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Three-point proposal in email
to all Ministers for world-class universities – Royal Commission,
appointment of “best and brightest” and repeal of UUCA
Media Conference Statement
by Lim Kit Siang
My email to the Ministers said:
The principle of collective ministerial responsibility for the deep and worsening higher education crisis would not permit any Minister to disclaim responsibility or just blame the whole higher education mess on one or two persons, such as the Higher Education Minister, Datuk Dr. Shafie Salleh and the Cabinet-rank Special Higher Education Envoy, Datuk Seri Effendi Norwawi.
On August 24, 2005, the Cabinet approved the establishment of the 18th public university, Universiti Darul Iman Malaysia (UDM) in Terengganu which will be fully operational by before the end of the Ninth Malaysia Plan 2006-2010.
The Cabinet is responsible not only for the quantity but also quality of higher educational institutions in the country. This is why at the Cabinet meeting on Wednesday (Nov. 9), Ministers must individually and collectively address the acute problem of Malaysia’s prolonged and worsening crisis of higher education, as well as the scandalous response of the University of Malaya Vice Chancellor Prof. Dr. Datuk Hashim Yaacob to the latest THES World University Ranking which made a national and international joke of UM as well as Malaysia.
At the June centennial celebrations of University of Malaya, Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak threw a challenge to the university to raise its 89th ranking among the world’s top 200 universities to 50 by the year 2020.
Bernama, the national news agency, reported: “At the function, Universiti Malaya Vice Chancellor Prof Datuk Dr. Hashim Yaacob was seen giving a slight nod, indicating that he agreed to accept the deputy premier’s challenge.” (Bernama 16.6.05)
I had criticized the UM Vice Chancellor for his lack of leadership and vision to be content at the 50th ranking among the world’s Top 200 universities in 2020, when the country should aim to have at least two Malaysian universities to be ranked among the World’s Top 50 Universities by the end of the Ninth Malaysia Plan in 2010 – University of Malaya by 2008 and a second university by 2010.
However, in a matter of a few months after the DPM’s challenge, UM is faced with the crisis of remaining within the world’s Top 200 universities in the THES World University Ranking in the coming years.
The Cabinet should realise that the challenge facing higher education in Malaysia is not for UM to achieve any breakthrough to be among the world’s Top 50 Universities, but for the nation’s premier university to avoid suffering the fate of USM of being knocked out of the Top 200 Universities Ranking next year or during the course of the Ninth Malaysia Plan beginning next year.
The national crisis of higher education is not limited to UM or USM but afflicts all other public universities. This is the cry of one Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM) graduate on my blog yesterday:
“A few years back when I was a student, I thought UPM overtook USM as 2nd best university in Malaysia! What has happened to UPM now? It was not even in the top 200 ranking for both last year and this year.
In the Cabinet deliberation, Ministers should acquaint themselves of another respected international ranking of universities, the Academic Ranking of 500 Top Universities in the World by the Institute of Higher Education, Shanghai Jiao Tong University. For the third year of its World’s Top 500 Ranking, not a single university from Malaysia was included in the List. Among the countries with universities ranked in the Jiao Tong University’s Top 500 Universities are:
Permit me to make three quick proposals for the Cabinet’s consideration to break the back of the deep and worsening crisis of higher education in Malaysia:
Firstly, the establishment of Royal Commission on World-Class Universities in Malaysia, not headed by former government servants but eminent academicians, such as Royal Professor Ungku Aziz, former UM Vice Chancellor Professor Syed Hussein Alatas, former Vice Chancellor of Hong Kong University Professor Wang Gung Wu or distinguished academicians like Dr. Chandra Muzaffar and Prof. K.S. Jomo.
Secondly, the appointment of the “best and brightest” to lead the universities, whether as Vice Chancellor or Deans, starting with the appointment of an outstanding university academic as Vice Chancellor of University of Malaya. The Cabinet should fully endorse the article by Tan Siok Choo, daughter of former Finance Minister Tun Tan Siew Sin, in the Sun today “Hiring a foreign CEO is no sell-out”.
In United Kingdom, world-renowned universities are headed by foreigners like New Zealander Dr. John Hood, Vice Chancellor of Oxford University, and the Chancellor of University of Nottingham (the alma mater of the DPM) is the distinguished Chinese physicist Professor Fujia Yang.
But before foreigners are appointed to head Malaysian universities, aren’t there competent and qualified non-Malay candidates to be appointed Vice Chancellors, or have they to continue to go abroad if they are to be internationally distinguished academicians or to be appointed vice chancellors of universities which are in the World’s Top 50 Universities like Hong Kong University (No.41) and Nanyang Technological University, Singapore (No. 48)?
Thirdly, the repeal of the Universities and University Colleges Act (UUCA) to restore the critical faculties of inquiry, meritocracy and academic 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.
Let the Cabinet meeting on Wednesday end the rot to excellence, quality and standards in Malaysian universities so that Malaysians, whether academicians, students or the ordinary citizen, can hold their heads high in the international society with regard to the global ranking of Malaysian universities.
Lim Kit Siang
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