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The new Vice Chancellor for University of Malaya should be selected on the basis of “the best person for the job” to restore to the nation’s premier university its former international academic prestige and standing and not on who has got the “biggest cable” to the Prime Minister
This will be a critical test whether Abdullah is serious in implementing the fundamental philosophy in the Ninth Malaysia Plan and the 15-year National Mission till 2020 that to nurture a citizenry with “First Class Mentality”, “high quality human capital has become a necessity not merely a luxury”.
The signs are not good, however, that the opportunity is being fully seized arising from the vacancy of the post of UM Vice Chancellor for a new start not only for University of Malaya, tertiary education but the government’s commitment to create a society with a “First Class Mindset”, defined as being knowledgeable, competitive, with a high performance culture, integrity and strong moral values.
The word making the rounds in the corridors of power and the university campuses, particularly UM, is that the post will not go to the “best person for the job” but who has the “biggest cable” to the Prime Minister!
As a result, the initial hopes of academics and students that the departure of the “Billboard/Trade Exhibition” UM VC will usher in change and the primacy of academic excellence and meritocracy to restore its former international academic standing have given way to widespread demoralization.
The lobbying for the various candidates for the post of UM VC has become increasingly intense. In the front-line are the three women candidates who have been reported in the media, namely Datuk Dr. Sharifah Hapsah Syed Hasan Shahbudin, CEO of National Accreditation Board (LAN), Prof Dr. Mahani Zainal Abidin, Higher Education Department deputy director-general (management sector) and Datuk Rafiah Salim, International Centre for Leadership in Finance executive director.
A few more names have been added to this trio, but they appear to be all women, including a few woman professors in the University of Malaya, as word on the grapevine is that the Prime Minister wants a woman to be appointed as the new UM VC.
The appointment of a woman VC in a public university will be a major gender breakthrough by breaking another glass ceiling for women in Malaysia. However, the principle and issue at stake in the appointment of the new UM VC are bigger than the breaking of another glass ceiling for women, as the crux of the problem is whether the government has the political will and determination to implement the Prime Minister’s commitment to create a “First-Class Mentality” to move boldly from mediocrity to excellence and meritocracy – regardless of gender, ethnicity or even nationality.
Four years ago, Singapore’s National Technological University (NTU) launched a world-wide search for its new President, evaluating 150 people from the United States, Europe and the Asia-Pacific, before deciding on a Singaporean (and ex-Malaysian) Dr. Su Guaning for the top job.
Malaysia must be prepared to embark on world-wide search for the best person for the top post of the nation’s premier university or all talk about nurturing a “First Class Mentality” in the country will sound quite hollow.
It is not too late for the Prime Minister to direct the Higher Education Minister, Datuk Mustapha Mohamad to empanel an independent Search Committee to select a world-class academic - regardless of whether Malay or non-Malay, man or woman, or even nationality – to be the new UM VC to send out a clear and unmistakable message of the government’s political will and determination to “walk the talk” under 9MP to nurture “First Class Mentality” by restoring UM as an university of international repute and standing as in the sixties and seventies.
The time has come to end short-sighted and self-defeating policies which have resulted in the slippery slide to mediocrity by Malaysian universities– the refusal to appoint the best persons to leadership positions whether VC, Deputy Vice Chancellors or Deans, regardless of race or gender.
It was announced early this week that an ethnic Indian, Anand Satyanand will be appointed the new Governor-General of New Zealand in August this year while in Canada, a Hong Kong-born ethnic Chinese Adrienne Louise Clarkson had been appointed Governor-General.
Walls which prevent ethnic Chinese and Indian Malaysians from appointments to top positions in the country, based on merit and performance, whether Chief Secretary, Secretary-General in Ministries, Inspector-General of Police or Vice Chancellors of public universities should be dismantled if we are serious about heading towards a Bangsa Malaysia and a citizenry and culture of “First-Class Mentality”.
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