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Call on lecturers and undergraduates to speak up and be in the forefront of a national campaign for higher education reform to put public universities on the road to world-class status
by Lim Kit Siang
This would be completely unimaginable in the heyday of University of Malaya in its first decade of vibrant intellectual life in the sixties, when it would not only be the daily staple of the campus Speaker’s Corner but the cause celebre rallying and uniting idealistic and hot-blooded academicians and students to demand accountability and far-reaching university reforms.
Many must have asked whether University of Malaya and the other public universities have been turned into an intellectual wasteland from the eerie silence from the campuses at the THES World University Ranking 2005 in the past three weeks.
I was beginning to despair myself until the article “How to judge a good university” by Azmi Shahrom, Deputy Dean of the Law Faculty, University of Malaya appeared in The Sun yesterday, which restored my faith that there are sturdy and quality intellectual materials in our public universities waiting to step forward to provide intellectual leadership, provided the fetters of University and University Colleges Act and Aku Janji are removed.
Azmi has rightly dissected the dilemmas confronting University of Malaya when he wrote:
“In other words, boasting about one’s ‘high’ standing in the THES rankings is as pointless and distasteful as crying over one’s ‘low’ standing. One should instead quietly study where the weaknesses are and try to improve them if one feels such an improvement will do the institution any good. This was the approach that should have been taken when UM was supposedly the 89th best university in the world. Instead of strutting around like a bunch of peacocks, a sober examination of the ranking system and how it can help us improve should have been done. Now that UM is at 169, the same thing should be done instead of the hopelessly silly PR exercises of spin doctoring which has the appearance of the self same peacock waving its moulted feathers in desperation.”
Azmi made several constructive proposals about critical actions that need to be taken to put our universities back on the road to world-class status,including:
· Make sure that good academics join and stay with working environment conducive to research and those who are able to do good work are promoted. “Good work here meaning publishable research by respected publishers and journals (not lifestyle magazines) and sound teaching; not administrative duties and brown nosing.”
· Open and transparent promotion process, for example by publishing the CVs of all successful candidates. “Then the world can see if a newly-minted professor is the real deal or just some dud with powerful kissing lips.”
· Strengthen international student numbers and international members of faculty by having degree programmes which are sound, with high academic standards, with the excitement of “groundbreaking and cutting-edge research”.
· Quality of graduates – “untie the shackles” of “too draconian and oppressive” restrictions in place in the universities to encourage the “mental and personal development of the students“ with the freedoms of speech, assembly and vote.
· The ideal of an university - “a place where knowledge and honesty are paramount. Where intellectual discourse weeds out lies and the cold, hard truth is revealed. Where the governance is fair and just. Where our human rights as enshrined in the Constitution are treated as sacrosanct.”
I want to make a call to academicians and students in University of Malaya, University Sains Malaysia and the other 15 public universities to step forward to speak up and prove that they do not want the public universities to continue to be intellectual wastelands.
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