EXPERTS PREDICT WHAT THE WORLD WILL BE LIKE IN 2021

After a year that produced endless surprises, it may seem like folly to forecast what will happen in 2021. We have decided to do it anyway and approached some of our experts in various fields to hear what they have to say.

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Here’s some enlightening potpourri of predictions by our experts. 

PROFESSOR DR. FAISAL RAFIQ MAHAMD ADIKAN, optical physicist and Vice-Chancellor

USM will nail 2021 with grit and laser-focused resoluteness. As magical as ever. The biggest turnaround to date. Watch this space for more amazing achievements! 

PROFESSOR DATO’ DR. AHMAD FARHAN MOHD SADULLAH, expert in transportation engineering and Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic & International)  

2021 will see the world and its inhabitants becoming more agile, adaptive and resilient. I see more people will take the “dare to fail” attitude. Unfortunately, it will not always be for a positive purpose.

Daring crime may also be on the rise, if desperation continues. One thing is for sure, those resisting change will be left behind and may soon be irrelevant. Get the best out of the 2020 adversities.  

PROFESSOR DR. ALDRIN ABDULLAH, expert in built environment & crime and Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Student Development Affairs & Alumni)

The year 2020 can be summarized as a challenging one for all of us due to the Covid-19 pandemic. No one saw it coming. Having endured the various obstacles that year, it is only natural that 2021 is greeted with high hopes and expectations. The availability of vaccination is a relief and perhaps it is the light at the end of the tunnel we are all waiting for. However, until we have access to it, anxiety will continue to run high. It has been a challenging time to manage teaching and learning. Our ability to quickly react to the new normal is a testament to our true quality.

In 2021, we anticipate an even more challenging year for Malaysia compared to 2020. The current trend of cases has increased from 200 per day in the earlier stages to now above 2,000 daily. Mathematical modelling by various parties predicts the figures to rise above 5,000 come mid-year. If the university is to open its campus for all students to return in March, our ability to provide a safe haven will be severely tested. As such, our new normal will have an even newer interpretation. We will continually have to modify all our work processes, work culture and most importantly our expectations of how things should be must also be different. So, for 2021, how creative and innovative we do things differently will be key. A newer norm.

PROFESSOR DR. MD ROSLAN HASHIM, expert in nanoscience & technology and Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Sustainability and Institutional Development)  

Year 2020 is about aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic. 2021 will come with even more uncertainties. Though we're experiencing new cases in four digits daily, one thing that we have learnt is that in every problem there comes an opportunity. Hence, let's look at 2021 ushering opportunities aplenty.

The pandemic has left the human population with no choice but to work together, complementing each other's strength in achieving various common goals. 

Thanks to the pandemic, nobody anticipated that online teaching and learning has come this far. Experts in different areas of the globe can now hold virtual conferences anytime with almost no cost. Even though lecturers and teachers are struggling in building the contents of their teaching material, we anticipate that they would be able to overcome it over time. Online business is the order of the day where goods and favourite meals are delivered to our homes at the touch of our finger tips. Some clinics and private hospitals are 'closing shops' with fewer people becoming sick as a result of staying at home. 

No one could imagine that the football league could survive without an audience, but instead the club and sponsors could get the returns from online pay per view and brand merchandising. These new ways of doing things indicate that the pandemic has really opened up opportunities for those willing to adopt positive thinking. 

As a leader during tribulations such as the pandemic, one can assume running in a dark tunnel with restricted movement. This is the time where we can build our strength and skills, for we never know when the tunnel is going to end. We however need to prepare ourselves with new skill sets and knowledge, anticipating that when we come out of the tunnel the environment has already changed. By then, we would have readily equipped ourselves to face the new challenges and to excel in whatever we are doing. 

PROFESSOR DATO’ DR. AILEEN TAN SHAU HWAI & PROFESSOR DR. ZULFIGAR YASIN, marine biologists, Centre for Marine and Coastal Studies (CEMACS) 

As the world heals in the post-Covid period and normalised activities pick up, the environment which has been given some restitute and which has improved will quickly decline again - unless we realise our past mistakes and make corrective measures. Key to this will be on self attitude and behavioural changes in adaptation to the new norms to battle with environmental challenges. However, given the negative state of most economies, this will take time. 

On a more positive note, we hope that the US under the new Biden administration will correct the environmentally-antagonistic policies to climate change for the past 4 years and provide a better global leadership on this front. 

In Malaysia, the controversial mining suggestions by the State Government in Kedah and our water woes in Selangor will dominate the forum on environmental protection and livelihood improvement. 

PROFESSOR DR. SIVAMURUGAN PANDIAN, political scientist, School of Social Sciences

2021 will see no end to politicking; uncertainty and instability continues with moral and political legitimacy at stake when the government holds razor-thin majority. The debate on political leadership will continue and I will not be surprised to see Parliament dissolved and snap polls held as soon as the Covid-19 pandemic is under control.  

The biggest challenge is to balance political perception with the demands and needs of the masses and in mapping towards the people’s thoughts. What exactly will be the priority - politics, health, security, economy or just ‘People’! 

DR. SITI KHAYRIYYAH MOHD HANAFIAH, microbiologist, School of Biological Sciences

It’s hard to separate 2020 from the pandemic that made so many of us grieve. I think there was a stage when we denied it (and some still do), we got angry; now we are trying to bargain in some way for a kind of life with Covid-19. 

So, it goes to think that some of the panic and shocks that happened in 2020 will be felt more deeply in 2021. We will be faced with some depression. But afterwards, there will also be some respite, acceptance, moving on, and as usual with us humans, we will soon forget. 

PROFESSOR DR. AZLAN AMRAN, accounting expert and Dean, Graduate School of Business (GSB)

2021 Year of Correction. Looking back, most of us would agree that not a single event in Malaysia’s history seems to have yielded a lost year in the way 2020 has. Covid-19 has challenged humanity to its limits, with an enormous loss of human lives and causing disruptions, making it impossible for us to go back to “normal” or how life was in the past. The Movement Control (MCO) was imposed to control the movement of people in order to reduce infection but the ramification to the Malaysian economy was huge. Consumer spending has been reduced, and with unemployment rates spiking while public and private investments slumped due to poor demand. 

Schools and universities were ordered to cease operations, leading to nationwide disruptions to the overall teaching and learning activity. Businesses too began slowing down, resulting in sharp layoff or retrenchment of the workforce. 

Losing a job would lead to disruption in one’s mental health, bringing in an array of feelings which includes depression and anxiety. 

The 'new normal' in 2021 will demand a new and more flexible approach to weather the storm of the pandemic. The spread of Covid-19 need to be mitigated more effectively in a proactive and collective manner as the number of infection rates reach more than 1,000 daily. Survival of businesses that are already in a precarious position require greater efforts to be 'resuscitated' to continue its survival from the effects of the pandemic.  

On a positive note, there is always a silver lining in the clouds. Malaysia plans to spend a record RM$322.5 billion ringgit ($77.94 billion) to boost the domestic economy post-Covid era. Scientists have also claimed to discover a vaccine that has proven to be 95% effective after undergoing clinical trials. Purchasal by the government with a RM3 billion budget of this vaccine would cater to almost 70% of the total population in Malaysia.  

An increase in public spending will also give confidence to businesses to chart a better year ahead. Businesses will continue to remain financially prudent, as it will no longer be business as usual, and it is timely to be more socially and environmentally oriented. Issues on workers' living and workplace conditions too should be the priority. In addition, there will be a greater for technology to provide multiple solutions to problems regarding mankind and businesses with regard to the pandemic. More innovations leveraging on technology is expected to be introduced in 2021. 

We can truly hope for all Malaysians to become more united now after going through the hardships in 2020. 

PROFESSOR DR. LEE KEAT TEONG, expert in biofuel production and Director, Research Creativity & Management Office (RCMO)  

Personally I do not think much will change during the first half of 2021. Only by mid-2021 perhaps the majority of the vulnerable group will get vaccinated. Those with disposable income will continue to spend on activities allowed in the new norm or home-based. Those in the baking/gardening industries will continue to prosper, as both these sectors are very home-based and do not require much effort and expertise. In leisure activities for socialising, I think the gyms will be more popular than ever, as even now, there's not much indoor leisure activities allowed and gym is among the very few. 

Now for the second half of the year, things may get a bit more interesting. International borders I think will begin to open, especially for regional travels, supporting the tourism sector to survive through till then. However, international travel may no longer be the same. We'll most likely be subjected to rapid test for Covid-19 before departure/arrival and vaccination will be commonly questioned at border posts or those already vaccinated may be prioritised in many things. Travel insurance on Covid-19 will be a new norm. Discrimination against those NOT vaccinated maybe a new issue to be hotly-debated by all.  

Some industries will need a longer time to get back to pre-Covid-19. For instance, people are so used to watching movies at home that cinema may no longer be necessary or people are so used to baking goods like bread and cake at home that commercial bakeries may continue to see a drop in their sales.  The bottom line is, 2021 will definite be an interesting year to watch as the world begins to recover from Covid-19 pandemic. 

ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR DR. SAIDATULAKMAL MOHD, expert in welfare economics and Director, Centre for Global Sustainability Studies (CGSS) 

2020 has created a borderless world - a world of limitless communication and engagement. Internet has established its importance, without which 2020 would collapse miserably. The ‘new normal’ will become habitual in 2021: remote working, online learning, virtual meetings. Yes, we adapt and yes, life goes on; but how do we sustain productivity and navigate through the challenges brought upon us? WFH, for example, is a two-edged sword! Too much work vs no work at all, or flexible work schedule vs chaotic house rules. 

2021 will continue to be a challenging year. Not only that we need to learn the art of work-life balance, we also need to learn to be sincerer, truthful and emphathetic in playing our roles as employees, employers, academics, students and individuals. Superiors ought to know the boundaries of the new borderless world, while subordinates need to understand the true meaning of WFH! Academics need to be ready for a paradigm shift - embrace technology for smart remote learning. The 4th IR is now! We all need to play our part to remain relevant and productive in these challenging times. 

TS. DR. SHANKAR KARUPPAYAH, cybersecurity expert, National Advanced IPv6 Centre (NAv6) 

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the year 2020 has seen a rapid and drastic change in adopting the culture of online digital learning and working from home.  When the transition occurred, however, many people and organisations were not ready. As a result, many devices, such as laptops, computers, and smartphones need to be shared or used among family members to access the Internet via unsecured networks. This new-normal scenario has introduced a broader attack surface for cybercriminals as supported by the increased number of attacks reported worldwide in 2020.

2021 is expected to show a similar trend as 2020 in the sophistication of attacks, but with an increased rate of infections and attacks. Network administrators should anticipate an influx of malware proliferation activities within their organisations when the pandemic situation is resolved, and users return to their respective organisations. Infected devices of the users of the organisation will attempt to infect other devices that are accessible through the network of the company. As such, the year 2021 is expected to be relieving for most of us with the hopeful end of the pandemic. However, those in the domain of cybersecurity can expect a challenging year ahead of them. 

PROFESSOR DATODR. AZHAR MAT EASA, nutrastrategist, School of Industrial Technology  

Blue light in devices such as smartphones, PC monitors, flat-screen TVs and LED lighting is more energy-intense than other types of light.  Blue light penetrates deep into the eye, which over time, can lead to degenerative conditions that may result in blurred vision and other eye diseases.   

Beyond 2000 and before 2020, we have already been dedicated users of smartphones. A study has estimated that on average, we spend 3 hours and 15 minutes daily looking at our phones. ln some countries, more than half of all children own a smartphone by the age of seven. That was before the year 2020. 

Then came Covid-19. Logical predictions would say that 2020 is when there was a significant increase in screen times for adults as well as children. 2020 is thus the year we strained our eyes the most, and along with it we stressed our brains. So, what will happen in 2021? Will vaccines solve the pandemic problems? Maybe, but it will not be immediate. 2021 will be a year of transition. We will carry on living and working in the new norms, with similar damaging effects on eyes and brains. Stress will build up and peak around June or July when people will anticipate the end of the pandemic, but disappointed to learn that supplies of the vaccines are delayed due to various technical and logistic issues. 

Cutting edge companies dealing with functional foods and nutraceuticals would need to devise smart marketing strategies to persuade smartphone and computer users to consider supplementing their diets with health-enhancing bioactive compounds that can protect the eyes while improving the performance of the brains. More new nutraceuticals, food supplements and even functional food products will be launched somewhere around April to meet the demands of eye and brain health of these desperate consumers. We will hear “new” health-enhancing ingredients in the market such as lutein, zeaxanthin, bilberry fruit extracts, marigold flower extracts, lecithin, citicholine etc that are delivered as food supplements or incorporated in food products. 

2021 will be a year of transition for living and working, and in that year many of us will spend repairing over-used critical, executive organs. 

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