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New UM Vice Chancellor  should be  selected on the basis on who can present the best  plan  to restore University of Malaya�s international ranking by 2010 � whether among the world�s top 50 or 200



at the Parliamentary Roundtable: �Ninth Malaysia Plan � Who Benefits�
by Lim Kit Siang  

, Wednesday) : In his speech presenting the Ninth Malaysia Plan and the National Mission, the Prime Minister outlined the five   thrusts of moving the economy up the value chain, raise the country�s capacity for knowledge, creativity and innovation to nurture �first class mentality�,  address persistent socio-economic inequalities, improve the standard and sustainability of quality of life and to strengthen the institutional and implementation capacity of the country.


These five thrusts are nothing new as apart from the term �first class mentality�, they had been the stock objectives of previous eight five-year plans for the past four decades.


The question is whether there is finally the political will and determination to �walk the talk� and not just �talk the talk�, as characterized by the past 30 months of the Abdullah premiership.


Abdullah had said that �the most precious assets of a nation are its people� and described �the development of human capital, the upgrading of the mentality and intellectual capacity of a nation� as one of the biggest challenges under the 9MP.


He said:  �If we wish to become a knowledge-based economy, if we wish to be a developed country and maintain that developed status, the development of human capital must be a priority.  In the context of globalization, high quality human capital has become a necessity, not merely a luxury.� (Para 43)


However, this towering ambition and political will are not illustrated by three instances.


Academics with PhDs


When presenting the Ninth Malaysia Plan, the Prime Minister announced that the government will continue to take steps to  increase the quality of tertiary education � that local tertiary institutions will be benchmarked against interenational standards and the quality of academics in terms of leadership, expertise and a sense of commitment will be enhanced.


Towards this end, he announced that the government targets to have 60 per cent of academics in Malaysia possessing  Ph.Ds by the year 2010.


I find this shocking as this is the latest proof of the progressive lowering instead of raising of targets of excellence and achievement by the government.


In 2002, in its K-Economy Master Plan, the government announced the target that by 2010 all academicians in all public universities will have a Ph.D qualification.


Four years later, this target had been lowered from 100 per cent academics having Ph.Ds in 2010 to 75 per cent � with the then Higher Education Minister, Datuk Dr. Shafie Salleh announcing in his New Year Message at the end of  January 2006 his Ministry�s 10-point Vision for Higher Education, including ensuring that 20,000 out of 27,000 academics in public universities in 2010 will have PH.Ds.


But two months later, when the Ninth Malaysia Plan was announced, there had been a further downward revision to only 60 per cent of academics in public universities in 2010 having Ph.Ds.


Can the  new Higher Education Minister, Datuk Mustapha Mohamad explain why there had been such repeated downward revision, which does not reflect well on the government�s commitment to the thrust to enhance the national capacity for knowledge and innovation to nurture a Malaysia with �First Class Mentality�.


In fact, is the Prime Minister aware of the two-time downward revision of the target for Malaysian public universities?


Another instance is the Malaysian universities�  disgraceful fall in international rankings, with the nation�s premier university, University of Malaya plunging from 89th to 169th position in the The Times Higher Education Supplement (THES) World�s 200 Best Universities Ranking 2005, losing out even to Thailand�s Chulalongkon University, the first time this had happened.


In his 2006 New Year Message at the end of January, Shafie had announced the target of ensuring that two Malaysian universities will be among the world�s 200 top universities, with one among the top 50, by the year 2010.


This was taken up by the new Higher Education Minister, Datuk Mustapha Mohamad, who upped the target to having two Malaysian universities among the world�s top 50 in the world by  2010. Mustapha said this in his speech at the opening of an international conference on university learning and teaching organized by Universiti Teknologi Mara on March 14, 2006.


The target of having two Malaysian universities among the world�s top 50 should have been  one of the highlights of the Ninth Malaysia Plan to underline the government�s seriousness and commitment about creating a �First Class Mentality� Malaysia. However, there was completely no reference to this target, whether to have two Malaysian universities in the world�s top 200 or 50, whether by 2010, 2015 or 2020!   Has it been abandoned by the planners in the last minute?


The third instance concerns the appointment of the new Vice Chancellor for University of Malaya.  Words in the academic grapevine and the corridors of power are that the Prime Minister wants to have a woman as UM Vice Chancellor.


The question that have been rightly asked in the past three to four decades is whether there were no Malaysian  Indian or Chinese qualified to become Vice Chancellor in the public universities to take them to heights of international academic excellence.


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.


Let us have the best person to be appointed as Vice Chancellor of University of Malaya, regardless of gender, ethnicity or even nationality.


The new UM Vice Chancellor  should be  selected on the basis on who can present the best  plan  to restore University of Malaya�s international ranking by 2010 � whether among the world�s top 50 or 200.


*  Lim Kit Siang, Parliamentary Opposition Leader, MP for Ipoh Timur & DAP Central Policy and Strategic Planning Commission Chairman

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