The Education Minister, Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, should initiate a national debate on the proposed grading of institutions of higher learning and the role of universities in the Information Age.
There have been different reactions, mostly supportive, to the announcement by Najib last Thursday that all institutions of higher learning would be assessed annually under a grading system to be introduced by the Education Ministry to ensure quality education and to create competitiveness in the industry.
The President of the National Association of Private and Independent Educational Institutions, Dr. Siva Anantha said the proposal would help the country’s plan to become the centre of educational excellence in Asia.
He said lecturers in public universities had taken their duties lightly as they were paid by the Government and the university always had its quota of students met; while in private colleges, student intake and lecturers’ salary were determined by the capability of lecturers.
Universiti Malaya Vice Chancellor Prof. Datuk Osman Bakar asked that institutions of higher learning should be allowed some input on the proposed grading system as the universities had not been approached for suggestions.
What is of concern is the statement by the Education Ministry’s Higher Education Department director, Datuk Prof. Dr. Anuwar Ali, that the new grading system for institutions of higher learning might be modelled along the lines of the Inspectorate of Schools under the Education Ministry.
Anuwar said that just as a panel of school inspectors evaluate the teaching of a school, a panel of educators who are specialists in their fields would evaluate the academic programmes offered by the faculties.
From Anuwar’s explanation, it would seem that the evaluation and even ranking of scholastic attainments of the institutions of higher education is intended to be conducted by the Ministry of Education and not by the National Accreditation Board, for which a special law was passed by Parliament last July.
Shouldn’t the annual evaluation of institutions of higher learning come within the ambit of the National Accreditation Board, and if so, should there be a review of the constitution and composition of the National Accreditation Board as provided under the law so that it would be able to play its additional role more meaningfully?
There is clearly a need for a national debate not only on the grading of institutions of higher learning, to ensure that the highest academic standards are maintained and that there are no degree or diploma mills in the country, but also into the whole question of the role of universities in the Information Age.
Information Technology (IT) will create new problems and challenges, as the evaluation process will have to consider the assessment of distance-learning programmes while in the larger perspective, universities must consider how they are to survive the dawn of the Knowledge Age and flourish in its future.
Academic staff and students from both the public and private institutions of higher learning as well as Malaysians concerned about the future of education in the country should be allowed to participate in a national debate and to give their views on both these questions so as to shape a new policy and strategy for higher education to meet the challenges of the 21st century.