While not many persons will dispute the fact that she was likely to have been a better vice-chancellor than her predecessor, her performance to date has been at best mediocre.
Under Datuk Rafiah's tenure:
- Universiti Malaya continued to decline in terms of global rankings by the Times Higher Education Supplement (THES) dropping from 169th in 2005 before she took over, to 192nd in 2006 and 245th in 2007. The university remains unranked in the other respected Top 500 global universities ranking table compiled by Shanghai Jiaotung University.
- Instead of taking the necessary steps to rectify the declining quality, Datuk Rafiah chose to comfort Malaysians with the fact that UM was ranked 13th among nations belonging to the Organisation of Islamic Countries (OIC).
- She also hauled up a university academic after he wrote an article that criticised the nature in which the university student elections was held which appeared in a local daily last year. He was ‘advised’ by the vice-chancellor not to write on matters related to the university, clearly perpetuating the limited room for critical thought and constructive dissent within our academic institutions. Despite that, Datuk Rafiah had the temerity of suggesting that "public university students had the freedom to express their thoughts and ideas" at a student forum held in August last year.
The Higher Education Ministry needs to:
- Establish the independence of the search and evaluation committee to ensure that the only criteria used for selection is the candidates' ability to improve the quality and standard of education at the relevant university, and not instead, the candidates' political links or connections.
- The quality of the committee members should be improved over time with greater emphasis on prominent and high-achieving academics. There's no reason why foreign “world class” academics could not be appointed to identify quality academics with sufficient intellectual prowess and administrative experience to lead our local universities.
- The shortlist of candidates should not be provided by the Ministry of Higher Education. We should not limit the candidates to civil servants who rose up the ranks or the deputy vice-chancellors who are part of the current malaise. The shortlist should instead be derived from the applications which are sourced from advertisements made globally in search for the best available candidate.
And only when the standards of our institutions are raised, will we be able to provide the best quality education to our future generation, without which they will not be able to achieve their full potential. Correspondingly, Malaysia's ability to compete and progress in the competitive global environment would otherwise be impaired.
The end of Datuk Rafiah Salim's tenure provides the new Higher Education Minister the golden opportunity to execute what's best for Malaysia's future.