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Recognising one’s value in the Malaysian education sector

22 Oct 2021 | Irene Wong Irene Wong shares her thoughts on being recognised as a Senior Fellow after working in the Malaysian private education sector for more than 20 years.

Where do I fit and what’s my value? Without a doctorate degree or publications, career advancement and recognition is increasingly difficult while working in Malaysia's private higher education sector. These questions are constantly on my mind since I can’t find the interest to write and publish research papers.

I started teaching in the era where a bachelor’s degree is sufficient to be a lecturer for undergraduate programmes and a master’s degree will open doors to academic management. It was a time of growth in the education sector with the introduction of the national qualification framework and the Malaysian Qualification Agency (MQA) to regulate and monitor education providers. Like many colleagues at that time, my career progression and maturity grew in tandem with the institutions that were transforming from colleges to universities. We were teachers first before becoming academic leaders and managers. As time went by, the pressure to gain a doctorate degree and to publish increased to a point where we start to lose our recognition and value.

Many chose to leave the industry for other types of work or to retire. A fraction of those who remained started to pursue their doctorate degrees, while a minority, like me, stayed in senior management positions performing our duties while questioning our future. We chose not to pursue a doctorate not because we are incapable, but for various other reasons like financial, time commitment, and personal interest.

It was during the initial growth era circa 2007 that I first heard about Fellowship during a curriculum development training organised by Sunway University in collaboration with Lancaster University. The trainers did not have a PhD. but were inspiring in their passion for teaching and learning practices. It sparked my interest that this could be a pathway for me, but I had to put aside since the priority was subject specific doctorate and research. It was not until 2014 that the door to the fellowship was opened again, thanks to Joel Carlton from the University of Hertfordshire.

He encouraged me to apply for the fellowship based on my experience and contribution to improving T&L practices. In Malaysia, I am not aware of any similar framework to Fellowship that recognises tertiary educators and their practices. Such professional recognition is rare and not commonly known and valued here. I prepared my application with doubts of gaining success.

When l succeeded in becoming a Fellow, while a peer who has a doctorate and publications did not, I saw my value and my place in the industry. The recognition brought to light that in the education landscape, T&L practices play an equally important role as subject specific knowledge in facilitating students’ learning. Being acknowledged and recognised by a community of educators motivated me to stay on and continue to do what I love. I also consciously started to encourage team members to consider this pathway if they are not prepared to pursue a doctorate.

My journey to becoming a Senior Fellow was even more rewarding. It made me 'pause' in my fast-paced work environment to reflect and collect evidence of the impact of my practices and efforts. Much of my work was centred around building a structured system to improve teaching and learning activities while meeting the requirements of various regulatory bodies and institutions. In the words of Professor Helen Barefoot, the Deputy Director of Learning and Teaching Innovation Centre, University of Hertfordshire, “Senior Fellowship recognises not only an individual’s expertise and excellence in their own teaching, but also their guidance and support of other colleagues in their teaching practice.”

My wish is for the recognition of professional tertiary educators to be more wide-spread and accepted in Malaysia and for colleagues who are in a similar position like me; do not or have yet to have the interest to pursue a doctorate or publications, to not lose sight of the importance of our contribution to our students’ learning. When we adopt a new delivery technique, when we adapt our teaching approaches, when we improve a management process, or when we support our new colleagues, we are in our own way contributing to the development of the education sector.

There is no one path or right way to be valued and recognised. I remember a student once said to me many years ago, “Some people may gain their rewards now, but what you gain is karma.” Having SFHEA at the end of my name is enough…for now.

Webinar: An introduction to the Professional Standards Framework and Fellowship

Taking place on 2 December 2021, this free-to-attend webinar will provide an introduction to the PSF and Fellowship with speakers from Advance HE, partner institutions and fellows. It will explore the benefits Fellowship provides institutions and individuals with a specific focus on examples from Central Asia. 

Advance HE supports institutions to embed recognition through Fellowship, find out how we can help you here.


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