UTAR research initiatives

Prof Lee during the interview

Since UTAR’s establishment in 2002, every step taken has been a process of learning and growing that has brought forth improvement in various area. UTAR received its first ranking of #111-120 by the Times Higher Education (THE) Asia University Rankings 2017. UTAR was ranked #101-150 in the THE Young University Rankings 2017 and ranked=14 in the THE Young University Rankings 2017: Millennial universitiesThe THE ranking is merely a reflection on the year of 2016, but to a greater extent it serves as a benchmark for UTAR to strive for excellence in the area of publication and citations.

The multiple attention-grabbing headlines on our staff and students’ achievements, especially in the realm of R&D and Commercialisation, reinforce the University’s commitment towards excellence in teaching and research. Apart from that, there are many other things to be considered as a measure of the effectiveness of a university such as the relevance of a university to an industry. Thus, producing a research that contributes to a greater impact for the society is far more crucial than obtaining a ranking.

It is agreeable that the attributes of a well-rounded research should focus on the outcome which benefits the society or that brings socio-economic impact in which to address the social issues. It has to incorporate a technology for improvement and a system for the implication that can be used by the society. In other words, a good research emphasise on the impact and benefits it would reap for the society. At the same time, the research that is carried out should also be related to the Malaysian context so that citizens would benefit from the research outcome.

Considering this, UTAR has achieved rapid growth over the years and has engaged in many projects and researches that are beneficial for the Malaysian society. For example, the research on the smart grid and solar energy, improve the usage of solar panels to generate electricity and to fit that into the national grid system. It also stores the energy during the day for night usage.

Another example is the project that made use of the waste of oil palm mills. The fibres ‘empty fruit bunch’ “EFB” waste from the mill can be reprocessed, therefore research was done to look into the application of the waste and the problems the industry will face when they convert the fruit bunch into fibre for the mattress. There is high demand for fibres in Malaysia, but due to the decreasing amount of coconut husk to supply these fibres, people have resolved to use palm tree as an alternative. However the processing practice has a lot of issues that need to be dealt with, such as its pungent smell and colour. Therefore, researchers from UTAR were invited to work together with several companies to solve these problems. UTAR strongly believes that further steps should be taken to explore on how the findings and output of this project can be applied in real life. Hence, UTAR continues to work closely with the industry to serve the society, also to expand the industry in Malaysia through constant dialogues, discussions and match-making with external parties. UTAR also aims to help the industry to penetrate into the international market, meanwhile improve the economy of the country.

R&D projects, research funding, collaborations in R&D, University research centres, consultancies and awards represent the research portfolio of a university and it can alleviate the university’s ranking. Therefore, it is advisable that all universities and organisations stress on the importance of Research and Development (R&D). This is because R&D enables a university to strive on to become an expert in related fields and explore different areas to gain knowledge and then transfer this knowledge to the students. In order to achieve such reputation, UTAR has been working closely with the industry to conduct research and innovation as well as publication.   

UTAR has taken several initiatives to encourage more research and publication among the academics. One of the areas that was delve into ­­would be the linkage between a university and an industry and it has become a challenge that all researcher’s need to realise. Thus, it is vital to encourage the researchers to conduct impactful and effective research for the society with the collaboration of the industry especially in getting research funding. Vice President for R&D and Commercialization Prof Ir Dr Lee Sze Wei said, “It is definitely not an easy task to handle however with the current economy landscape and fluctuated expectation, the chances of obtaining research fund would be higher if the research has greater impact to the socioeconomic development of Malaysia and relevant to the Malaysian industry. There are also incentives and schemes for the researchers/staff such as the research fund top up scheme to boost them up. “As researchers, we are very used to writing pure research papers and producing post graduates but it is insufficient for any university as we need to conduct research that has relevance  and applicable in the Malaysian context.”

When asked about the future outlook of research, Prof Lee said, “We would continue to make UTAR’s research more relevant to the industry, nation and society and at the same time we will ensure that the research done in UTAR are cost effective. In any given area, it has become more competitive and resource funding is getting limited, thus, it is important that a research should be cost effective besides being able to solve problems. You don’t need a huge amount to conduct a research as there are many research that can be completed using cost effective ways.”

“We are having a situation where undergraduates are lacking the awareness of research and not many are keen to pursue their post grad study by research. We are trying to enhance their awareness as we strongly believe that undergraduate degree alone would not be enough for the students to enter an industry that has high value added roles. Take initiatives to acquire more skills during your tertiary studies to be able to take on high value added jobs,” said Prof Lee when asked about his advice for the younger generation.

According to Prof Ir Dr Lim Yun Seng, “This research project [referring to the research on the smart grid and solar energy] is also funded by the local as well as the international funding agents due to its potential of bringing significant, financial and environmental benefits to the society. Through several funding schemes, we were able to construct a realistic energy storage system. The performance of the system is further improved through the international collaboration with one of the most leading researchers at the UK University. In addition, this project has received much attention from the utility company, Tenaga Nasional Berhad (TNB), due to the potential improvement of this project on their networks.”

Prof Lim said, “The international ranking of the university will be improved because of the publication of high-impact international journals from this project, an international collaboration through acknowledgement of the local and international funding agents, as well as the graduation of many postgraduate students. The ranking can be further improved if this project is commercialized for the benefits of the society and the utility companies.”

Over the years, UTAR has done remarkable research that has gained Intellectual Property (IP) status from the beginning of 2011. For instance, under the Lee Kong Chian Faculty of Engineering and Science, Dr Low Kaw Sai, Dr Tiong Ngee Heng and Dr Ng Soon Ching obtained the patent for their invention of membrane encased lightweight concrete or mortar panel and block on April 2016. Their invention also won them a silver medal and Malaysian Innovative Product Award at the ITEX 2011.

Another research that gained IP status is the Copper-Mixed Ligand Complexes with Anticancer Properties by Dr Ng Chew Hee, Dr Munirah Ahmad and Dr Alan Khoo Soo Beng. They collaborated with the Institute of Medical Research Malaysia (IMR). The invention relates to the application of copper (II) - polypyridyl complexes with anticancer properties by generation of reactive oxygen species, proteasome targeting, topoisomerase inhibition and DNA damage.

In order to provide a comprehensive overview of UTAR’s R&D to our stakeholders which include the industries, governmental agencies, international and local partners, current and prospective students and other interested parties, UTAR will continually put in immense effort and strive towards R&D Excellence.

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