Husna Yusop of The Sun asked the minister - "What direction will the ministry take to achieve Vision 2020?" Part of Tok Pa's reply was as follows:
...there is a high level committee in the ministry which is looking at various issues and proposals, on how we can bring about radical changes. It started work more than three months ago and will be coming out with a draft report.And when asked if this report was different from the Tan Sri Wan Zahid Higher Education Report, Tok Pa replied that "this report is more comprehensive and will address future challenges until 2015".
I'm more than a little concerned because it appears that a "change" of regime at the Ministry of Higher Education immediately meant dumping the work done, even if it was decent work, and starting with square one once again. I've read the entire Zahid report, and I must say, with the exception of 1-2 issues, there are plenty of issues which have been dealt with pretty well - particularly on issues of governance.
The Terms of Reference of the Zahid study focus on the achievement of excellence. The Committee was charged to formulate recommendations that would enable higher education in Malaysia to achieve world class status and establish the country as a regional centre of excellence in education. Feedback was obtained by the Committee through dialogue and discussion sessions as well as website commentaries.
The report also took the bold step of highlighting that "the country cannot wait for groups which are not yet ready before striving for excellence. If the nation ever takes this course, then this ‘levelling down’ can only result in loss and regressiveness."
As part of the detailed study for the report, the Committee therefore formed study groups from within the members of the Main Committee and the Ministry of Higher Education officers to study best practices in selected institutions globally, as a guide to formulate recommendations to the Government. The various sub-committees visited 17 different countries from China to Egypt covering some 78 institutions and government agencies.
The report itself produced 138 recommendations and is almost 300 pages long. Hence, I'm struggling to comprehend why a separate "more comprehensive" study is actually required. I also do not understand how the Zahid report doesn't actually "address the challenges til 2015". Yes, it's not the perfect report, and it probably did not cover certain issues in sufficient detail such as academic freedom and the University and University Colleges Act. But that doesn't justify an entirely new report!
Unlike his predecessor as well as most of the other ministers, Tok Pa demonstrated great openness by releasing the Zahid Higher Education Report to the Parliament in March. On hindsight, was it released because it has become an irrelevant document due to the fact that a different and new study was about to commence? Was it the reason why despite multiple queries by parliamentarians, the Ministry of Higher Education has not made any announcement or commitment to implement any of the recommendations made in the Zahid Report?
The Zahid report took all of 6 months to complete. Tok Pa indicated that the new report in its draft form will be out soon after having commenced 3 months ago. By the time the formal new report is completed, it'll probably be early next year, at best. It will then be almost 2 years after the Zahid Report has been released to the Ministry. Are these 2 wasted years where no major reforms are implemented? With the urgency around the need to arrest the decline of our universities, can we afford to dally that long?
I also can't see how a report that takes approximately the same time to complete will be better by any significant extent than the previous one. Especially when the previous report was not just done by the ministry officials but by prominent academics like Prof Emeritus Dato' Dr Khoo Kay Kim, and Prof Dato' Dzulkifli Abdul Razak (Vice-Chancellor of Universiti Sains Malaysia).
Tok Pa, will you please clarify the reasons for do this? I'm a little disappointed, to say the least.