How do we empower the next generation of students?

John Lennon once said: “When I was 5 years old, my mother would always tell me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down ‘happy’. They told me I didn’t understand the assignment, I told them they didn’t understand life.”

At a recent gathering for leaders of the private universities in Malaysia, Minister of Education Dr Maszlee Malik quoted John Lennon while he was outlining his vision of education in Malaysia. His vision is both simple and profound: Education based on the three values of happiness, love and mutual respect.

“Education should be full of happiness; there is no point of having education when you are living a stressful life,” Dr Maszlee explained.

This approach to education is both timely and empowering. Happiness is increasingly recognised as the basis for sustainable success, productivity and effectiveness at individual, organisational and national levels. This is particularly true at a time when mental health and depression are a growing global concern. According to the World Health Organisation, mental and substance use disorders are the leading cause of disability worldwide, causing more than 800,000 suicides, markedly the second leading cause of death for those aged between 15 and 29.

Typically, when educational institutions consider developing happiness in their students, they are often faced with three fundamental questions:

  1. How is happiness defined as an educational objective?
  2. Fundamentally, can an academic programme help cultivate happiness within students?
  3. If happiness can be cultivated, how is it measured in terms of educational outcome?

“It is very important to note here that happiness is not only about being joyful all the time. This is clearly unrealistic. In life, we will experience joy and pain, ups and downs. True happiness has three main components: positive emotions, resilience and meaning,” explained Heriot-Watt University Malaysia’s Provost, Professor Mushtak Al-Atabi.

“To stimulate a sense of wellbeing, promoting positive emotions is necessary. Resilience is the ability to bounce back after failure and setbacks. It is an equally important ingredient of happiness, while a clear sense of meaning is the true driving force for having an impactful life. Besides producing highly qualified and sought-after professionals, all of us at Heriot-Watt University take it upon ourselves to cultivate happy, resilient and emotionally intelligent students and graduates. We believe that these traits are essential for students to succeed in a highly volatile and unpredictable world like the one we live in today.”

To promote happiness, the university encourages its entire community – staff and students – to embrace the 10 Keys to Happier Living as developed by psychologist Vanessa King. These keys, best known by the acronym GREAT DREAM, are: Giving, Relating, Exercising, Awareness, Trying out, Direction, Resilience, Emotions, Acceptance, and Meaning.

Putting these 10 keys into action requires a university-wide concerted effort. This includes programmes to provide opportunities to the members of the community to practice these keys. The “Empower Programme”, for example, is one such initiative. It is a four-stage-programme enabling undergraduate students to achieve successful outcomes in: Leading Self, Leading Teams, Leading Communities and Leading Enterprises.

The foundation of the Empower Programme, Leading Self focuses on exercises that are aimed at supporting students to understand themselves by learning the ways our human brain works and by appreciating their own sense of purpose and passion. This helps the development of purpose-led mindsets, self-awareness and, ultimately, emotional resilience. Students accumulate credits for different tasks they complete, and this culminates in a transcript that documents the achievement of their developmental goals.

Another example of empowerment is the “Youth Transformation Programme” (YTP), which students can participate in, prior to joining any of the university’s Foundation programmes. This two-week programme takes SPM and IGCSE school leavers on an exciting expedition to develop emotional intelligence through fun and hands-on team exercises. A key element of the programme is the development of an appreciative attitude and positive mindset. Students learn how to improve their communication skills, to understand why and how to show gratitude and ways to say ‘thank you’ in a meaningful manner.

It’s not just students being empowered. A Happier U is a campus-wide initiative that is aimed at integrating the 10 Keys to Happier Living into the daily routines of everyone in the institution. A blood donation drive, for example, provides a great opportunity for people to exercise Giving, Relating and Trying Out, while our Go Global inter-campus transfer programme provides a chance of a lifetime for students to Try Out studying abroad at either one of Heriot-Watt’s five global campuses, like in the UK or Dubai, from two weeks up to a year.

With such focus on student and staff empowerment and development, it is no surprise that Heriot-Watt University was awarded the title ‘International University of the Year 2018’ by Times Higher Education and The Sunday Times.

Editor of The Sunday Times Good University Guide Alastair McCall stated, “With high-quality, new campuses in Malaysia and Dubai, Heriot-Watt students have outstanding opportunities to study abroad as part of their degree, while the overseas campuses also provide openings for students to travel in the opposite direction and experience Edinburgh first-hand. More than most, Heriot-Watt has embraced the world view that marks out the finest higher education, making it our International University of the Year.”

In line with providing greater education for its students, the pursuit of happiness, love and mutual respect will surely enable Malaysia’s students to be inspired and ready to contribute positively to the world.  Begin a learning journey at Heriot-Watt University’s Malaysia campus today, and your eyes will not only be opened to the world – you will be inspired and empowered to change it.

For further information on YTP, and to hear student and parent testimonials, visit the YouTube page To find out more about the university’s Go Global inter-campus transfer programme, as well as other programmes or scholarships on offer, visit the campus during its Open Days or during consultation hours from 9am to 5pm, Mondays to Fridays and 10am to 4pm on Saturdays. Alternatively, log on to or call +603 8894 3888/e-mail

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