It is announced as Malaysia's first private but non-profit open distance learning institution for working adults who did not have the opportunity to pursue tertiary education. As reported by the Star on the 6th Jan,
The university college's vice-chancellor Datuk Prof Emeritus Gajaraj Dhanarajan said the university would provide opportunities for some nine million working adults who have had less than 11 years of schooling. “Homemakers who wish to improve themselves are also welcome,” he added.Wawasan OUC will initially have three faculties – Science and Technology, Business and Administration and Foundation Studies – offering 11 degree programmes. The OUC is based at Homestead, a heritage building designed in 1919 and donated by the Yeap Chore Ee Charitable Trust and the Yeap Chor Ee Endowment Trust.
What's interesting is not so much the opening of this new university but in the subsequent comments by the current President of Gerakan, Datuk Seri Lim Keng Yaik. Apparently, he was responding to some unreported scepticism or criticism with regards to "open university" type degrees.
Many people who do not understand the concept of open universities have the misconception that they are offering second-class degrees, Gerakan president Datuk Seri Dr Lim Keng Yaik said. He said these people were sceptical how students could study without entering university.He justified his argument by comparing itself to the Open University of the United Kingdom, which was apparently ranked 5th best in Great Britain. Datuk Seri Dr Lim went further to proclaim that Wawasan OUC will overtake Universiti Malaya in terms of quality within 5 short years!
“Give us five years to put Wawasan in front of Universiti Malaya (UM) which presumably is the country’s best university. That will be our benchmark,” he said.Not surprisingly, Parliamentary Opposition Leader, Sdr Lim Kit Siang interpreted the above remark as a major slight (or even contempt?) on the premier university in Malaysia. In fact, I would go further as to argue that it's a major slight on all existing institutions of higher learning in Malaysia.
If a new University College can talk about besting the nation’s premier university, which had only recently celebrated its centennial, in a matter of five years in terms of quality and academic excellence, what does it say about University of Malaya?To be fair, I think Datuk Seri Dr Lim may have displayed a little youthful over-exuberence in his remarks and challenge.
If the best of the 17 public universities is held in such low esteem by the Barisan Nasional top movers and shakers, what does it say about the quality and standards of the other 16 public universities (with another one, the 18th university, already in the pipeline) and the tertiary education system in the country?
Firstly, I'm unaware of the survey which has placed Open University as 5th in Great Britain. Both the surveys which I refer to (The Times and Guardian) for the ranking of universities in the United Kingdom do not place Open University. It's unplaced not so much because it is not a quality institution, but because comparing the Open University to other traditional universities is like comparing apples to oranges. To quote the Times Good University Guide:
The Open University, though Britains biggest university, with 75,000 students, could not be included because most of the measures used in our listing do not apply to it.And rightly so. As stated by Wawasan OUC's vice-chancellor, it target the nation's 9 million working adults with less than 11 years of formal education as well as homemakers. With a major difference in entrance requirements as well as methods of instruction and delivery, it will be impossible to gauge the standards of the two universities sensibly.
Secondly, 5 years is an extremely short time to deliver the best of education quality. With all due respect to the academics and administrators at Wawasan OUC, but Datuk Seri Dr Lim may have just set an impossible bar for the university to meet to match itself against an institutions with some 30,000 students and faculties numbering hundreds.
But that is the problem with politicians attempt to join the fray in the setting up of universities and colleges. Political upmanship comes into play and the rightful objectives of the institutions are often bent towards meeting political objectives, instead of a complete 100% focus on delivering quality education irrespective of political, social, racial and economic backgrounds and opinions.
Maybe, Tun Dr Ling Liong Sik or Datuk Seri Ong Ka Ting will like to join the fray by rubbishing Datuk Seri Dr Lim's claims and declare Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman (UTAR) as the rightful No. 1 university in Malaysia in 3 years' time? :-)