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Shafie applauded for his announcement of UUCA review and calls for a cross-section of independent, credible and inspiring reviewers from academicians, MPs and civil society
As Shafie was coming to the end of the 15-minute quota allocated to each Ministry in the last hours of the budget winding-up on Wednesday night, I expressed disappointment that despite his talk about turning Malaysia into an international hub for education with the capability to attract foreign students to Malaysia to pursue higher studies, he had failed to address the two most important aspects to ensure university excellence, viz. students and academic staff of distinction.
I referred to recent university disputes such as those affecting Dr. Terence Gomez, Professor Ramasamy and Dr. Azly Rahman and the scandals of the recent university student elections which raise the larger question whether we want our students to have the faculties of critical inquiry vital for success in the globalization age or we just want to continue to breed apathy, timidity and mediocrity.
In response, Shafie announced a policy review of the Universities and University Colleges Act, saying it is now 34 years since it was first passed and students had often raised UUCA as an issue. He said: “Kalau budak kecil berumur 34 tahun, dah kahwin, dah ada anak, mungkin di kampong dah ada cucu dah, jadi kita akan review baliklah.”
I followed up the announcement to ask Shafie about the mechanism for the UUCA review, whether it would not only involve government officials but also academicians, MPs and the civil society so as to involve all sectors of the nation concerned about higher education in the country.
Shafie replied that his officers had prepared a list of nominees for his selection for appointment to the UUCA Review Committee and that the list includes categories which I had mentioned. He made the appeal: “Bagi saya chance. Baru setahun saya menjadi Menteri, ya. Bagi saya chance.”
I responded immediately and positively, agreeing to give the Minister “chance”, but I also advised him to be more approachable, as up till now, it is virtually impossible to reach him. I stressed that what we wanted to see is the success of our universities to attain world-class status.
Earlier, I also quizzed Shafie why the Zahid Higher Education Committee Report and recommendations concerning the Development and Future Directions of Higher Education in Malaysia had not been made public after three months of submission to him.
In early June, Tan Sri Dr. Wan Mohd Zahid bin Mohd Noordin, former Director-General of Education and currently Chairman of the Board of Directors, University Teknologi MARA (UiTM), said his committee was ready to come out with a blueprint to create a world-class tertiary education in the country
He was optimistic that the committee, which had been appointed by Shafie and given six months till July 17 to complete its report, would be able to fulfill the public’s expectations.
Three months have passed since the submission of the Zahid Higher Education Report to the Higher Education Ministry, but it would appear that the Zahid Blueprint for the Future of Higher Education in Malaysia had failed to pass muster, as Salleh has not deemed it suitable or appropriate to make it public.
At the Parliamentary Opposition Leader’s Parliamentary Roundtable on 27th May 2005 on “Higher Education in Crisis”, I had asked Professor Ibrahim Bajunied, one of the 12 members of the Zahir Higher Education Committee, whether the Committee’s Report would be made public, and he had no doubt whatsoever that it would be put into the public domain to invite public responses.
It would appear that the understanding of the members of the Zahid Committee about the scope and purpose of their study and recommendations on the future of higher education in Malaysia is very different from that of the Higher Education Minister.
When I sought further clarification, Shafie told Parliament that he had received the Zahid Higher Education Report and a Ministerial committee has been formed to study its recommendations on the future of higher education. Shafie used a most peculiar analogy of “a fish bone” which has to be wrapped with meat and others. (“Hala tuju ini akan merupakan macam fish-bone sahaja tulang ikan jadi kita kena balut dia dengan daging dan sebagainya. Selepas itu barulah kita akan bentangkan ke khalayak orang ramai.”)
I call on Shafie to give serious consideration to my proposal during my intervention in his 15-minute winding-up to pioneer a new culture and attitude of greater openness where every stage of policy-formulation and making is carried out publicly, as is the practice in countries committed to openness of government.
Referring specifically to the Zahid Higher Education Report, I urge Shafie to make it public although it will be studied by a special committee in the Higher Education Ministry, as there is great public interest in the Zahid recommendations as to whether they match the aspirations for Malaysian universities to attain world-class standards.
Shafie should give a detailed report on his Ministry’s stand on the Zahid Higher Education Report and its recommendations during the 2006 Budget committee stage debate on the Ministry of Higher Education sometime next month.
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