The call for the universities to be significantly involved and active with the industries is not something new. The role of both entities is complementary in nature, for instance, while one focuses on developing and producing skillful and competent human capital, the latter’s role is to provide employment opportunities.

Universities are also seen as solution providers and act as innovation hubs to advise industries in need of their expertise. However, there is often an argument that there is a gap in the efforts made between the sectors of university and industry throughout the years to increase their networking activities with industries through various platforms. 

But one in particular (and an effective one) would be through a physical meeting, where representatives of universities present their services and value propositions in the hope that the collaborations in the form of consultancy, contract research, training programs, and internship placements could be realized.

Moving forward to March 2020, our nation was being hit by COVID-19 pandemic and we were nudged to adopt “new norm” which included Movement Control Order (MCO), Work From Home (WFH), and Social Distancing Practice.  All these new terms and adaptations somehow made us feel that it could dampen the “networking activities” between the two, but is that really the case? 

Drawing on this dilemma, Centre for Community Industry Network (CCIN), Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM) under AIMS4STAR Webinar Series,  has decided to initiate a conversation on this topic. Hence, “Industry Networking for Universities in the New Norm” was chosen to kick start the series.

The webinar series was moderated by Prof. Ir Dr. Haslenda Salleh who heads the Taskforce of Networking and Branding under Office of Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research and Innovation).

The 1.5-hour session was joined by Prof. Ir. Dr. Saman Leong (Director of Institute of Noise and Vibration), Prof. Ts. Dr. Arham Abdulllah (Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research and Innovation), Universiti Malaysia Kelantan), and Assoc. Prof. Dr. Maimunah Sapril (Director of Centre for Real Estate Studies). The panels were a mix of those whose expertise range from high-tech engineering and social sciences to provide both views as the category of “industries” they were focussing on differ.

The “new norm” does not need any further explanation. We are living and functioning in it. Why would the industry want to work with us, and what are the success factors? Those questions had kick-started the forum and deliberated by Prof. Salman Leong. 

Significantly, we have to keep some questions in mind such as 1) Could we provide a solution that would lessen the operational cost? and 2) Could our involvement lead to the increase of their productivity and most importantly profitability? Success factors take in multiple forms (Institutional & Relationship Factors and Output & Framework Factors).

The ministry and universities have been proactive to ensure that the gap between the two is inching closer as one. Prof. Arham, who is the former Director of Industry Liaison Office at Ministry of Higher Education, provided an insight into various programs such as CEO@Faculty Programs, where the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Multinational Corporation (MNC), Government Link Companies (GLC), Small to Medium Enterprise (SME) are appointed as mentors to choose young academicians to be mentored and act as the representative of their universities to further build a successful network that would lead to impactful collaborations. Building TRUST is the key here and of utmost importance! 

What of the social science sector? Has it been challenging or a blessing in disguise to further position themselves to engage with the industries?  According to Assoc. Prof. Dr. Maimunah, it has been a unique opportunity for them to engage further with public services that are linked to agencies.

Research and Development (R&D) in the form of pandemic preparedness, disaster, and mitigation plans were highly sought after from the social science sector. While they may not be highly involved in the high-tech industry, during a pandemic crisis such as the one that we are going through, social science provides high touch and advisory services to federal and local authorities.

In essence, the “new norm” might change our mode of interactions but with technology, it is still possible to engage and continue with industry networking beyond Malaysia. It provides opportunities for both sectors which are university and industry, to come together and rally in the recovery phases of the pandemic as well as our economy.

Unemployment will rise, however, new skills and reskilling must continue. This would be a commitment that should be undertaken together. While industries are currently in a “survival” mode, universities should continue to pay close attention to the solutions for problems faced by the sector.

At UTM, we have a strategic initiative called Consortium of Academia, Industry, Government, and Society for Synergistic Transformation (AIMS4STAR) as a platform to provide solutions to common problems faced by the industry via the quadruple helix innovation model.

For more insights from our panels, do check out the full webinar here at https://www.facebook.com/utmccin/videos/183467469763564/