The above was the first sentence in an article published in the Star Education segment on Sunday. And it just about sums up the arbitrary nature in which vice-chancellors and their deputies are appointed in our universities. I've written many times on the incestuous nature in which the shortlist for university vice-chancellors are made up - once for Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM) here, and once more recently for Universiti Malaya (UM) here. None of them gives any semblance of an attempt by the Ministry of Higher Education to seek the best candidates for the tasks.
The issue of a search committee have been around for quite a while already. Former Deputy Dean of the UM Law Faculty, Associate Professor Azmi Sharom have twice called for a independent search and selection committee to be set up. His fellow colleagues in the UM Academic Staff Association have done the same. Our Parliamentary Opposition Leader, Sdr Lim Kit Siang have called repeated in Parliament for such a committee to be instituted. Even the lame former Minister of Higher Education, conceded at some stage that he will "look" into it.
It has been months now, but nothing positive towards the set up of such a committee have been seen. Lest we be misled that the manner in which Vice-Chancellors are selected in this country is the norm, the Star highlighted that
[i]n countries like the United States, Britain and Australia, applications are invited for the post through advertisements. However, in Malaysia, the selection of a VC is a closed-door affair. There is no official application process for the job. Past appointments were decided by the Prime Minister, based on the recommendation of the Education Minister.Even the Board of Directors at the respective universities have absolutely no role to play in the decision making process. (I don't actually know what role they play)
According to a member of the UM Board of Directors, Datuk Noordin Abdul Razak, the Board, which last met on March 17, had not even discussed the appointment of the next VC. The Board is headed by Tan Sri Arshad Ayub.An UM academic who was named didn't mince his words with regards to the task at hand.
“I have been a board member for the past 10 years and as far as I know, we have no role in the selection of the UM VC, nor do we have any say in the matter,” he said.
“UM needs a thorough shake-up. The new VC needs to revitalise and re-energise UM. There needs to be an audit done of all academics and their research output. We need to bring in outside experts and consultants, and build up the areas in which we are lacking.”This report card is obviously contrary to the applause given by many of the former vice-chancellor's close colleagues at his farewell party. It was a damning assessment, and I am in no doubt the opaque and unacademic nature in which the position of the vice-chancellor is decided and managed is a significant contributor the the current dismal state of affair at UM and other local universities.
The 9th Malaysian Plan called for greater emphasis to produce world-class knowledge workers based on a solid dependable education system. (I plan to write more about this once I get more time to read the actual plan).
Tok Pa, our dearest Minister of Higher Education, we cannot produce a solid dependable education system if we do not install the most qualified candidates to lead our universities. And we will not be able to accurately identify the best candidates if we do not invite the world's best to apply for the position. Limiting the shortlist to high-ranking civil servants and politically connected pseudo-academics is a sure recipe for disaster for our higher education system, one which is so critical in ensuring that Malaysia achieves its Vision 2020.