"We came out with our new mission which was launched yesterday and in our new mission statement we have actually dropped the adjective 'premier'.And as reported separate in Malaysiakini:
"We are very realistic people really. Also we don't want to keep on believing and living in past glories, we would like to build from where we are now towards the future," she told a press conference here Friday.
Rafiah added that UM has already taken steps to improve itself even before the authoritative survey was released. In the past few months, she said, the university had started improvisation works on planning, strategising and implementing key performance indexes at every level within the university. The latter has never been done before.It is hence heartening to hear that the new vice-chancellor appears to be taking certain concrete steps towards rebuilding UM. It might be a slow and painful process, given the nature in which we tend to reform our institutions, but at least it may be moving in the right direction.
The key performance indexes which UM aspires to do well in cover more than the six criteria stipulated in the Times survey.
However, the vice-chancellors of the four universities cited in the Times Higher Education Supplement (THES) world rankings table also stated that they were limited by government policies and national interests. As published in the Sun, they joint statement declared that:
"Public universities may not be able to increase their international students because of government policies but we certainly can do a lot to improve the performance on the other four criteria."Which brings me to the next issue. For readers of The Sun, there was a Conversations piece published last Thursday (but somehow, not yet available online) an extensive interview conducted with Datuk Mustapa Mohamed (Tok Pa), our Minister of Higher Education. The article was entitled "Enhancing quality at our universities". For those who missed it, I don't think you missed much. I dare say, for somebody who follows Tok Pa's statement and speeches closely, this was one of the more uninspiring ones.
[Datuk Rafiah Salim] also alluded to the fact that it was difficult to attract foreign lecturers with the government's current payscale for lecturers.
The Sun journalist, Husna Yusop, asked the Minister "What radical changes [was he] looking into?" He replied as follows:
The PM has spoken of revolutionising education. Nothing short of a revolution is required. So we are taking the cue from that. The changes will be in the curriculum, in better achieving the objectives of the soft skills module, in respect of closer academic-industry collaboration, improvements in the quality of lecturers and better governance... We have to make sure our graduates have the skills that will enable them to do well in the job market, which is becoming increasingly globalised.I must apologise if I'm a little daft here. None of the measures mentioned above are "revolutionary" measures. They are all incremental steps and measure taken to tinker with the existing awkward system. For example, when asked how was he going to improve the quality of lecturers, to get the best brains for the universities, things are still pretty much framed around the existing structures.
... there is a perceived lack of a good career path, lack of research funds and some might not be happy with governance issues in the universities... I am happy the government has agreed to do a number of things. One is faster promotion for academics, within the civil service structure of course...To be fair, the above are positive baby steps. But they are certainly not revolutionary, and will not bring the necessary substantive jump in standards over a short period of time. And given the global competitive environment where everyone wants to improve their quality, reputation and rankings, would our baby steps be sufficient?
We are still talking to the Public Services Department (PSD) about the starting salary for lecturers with PhDs and we hope by the end of this year, this will be finalised...
What then can be considered revolutionary? Well, for one, on the same issue above, this blogger has proposed that the university academia be de-linked from the civil service entirely. That will be revolutionary. No longer will the universities have to depend on the bureaucratic PSD for issues such as pay-scale and promotions. After all, what does PSD know about the academia anyway. And which self-respecting Harvard academic would want to come to Malaysia and join our impeccable civil service?
I'd like to call on Tok Pa to take Pak Lah's words as a blanket approval to truly revolutionise our higher education system. We really need brave steps to move forward and to have any significant impact on the global rankings. Be brave and bold.