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To make Malaysia a world leader in higher education, Mustapha should announce a “hands-off” policy to ensure a vibrant, critical and creative student campus and scrap the secret agenda of Vice Chancellors and deputies to ensure victory of the compliant “pro-establishment” student groups
(Parliament, Wednesday): On Monday, the Higher Education Minister Datuk Mustapha Mohamed said each public university will decide on the suitable rules and requirements for the upcoming student elections.
He said: “We are open to ideas and suggestions but there are all kinds of proposals so the universities themselves should be the ones looking into them.”
I call on Mustapha to take the first bold step to give meaning and substance to the National Higher Education Action Plan 2007-2010 to start the long journey to make Malaysia a world leader in higher education by sending a clear message to all Vice Chancellors to hold free and fair campus elections in public universities and to respect and accept the election results.
Mustapha should publicly declare that as Higher Education Minister, he would not be partisan and would not take sides with any candidate or group of candidates contesting in the campus polls, and that he would fully accept the verdict of the campus elections regardless of who wins or loses, so long as the campus elections are held in a free and fair manner.
He should announce a “hands-off” policy to ensure a vibrant, critical and creative student campus and scrap the secret agenda of Vice Chancellors and deputies to ensure victory of the compliant “pro-establishment” student groups.
In this manner, university students would be given a good grounding and experience in the holding of an honest, free and fair elections and not be exposed instead in their first voting experience to all the shenanigans, manipulation and abuses of rigged polls.
One important reason why Malaysian public universities had been on a downward plunge as centres of academic excellence is because it has been drummed into the Vice Chancellors and their deputies that it is more important for their career future that they deliver campus elections to pro-establishment student groups rather than ensuring that the universities achieve international recognition as world-class universities as receiving top rankings in world tables, such as the Times Higher Education Supplement (THES) and the Shanghai Jiao Tong University annual listing of top world universities.
This is why it is so shocking to read the statement by the Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM) Vice Chancellor Nik Mustapha R. Abdullah justifying the Mat Rempit arrogance and highhandedness of the UPM campus security in seizing the laptop, mobile phone, MP3 player and 10 other items valued at RM6, 000 from first-year UPM timber technology student Yee Yang Yang during a spot check of his hostel room on Friday night and questioning him about his involvement in student politics.
Recently, there had been a lot of talk by the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi and Mustapha of the critical importance of higher education if the nation is to face up to the challenges of globalization and the national policy to benchmark Malaysian universities to international standards and the world’s top universities.
But the message about the urgent need for a new higher education commitment which emphasizes quality, competitiveness, creativity and innovativeness seems to have escaped the ken of Vice Chancellors and their deputies in the public universities in the country.
Otherwise, a vice chancellor of one of the four research universities like the UPM would not have issued a statement like the one put out by Nik Mustapha yesterday, which would not have been issued by his counterpart in anyone of the world’s top universities like Harvard, MIT, Stanford, Yale in the United States or Oxford, Cambridge and London as they would have been very ashamed by the statement’s Gestapo connotations.
Does Nik Mustapha understand that UPM and the public universities in the country must create the environment for a vibrant, critical and creative student campus and stop all the past and present practices of stifling student activism?
In May this year, Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak said that according the International Advicory Panel (IAP) which just had a meeting, Malaysian students were perceived to be “incurious”.
Najib said this was one of the few comments IAP members, many of whom renowned academicians and industry experts, made about Malaysian students during their deliberations.
Many IAP members found that Malaysian students lack a “questioning culture” and are too passive. “They also lack questioning skills, are not too curious and too readily accept facts told to them”. (The Star 22.5.07 ).
It is university administrators like Nik Mustapha who are responsible for straight-jacketting Malaysian students into such an incurious and unquestioning mould, making them and the nation totally unready and uncompetitive for the challenges of globalization.
I call on Mustapha to publicly make a personal commitment about the change of priorities for all public universities in line with the “Strategic Plan for Higher Education: Laying the Foundation Beyond 2020” launched by the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi at the end of last month that henceforth his overriding concern is not which candidate or coalition of student groups win campus elections but whether the public universities can achieve international recognition as world-class universities?
Let Mustapha set a good example and give a categorical assurance that no Vice Chancellor or Deputy Vice Chancellor would be penalized because of the outcome of campus elections, as the major criteria in reviewing their performance would be on their leadership ability to put the universities on the world map of internationally-renowned universities.
If the authorities are prepared to impose unfair and undemocratic rules and regulations to manipulate the outcome of campus elections, who will believe that the government will be honest to hold free and fair elections at the national level for Parliament and the formation of the national government?
Mustapha should ensure that the university campus elections this year will be free and fair to herald a vibrant, critical and creative student campus in the public universities.
He should invite Suhakam to advise all public universities to draw up free and fair campus election guidelines and invite the Parliamentary Caucus on Human Rights and Good Governance to monitor the campus election in all the public universities.
Opposition Leader, MP for Ipoh Timur & DAP Central Policy and Strategic
Planning Commission Chairman