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close this bookPolicy Development and Implementation of Technical and Vocational Education for Economic Development in Asia and the Pacific - Conference Proceedings - UNESCO - UNEVOC Regional Conference (RMIT, 1997, 520 p.)
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Strategic Planning in a Technical Education Environment - A Malaysian Experience

By

Prof. Dr. Abdul Halim Mohd. Nawawi
Prof. Dr. Adnan Alias
Assoc. Prof. Junaidah A. Manap

UNESCO UNEVOC REGIONAL CONFERENCE
AT THE
ROYAL MELBOURNE INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY
MELBOURNE AUSTRALIA

11 - 14 NOVEMBER 1996

MARA Institute of Technology
Malaysia

Introduction

Strategic planning has been used extensively by most organisations to ensure that future outcomes can be achieved within a specified time period. The application of strategic planning in an educational environment facilitates an institution like MARA Institute of Technology (hereafter referred to as ITM) to play a major role in the national development. ITM is given a mandate to supply trained manpower in line with Malaysia's Vision 2020. It is expected that Malaysia will become an industrialised state by the year 2020. As such the importance of technical education is unavoidable. This paper intends to highlight the significance of strategic planning with emphasis on technical education. Development of strategic planning model and process are elaborated. Challenges and related issues on strategic planning are critically evaluated in terms of changes in environment, education as an industry, corporatisation, data integration, vision development and deployment, centralisation versus decentralisation and implementation of plans. Finally, characteristics and its implications on technical education are discussed.

ITM as a Case Study

General education in Malaysia starts at the age of six and consists of six years of primary school and three years of lower secondary schooling. Vocational education is a stream available at the two years upper secondary level. Upon completion of their vocational training, students may enter the job market or proceed unto further education with their counterparts from the academic stream.

Post secondary technical education in engineering and business studies are available in certificate and diploma courses. These courses are run by the polytechnics as well as the universities. Among the fore runners in the field is ITM.

Having completed the diploma level in technical education, students may choose to enter the job market or proceed to a degree or professional level at the universities or ITM.

When speaking of technical education in Malaysia, ITM will definitely be mentioned. It is the largest institution of higher learning in the country; its student population currently exceeds 40,000 with 129 programs being conducted on full time, part time and distance learning bases. There are ten branch campuses situated throughout the country in addition to the main campus. ITM has 2738 academic staff and 3811 support staff in its employ.

ITM was established under the governance of an Act passed by the Malaysian parliament to undertake an affirmative action role of meeting the educational needs of a disadvantaged group, namely the Malays and other indigenous groups. The Act was recently amended in August 1996 to empower the institution to award its own Ph.D., Masters and Bachelors Degree. Prior to this, ITM produced diploma and advanced diplomas graduates and conducted twinning degrees and masters programs. The Amended Act allows ITM to conduct businesses that will enable it to become less dependent on the government for funds. The recent changes are expected to pave the way for ITM's corporatisation. These developments and the future role of the Institute in the country's advancements have further emphasized the importance of its strategic planning. In recognition of this ITM upgraded its planning and evaluation unit to The Center For Strategic Planning which is headed by an Associate Director.

The Strategic Planning Model

Blackerby (1994) defined strategic planning as a continuous and systematic process where decisions are made about intended future outcomes, how the outcomes are to be accomplished, and how success is measured and evaluated. Different models for strategic planning exist but each should contain the following basic elements. (It should be noted that the elements are further expanded in some models or different vocabularies used in its place).

Elements in strategic planning models

(i) Long term Targets

These are the targets aimed for periods exceeding 5 years. The common target set in most Malaysian organisations currently is the year 2020. ITM has set its vision and mission statements in line with the nation's aspirations viz., Vision 2020.

(ii) A Study of the Organization's Current Situation

An environmental scanning is done in order to understand existing set up. A SWOT analysis which is a study on the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats is carried out at divisional level in ITM. A Strategic Position, Action and Evaluation Matrix (SPACE), though subjective in nature further guides the strategic planning process.

(iii) Short Term Targets

Broader objectives are formulated with a view to realise measurable short term targets.

(iv) Setting Standards to Measure Outcome

Standards are established as yardsticks to measure levels of attainment.

(v) Strategies

Extensive strategies are formulated to ensure achievement of targets and objectives

(vi) Performance Evaluation

A comprehensive system of evaluating performance vis-a-vis pre set targets is developed and operationalised. Within the system, generation and analysis of feedback is given its due place.

The 'Public Sector Element' in ITM's Strategic Planning Model

Strategic Planning in the public sector is said to differ substantially from that in the private sector; for one, different approaches are required in the performance measurement and goal-setting steps.

Where the private sector determines performance in unit currency, using indicators such as profit margins and sales growth, the public sector often uses non monetary indicators. For example, performance is measured in terms of percentage increases and decreases in some areas of impact such as percentage increase/decrease in number of applicants to a particular course.

Goal setting in public sector organisation has to take cognizance of multiple stakeholders' interests where the government being the main stakeholder. Social and political objectives often intertwine with other objectives. Arriving at a consensus among stakeholders and striking a balance among objectives characterise the goal setting steps and overall planning in the public sector.

The Strategic Planning Process

The strategic planning process of ITM is divided into three major stages.

1 The Masterplan Strategic Planning Process
2 The School / Center / Branch / Division Strategic Planning
3 The Process of Consolidation


Fig. 1 The Masterplan Strategic Planning Process

The country's strategic plan as manifested in its Vision 2020 becomes the point of departure for ITM's main strategic plan. For specific adjustments in view of its role, ITM's immediate environment is perused. An environmental scanning analysis is done by the think tank group (based at the Center for Strategic Planning). Among the base documents used for the scanning are the relevant Malaysian Five Year Plans, The Report on the Study of Graduates' First Placement, The Analysis Of Job Advertisements and The Report on Tracer Studies.

The product of this process is the ITM's Main Strategic Plan.


Fig. 2 School/Center/Branch/Division Strategic Planning Process

The second process attempts to deploy and align the main plan to the various plans of the schools, centers, branches and divisions of the Institute. A broad guideline is given requiring each section to draft its vision, mission, objectives, SWOT study. Critical Success Factors, Strategies, Action Plans, Needs Analysis and Performance Evaluation.

The product of this process is the Strategic Plan at sectional level.

The input received at this stage also facilitated the study of ITM's strategic position and action (SPACE) matrix.

ITM's Strategic Position and Action (SPACE) Matrix

Rowe, Mason and Dickel (1982) suggested that a SPACE Matrix helps to determine the organisation's position and indicates whether aggressive, conservative, defensive or competitive strategies are most appropriate.

The axes of the SPACE matrix represent two internal dimensions (financial strength FS and competitive advantage CA) and two external dimensions (environmental stability ES and industry strength IS).

The following is a SPACE Matrix for ITM.

Table 1
Factors that comprise ITM's SPACE Matrix Axes

Internal Strategic Position

External Strategic Position

Financial Strength (FS)

Environmental Stability (ES)

Risk involved in business

Technological changes

Plans to Corporatise

Competition from other IHL


Demand from applicants


Ties with Federal & State government

Competitive Advantage (CA)

Industry Strength (IS)

Technological know how

Growth potential

Qualified Academic staff

Financial stability

Branch campuses

Existing ties with local and foreign IHL

Existing infrastructure

Ties with professional bodies

Franchising

Alumni

Recognition to courses

Innovation

Long distance learning

Technological know how

Pioneering new courses



Fig. 3 ITM's SPACE Matrix

The SPACE Matrix suggest that ITM is in the AGGRESSIVE quadrant, indicating that as a risk taker, it should aggressively opt for a growth strategy.

This method is subjective in nature but gives the planner an idea of the types of strategies to be adopted.


Fig. 4 Consolidation And Approval Process

The third process involves the consolidation of the two levels of planning. The head of each section presents the section's strategic plan to the ITM's Executive Committee comprising of the Director, Deputy Directors, Associate Directors, Registrar and Bursar. The Committee then prioritises the various projects presented. This stage is also intended to facilitate allocation of resources within the entire system.

ITM's experience indicates certain differences in the development of the strategic plans for technical and non-technical based schools.

In an exercise separate from that of the strategic planning process, the schools were asked to rank the SWOT analysis and the Critical Success Factors.

A summary of the results is shown in appendix 1.

Both technical and non-technical schools rank 'being the pioneers in their fields of specialisation' as their number one strength. ITM is the first IHL in the country to start programs on Art and Design, Computer Science, Actuarial Science and Hotel and Catering Management.

'Cooperation with local and foreign ML' is considered the least important strength for both technical and non-technical schools. This maybe due to ITM's lesser dependence on expertise from other local and foreign IHL in designing academic programs. Future cooperation with local and foreign IHL would enhance academic programs towards international standards.

Technical schools consider financial allocation to be the number one problem faced. This is emphasised by the fact that technical courses are more expensive to run. ITM's recent physical expansion has been focused on the technical schools, with new buildings being allocated to the School of Architecture and School of Mathematical Sciences and Computing at the main campus Technical programs are also being expanded at branch campuses. The feedback from the survey reflects this development as the technical schools do not consider space limitations as their number one problem (as do the non-technical schools). The country's rapid growth towards industrialisation and the problem of popularizing science based courses is also reflected in the feedback of 'Opportunities' as seen by the technical schools. Technical schools list the increasing demand for their graduates as their number one opportunity, their ability to offer new courses as second, followed thirdly by the number of applicants for their courses.

In terms of 'threats', technical schools rank 'competition from public universities and private ML' as the first choice while non-technical schools rank' brain drain of academic and support staff'. The implication is that there is an increasing amount of competition in the external environment.

Performance Evaluation

Performance evaluation in ITM currently emphasises on the individual rather than departmental basis. This is in effect a by-product of the New Remuneration Scheme where targets are set for each individual in the organisation and an evaluation of achievements against targets have a direct effect on pay increments.

For the academic staff, the evaluation cover areas such as students' feedback, published writings, research and other activities.

The organisation's overall evaluation performance is measured through several studies carried out on a regular basis by the Center For Strategic Planning, amongst which are the Graduates' First Placement Study, The Report on Tracer Studies (carried out on a five year interval), Analysis of Applications and Intake of New Students, Review and Regulation of ITM's Performance under Malaysia's Five Year Plan, etc.

The information thus gathered acts as a major input towards the continuous planning activities of the Institute.

In a move towards excellence, ITM is now attempting to refocus its performance evaluation on departmental rather than individual basis. The move towards Modified Budgeting System (MBS) which is similar to Responsibility Center Management by the Institute further facilitates the attempt towards performance evaluation.

Together with the Center For Total Quality Education and The Department Of Quality Assurance and Assessment, the Center for Strategic Planning is currently developing the said performance evaluation system.

Challenges and Issues

Changes in the environment have been too fast in the last decade. New governmental policies, introduced one after the other, triggered strings of reactions, upsetting equilibriums and demanding corresponding adjustments. Democratisation of education as a policy, shifted old paradigms and set new trends and implications in at least two dimensions. Firstly, the concept of education for life questions the entrenched practice of admitting fresh students into tertiary education only on the basis of school-based examination results; revision of that practice opens up opportunities for 'adult students'. The impact is as if the flood-gate has suddenly been lifted; working folks could use their years of experience as part of the qualifications for admission. Secondly, democratisation of education means an influx of new entrants in the education scene. The arena which has long been the turf for only governmental institutions, is suddenly inundated with private sector participation In 1994 there were about 120 registered private sector colleges; in 1995 there were about 200; in 1996 there are now about 300.

Education is now proclaimed by the government to be an industry. Needless to say, in order to boost the new industry, at the outset regulations have to be reviewed, laxed and formulated. For example, foreign universities are now allowed to establish branches in the country. With a view to turn the country into an education hub for the region, many more initiatives were introduced. Eventually, befitting the idea that education is now an industry, the country is expected to export education to other countries. In fact, ITM has already pioneered the move well before the 'export policy' came into being when in 1990 it exported one of its degrees to Indonesia and hitherto is still running.

In consonance with the government's policy of privatisation, the government subsequently introduced the corporatisation policy of its ML. In a way, that move helps to level the playing field for government IHL vis-à-vis the new entrants. The need for being market driven and customer focused became more apparent as IHL began strategising and niching themselves. The scenario soon was characterised by proliferation of courses and variegated offerings. For the first time in the history of the country's ML, competition as in the business world, became a reality.

Given the emerging industrial scenario and its cultural milieu, information and data is badly needed in any strategic planning. Most agree that data and the processes that create data is to be treated as an asset, and data quality is important for competitive advantage (Redman, 1995). Unfortunately, no party has paid any attention to this even before the introduction of the new policies. Earlier attempt at strategising plans for ITM's future was hampered to an extent by this shortcoming. In its quest for information therefore, ITM had to first establish its own national education data bank. This attempt per se is already a big challenge, let alone trying to plan in the rapidly changing environment as described above.

An internal challenge faced was the fact that ITM is a big and matured organization. ITM has 44,000 students enrollment, more than 6,000 staff, and 10 branch campuses spread all over the country. To plan strategically requires extensive examination of internal systems, structures and processes. Being 40 years old means that its organisational culture is well entrenched and is difficult to adapt, much less to change, to the new environment.

Another challenge is the fact that this big and matured organization is very compartmentalised. While it is desirable to an extent for such structure, it is a nightmare for strategic planners because there is a lack of data integration. For example, data on finance, personnel and students is often found to be disparate.

Finally, reformation of IHL in light of the new demands of the environment especially on the call for IHL to be close to the needs of the industry, saw an emerging professional identity crisis which we must say is proverbial. This 'crisis of professional self identity' (Nixon, 1996) arises as the academe has to rethink the relation between teaching and research, and between the various traditions and styles of research. The academe is now faced with multiplicity of roles which need to be prioritised. An academician is a teacher, subject specialist, researcher (to attract research grant), writer, consultant (in order to be hands-on), trainer and administrator.

In light of these challenges, ITM has to grapple with several pertinent issues. Firstly, should strategic planning be centralised or decentralised? Considering its size, ITM decided to establish a unit specially entrusted with the responsibility of strategic planning, where the Head - an academician - reports directly to the Director. This signals (to its departments/schools/branches) ITM's commitment and seriousness. In the meantime, departments/schools/branches are also directly involved in the process where the Heads are required to make annual presentations to top management of their tentative strategic plans. All the plans were scrutinised and the Strategic Planning Unit will then review the results with a view to rightly deploy ITM's overall plan. In practice then, ITM's strategic planning uses team management approach and allows for greater personal responsibility as postulated by Korey (1995). Wider participation in the process cultivates and spread ownership to the plan - an issue critical to the success of strategic planning.

Central to strategic planning is vision development and deployment. At least two problems were encountered. For universities to have openly declared visions is a relatively recent phenomenon. Vision and mission statements used to be within the domain of the corporate world and foreign to the academic life. But in light of challenges facing universities, clear vision is needed. A strategic vision is needed, according to Chadwick (1996), as the number of students is increasing, availability of resources is decreasing, while demands for accountability and quality assurance is greater. ITM is lucky though because the country itself is embarking on its own Vision 2020 which is very well disseminated throughout the population. Nevertheless, from our experience, developing and deploying vision is a very challenging exercise indeed. Getting the entire citizens of the organization to be hyped and involved in formulating vision statement and then deploying it extensively and accurately is a very taxing exercise. It took ITM one year and a half to do just that.

Operationalising the plan, particularly in the forms of financing, staffing, and getting the required enrolment size, is an issue that requires extra drive. By right, finance, staffing and enrolment are themselves the raison d'être of strategic planning, but in reality these constitute recurrent issues. It is a fact that it is 30% costlier to finance technical students compared to non-technical. Staffing for technical universities is tough in a booming economy like Malaysia where for the past eight years the growth rate is more than 8%. It is also difficult to achieve enrolment targets in newly industrialised nation where from our experience, for every three qualified candidates, only one is a technical candidate. Appendix 2 explains this phenomena where technical schools show a declining trend and low enrolment achievement rates (60-70%) whereas Appendix 3 and 4 show non technical schools maintaining higher enrollment achievement rates (80-90%).

Finally, among the issues of managing, monitoring and measuring, the latter is found to be very elusive. Drawing up the list of performance indicators and setting up a performance measurement system are definitely uphill tasks. Formulation of indicators and development of system should take into account not only logic and suitability but more important are the practical implications and data availability.

Characteristics and Implications

Planning for technical education differs somewhat from planning for non-technical education. While some basic planning principles and practices are similar, the following characteristics are worth mentioning.

Technical education planning is more prone to changes because changes in technology is more rapid and sometime revolutionary. Planners therefore must be constantly alert and sensitive. In ITM the need for such behavior is recognised and acted upon in the form of having its own think-tank and also networking with the nation's top industry and technology think-tank group. Management must also be tolerant to allow some degree of flexibility in its strategic plan.

Gone are the days of the ivory tower image of universities where things academic are sacrosanct. Particularly so with technical institution, it has to be more market driven and customer focused. This means that the institution is expected to be closer to the industry. Much to the chagrin of the champions of 'education for knowledge', being market driven means the orientation is more 'hands-on'. The implication here is really to be able to strike a balance between 'education for knowledge' and 'education for vocation'. While being market driven, the sanctity of knowledge should not be sacrificed; emphasis on teaching should not eliminate research and emphasis on applied research should not eliminate primary research. The industry too should not expect graduates to be performing employee on day one; the role of educating and training should also be shouldered by the industry Perhaps more mechanisms should be put in place to bring the universities and industry closer. Academic advisory panel, practical training, joint research, and other forms of smart partnering should be instituted.

Finally, technical education planning entails greater physical investment. This means that financial planning is an integral part of the strategic plan. For government institution, the government must be prepared to allocate extra fundings. The industry too can play a role in sharing the burden. Most examples today of strategic partnering between the university and the industry are to be found in the area of research. Perhaps more forms of strategic partnering should be thought of - forms that go beyond the mere realms of charity.

Concluding remarks

Although there are no differences in managing technical schools and non-technical schools, strategic planning for technical schools requires special emphasis in terms of higher physical investment and staying ahead in the technological advancements through research and development. Technical schools need to receive higher priority against non-technical schools in supplying the manpower needs of the nation. This is in line with the national objective towards industrialisation.

Experience showed that ITM was able to be sensitive and overcome those challenges and their related issues as explained in the earlier sections. Strategic planning determines ITM's direction in line with the rapid changes that occur in the Malaysian educational environment - democratisation of education, corporatisation policy of the government, data integration problems and market driven approach towards education. Success of a plan depends on the implementors who should be committed in achieving the goals, missions and visions as stipulated. At the same time managing the changes within the organisation, especially the human factor, is important to ensure success. Finally, designing systems on strategic planning is a learning process that requires modifications and adaptations to the needs of the organisation.

Appendix 1

RANKING OF SWOT ANALYSIS AND CRITICAL SUCCESS FACTORS

Ranking: (1) indicates the highest level of agreement


Technical
Schools

Non Technical
Schools

Overall ITM

SWOT Analysis




I.

Strengths




a)

Pioneer in field

1

1

2

b)

Recognition of courses

3

3

1

c)

Academic Team

4

2

3

d)

Existence and location of Branch campuses

6

5

5

e)

Cooperation with local and foreign IHL

7

8

8

f)

Success of graduates in industry

1

4

4

g)

Good relations with external bodies e.g. professional bodies, state government, private sector

5

6

6

h)

Existing physical facilities

7

6

6






II.

Weaknesses




a)

Space limitations due to expansion

4

1

3

b)

Bureaucracy

2

2

1

c)

Limited financial allocation

1

4

2

d)

Insufficient number of academic staff

5

4

5

e)

Insufficient physical facilities

2

2

4






III.

Opportunities




a)

Increasing demand for graduates

1

2

2

b)

Increasing applicants for courses

3

1

1

c)

Offering of new courses due to market demand

2

3

3

d)

Consultancy, professional services and research

4

4

4

e)

Expansion of education opportunities through city campuses, virtual campus, franchising and linkages

4

6

5

f)

Corporatisation

6

5

6






IV.

Threats




a)

Competition from public universities and Privates ML

1

5

2

b)

'Brain drain' of academic and support staff

2

1

1

c)

Rapid technological advancements

3

3

4

d)

'Slow Acceptance to Change' culture

5

2

3

e)

Lack of nationalism amongst youths

4

4

5






V.

Critical Success Factors




a)

Financial allocation

1

3

3

b)

Suitable and sufficient numbers of academic staff

3

7

4

c)

Committed and proactive human resource

7

1

2

d)

Infra structure and equipment facilities

3

2

4

e)

Reduction of red tapes

5

3

6

f)

Better communication network

5

5

7

g)

Leadership Qualities

2

5

1

APPENDIX 2: ACHIEVEMENT ON STUDENT ENROLMENT (1991-1994) TECHNICAL SCHOOLS


Figure

SCHOOLS

1991

1992

1993

1994

ENGINEERING

81.04

82.74

69.78

67.36

ARCHITECTURE

101.75

107.27

116.65

122.55

COMPUTER SCIENCE

72.21

76.53

69.19

64.93

APPLIED SCIENCE

95.17

75.14

72.52

67.51

APPENDIX 3: ACHIEVEMENT ON STUDENT ENROLMENT (1991-1994) NON-TECHNICAL SCHOOLS


Figure

SCHOOLS

1991

1992

1993

1994

ADMIN AND LAW

95.47

95.53

101.47

118.8

BUSINESS STUDIES

80.62

84.19

89.09

99.12

ACCOUNTANCY

77.78

82.31

82.89

87.66

APPENDIX 4: ACHIEVEMENT ON STUDENT ENROLMENT (1991-1994) NON-TECHNICAL SCHOOLS


Figure

SCHOOLS

1991

1992

1993

1994

ART AND DESIGN

70.33

64.47

68.4

71.5

HOTEL CATERING

100.13

93.5

78.27

74.43

MASSCOMM

90.75

93.38

92.63

88.33

LIBRARY SCIENCE

90

91.5

111.5

127

SECRETARY SCIENCE

93.27

92.73

99.8

99:09

References:

Blackerby, Phillip. (1994) Strategic Planning An Overview for Complying with GPRA. Armed Forces Comptroller 39 (1)

Chadwick, Priscilla. (1996) Strategic management of educational development. Quality Assurance in Education, 4(1), pp. 21-25

Fredr, David. (1995) Strategic Management Fifth Edition. Prentice Hall International Inc

Korey, G. (1995) TDM Grid: an effective tool for implementing strategic plans in academic institutions. Management Decision, 33 (2), pp 40-47.

H. Rowe, R. Mason, and K. David. (1982). Strategic Management and Business Policy: A Methodological Approach. Reading, MA: Addision-Wesley Publishing Co. inc.,

Nixon, Jon. (1996) Professional identity and the restructuring of higher education. Studies in Higher Education. 21(1) pp 5-16

Pusat Perancangan Strategik., Buku Maklumat Statistik ITM (September 1996)

Pusat Perancangan Strategik ITM., Laporan Proses Perancangan Strategik ITM (1996)

Pusat Perancangan Strategik., Laporan Pembentangan Perancangan Strategik Kajian/Pusat/Cawangan dan Bahagian Institute Teknologi MARA (1996-2000)., 1996

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Redman, Thomas C. (1995) Improve data quality for competitive advantage. Sloan Management Review Reprint Series, 36(2), pp 99-107

Techchint Engineering S.A. Switzerland., Report on Technical and Vocational Education and Industrial Training Study in Malaysia (1991)