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NSTP: Pioneers of Master of Project Management

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With insights from industry experts to strengthen the course and by offering subjects that are carefully selected to cater to the core of project management, OUM reveals its success formula for the only Master of Project Management programme offered in Malaysia.

WITH occupations becoming more specialised over the years, it is no surprise that education programmes have become unique too. One such programme, and the only one of its kind offered in private universities around Malaysia, is the Master of Project Management offered by Open Universiti Malaysia (OUM). The one-year-old programme first started as an idea when Associate Professor Ir Dr Kanesan Muthusamy, Deputy Dean of the Faculty of Science and Technology in OUM noted a demand for such a programme over the last few years through various market surveys and on the ground marketing.

Ir Dr Kanesan had been an engineer with decades of experience in large multinational corporations and even managed projects before he received a scholarship to pursue his doctorate in Japan. This turn of events prompted a career move into academia.

With his previous background and current understanding of the academic field, Ir Dr Kanesan saw the need for a master’s programme that serves the market for project management. “Back in the 60s and 70s, the term ‘project management’ was used only for engineers who handled large scale projects in the course of their work,” opines Ir Dr Kanesan. “Today, almost every industry uses this term. IT companies, banks and even the management companies. If previously the term referred specifically to the engineering field, today it means any form of projects.”

This is how the need for the programme developed. The education team at OUM took about six months to a year to draft the programme structure, which was benchmarked against similar courses in the United Kingdom and the United States. Once government approval was obtained, the programme took in its first batch of students in January last year.

The response, as predicted, has been good. “We received about 25 students in the first intake and have continued taking in around the same amount at each intake,” says Ir Dr Kanesan, adding that there are three intakes a year for the programme making the current number of students about a hundred. The difference between this programme and other OUM programmes is that this course relies on recently published textbooks.

Some of the textbooks are specially ordered from the US and all materials are provided to the students at no extra charge. “We want to give the students more,” explains Ir Dr Kanesan. He cites for example a course may require eight to 10 chapters from the textbook but the rest of the book becomes an invaluable asset to the budding project manager who can delve further into other topics in the book.

In a sense, the programme and textbooks provide the building blocks and foundation to the student’s career. Course facilitators who include industry professionals also bring in their own reference materials which help solidify the local flavour in the course. “For instance, we have industry experts facilitating Safety, Health & Environmental Management who can provide students with industry references on safety rules and regulations because they know their industry and understand what information is needed and where to get it from,” adds Ir Dr Kanesan. This strengthens the course for real-world application. Besides that, the courses offered are also carefully selected to cater to the core of project management, so that anyone from any industry can benefit from it.

“Some of the courses we offer are Contract Management and Project Cost Analysis and Appraisal,” explains Ir Dr Kanesan. “Every project will require a contract and costing and these subjects offer students a chance to understand the finance behind the project.” He adds that he has a student who is a lawyer specializing in contracts who has taken up this master’s programme to understand the project management of the contracts she prepares.

Other essential courses are Change Management, that addresses today’s competitive market which promotes fast turn-around of leadership and the impact of change, and International Project Management, which tackles cultural differences, risk allocation and procurement strategies including joint ventures. As project management caters heavily to engineering and construction, OUM’s Master of Project Management also dedicates a course to the issue of Sustainable Construction — a current issue with today’s awareness of climate change. The courses offered have clearly satisfied student demand as OUM has registered no complaint with the two-year, part-time programme. Students who were interviewed also had only good words to say about the course.

“I’ve been in a project management team throughout my career working on international mega projects with an international oil and gas operator” says student, Anas Alam Faizli. “ and now I appreciate all that I’ve done bestows the fundamental principles of project management. Moreover I’ve gained fresh erudition on new applied theorical values which would comprehend my experience, thanks to OUM.”

Another student, Praveena Kunaratnam, 28, says, “I work in the finance industry and my company handles outsourcing and outsourced projects from financial institutions around the world. This programme helps me apply the theory and rules into practice. I am currently an executive working on small-scale projects. When I graduate, I will be able to move ahead into project management.” “One Japanese student flies down from Indonesia specifically for the fortnightly classes,” reveals Ir Dr Kanesan.

“Another drives up from Johor Bharu.” This, he stresses, is what sets OUM apart from many universities — the provisions that the university is willing to make to accommodate its students. “For example, if a student has to be overseas at work when he is scheduled to sit for an exam, he can inform us in advance and we can appoint a proctor to conduct the exam there. That way, he doesn’t have to miss out and waste a semester’s effort,” he says. Fortunately most students attend without a problem.

Since academic calendars are published three months before semester commence, most students are able to lock down the dates to attend. The variety of students, 60 per cent of whom are from an engineering background and 40 per cent of who are from various fields such as IT, banking, human resource and others, create a collaborative learning environment with the facilitator. This melting pot of students is brought together at OUM as no other private university offers such a programme.

“For assignments, students are required to do case studies, interviews, research and presentations,” adds Ir Dr Kanesan. To graduate, students must also complete a project paper. The first batch of students is expected to complete the programme in December this year and Ir Dr Kanesan predicts a bright future for them. “The specialised master’s would give them an edge over their peers and no doubt they will be spearheading projects soon,” he ends.

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