He's probably even less optimistic about its future than I am, if I were to take his comments at face value:
Even Indonesian and Thai universities appear to have faired much better than the universities here in Malaysia, once the pride of this region. By this time next year, we may have to resign ourselves to having all these universities out of the first 500.He blames the current predicament on several factors.
1. The English Medium
Thirty years of trying to re-engineer the educational medium of instruction has brought us to this. Almost every major textbook, citation and publication is in English.2. Student quality
The minister must be pragmatic and muster the administrative and political will to enforce the usage of English if we are not to be left behind by countries like Laos, Vietnam and Indonesia. Even newsreaders from China today appear to be able to present news better than our local newsreaders.
The minister may be stuck with the quota system for his own political survival, but surely he can help improve standards here by trying to keep at least good bumiputera students at our universities. Currently, the good ones are shipped off to very expensive overseas universities and the less capable ones are placed in local universities. Common sense indicates that this is a recipe for disaster in terms of trying to maintain or improve the standards of our local universities.3. Appointment of lecturers
For far too long, the minister has been giving independence to our local universities to choose their lecturers. This policy must change. The dismal standards may require the ministry to step in directly to ensure that good lecturers are appointed.4. Publications
The ministry must set up its own audit team to ensure continuous publications. Without this most important criteria, Malaysian universities cannot hope to climb the ladder again and may be stuck in the doldrums for years to come.Of the four points, I'm in total agreement with point (4) on publications. A university that doesn't publish, or one that only writes to lifestyle magazines, make sensationalist claims to local newspapers without peer review or prefers to take part in dog and pony shows in Europe to collect coloured medals doesn't deserve recognition, and is certainly not worth its salt. Without the necessary academic rigour, we become just a degree manufacturing facility without intellectual depth.
The publication culture even in an established university like Universiti Malaya is surprisingly absent. Publications are what make a university and this is seriously lacking in our universities. The minister must again ensure that those lecturers who publish are rewarded and not cold-storaged for being “too clever”.
I'm in semi-agreement with points (1) and (3). I believe English is of prime importance but I'm not sure if it'll change the standards to drastically at our universities. The university academics will probably argue that because it's not their mother tongue, the standards will drop further after the switch to an English discourse. All hell will of course, break loose at the UMNO General Assembly. While I certainly hope that the standards of English will improve tremendously in the near term, I actually think that there are several other key policies which the Government can undertake to arrest the decline in standards.
With regards to point (3) where it was suggested that lecturers be appointed centrally by the Ministry of Higher Education (MOHE) - I would agree with the diagnosis that the culture of recruitment of quality lecturers at our local universities are abhorrent, but placing the recruitment process in the hands of the clueless civil servants at the MOHE, will certainly not change things too much.
I would start where I have always proposed vigourously - that is to open the selection and applications of Vice-Chancellors and senior academics to local universities. Have the resumes vetted by an independent senior panel, not inclined to sway to political pressures. Of course, once the "best" is selected, give them the necessary hand to overhaul the university administration to improve standards.
Finally, I'm disagreeable to the suggestion that scholars should not be sent overseas but instead retained in the local universities. I certainly believe that deserving students must be given scholarships to pursue their further education at the top universities overseas. However, the practice of sending mediocre students to 3rd rate universities overseas must be stopped for it's just a waste of the county's precious resources.
I am of the opinion that the standards of the local universities will improve significantly should there be the practice of enrolling the best students for each faculty and university, even without taking into consideration the "better" students who have been given scholarships to go overseas. Currently, it isn't transparent how students are allocated to the respective subjects and universities. There appears to be an unhealthy hidden hand behind the scenes in the above process.
Enrolling the best students for each university and course would also mean that the Government must scrap the unequal entry requirements for Malaysian students i.e., via the matriculation or the STPM system. Hence, the standards at our local universities can easily improve even if the Government continues to send students overseas. They just need to make sure that the remaining cohort of students are given an equal footing to compete for excellence. ;-)