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Scrap and replace the present  UUCA review “internal committee” working in secrecy to serve the powers-that-be  with an independent and credible review committee comprising eminent Malaysians as an important first step to restore university quality and excellence


Press Statement
by Lim Kit Siang  

, Saturday) : The new Higher Education Minister, Datuk Mustapha Mohamad missed his first opportunity in Parliament on  Tuesday when answering my  question on the higher education crisis to send out the clear and unmistakable message of his commitment to far-reaching university reforms to achieve excellence  and  produce quality human resources and halt  the present path of mediocrity  churning  out unemployable graduates.

By denying that there is a crisis in higher education, which is recognized by all objective and dispassionate Malaysians, whether in the political, educational or opinion  arenas, Mustapha had only raised questions whether his stewardship of the Higher Education Ministry can usher in  university  reform and renaissance in the public universities.


His statement to reporters  at the Parliament corridor after the question time was most unfortunate and inappropriate – as he was as good as telling  university students that they should just be bookworms and  to concentrate on their studies when he warned that there are laws in the country,  that  students who breach law will be “hauled up” and that they should not get involved in demonstrations.


If the new Higher Education Minister is not prepared to alter  his mindset about the role of universities in  nation-building – a place where students are allowed full and free play of their idealism for a clash of ideas as to how to improve  and change society and even the world and not just be a factory to churn out degrees and diplomas – then the promised review of the Universities and University Colleges Act (UUCA) is a sham and utterly meaningless exercise.


In a written reply to the DAP MP for Batu Gajah, Fong Po Kuan earlier this week asking for developments on the UUCA review and the members of the review committee, Mustapha was very tight-lipped and not forthcoming at all.  All he would say was that the committee that had been set up to review the UUCA was an “internal committee” comprising various law lecturers from the public universities, such as University of Malaya, University Teknologi Mara and International Islamic University.


He said the Committee was looking into various provisions in the UUCA and would make proposals to the Ministry for consideration for  necessary improvement and amendments.


Why is Mustapha so shy in making public the names of this “UUCA review internal committee”, revealing the identity of the chairman and members of the committee, and most important of all, the specific terms of reference of the review.


This is most unsatisfactory review of the UUCA, both in terms of its composition, terms of reference and lack of openness and transparency, as the outcome could be even worse than today, resulting in a further tightening of the current  controls imposed on  the academicians and students  which have destroyed the academic culture and tradition making it impossible for the public universities to attain  world-recognition for academic excellence and university quality.


The UUCA review “internal committee” was set up by the former Higher Education Minister, Datuk Shafie Salleh, to try to placate demands for repeal of the UUCA. It is clearly an unacceptable committee.


Mustapha should scrap and replace the present  UUCA review “internal committee” working in secrecy to serve the powers-that-be  with an independent and credible review committee comprising eminent Malaysians as an important first step to restore university quality and excellence.


The admissions by the Chairman of the University of Malaya (UM) Board of Directors, Tan Sri Arshad Ayub in his “Evening” with the UM Academic Staff Association (PKAUM) on Wednesday  that something was very wrong with the state of the public universities  was most refreshing and many must have sighed that it had not come from the new Higher Education Minister himself.


Arshad, for instance, came out with the proposal for an independent search committee to handle the appointments of the 18 vice-chancellors,  54 deputy Vice Chancellors and members of the board of directors or governors of the 18 public universities.


Grappling the bull by the horn, Arshad conceded  the plunge in university quality when he said  that “the declining academic standards can be reversed by an administration that is transparent, accountable, non-racial and free of corrupt practices”.  He blamed the current drop in overall varsity standards on bad administrative calls involving discriminatory practices and unfair treatment.

I commend Arshad for his frank admission about dropping university standards and local universities being plagued by allegations of racial polarisation, obscure marking schemes and unfair academic promotions.   Arshad is right  that the “form of governance has a direct bearing on academic standards”.

Arshad also posed the most pertinent questions:


“Are we providing a working environment where academic integrity is paramount and the path to professional satisfaction and reward? Or are we creating an environment based on feudalistic practices that can bring about nothing but dissatisfaction?

“Are promotions and appointments based on merit? Are we ensuring that the most qualified academics are selected for promotion and to lead our departments, faculties and research institutions, regardless of their ethnic background? Or are we undermining morale by appointing academics based on factors other than merit?”

As the contract for the  UM Vice Chancellor Professor Datuk Hashiam Yaacob expires in a week’s time, Mustapha has the opportunity to begin anew to restore the international academic standing of the nation’s premier university with the appointment of a VC with towering academic credentials, not only locally but in the international academic scene as well, and who fully understand the qualities needed to transform UM into a great university  with world-class standards and not just by billboards and through trade exhibitions.


Mustapha should not miss the second opportunity in Parliament next week during the Ministerial replies to the debate on the motion of thanks for the Royal Address to send out the clear the unmistakable message of his commitment to far-reaching university reform and renaissance to achieve excellence and produce quality human resources and to stop the present path of mediocrity churning out unemployable graduates.


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

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