A meeting of MPs will be convened next Thursday to form an all-party parliamentary caucus on higher education to give full support to the Prime Minister’s aim to create “towering Malaysian personalities” by ending the decline of university excellence to create a world-class university system
- at the “Solidarity with Dr. Terence Gomez Dinner” turned “Celebratiion with Dr. Terence Gomez dinner”
by Lim Kit Siang
(Kelana Jaya, Monday): When we decided to organize this dinner nine days ago, it was to be a “Solidarity with Dr. Terence Gomez dinner”, but it has now turned into a “Celebrate with Dr. Terence Gomez dinner” with the intervention of the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi to approve Dr. Gomez’ two-year
secondment from the University of Malaya to the United Nations Research Institute for Social Development (UNRISD) as well as for his wife, Dr Sharmani Patricia Gabriel, who lecturers English at the University of Malaya, to join him in Geneva on a two-year no-pay leave.
This celebration will become elation for many with the Malaysiakini report a short while ago that the Prime Minister met Dr. Gomez before he flew off to Hong Kong this morning, congratulating Dr. Gomez on his UNRISD appointment and encouraging him to speak out on matters involving public interests, declaring that when he became Prime Minister and told Malaysians “to speak the truth” to him, he meant what he said.
Abdullah has done the right thing, although he should have done it earlier, but there is no doubt that his intervention in the Dr. Gomez case will check somewhat the serious erosion of public faith and confidence in the delivery of his reformist pledges and zeal when he became Prime Minister and during the 2004 general election.
A swallow does not make a summer, however, and the Prime Minister needs all the help from academics, university staff, intellectuals, NGOs, Members of Parliament and the civil society to stem the decline and erosion of academic quality, standards and excellence of Malaysian universities to achieve teaching and research excellence, raise their international standing and enhance their students’ experience.
The battle for justice for Dr. Gomez and Dr. Gabriel has never been just for both of them personally, but for the larger cause of academic excellence in our universities.
The University of Malaya (UM) will be celebrating the official launch of its centennial anniversary on Thursday. But no thought has been given as to why the UM has fallen 71 places behind the University of Singapore in academic quality and excellence, ranked No. 89thand 18th respectively in the global ranking of the World’s 200 Best Universities of The Times Higher Education Supplement (THES) in November 2004, although both Universities share a common origin with the establishment of King Edward VII Medical School in 1905.
Instead, we have the unabashed theme of the UM’s “restoring its old glory” as the centerpiece of the centennial celebrations, raising the question of the severity of the malady of university and academic amnesia.
While we celebrate with Dr. Gomez and his wife the vindication of their cause, we will not be doing justice to their courageous stand if we do not look further afield to harness and mobilize support for tertiary education reforms if Malaysia is to transform itself into a knowledge economy with our universities playing an increasing role in enriching our stock of human capital by providing quality education and excelling in research to create knowledge and wealth in the country.
This is going to be a tall order, involving undoing decades of decline of university standards, quality and excellence, changing the feudal-corporate culture in the universities into an academic culture and a new appreciation of university autonomy and academic freedom.
In my first reaction to Dr. Gomez’ reinstatement, I had hoped that that it would give heart to all far-sighted Malaysians who support higher education reforms to renew their efforts so that local public universities can achieve world-class status to transform Malaysia into an international centre of academic excellence, not just at the sloganeering level but internationally recognized and respected.
I now realize that there is a deep culture of fear among the academics in the universities, which is the antithesis of what an university stands for – where there is academic freedom for academics to think freely, to speculate and to experiment with new ideas. Important developments have been spearheaded by those people who think freely and creatively. Knowledge is advanced through critical inquiry and not through encouraging orthodoxy or adherence to accepted dogma.
In Malaysia, however, the state of universities in Malaysia had become so dismal that terms like “university autonomy” and “academic freedom” are hardly heard even in academic circles.
I understand that in one public university, there had been a McCarthy-like witch-hunt openly flouting the most elementary notions of academic freedom –i.e. the right without hindrance to determine the courses to be taught as well as their contents in accordance with well-established standards, the right to free discussion and freedom of opinion; the right to freely publish in any recognized organ, within the country as well as internationally; the right to be evaluated in career development only on the basis of professional standards of teaching and research.
Everyone must play our role. For my part, I will convene a meeting of MPs next Thursday to form an all-party parliamentary caucus on higher education to give full support to the Prime Minister’s aim to create “towering Malaysian personalities” by ending the decline of university excellence to create a world-class university system.
I will seek the support of the Prime Minister, the Higher Education Minister, Datuk Dr. Shafie Salleh and the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz for the formation of the all-party parliamentary caucus on higher education, and I hope that MPs who were formerly academicians, like Dr. Wan Hashim Wan Teh (BN – Gerik), Ahmad Shabery Cheek (BN - Kemaman), Dr. Ting Chew Peh (BN- Gopeng), Siti Zaharah Sulaiman and Datuk Kamaruddin Jaffar (PAS – Tumpat) would not only support but play a leading role in the caucus.
* Lim Kit Siang,
Parliamentary Opposition Leader, MP for Ipoh Timur & DAP
Central Policy and Strategic Planning Commission
Lim Kit Siang, Parliamentary Opposition Leader, MP for Ipoh Timur & DAP Central Policy and Strategic Planning Commission Chairman