Dzulkifli Razak

Dzulkifli Razak

DZULKIFLI Abdul Razak is the Vice-Chancellor of Universiti Sains Malaysia since 2000. He is presently serving as the Vice-President/President-Designate of the International Association of Universities (IAU) - a UNESCO- affiliated organisation. He has served as President of Association of Southeast Asia Institutions of Higher Learning (ASAIHL) from 2007-08. He is also a member of Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) - Advisory Education Hub Advisory Committee, Executive Council of Association of Commonwealth Universities (ACU), and also Advisory Committee of World Universities Forum, Davos.

He serves on the WHO Expert Advisory Panel on Drug Policies and Management since 1995, and the WHO Scientific Advisory Committee on Tobacco Product Regulation (2000-02). He has led a number of missions on behalf of WHO in Asia-Pacific and East African regions. At the national level, he is the Chair of Malaysian Vice-Chancellors’/Rector’s Committee, Chair of Multimedia Technology Enhancement Operations Sdn Bhd (METEOR) the parent body of Open University Malaysia), and Chair of Malaysian Examination Council, and serves as Advisor to the National Higher Education Research Institute and is a member of the Malaysian Qualification Agency (MQA). He is also a member of the Steering Committee of the newly established Razak School of Government. He is appointed a member of National Economic Advisory Council established in 2009; and the Co-chair of the Malaysian Industry-Government Hi-Technology (MIGHT) since 2006. He is also a Director of the Malaysian Productivity Corporation (formerly National Productivity Corporation) where he heads the Creativity and Innovation Consultative Panel.

Razak is currently a member of the National Innovation Council, the National IT Council, and the National Biotechnology Implementation Committee. He is a Fellow of the Malaysia Academy of Science, the World Academy of Art and Science and the Malaysian Institute of Management.

In this interview Dzulkifli Razak, Rector of the University Sains Malaysia explains that sustainability starts with a kind of mindset, and in this sense education becomes important, because is a place where we can start to do all those mindset changes

“Universities have to create a new conceptualization of social transformation and development”

What are the challenges that the Southeast region in Asia faces regarding sustainability?

The challenges are the same in many parts of the world, but to a large extent it is more significant. I see that because this region, is growing very fast economically; also in terms of population growth; and also in terms of socioeconomic changes. This kind of changes will have a lot of impact on the kind of development that we will have in the future. Unless and until the region of Southeast Asia understands what sustainability is all about, some of the changes that will take place will not be able to support the future, particularly the future generations. I think that sustainability in Southeast Asia is very crucial, and the region must be able to integrate this idea in all the things that we want to do for the country, for the region, and globally as well.

Which are for you the main goals of the region? is one attempt to create awareness among the people in Southeast Asia (Asia and also Pacific) by streaming in what we call “postgraduate studies”. We feel postgraduates are people who are ready to go into the community and lead it after they have got the education. For it is meant to give them more ideas, more tools, more awareness, so they can be an agent of change when they go out into society (including universities) after they have taken a job or if they are doing other projects as far as sustainability is concerned.

Which challenges do you think could be overcome in the midterm (2-3 years)?

Two or three years are not enough to overcome any problem because sustainability starts with a kind of mindset, a new thinking. It is not something that can be changed overnight. Until we change the mindset, the thinking process in a holistic sense; it is difficult to see a kind of change that is really impactful. So what we are trying to do within these two or three years is basically work on those issues of how people can start to think by looking for alternatives; getting the experiences that is relevant in terms of use of materials, in terms of consumption, in terms of respect for energy, in terms of reuse of water. All these are issues that we see now that is going to be the critical issues for the future. For two or three years I would expect we are able to raise the level of awareness and to -a certain extent- maybe to take some actions; a very concrete action, to make improvements in some of the issues that we think are important for sustainability. If we can do that within the next few years -and this is why I think education becomes important- because is a place where we can start to do all those mindset changes to students and even to academic staff then we can dream of better successes. These will be the kind of goal that we are concentrating on, hopefully beyond the two or three years from now people can begin to focus on very meaningful actions.

Can you explain how the Universiti Sains Malaysia is introducing sustainability as a core element of activities?

In my university which in English means “Science University of Malaysia”, we have decided in year 2005 to plan for the future, in other words, we asked ourselves in 2005 how the university will look like 30 years from now?. We created a workshop called “scenario planning”, and a scenario planning is meant to give us the options of how the future will look like, and out of that workshop we have come out with five very important scenarios. One of the scenarios, that came out very strongly, is what we called the “sustainable scenario”. It is a concept that we have turned it into the new vision of the university, that is, “transforming higher education for a sustainable tomorrow”. This vision is not just about the university but about the education system. We feel that universities will not be able to change until the system changes. This is a kind of thinking that we must have globally, because if I want to change anything without changing the system, then I will not be an effective and that mean also not be for a long time, because the “old” system will be still there.

Our university has taken the action to change the vision of the education system, and the university is now trying to find out how can we change aspects of research; how we can change teaching; how can we change engagement with students with the community in a context of sustainability.

I can give a very clear example of how our students manage to make a very impactful change, and that is by telling to the university that they want to get rid of the use of polystyrene. This is a non-biodegradable material, and this material can be to certain extent toxic, but it has been used largely in our university for food, for packaging and so on. Students say they don’t want to uses them anymore, and they wanted it to be banned. The university agrees with them, and within one month they have managed to get rid of all polystyrene in the university. This becomes an example for other universities to follow and finally I think GUNI has recognized it as one of the good practices for the university as documented in GUNIS’s web site. It is a kind of activity that we take upon ourselves in a very holistic sense hoping that it will make a long lasting change.

Which are your current projects in the field of sustainability and higher education?

There are many but one of it that we think is very impactful will be on health, because wherever we talk about climate change, global warming, or we talk about consumption, is basically goes down to the impact of health of the people. Health is something that you can appreciate because it happens to you very directly. When I talk about pollution people are still not very convinced, whether the pollution is good or bad, because they don’t see the impact directly on them. When you talk about health and you associate health with pollution suddenly they realized that is an issue that they have to take care. So one of the biggest issues is about health and explaining to the people how this sustainability and health connects. We have a project called “sustainable health”, and sustainable health is about you and me taking charge of our own health. I do need a doctor to tell me what to do, but I need the information for myself, and decide for myself what to do. A doctor and a hospital become just a place to consult. Right now many people go to the doctor and get the medicine, and the doctor decides for them what to do. So this is another change of mindset for our university, and our medical school is teaching students and the community how to take care of their own health on a sustainable way.


  • UNESCO. United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization
  • The Catalan Association of Public Universities (ACUP)

Sponsored by

  • Generalitat de Catalunya. Ministry of Business and Employment. Department of Research and Universities
  • Generalitat de Catalunya. Ministry for Foreign Action and Open Government