By Mahadhir bin Monihuldin
To become the Deputy Rector of a globally recognised university like IIUM is indeed an illustrious milestone for an academician.
Let’s raise it up. Engrave it with the added achievement of an individual seizing the spot as the first ever female Deputy Rector of the university.
What you have now is an individual accomplishing a feat that’s entirely unprecedented in IIUM history.
Prof. Dr. Rahmah Ahmad H Osman, the first female Deputy Rector (Research and Innovation) is a woman molded by the rugged hands of perseverance. Before becoming Deputy Rector, she held the position of the Dean of the Kulliyyah of Islamic Revealed Knowledge and Human Sciences (KIRKHS). It was a job filled with formidable challenges which she had to confront head on – an overbearing workload, emotional disagreements, and disappointing shortcomings. There were many challenges that came her way.
But seeing how she has now occupied the present office of the Deputy Rector, you can be certain she has triumphed over it all.
Prof. Dr. Rahmah shared, “The biggest lesson I’ve learnt as the Dean of the biggest Kulliyyah in this university, is perseverance. The will to not give up. I’m a person who believes strongly in something, I will never give up. I will give it my 250 percent.”
While she was the Dean of KIRKHS, Dr. Rahmah had led the Kulliyyah as the first female Dean of IIUM at the same time. She had re-introduced the Knowledge and Virtue Camp which successfully united all KIRKHS lecturers for the common goal of conducting research and publishing papers. It culminated in KIRKHS winning first place for the best quality academic agency in IIUM under her distinguished leadership, the first time ever for the Kulliyyah to win said award.
“When they first announced KIRKHS as the winner, I was still sitting down in disbelief. People didn’t even really clap, because they didn’t know how to respond,” Dr. Rahmah said.
“All these years it would usually go to engineering, medicine, or law. But suddenly, it was KIRKHS that came out on top. All the hard work was truly worth it.”
She attributes her success to the unwavering commitment her team in KIRKHS had given her. She praises KIRKHS for being a truly unique Kulliyyah with untapped potential.
“I realised as an academic of that Kulliyyah, we have so much potential. But we’re not realising how valuable we are to this university. We always undermine ourselves thinking we’re not part of the sciences, we’re just Islamic studies, we’re just social sciences, we’re just this, we’re just that (….). The Kulliyyah was like a hidden gold mine.”
A truly remarkable experience it must have been for Dr. Rahmah during her time as the Dean of KIRKHS. But let’s put that aside. Now that Dr. Rahmah is the Deputy Rector of Research and Innovation, what are her initiatives for the development of this particular sector of our university?
Creating an Innovation Ecosystem
Dr. Rahmah believes the first step of developing research and innovation is to create an ecosystem whereby every single entity in the university supports each other for whatever task that’s at hand, whether it’s one person to another person or even one managing office to another managing office.
“Everyone has been doing his or her own thing all these years, and everyone has been happy to do it. But, if say, a lecturer continues to do this, even with all the engagement and everything that’s going around his or her life, he or she would only produce, at the most, two publications and secure only one research grant,” Dr. Rahmah said.
“But if he or she collaborates with other colleagues, let’s say 10 lecturers, and all these 10 lecturers decide to write on a pertinent issue relating to their field. Each one of them putting in his or her own unique strengths into that article. Instead of having one article per person, because three others will be working together, each one will be having three articles for that semester. And so there’s always the saying that goes: ‘Two heads are better than one.’”
Not only that, Dr. Rahmah points out that with a defined ecosystem within the field of research and innovation, sponsorships for research projects will come that much easier.
She said, “Because everyone has his or her own connection, each lecturer will have a friend or a family member in another university or in a particular ministry or perhaps an organisation that are in need of the data you’re researching on, and so they will be willing to help sponsor.”
Inculcating a Culture of Research and Innovation
A culture of research and innovation is another facet which Dr. Rahmah wants to inculcate into the fibre of this university.
“It’s high time that research and innovation be made a culture. One should not be doing research merely for the sake of the KPI (Key Performance Index) and nothing else. My God, if you choose to be an academic, what is the life of an academic? It’s to provide solutions for the future through research and publications. So, we need to correct this mind-set. We require a paradigm shift.”
Dr. Rahmah noticed that the rigid system of auditing research papers, while they come with their own benefits, poses a dilemma for research and innovation at the same time, due to the heavy pressures that it brings.
“All these years, we’ve been working on this audit culture where we only strive to meet the requirements of an audit, be it MyRA (Malaysian Research Assessment Instrument), be it Setara (The Discipline-Based Rating System), be it MQA (Malaysian Qualifications Agency),” Dr. Rahmah said.
“Until when and at the expense of what? This has been taking a toll on our health, it’s counterproductive, it’s not cost effective, because the ecosystem is not there. It’s as though we have to create magic every time before an audit takes place.”
Bringing in Technology into Research
Technology is something which Dr. Rahmah is looking to assimilate into the field of research and innovation as she feels it makes the job of researching all the more efficient and also more cost effective.
“In the past, a task would require four to five people to do. But now it can easily be done by one person who is competent in using free sources on the net. And you don’t need to call a programmer and pay a consultancy fee anymore. Or buy hundreds of thousands of papers for research. Again, this is the internet of things and I’m all about collaborating,” Dr. Rahmah said.
Using the Distinguished Brand of IIUM to collaborate
IIUM is a university which holds a brand known to many within the country and abroad as well. Thus, Dr. Rahmah sees this as a golden opportunity for lecturers within IIUM to collaborate with relevant parties all across the globe.
Dr. Rahmah stated, “What people don’t realise is that we have a really strong brand. People look up to it. We might not be doing brilliantly in the QS Rankings, but that is for its own reasons. And despite that, people still look up to IIUM. If we don’t realise this, we’ll be at a lost.”
“People are quick to point out how we’re lacking in funds for research. Okay, so why not use this lack of funding at the university level to expand our horizons and look out of Malaysia, to countries that are not facing that problem especially in the Middle East. Why not collaborate with our colleagues, our academics in the Middle East and the West and put our heads together?”
Thus, these initiatives are among those Dr. Rahmah will be looking to carry out as Deputy Dean. For Dr. Rahmah, the chance to lead IIUM forward comes with many hardships. But again, as she has always done before, she is set to persevere through it all regardless of what comes her way.
“As someone who’s not from this background, as a scholar of Arabic literature studies, it’s a great challenge. There are many things I need to learn, to read, and I’m forced to do that so that I’m at par with the people I’m surrounded with. But I’m not embarrassed to ask if there’s anything I don’t know. Because I take this as a platform to add value to myself for the sake of the world.” ***