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Higher Education Ministry and university quality in Malaysia an international  joke when the module for  the compulsory course of  Ethnic Relations has to be approved by Cabinet transforming Ministers into “super-professors”


Media Statement
by Lim Kit Siang  

, Saturday) Higher Education Minister, Datuk Mustapha Mohamad must be getting very bad advice either from the Higher Education Ministry or the universities or he would not have made himself look so foolish as to have to name three different heads for the Ethnic Relations course committee within one week.

On Tuesday, he told  Parliament that a technical committee headed by Prof Dr Johan Saravanamuthu Abdullah from Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) had formed a module framework for the Ethnic Relations course end of last year (2005).

He said experts including Dr.  Shamsul Amri Baharuddin (UKM), Prof Dr Azizan Baharuddin (UM), Prof Dr Jayum Jawan (UPM), Prof Emeritus Datuk Dr. Khoo Kay Kim (UM), Prof Dr. Abdul Latif Samian (UKM)  and Prof Madya Musa Ahmad (UiTM) were involved in drafting the module.

When  Johan and Khoo denied their involvement while Azizan clarified that Musa and her were actually involved in drafting the module for the Islamic and Asian Civilisation (Titas) subject, Mustapha announced on Thursday that the committee will be chaired by Prof. Shamsul. 

Yesterday, Mustapha named a new Chairman, namely Higher Education Institutions management department director-general Prof Datuk Dr Hassan Said and not Prof Shamsul.

Such triple flip-flops in four days  do not enhance public confidence in the excellence and quality of the Higher Education Ministry, raising questions as to how it could be entrusted with the responsibility to transform the public universities into world-class universities when it is itself not a world-class Higher Education Ministry.

But worse is to come, when Mustapha disclosed that the revised draft module would be presented to the Cabinet for approval. 

The Higher Education Ministry and university quality in Malaysia become  an international  joke when  the module for  the compulsory course of  Ethnic Relations has to be approved by Cabinet transforming Ministers into “super professors”.

Furthermore, it would appear that despite having a committee packed with professors and doctorates,  the scholarship and  wisdom of Malaysian academicians cannot be trusted with the capability and  judgment to come out with a Ethnic Relations module which is suitable for a plural Malaysia (which includes the Higher Education Ministry) and the academically mediocre Ministers in the Cabinet have to be burdened with the task of becoming super professors to vet the draft module!

This is indeed the height of the ridiculous for Malaysian academia!

I have received an email from a retired academician (KW)  blaming the Higher Education Ministry for the UPM  Ethnic Relations guidebook debacle.

He criticized  the Higher Education Ministry for turning the Malaysian undergraduates into “guinea pigs” for the course, as the directive  making  “Ethnic Relations” a compulsory  course in the IPTAs  was issued in early 2005 for first implementation during the 2005-06 Academic Year with hardly any prior notice and obviously little preparation for planning and implementation.

He said that the IPTAs were simply left to their own initiatives and devices to interpret and implement the directive as each IPTA thought fit and proper. Till today, the Ministry had not yet been able to come out with the official module for this compulsory course. It would appear that the Ministry is waiting for feed-back on the trials and tribulations from the IPTAs on their ad hoc implementation during the first year.

He asked: “Had all these students been treated as guinea pigs to ease the burden of the Ministry’s planners?”

He particularly criticized the government for its “band-aid mentality” – it is only good in patching up problems as they arise, never being proactive and very obviously have never seriously thought out the pros and cons of any new initiative.

In his email, KW said:

“Philosophically, formal education at the conventional kindergarten, primary, lower secondary, upper secondary and tertiary levels require different approaches and mind-sets as defined by the needs, challenges and reciprocity/maturity of the developing minds. Tertiary education institutions cannot be treated as schools just as kindergartens cannot be equated as schools. In education, one size does not fit all!

“So where have our IPTAs failed in this exercise? To my mind, this failure can be laid directly on the doorsteps of all the Vice-Chancellors and the Senates of our IPTAs. Firstly, since all V-Cs and Dy. V-Cs are appointed and whose extensions of service are determined by the Minister, it is rare to encounter any appointee who would champion the merits of academic excellence. As the former V-C of UPM found out, one serves at the pleasure of politicians.

“However, in our IPTAs, the academic component is within the purview of its own Senate which is supreme – the V-C is merely the Chairman of this august body. When our IPTAs were first founded, the Senate was indeed supreme for its members were all the Professors in the university plus elected members from each Faculty/School who act as watchdogs over the Deans who are also members.

“However, when IPTAs were treated as adjuncts to the Civil Service, bureaucratisation crept in and changes made in the terms and conditions of service. When IPTAs were corporatised, university governance was changed and a key move was the appointment of all Senate members by the V-C. Independent members elected by each Faculty/School was abolished. Just as the V-C is appointed by the Minister, Senate members are appointed by the V-C – the ideal environment to build-up a patronage system to perpetuate a suck-up and mutual-admiration society.

“Would a truly independent Senate resisted the immediate implementation of the ‘Ethnic Relations’ course as directed? I would hazard a guess based on the feedback and discussions at the Faculty/School level when informed of the directive after the Senate had acceded, that any self-respecting academic would immediatelu note the lack of preparation and would at least attempt to modify the scope and time-table for full implementation.

“If you have the means, it would be most revealing if you can get hold of the Minutes of the university Senate meetings pertaining to the Ministry’s directive on this issue.

“Related to this, since the Ministry is so fond of directives, it would be pertinent, but unfair, to ask the Minister whether a directive or even a guideline was ever issued by his predecessor (except pontificating in the mass media) to IPTAs on the teaching of Science and Mathematics courses in English as a follow-up to the intake of students 2 years ago from the Matriculation and STPM streams who had experienced this in their colleges and schools.

“Surprise! Surprise! In some IPTAs where the administration is so cowed, that their respective Senate is silent on the issue (waiting for a directive?) so that no planning, let alone progressive implementation was even taken. But guess what – the word is passed down that each individual lecturer, especially those involved in first year courses, should take the initiative to switch their medium of instruction for the sake of the students.  

“Our government has what I call a ‘band-aid mentality’ – it is only good in patching up problems as they arise, never being proactive and very obviously have never seriously thought out the pros and cons of any new initiative. I am not in favour of directives from the Higher Education Ministry, but would rather have the Ministry set policy guidelines and not micro-manage the IPTAs to a single perceived ideal. Let there be flexibility and diversity.  

”Central control is effective when there are visionary, far-sighted and magnanimous leaders. Unfortunately, our body politic and civil service today is helmed and managed by many from the post-May 13/NEP generation where promotion is not by merit but overshadowed by race and patronage.”

Can we expect a proper, worthy and quality  response from the Higher Education Minister to this critique of both the Higher Education Ministry and the public universities in the country by a former academician?


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

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