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Envisioning the Developments and Trajectories on the Future of Higher Education in Brunei Darussalam

hesb-10-03-envisioning the developments and trajectories-featured image

In the past few decades, we have observed several if not many evolving roles of higher education institutions in their effort to raise their standards and status amidst challenges and pressures from local and international educational and economy demands and influences. Envisioning the probable developments and trajectories on the future of higher education is normally associated with the latest global trends. The short-term goals are likely about adjusting to new norms while the long-term goals could be a paradox for the future of higher education – that is, the unpredictability of global educational demands that is influenced by technology, accessibility and the need to stay relevant whilst ensuring quality and the continuity of successful planning.

 

Brunei Darussalam’s Educational Vision
Brunei Darussalam, a country with the smallest population among the 11 Southeast Asian countries, has always placed the development of a quality education system and future workforce as the aspirational forefront of the country’s national strategy, “Wawasan Brunei 2035” (Brunei Vision 2035).1 The first of the three goals of the vision focuses on ensuring people of the country are educated, highly skilled and accomplished. In realising this vision, we are guided by the national philosophy of Melayu Islam Beraja, or Malay Islamic Monarchy. The educational levels span holistically, from primary and secondary, to technical, vocational and higher education. The country’s Ministry of Education regulates all government and private education institutions, while the Ministry of Religious Affairs specifically regulates educational institutions offering components of Islamic religious education.

The Higher Education Landscape in Brunei Darussalam
In Brunei Darussalam, the higher education levels are categorised as university colleges, polytechnics, institutes and universities. Consequently, there are officially seven higher education institutions — five government and two private — that fall within this category. The main foci of each higher education institutions are generally the same — to strive for quality and excellence in teaching and learning, and produce skilled and employable graduates. However they very much differ when it comes to their respective institutional programme offerings, strategic initiatives and processes. A few place great emphasis on current and future research initiatives in order to develop research areas and to increase research productivity. For the benefit of this commentary, we will only attend to the educational landscape of all higher education institutions in Brunei Darussalam as a general collective.

 

The first formal higher education institution, Universiti Brunei Darussalam (UBD) was established in 1985, a year after the country gained its full independence. This was followed by Institut Teknologi Brunei in 1986, which was upgraded to university status in 2008 and renamed Universiti Teknologi Brunei (UTB) in 2016. In order to cater to the growing demands of the Islamic academic disciplines, Universiti Islam Sultan Sharif Ali (UNISSA) was established in 2007. Politeknik Brunei was established in 2008 but operations only began in 2012. Kolej Universiti Perguruan Ugama Seri Begawan (KUPU SB) was set up in 1975 as an Islamic Religious Teachers’ Training College, and upgraded to a university college in 2007. Furthermore, KUPU SB is under the purview of the Ministry of Religious Affairs. Meanwhile the two private higher education institutions are Kolej International Graduate Studies (KIGS) and Laksamana College of Business (LCB) established in 2002 and 2003, respectively. According to the latest available statistics provided by the Ministry of Education, there are a total of 11,406 enrolled higher education students and 832 lecturers.2

In this commentary, the discussions will specifically focus on a few relevant strategic thrusts related to the development and purpose of education — such as access to higher education and lifelong learning; the role of technology in light of the sudden realisation surge of online education or the blended mode of teaching and learning caused by current pandemic; aligning the Fourth Industrial Revolution and higher education; and growing the workforce by producing future-ready graduates. All these are pertinent to what may shape the future of the higher educational landscape in the country.

 

Improving Opportunities to Lifelong Learning
Improving opportunities to lifelong learning is listed as one of the strategic initiatives in the Ministry of Education’s strategic plan in Brunei Darussalam. Four institutions in the country have set up their respective lifelong learning centres in offering programmes, which are inclusive and follow flexible study pace and blended learning approaches. These facilities are UBD’s Centre for Lifelong Learning (C3L, established in 2016); UNISSA’s Centre of Leadership and Lifelong Learning (C4L, established in 2017); UTB’s Continuing Education in Science, Engineering and Technology (Tri-CEd, established in 2018); and PB’s Centre of Excellence for Lifelong Learning (CELL, established in 2020). These higher education institutions have been tasked to take on the responsibility of reskilling or upskilling the existing workforce in order to meet the demands of the global market. Due to the fast-changing pace of international markets, it is important to recognise the need for shorter accredited higher education training programmes that have lifelong learning modes. There is also an increasing need to align institutional-level qualifications with the country-level accreditation criteria for online learning. The need for a revised policy may offer major potential for change in mainstreaming and growing lifelong learning.


Transforming Teaching and Learning Approaches
The unprecedented and ongoing global pandemic has caused sudden changes in educational policies. We have observed significant rises in the workload of educators and changes to their teaching approaches. Adjusting and revising the provisions on the teaching of modules or courses, learning delivery and transforming assessment approaches using various online platforms have quickly become the new normal in the country. Alternative instructional approaches have also been implemented, such as the practice of blended learning, and consequently began the exploration of the blended pedagogy underpinned by a lifelong learning perspective. Blended learning mode typically involves face-to-face or physical classes, and lesson materials or resources containing video lectures, discussions and assessments, which are provided online; and occasionally utilising e-Portfolio in documenting and showcasing the records of work conducted. Nevertheless, with the influx of online learning we need to seriously consider upgrading our online learning systems, such as Canvas and other existing online education platforms.

Due to the fast-changing pace of international markets, it is important to recognise the need for shorter accredited higher education training programmes that have lifelong learning modes.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution and Higher Education
Coined by Klaus Schwab in 2016, the Fourth Industrial Revolution, or IR 4.0, is about converging technology with economy. Its advent has also impacted many aspects of human endeavours including education. IR 4.0 is a national agenda for Brunei, and higher education institutions play a meaningful role in the implementation of this nation-wide initiative — through teaching, research and development, innovation, commercialisation, and creating IR 4.0-ready human capacity. A deeper understanding of Brunei’s initiatives need to be sought, and support needs to be acquired for implementation and delivery in order for higher education institutions to be aligned with the pursuit of this agenda. Additionally, to ensure employability of graduates, it is now necessary for higher education institutions to redesign existing educational systems to an adaptable and flexible system, which supports teaching and learning for the fourth as well as future industrial revolutions.


Growing the Workforce of Tomorrow
Higher education institutions play a major role in preparing and equipping students with the most relevant and up-to-date knowledge, to face current as well as future educational and industrial needs. It is also important to think about higher education institutions as knowledge hubs where innovation can thrive.

What the young people want

Ministry of Finance and Economy, Brunei Darussalam, “Towards a Dynamic and Sustainable Economy”, accessed February 7, 2021, http://deps.gov.bn/
DEPD%20Documents
%20Library/NDP/BDEB/
Econ_Blueprint.pdf.

It is also important to think about higher education institutions as knowledge hubs where innovation can thrive.

In 2021, Brunei released its latest economic blueprint supporting the third goal in Brunei Vision 2035, “Towards a dynamic and sustainable economy”. Its first policy direction, “Continue providing high-standard education system which will produce experts, professionals and technicians to meet industry demand” pointed to having skilled, adaptive and innovative people as one of its aspirations. As higher education providers, in order to produce graduates who are highly skilled, marketable, and future ready, we need to consider developing and equipping our students with relevant skillsets — among them analytical and innovative thinking, emotional intelligence and so on — which will complement their academic knowledge.


Future Aspirations
There are undoubtedly other strategic thrusts that can be further explored — for example, enabling self-sustaining higher education institutions; attracting highly talented graduate research students; focusing and venturing on specific niche research areas to increase collaborations with international researchers and industry partnerships; achieving international reputation through the ranking exercises of the Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) and the Times Higher Education (THE) World University Rankings; and having programmes accredited and certified by professional agencies.

 

All the above require constant monitoring and reflection on the best practices in which we will subsequently apply and put into action. What will matter most will be the commitment and dedication of the higher education community — the leaders, lecturers and researchers, administrative and support staff, the stakeholders comprising of students, alumni, industry and many more, to further improve, to maintain and sustain, and finally to make all these a continuous reality within the next 20 years. A whole-of-nation approach will indeed be an advantage. This will not only benefit the country but will also help us towards achieving the country’s national vision.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
The authors wish to acknowledge Pg Dr Mohamad Iskandar Pg Hj Petra, Dr Abby Tan Chee Hong and Associate Professor Dr Jose Hernandez Santos for their valuable inputs to this commentary.

MASITAH SHAHRILL

Masitah Shahrill is Senior Assistant Professor at the Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah Institute of Education, Universiti Brunei Darussalam.

JOANNA YACOB

Joanna Yacob is Acting Registrar and Secretary, Registrar Office, at Universiti Brunei Darussalam.

APRIL 2022 | ISSUE 10

State of the Region: The Commemorative 10th Issue

  1. Government of Brunei Darussalam, “Wawasan Brunei 2035”, www.wawasanbrunei.gov.bn 

  2. Ministry of Education, Brunei Darussalam, “Brunei Darussalam Education Statistics 2018”, accessed September 4, 2020, http://www.moe.gov.bn/DocumentDownloads/Education%20Statistics%20and%20Indicators%20Handbook/Brunei%20Darussalam%20Education%20Statistics%202018.pdf

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Leaders and changemakers of today face unique and complex challenges. The HEAD Foundation Digest features insights and opinions from those in the know addressing a wide range of pertinent issues that factor in a society’s development. 

Informed opinions can inspire healthy discussions and open up our imagination to new possibilities. Interested in contributing? Write to us at info@headfoundation

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