Understanding social issues through community engagement

Universiti Teknologi Brunei

Engaging with the community is an imperative part of student life at Universiti Teknologi Brunei (UTB). Community engagement is not just about charity work at UTB, but providing an opportunity for students to apply their knowledge and better understand complex social issues.

As a global university that envisions making a positive impact to society, UTB goes beyond academic pursuits and encourages students to organise community service activities every year.

Some of the community outreach activities organised through the UTB Student Affairs Office include health awareness programmes, welfare initiatives, beach clean-ups and fundraisers.

Community engagement and volunteerism are key components of UTB’s mission to nurture socially responsible students deeply rooted in Malay Islamic Monarchy (MIB) values and committed to building a global and entrepreneurial society in pursuit of innovation, industry-relevant capabilities, towards the fulfilment of Brunei Vision 2035.

A COMPULSORY MODULE TO PROMOTE COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT

Students during a cleaning campaign. PHOTOS: UTB
Universiti Teknologi Brunei students volunteering at the Centre for Children with Special Needs (KACA)

Dean of UTB School of Business Dr Haji Saleem bin Haji Nazmudeen said the university’s role has evolved as the world is becoming more dynamic and challenging, therefore, it is important to shape the next generation of leaders to confront challenges through community engagement. In January 2019 the university introduced a new compulsory module named Environment, Leadership, Technopreneurship and Social Innovation (ELTS) for all its first year students.

The module is in line with the university’s efforts to produce graduates who are proactive and engaged members of the society.

Dr Haji Saleem said the module uses the experiential learning method where students are exposed to various real-world problems and are expected to propose innovative solutions.

The one-semester module is conducted in the form of seminars where industry experts are invited to share their experiences and site visits to government agencies and industries are made.

The dean added that the module will allow students to understand and experience workplace scenarios, equipping them with skills that will enhance their marketability in and outside of the country and raise awareness on Brunei’s economic landscape.

APPLYING THEORY INTO PRACTICE

The principle of applying theory into practice was set as one of UTB’s objectives in its strategic plan.

Dr Haji Saleem said that the UTB School of Business is always looking for opportunities where students can put into practice the knowledge they learnt in class.

“We always encourage students to apply their theoretical knowledge into practice as early as their first year by designing the curriculum and providing them opportunities through these initiatives,” he shared.

Dean of Student Affairs Dayangku Ida Nurul-Fitri binti Pengiran Haji Kahar said the students are inspired to use their academic expertise and knowledge to help issues relating to the community service activities that the students are involved in.

For example, UTB engineering students had the opportunity to discuss with government authorities on the feasibility and the mechanism of carrying out the Kampong Ayer waste-cleaning project.

“The students will go through a process of doubt, then slowly welcome the idea, communicate the stumbling blocks and finally implement according to plan,” she said.

COLLABORATING WITH STAKEHOLDERS

The Dean of UTB School of Business believes collaborative projects and networking with external parties would help students better understand issues affecting Brunei and enrich their learning experiences.

One of the 54 community projects UTB students undertook as part of the ELTS module last year was developing creative branding and product packaging for the ‘One Village, One Product’ initiative, with mentoring from the Ministry of Home Affairs.

The students designed the packaging to help the owners market their products, including prawn crackers and herbal tea.

Collaborating with the Tourism Development Department, several groups of UTB students participated in birdwatching to study the various bird species and record the sounds they make before compiling the information into a mobile application.

It is hoped that bird lovers and tourists will make use of the mobile app when they visit forest hotspots for birdwatching. Dr Haji Saleem said modules such as the ELTS prepare students to foresee what they are going to face in the future and help them to relate whatever they study on campus in the real world.

“Using an attractive Business Model Canvas approach, the students have learnt about the value proposition, marketing, costing and how to generate revenue out of a project. Teamwork, effective communication and leadership skills, as well as time management are learnt while taking this module,” the dean added.

MAKING A DIFFERENCE IN THE COMMUNITY

The Dean of Student Affairs said community service is essential for students to explore their interests, take action in what they believe in and help them define their identity.

The dean also added that an act of community service is a step towards self-development. Community service enriches students’ perspective of the world, and it is an opportunity for them to develop empathy by interacting with people from various backgrounds.

“We hope to ignite our students’ passion for voluntary work and community outreach programmes as part of building a supportive society,” she added.