Crisis of Higher Education - Malaysia must rebrand itself truly as an international centre of academic excellence so that the country can be competitive with Singapore and be a magnet for international students
by Lim Kit Siang
(Parliament, Saturday): Malaysia is facing a crisis of higher education with the recent revelation by the Minister for Higher Education Datuk Dr. Shafie Salleh that the country has not only failed to meet its target of 50,000 foreign students this year, but there has been a dramatic fall in their number this year.
The Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, in the pre-Budget 2005 consultation in his capacity as Finance Minister on 7th May 2004 announced that as at the end of 2003, some 40,000 foreign students from 162 countries had studied in Malaysia.
We are now told that the current figure for foreign students have plunged to 23,000, including 11,058 from China, 7,503 from Indonesia, 1,409 from India, 1,369 from Thailand and 1,296 from Singapore.
Shafie said he has called for a meeting among eminent personalities in the public and private education industry to brainstorm and seek immediate solutions to the problem, while the Higher Education Ministry special envoy Datuk Seri Effendi Norwawi said the five foreign university branch campuses in Malaysia have been asked to come up with a Cabinet paper outlining ways to attract more foreign universities here. (Star)
Effendi, who spoke on “Internationalisation of Higher Education” at the Universiti Putra Malaysia yesterday, gave a very revealing insight about the crisis of higher education in Malaysia when he cited the comment of University of Nottingham in Malaysia’s pro vice-chancellor Prof Brian Atkins that his university would not have agreed to set up a campus in Malaysia if they knew there was going to be so much red tape.
There is no need for any high-powered session to brainstorm and find the answer why Malaysia has failed to deliver on its commitment to become an international centre of academic excellence, as the reason and solution to the crisis of higher education is very obvious to every Malaysian concerned about the issue.
To resolve the crisis of higher education, Malaysia must rebrand itself truly as an international centre of academic excellence so that Malaysia can be competitive with Singapore and be a magnet for international students – as reflected by quality of education and meritocracy at all levels and aspects of higher education in the country.
Claiming to want to be an international centre of educational excellence and being one are two completely different things.
Universiti Teknologi MARA (UiTM), for instance, announced last April its aim to be “among the top of globally-acclaimed institutions of higher learning by 2006”, but who believes it could achieve this aim even by 2026 when one of its founding principles is to close its door to non-bumiputra students?
The crucial and critical question is whether there is the political will to allow meritocracy to undergird the entire policy and system of higher education so that Malaysia can become an international centre of academic excellence, not just in words but also in deed, and be a magnet for international students – or Malaysia will continue to be a regional centre of academic mediocrity.
* Lim Kit Siang, Parliamentary Opposition Leader, MP for Ipoh Timur & DAP Central Policy and Strategic Planning Commission Chairman