Thursday, January 05, 2006

Higher Education: Who's the Master of Them All?

Some six months ago, the Minister of Higher Education, Datuk Dr Shafie Salleh was quoted to have said:
“As the minister, I have the power to hire and fire, so I have revoked his resignation."
These words were quoted in relation to the reinstatement of Dr Terence Gomez at Universiti Malaya. Now, these same words appear to have shown their true colours as the Minister of Higher Education asserts his influence and power over the institutions of higher learning in the country.

I have written on the recent shortlisting and selection of the new vice-chancellor of Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM) following the controversial "resignation" of the previous vice-chancellor, Datuk Dr Mohd Zohadie Bardaie. In my respective posts, I have called for greater transparency in the new appointment, I also had serious doubts to the adequacy of the shortlisting process which appears to cough out high-ranking civil servants or senior academics within the universiti. It appears that no significant attempts was made to recruit the "best" available in the "outside" world despite the Minister's earlier assuarance of setting up a credible "search committee".

However, upon digging deeper into the new appointment of Professor Dr Nik Mustapha Raja Abdullah who was an incumbent deputy vice-chancellor of UPM, one will find clues to the puppet strings manipulating the musical chairs of the local universities. Jeff Ooi have earlier in May, blogged extensively on the controversial dispute between the Minister and Datuk Dr Mohd Zohadie Bardaie.

In a dispute which became public when the then vice-chancellor read a pantun which implicitly targetted the Minister, after the latter instructed the "transfer" of the UPM Aerospace programme to another local university, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM),
Siakap senohong
Gelama ikan duri
Bercakap bohong
Bolehkah jadi menteri
the Board of Governors of UPM demanded the resignation of Datuk Dr Zohadie Bardaie. However, Jeff Ooi, who quoted one of his little birds, the problems started even before that:
...the trouble for our VC started with the appointment of the new Director for the UPM Board and the direct appointments for the two DVC (Deputy Vice-Chancellor) positions (Student Affairs and Development). It has been the perogative of the university to nominate their own candidates and the ministry of education, back then, will usually approve them unless met with strong opposition where, in such an instance, the university would be requested to suggest another.

When the two positions and their term was up, the ministry surprised everyone by appointing two of their own kind from the same faculty (economics) to the positions, totally circumventing the university's recommendations. Nevermind that one of them is not even considered a senior academician, the fact that it was shoved down the VC's throat is too damn clear to everyone.
The NST has earlier reported that this crisis between UPM’s administration and the ministry is believed to have started following the appointments of UPM vice-chancelor (Development) Professor Dr Nik Mustapha Raja Abdullah and another V-C (Students’ Affairs) Associate Professor Dr Azali Mohamed.

And that's where the "circle" is formed. Is it then not highly suspicious that these same two fairly recently appointed deputy vice-chancellors by the Board of Governors (who are in turn appointed by the Minister of Higher Education) are in the shortlist drawn up by the same Ministry? And as stated by Jeff Ooi's little bird above, one of them isn't even a full-fledge professor of the university!

It now appears that the Minister has no intentions to stop at UPM. The NST has reported just last Tuesday that it looks like the Universiti Teknologi Malaysia vice-chancellor, Professor Datuk Dr Mohd Zulkifli Mohd Ghazali is "next to vacate his seat".
Like [Datuk Dr] Zohadie, Zulkifli’s ties with Shafie had also soured. This followed allegations that he was an opposition leader at the university. He was also alleged to have been involved in 124 cases of misappropriation and abuse of power.

Shafie has since established a "Panel to Investigate the Misconduct of UTM’s VC". However, the panel failed to attach any of the 124 cases to him.
Now, I'm not sure about you, but with the required transparency as well as the establishment of an open and credible search committee, I have at this point of time every reason believe that the Minister of Higher Education appears to be extending his tentacles and tightening his grip and control over the local public universities. Parties who are not favoured in his "camp" for whatsoever reasons will be nudged aside in one way or another.

Datuk Dr Shafie Salleh must immediately clarify and demonstrate sincerity in his proclamations seeking to reform and upgrade the state of higher education in Malaysia. He has promised measures such as the "search committee" and the amendment of the University and Universities Colleges Act (UUCA). He should not, as per his habitual norm, remain silent or issue short denials which demonstrates contempt towards academics and concerned citizens over the perceived and apparent degradation of standards, quality and academic freedom in our local institutions of higher learning.


Anonymous said...

I met Dr Shafie 3 times in Sydney last year(05). The first time was during some sort of educational trip which Shafie brought almost the whole ministry to Malaysia Hall in Sydney. The second meeting was when our PM and his cabinet visited Sydney and the last meeting which was held in early Dec was kind of informal and relax gathering with a few students in Malaysia Hall once again. During the gathering one of my friends bravely asked Shafie why our universities are getting worse and worse each year while our neighbour's ones are going up the hill. He with a sighed voice admitted that our local universities are in bad shape and many improvements need to be done. My impression of Shafie is he is a very nice guy with always a smiley face. Very nice to talk to and has no 'minister face' when chatting with students. He doesn't seem like the one that would take control the local public universities and those that are not on his side would be cut. But we never know , according to Tony he might not be that nice afterall.

Anonymous said...

Suddenly i remember, wasnt that our former PM said before that those who headed the education ministry (there was only one then) shouldnt be from any political party, like Musa? So what the hell happenned when the current guy took over?

Now the shafie fellow is using his political power to enhance his status. Gosh, what have Badawi done?