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Urgent fax to PM seeking
Cabinet “green-light” tomorrow for establishment of parliamentary select
committees on higher education and information technology in the current
meeting of Parliament
by Lim Kit Siang
In my fax, I informed the Prime Minister of the short, intense and wide-ranging meeting which DAP MP for Batu Gajah, Fong Po Kuan and I had with the Minister for Higher Education, YB Datuk Dr. Shafie Salleh in Parliament yesterday about the nation’s grave higher education crisis.
At the meeting, Dr. Shafie agreed with the proposal for the establishment of a Parliamentary Select Committee on Higher Education to involve MPs to be active stakeholders in this critical area with far-reaching implications on the country’s international competitiveness, economic development and prosperity. He said he would raise the proposal in Cabinet.
In my fax to the Prime Minister, I expressed the hope that the Cabinet tomorrow would give the “green light” for the establishment of a Parliamentary Select Committee on Higher Education to demonstrate national and parliamentary commitment to have world-class universities in the country.
On the subject of parliamentary select committee for information technology, I had discussed it with the Minister for Energy, Water and Communications YB Datuk Seri Dr. Lim Keng Yaik at the Yang di Pertuan Agong’s Hari Raya Open House at Istana Negara, and he expressed support for the proposal.
In my letter to the Prime Minister, I also placed on record for his information a summary of impressions of some of the issues which were discussed with Dr. Shafie on the higher education crisis yesterday, viz:
1. Royal Commission on World-Class Universities in Malaysia
This is one of the three proposals I made in my email to Cabinet Ministers last Monday reminding them of their individual and collective responsibility to address the deep, prolonged and worsening higher education crisis in the country in accordance with the principle of collective ministerial responsibility .
I stressed that the Royal Commission must be headed by eminent academicians and not by ex-civil servants as is the wont, like the Zahid Higher Education Committee whose report has not seen the light of day. I specifically excluded the Vice Chancellor of University of Malaya, Prof Datuk Dr. Hashim Yaacob from the ranking of “eminent academicians”.
2. Universities and University Colleges Act (UUCA) review
I expressed concern that the policy review of the 34-year Universities and University Colleges Act which Dr. Shafie announced in Parliament on 19th October 2005 was failing the public confidence test as there are no indications in the past month that it would be a serious, independent and credible review by respected Malaysian personalities.
The whole UUCA review process should not be shrouded in secrecy, as it should be conducted in an open, accountable and transparent manner. Unless these concerns are addressed, the UUCA review would command neither public confidence nor credibility, and would be regarded as nothing more than a “red herring” to cause distraction.
Dr. Shafie agreed that the members of the UUCA review committee would be made public. Dr. Shafie should consult with academicians, students, MPs and the civil society before deciding on the composition of the UUCA Review Committee, which must be announced to the public when formed, together with its terms of reference and modus operandi.
I also suggested to Dr. Shafie that pending UUCA review, all disciplinary actions under the Act against students, including the current UUCA disciplinary proceedings against six Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM) students for protesting against the recent campus student election, should be suspended. Dr. Shafie promised to consider this proposal.
3. Search Committee for the Appointment of Vice Chancellors
On the Cabinet decision last week to set up a Search Committee to submit recommendations for the appointment of Vice Chancellors of local universities, we objected that the composition of the committee would remain secret as such a Search Committee should operate under the principles of openness, accountability, transparency and parliamentary scrutiny.
Dr. Shafie agreed that the composition of the Search Committee for Vice Chancellors would be made public. He indicated that there would be a separate Search Committee for Deputy Vice Chancellors.
5. Denial Syndrome in higher education “official” circles and negative responses to THES World University Ranking 2005
I specifically raised the denial syndrome of higher education “official” circles and the negative responses to the THES World University Ranking 2005, which saw University of Malaya falling 80 places from 89th to 169th position this year, and Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) plunging by more than 89 places as to fall out of the 200 Top Universities bracket altogether.
When I mentioned the Seven Billboards of Shame and Dishonour put up by the University of Malaya Vice Chancellor in the campus grounds and the latest 150 Disneyland banners/buntings, Dr. Shafie did not want to comment although he asked: “Are the billboards still there?”
I told Dr. Shafie that although I am not a University of Malaya alumnus, as a Malaysian I want to feel proud of the nation’s premier university – as the country’s higher education system would be in a terrible shape if the nation’s premier university is held in such low esteem for its academic excellence, quality and standards among its international peers.
I also shared with Dr. Shafie my two concerns, that unless urgent and drastic action is taken to stop the rot in the decline in university excellence, quality and standards, two consequences could ensue, viz:
· University of Malaya falling out of the 200 Top Universities Ranking next year or soon after; and
· University of Malaya shunned by non-Malays and Malays who can afford to choose better quality university education – as has happened to national schools.
6. Tudung in IIUM
YB Po Kuan made a very strong pitch for respect for the sensitivities of non-Muslim students in the International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM) with regard to the scarf and tudung issue, especially as IIUM is evading the Cabinet decision last Wednesday of no compulsion or imposition of tudung on non-Muslim undergraduates.
The IIUM claim that its convocation dress with tudung as a compulsory element is exempted from the Cabinet ruling – which had sparked a nation-wide controversy when law graduate Foo Yueh Jiin was barred from the August convocation ceremony this year to receive her scroll without the tudung – is just not acceptable.
In accordance with the recent Deeparaya messages by YAB yourself calling for respect and tolerance for the diverse religions, cultures and ways of life in plural Malaysia, both tudung and scarf should be made optional for all non-Muslim undergraduates in the country.
Dr. Shafie said he would discuss with the Rector of IIUM and bring up the issue of making scarf and tudung optional for non-Muslim students to the Cabinet.
Parliamentary Opposition Leader, MP for Ipoh Timur & DAP
Central Policy and Strategic Planning Commission
Parliamentary Opposition Leader, MP for Ipoh Timur & DAP Central Policy and Strategic Planning Commission Chairman