An Interview With Rohaizak Omar, Director of the Centre for Learner Affairs
By Dr David Lim

Dr David Lim (DL): Thank you for talking to Inspired, Rohaizak Omar. To start off, in your capacity as Director of OUM’s Centre for Learner Affairs [CLA], please could you explain to our readers the core functions of the CLA? What kinds of “learner affairs” fall under the purview of the CLA? Which services are the most and the least in demand?

ROHAIZAK OMAR @ ABD RAHIM [RO]: The CLA has two core functions. The first is to run programmes and activities to support OUM learners. Examples of programmes include the Learning Skills Workshop and Assignment Writing Workshop, while activities are add-ons that may include webinars on such topics as stress management and time management. These programmes and activities are especially crucial. They give new learners a proper head start, and they enable senior learners to pick up the skills and competencies required for them to complete their studies successfully.

The second core function of the CLA is to provide a platform for OUM learners to send in their enquiries, lodge complaints, and obtain assistance. All this can be done conveniently on our online platform called the e-Customer Relationship Management [e-CRM]. All enquiries, complaints, and requests are responded to and resolved typically within five working days on average. Often, they are resolved quicker. Other services offered under the CLA’s second core function include academic advising, counselling services, and miscellaneous services such as providing document support to learners for EPF withdrawals and PTPTN applications.

Coming back to the e-CRM, I should say it is especially popular with OUM learners. The CLA receives around 35,000 e-CRM tickets annually. The number of cases requiring academic advising or counselling services given each year is relatively small. On average we get about 200 cases per year. Understandably, the number has been increasing since the start of the pandemic.

Based on our studies and learner feedback, the first three semesters are the most crucial for new learners. If these new learners are able to adjust well in the first three semesters, then there’s a higher probability of them completing their studies successfully.

DL: Which of the two groups - current OUM learners and OUM alumni - gets the lion’s share of focus from the CLA? What approaches are taken to service these two groups? And how would you describe and differentiate the core needs of each?

RO: We focus more on existing learners, especially the new ones. Based on our studies and learner feedback, the first three semesters are the most crucial for new learners. If these new learners are able to adjust well in the first three semesters, then there’s a higher probability of them completing their studies successfully. For this reason, the CLA, with the cooperation of the Learning Centres, prioritises efforts to support new learners by routinely checking in on them to see how they’re progressing. We also assist them to learn and apply adjusting and coping strategies via workshops and sharing sessions.

OUM alumni, for obvious reasons, do not require the same kind of support as our existing learners. But we are in constant communication with them. The University produces Contact, the alumni’s quarterly e-magazine, by way of keeping them updated on the latest developments related to their alma mater. Some alumni are actively engaged in activities organised by the respective Learning Centres across the country where they volunteer as committee members. These activities usually involve learners, alumni, OUM staff, and the public.

DL: One of the key functions of the CLA is to provide counselling services to OUM learners. What is the level of demand for this service? And what are the typical and not-so-typical issues brought up by learners during their counselling sessions?

RO: The demand for counselling services is not as high as for the other CLA services. Most OUM learners are adults. They are self-confident mature learners who know how they learn best and what their strengths and weaknesses are. Most of those who seek counselling support are concerned about their academic performance or personal issues. The COVID-19 pandemic has clearly affected some of our learners, as may be inferred from a slight increase in the demand for counselling.

DL: Is the CLA working on any special projects at the moment? What future plans are in store?

RO: We are working with several units within OUM to develop Virtual Orientation. It will be a starting point for new learners to get initial information for their studies. This digital orientation will provide an overview of the journey they will embark on. We hope that, by having this, learners will obtain a better understanding and a proper head start.

For reasons of physical distancing due to the pandemic, we are proposing the creation of additional platforms for learners to get in touch with the University to get assistance on study matters. Aside from the e-CRM and email, we plan to introduce a synchronous communication channel in the form of chatbot. This will help learners get almost instantaneous response to their queries.

We are also planning to increase the number of activities to equip learners with the required knowledge and skills, especially on how to manage time, finances and stress. We also plan to introduce sessions to enhance their digital literacy skills.

DL: OUM learners would no doubt look forward to these new initiatives. Thank you for talking to us, and all the best with the CLA.