consistency in the development of products and services, it has in place a quality framework. The qualification is designed to industry specific training packages. These packages are developed by each industry in accordance to the standards and policies of the National Skills Standards Council. It consists of an integrated set of nationally endorsed occupational standards for the performance of jobs, and provides a consistent and reliable framework for training and recognition of skills. These training packages also enable nationally recognised qualifications to be awarded through direct assessment of workplace competencies. However, Neden said the training packages do not describe how training should be delivered. “It is the responsibility of Registered Training Organisations (RTOs) to partner with industry to design the delivery. This includes the development of curriculum, the design of training programs and assessment that meet the needs of individual enterprises,” she noted and added the RTOs are also required to provide flexible delivery options that meet the requirements of learners and employers. The education system also has an Australian Workforce and Productivity Agency (AWPA) which works towards strengthening industry engagement in workforce development. Led by the industry, its board has a central role in directing the National Workforce Development Fund (NWDF). The agency drives engagement between industry, training providers and the Government on workforce development, and apprenticeships. The AWPA ensures strong collaboration with industry, including regional and small business to meet industry needs, she said. Speaking on Malaysia’s point of view was MARA Technology University Faculty of Accountancy Dean Dr. Rozainum Abdul Aziz. The MARA Technology University being one of the biggest public universities in Malaysia, she expressed confidently that it has produced over a million graduates to date and has contributed to providing an impactful workforce in the country. “Like Sri Lanka, we also believe in human resource development. Since we are all born with talents, we should continue to explore it.” Abdul Aziz shared that Malaysia’s efforts in uplifting the educational standards dates back to the mid ’90s. In the 1970s the Government funded a set of scholars to pursue their master’s degrees and higher qualifications in countries which were already leading in the education field. The objective of this effort was to educate the selected students of Malaysia at the best universities in the world so they could come back and pass on the knowledge to those in their country. This process was continued until Malaysia had a substantial amount of groomed lecturers, equipped with a foreign degree, to contribute and uplift the standard of education in the country. “Today, the efforts of the Government have certainly paid off since we are recognised as an education hub. Today Malaysia not only educates its own students, but students from other countries as well and we are capable of doing so since our standards meet those of countries such as the UK and USA,” stated Abdul Aziz. However, Abdul Aziz opined that having a college degree is not enough. To develop human capital, it is imperative to apply what is learnt. “There is a gap between theory and practice. The only way to bridge this gap is to practice and apply in the real world what is learnt,” she said. Commenting on Sri Lanka, she said the country can do more to develop the capital. “We all have the idea of proving the expertise and knowledge. We have the capability. Let’s look at what we have to do on a day to day basis and push forward. There was a time where we used to get lecturers from Sri Lanka to Malaysia. The time has come to prove that again,” noted Abdul Aziz.

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