Malaysian University Consortium for Environment and Development – Industry & Urban Areas

MUCED I&UA faculty looking back

Dr. Zuriati Zakaria and Dr. Salmijah Surif. Photo: Berit Viuf

MUCED started activities in 2001, 20 years ago. What do different participants in the programme think of it? Does it have any impact today? Has it changed their mindset or influenced their future career? We have asked different people involved in MUCED about their opinion and how it have influenced their life prospectively.

 

Prof Dr Maimon Abdullah. Biologist. During MUCED she was lecturer at the Faculty of Science and Technology at UKM. Today she is retired, but involved in NGO’s regarding land-use and agriculture

Our students need project-oriented case studies and interdisciplinarity

“We were young and the MUCED collaboration really opened our eyes. We saw that there was something to grasp, if you put out your hands. For most of us who participated, it made our career grow faster. But it also changed our mindset.

The network taught us so much. We saw what our counterparts in South Africa were doing when we met them at conferences and workshops. It inspired me, and otherwise I would probably have been trapped in a lab. But I realized that my data is actually out there in the field, and I am blessed that I do not need too much of expensive equipment.

It all comes with problem-based learning (PBL) and project-oriented case studies and these are what our students need. They need to integrate with other disciplines: the sociology, the economy, and the biology and chemistry.

After MUCED I continued teamwork with colleagues under Asia-Link, which referred to some of the same ideas. The problem-based approach also got me involved with other projects field-based like the System of Rice Intensification (SRI) and farmer field schools, where field experts, academics and researchers collaborate with the rice farmers and local communities to share knowledge and local wisdom about natural farming and biodiversity conservation, such as seed saving, pest control, etc.

Farmers are scared to lose their subsidies if they do not follow the mainstream agenda of relying heavily on agricultural inputs such as agrochemicals. However, they provide the bounty of our breadbasket, and we need to empower them. So how can we empower them? Well, our students are our field commanders. When they go back to their original communities, they can change the mindset of their people with innovative ideas and knowledge to improve their livelihood. So we need to find students that will advocate for a healthy agriculture such as natural farming, permaculture and agroecology.

It is all about education, not only at the university level but in general and at all levels. So I help organizations to write school books to teach children about the basics, for example biodiversity and bio conservation, pollution control, energy saving, green and healthy lifestyle (e.g. reduce, reuse and recycling), caring for nature, etc.”.

 

Professor Salmijah Surif. Biochemist and toxicologist. During MUCED she was lecturer at the Faculty of Science and Technology at UKM in the School of Environmental and Natural Resource sciences. Today she is retired.

Beneficial to both countries

Mostly good things came out of MUCED. The grants able to invite lecturers for workshops, and that was a good experience because we could really see how other people work. We got new perspectives on environmental topics and environmental management. We heard about water footprints and carbon footprints. It opened you up to new things.

So we were able to upgrade ourselves, and to upgrade on content of our courses. Not only content, but also on how to run courses, because we were introduced to these new systems in Denmark and Europe. We also went to Europe to visit RUC, DTU and to the Netherlands.

The network continued after MUCED, because now we knew people from Thailand and Europe. It really put us together and made it possible for us to build up a new field that was completely new for us – the Life Cycle Assessment (LCA). In our university we now got three lecturers in this area, but it takes many years to build up, but MUCED did help to speed up the process

The network we got has been extremely important. For instance, if I want to organize a conference, I can always ask in the community and find the right people to invite.

We had courses with Danish student coming to Malaysia and collaborate with the local students. It was only two weeks, and that was too short. It was very stressful, especially since we had our normal life and normal obligations. But having student from different cultures interact was useful.

The training courses we did with Malaysian lecturers were not as successful as we would have liked. It was difficult to attract lecturers to participate in the courses. We were enthusiastic about PBL and wanted as many lecturers as possible benefit from that, but most people did not understand the importance of problem-based methodologies. When you don’t understand, you don’t want to spend your time participating. You don’t want to do something different.

All in all I think MUCED was very beneficial to both countries. We were able to share experience and knowledge. If there is another chance of establishing this kind of project, it could be sustainable for many years.

 

Professor Dr. Nik Meriam Nik Sulaiman. Chemical engineer at Department of Chemical Engineering, Faculty of Engineering at University of Malaya (UM).

The principle of the modules are still used today

“What I appreciate most of the impact of MUCED is the opening up for internationalization. It introduced us to colleagues abroad and to international collaboration.

At that time, we had no contact with Danish tertiary institutions such as Aalborg and are new to problem-based learning approach, so it was very inspirational for us and our fellow countries in the network, Thailand and Southern Africa. It had a significant impact on our members, since we were still young and very enthusiastic. Later on, when MUCED was discontinued, we engaged with Japanese universities as well about problem-based learning. So, we continued the work.

I learned a lot, but I think the impact on MUCED is beyond personal development. It also had a great ripple effect, as I went on to mentor younger staff and share the methodologies.

I really like that case studies are a part of the project. This gives plenty of opportunities for collaboration beyond the classroom. And the knowledge on cleaner technology we developed back then is still going on – based on the same principles. It is written into the curriculum. We were engaged by a government agency to develop modules for cleaner production and auditing software for auditing industries.

I think the idea of embedding the industry sector has become more than protocol in academia today. It is especially important for small and medium-sized enterprises. The food & beverage, plastic industry, environmental services and so on, need a more multidisciplinary transformation.

You need to understand the perspectives of business in order to develop innovative technology. I keep telling my students that it is not a problem to earn money. But you need an ecosystem approach. A circular economy.

If I should give some recommendations for similar programmes like MUCED, I think it needs a full-time project manager. It was too time consuming for lecturers to spend the needed time for development of modules, fieldtrips and workshops in addition to the normal workload.”

Berit Viuf is a Danish science journalist; the interviews were conducted during a reporting trip to Malaysia and Thailand

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