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Mustapha should honour the undertakings given by his predecessor – setting up a Parliamentary Select Committee on Higher Education, greater transparency in UUCA review, search committee for VCs and making public the Zahid Higher Education Report
Media Statement (2)
When DAP MP for Batu Gajah Fong Po Kuan and I met him in Parliament on November 14 last year for a discussion on higher education problems, Shafie agreed to the establishment of a Parliamentary Select Committee so that MPs can be deeply involved in all aspects of higher education development – from policy formulation to monitoring of progress to create world-class universities in the country.
Shafie agreed to raise in the next Cabinet meeting the establishment of a Parliamentary Select Committee on Higher Education but he failed to honour this undertaking, probably as a result of objections from Higher Education Ministry officials and university vice-chancellors and administrators. This raises the important question as to who is setting the policy on higher education – the Minister, the Cabinet and Parliament or the bureaucrats whether in the Higher Education Ministry or the public universities.
The time has come for MPs to be active stakeholders in the critical area of higher education which has far-reaching implications on the country’s international competitiveness, economic development and prosperity.
I urge Mustapha to get the “green light” of the Cabinet tomorrow 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. Such a motion for the establishment of a Parliamentary Select Committee on Higher Education should be given priority when Parliament reconvenes on March 13 for a 30-day session till May 4, 2006.
In the various discussions with Shafie both inside and outside Parliament last year, the former Higher Education Minister had also promised greater transparency and consultation in higher education matters but which he had failed to honour. These include:
1. UUCA review
Nobody knows what has happened in the past four months to the announcement by Shafie in Parliament on 19th October 2005 on a review of the UUCA. MPs who want to know who are the members of the UUCA Review Committee continue to be kept in the dark.
Is there such a UUCA Review Committee or was the announcement just to stall parliamentary pursuit of higher education reforms in Parliament, with no real intention to address one of the most critical problems of the higher education crisis – the failure to repeal of the UUCA to restore the critical faculties of inquiry, meritocracy and academic freedom to usher the return of an university ethos of academic excellence, social awareness and national commitment by academicians and students with the ability to know the difference between right and wrong and the passion to right injustices?
The first thing which Mustapha should do – which he should have done since his appointment as Higher Education Minister two weeks ago – is to lift the shroud of secrecy surrounding the whole UUCA review process, which should be conducted in an open, accountable and transparent manner.
Shafie had agreed that the members of the UUCA review committee would be made public. But this has not been done and there has also been no consultation with academicians, students, MPs and the civil society before deciding on the composition of the UUCA Review Committee. What are its terms of reference and modus operandi? What has Mustapha got to say on this?
I had also suggested to Shafie that pending UUCA review, all disciplinary actions under the Act against students, including the current UUCA disciplinary proceedings against Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) and Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM) students for protesting against the recent campus student elections, should be suspended. Shafie promised to consider this proposal. Can we expect a more enlightened and pro-active attitude from Mustapha?
2. Search Committees for the Appointment of Vice Chancellors and DVCs
In early November, Shafie announced the setting up of Search Committees to submit recommendations for the appointment of Vice Chancellors and Deputy Vice Chancellors of local universities. But nothing has been heard about the composition of the Search Committees when they should part of the process of greater openness, accountability, transparency and parliamentary scrutiny.
One of the first appointments of Mustapha as Higher Education Minister was his meeting with the 18 Vice Chancellors and Rector of public universities on 19th February, where he stressed his commitment to academic excellence in the tertiary institutions to produce world-class graduates.
If Mustapha is fully committed to academic excellence and world-class universities in Malaysia, then he should draw two inspirations from his first meeting with the 18 Vice Chancellors and Rector of public universities – top priority of meritocracy for such appointments and the the Malaysianisation and multi-racialisation in the appointment of VCs and DVCs, as we want the best universities for the nation and not for any one community.
3. Zahid Higher Education Review Report
Six months have passed since the submission of the Zahid Higher Education Review Report to the Higher Education Minister on university reforms, but this Report is still kept under “lock-and-key” classified under the Official Secrets Act – completely at variance with the academic tradition of openness and public dialogue.
So long as the Zahid Higher Education Report continues to be as classified as an “official secret”, nobody will believe in any claim that the government is fully committed in heart, mind and soul to academic excellence and the creation of world-class universities.
Is Mustapha prepared tomorrow to ask the Cabinet for “green light” to make public the Zahid Higher Education Report – to show that under his leadership, the Ministry of Higher Education is bold enough to strike out in a new direction which will “walk and talk” on academic excellence and world-class universities?
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