DAP calls for high-powered Commission on Quality of Higher Education to check the decline in university standards in the past three decades as an essential prerequisite to turn Malaysia into an international centre of academic excellence
by Lim Kit Siang
(Petaling Jaya, Friday): Education Minister, Tan Sri Musa Mohamad yesterday admitted that the lack of recognition of Malaysian tertiary qualifications by foreign countries may affect the expansion of higher education in the country and the goal of turning Malaysia into a regional education hub and that the issue needs to be resolved if Malaysia is to attract more students from foreign countries to pursue full-degree programmes here.
He spoke of the government’s target of attracting 50,000 foreign students for 2010, which will generate RM1.5 billion a year in the education business, assuming each international student spends RM30,000 yearly on tuition fees and living expenses – not to mention the financial impact on other sectors of the economy.
As part of efforts to attract foreign students, the Education Ministry proposes to remove certain academic requirements under the law, such as exempting Bahasa Malaysia and Moral Education as compulsory subjects for foreign students.
It would appear that there has been a subtle but important change in the higher education objective of the government, with the emphasis now more on turning Malaysia into a regional education hub rather than into an international centre of academic excellence, with the important question of higher education quality and academic excellence sidelined for the sake of “education gold” from an influx of foreign students.
University quality and academic excellence are the surest magnets to attract foreign students to the country to turn Malaysia not just into a regional education hub but an international centre of academic excellence. For this reason, DAP calls for the establishment of a high-powered Commission on Quality of Higher Education to check the decline in university standards in the past three decades as an essential prerequisite to turn Malaysia into an international centre of academic excellence and not just a regional education hub regardless of quality.
It is most shocking that the Education Minister and the Vice Chancellors and Rectors of 17 Public Institutes of Higher Learning had completely ignored the important question of university quality and academic excellence, with the latter at their recent meeting in Penang showing more interest to promote the image of their institutions through the establishment of a corporate and international relations secretariat than to end the decline of academic excellence in Malaysia in the past three decades and to raise university quality and standards.
The Education Ministers, the Vice Chancellors and Rectors should have focused on the dilemma of Malaysian higher education where the education authorities have failed to strike a proper balance between quality and quantity, as highlighted by the fact that In the sixties, the country’s sole university, the University of Malaya, was internationally acclaimed as an university of international repute and standing – but three decades later, the University of Malaya was ranked a lowly 47th position out of 77 universities in the Asiaweek's 2000 ranking of Best Universities in the region, with two other named universities, Universiti Putra Malaysia in 52nd and Universiti Sains Malaysia in 57th position.
Asiaweek in 2000 also had a separate ranking
for "Science and Technology Schools" where Malaysia's sole mention,
Universiti Teknologi Malaysia, was ranked 30th out of 39th
universities/institutes, while in the Asiaweek 2000 ranking of the Best MBA
Schools in the region, Malaysia's top MBA school, the Faculty of Business
and Accountancy in the University of Malaya was ranked a lowly 32rd place
among the top 50 MBA schools.
The Commission on Quality of Higher Education should come out with a blueprint for all public and private institutions of higher learning to maintain and improve the quality of learning and teaching and introduce periodic reporting on educational outcomes through annual assessment and rating of public and private institutes of higher learning
Two important pillars of academic excellence are meritocracy and academic freedom.
The Commission on Quality of Higher Education should formulate a Charter for Academic Freedom as well as a purposive installation of meritocracy in higher education institutions, in particular:
* Lim Kit Siang, DAP National Chairman