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should set an example of the Ninth Malaysia Plan spirit of “First-Class
Mentality” and commitment to open and transparent government by immediately
making public the Zahid Higher Education Report
Speech at the second DAP forum on “9MP – Who Benefits”
by Lim Kit Siang
In the past two decades, Malaysia’s international standing and repute for university excellence and academic quality had continued a relentless downward slide from the sixties when the nation’s premier university, University of Malaya, was universally accepted as on par with the Universities of Singapore, Hong Kong, Sydney and Melbourne to the Times Higher Education Supplement (THES) World Universities Ranking 2005 – falling from 89th to 169th position, not only far behind these universities which were ranked from No. 19 to 41 but losing out even to Chulalongkorn University of Thailand.
I am surprised by Mustapha’s statement on Friday announcing the appointment of Datuk Rafiah Salim as the new Vice Chancellor of University of Malaya, saying that a five-member selection committee which had identified 11 candidates, of whom three were short-listed and interviewed, “unanimously agreed that Rafiah was the most capable candidate to return UM to its position as the best university in the country.” (Star 22.4.06)
Is “return UM to its position as the best university in the country” Rafiah’s mission and mandate? It would appear that the Higher Education Minister himself does not think very highly of the academic credentials of the University of Malaya.
Has UM lost it position as the nation’s premier university? This is news to me. Which university has now overtaken UM as the nation’s premier university - Universiti Sains Malaysia, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia or Universiti Putra Malaysia?
In any event, what is the use of being the nation’s premier university if UM had fallen 80 places from 89th to 169th position in the THES World’s Best 200 Universities Ranking 2005, running the risk of falling out of the 200 World’s Best Universities bracket like USM last year if nothing is done to revamp the UM academic culture and environment.
When he visited the National Accreditation Board (LAN) office in Petaling Jaya on Thursday, Mustapha announced plans to overhaul the country’s higher education system.
However the few details he had given does not inspire confidence that Mustapha has in mind a bold and visionary blueprint to transform the mediocrity of Malaysian universities to excellence and meritocracy.
I find Mustapha’s announcement that the Zahid Higher Education Report would be made public in September most shocking.
Mustapha said that the Zahid Report had been submitted to the cabinet and it will be updated to fit into the Ninth Malaysia Plan, the internationalisation of higher education and the primary and secondary education system, adding: "The report will be ready for public consumption by September.”
What is the use of making public the Zahid Higher Education Report in September as a historic document or museum piece, when everything is finalized and there is no opportunity for public input into the formulation of new higher education policy by all the national stakeholders, such as academicians, students, parliamentarians, educationists and the civil society?
I call on Mustapha to set an example of the Ninth Malaysia Plan spirit of “First-Class Mentality” and commitment to open and transparent government pledged by the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi in his RTM interview immediately after presenting the Ninth Malaysia Plan in Parliament on March 31, 2006 by immediately making public the Zahid Higher Education Report.
The Zahid Higher Education Report to reform higher education was presented to the Higher Education Ministry in July last year, and the failure to make it public to involve Malaysians from all sectors of society in the formulation of a new higher education policy had been one of the ten reasons which I had given to support my RM10-salary-cut motion against the first Higher Education Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Shafie Salleh in December last year.
I had asked Shafie when Parliament reconvened last month why he had continued to keep the Zahid Higher Education Report under “lock-and-key” as a classified document under the Official Secrets Act, completely at variance with the academic tradition of openness and public dialogue.
Shafie confided that he had decided to make the announcement in Parliament at the end of March that the Zahid Higher Education Report was available to the public during the ministerial winding-up of the Royal Address debate, but he had not been able to do so as he had been dropped from the Cabinet in the February Cabinet reshuffle.
There can be no reason for continuing to hold up the publication of the Zahid Higher Education Report after it had been submitted to the authorities for 10 months.
Mustapha should adopt the best international practices of developed information societies where such reports are made simultaneously available to the public the same time they are submitted to the Government – to involve all stakeholders in a national debate on how best to create a world-class university system. Otherwise, the government should stop talking about wanting an information society and a knowledge-based economy.
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