Tuesday, April 04, 2006

The Elusive VC Search Committee

"How will the next Universiti Malaya vice-chancellor be selected? No one really knows."

The above was the first sentence in an article published in the Star Education segment on Sunday. And it just about sums up the arbitrary nature in which vice-chancellors and their deputies are appointed in our universities. I've written many times on the incestuous nature in which the shortlist for university vice-chancellors are made up - once for Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM) here, and once more recently for Universiti Malaya (UM) here. None of them gives any semblance of an attempt by the Ministry of Higher Education to seek the best candidates for the tasks.

The issue of a search committee have been around for quite a while already. Former Deputy Dean of the UM Law Faculty, Associate Professor Azmi Sharom have twice called for a independent search and selection committee to be set up. His fellow colleagues in the UM Academic Staff Association have done the same. Our Parliamentary Opposition Leader, Sdr Lim Kit Siang have called repeated in Parliament for such a committee to be instituted. Even the lame former Minister of Higher Education, conceded at some stage that he will "look" into it.

It has been months now, but nothing positive towards the set up of such a committee have been seen. Lest we be misled that the manner in which Vice-Chancellors are selected in this country is the norm, the Star highlighted that
[i]n countries like the United States, Britain and Australia, applications are invited for the post through advertisements. However, in Malaysia, the selection of a VC is a closed-door affair. There is no official application process for the job. Past appointments were decided by the Prime Minister, based on the recommendation of the Education Minister.
Even the Board of Directors at the respective universities have absolutely no role to play in the decision making process. (I don't actually know what role they play)
According to a member of the UM Board of Directors, Datuk Noordin Abdul Razak, the Board, which last met on March 17, had not even discussed the appointment of the next VC. The Board is headed by Tan Sri Arshad Ayub.

“I have been a board member for the past 10 years and as far as I know, we have no role in the selection of the UM VC, nor do we have any say in the matter,” he said.
An UM academic who was named didn't mince his words with regards to the task at hand.
“UM needs a thorough shake-up. The new VC needs to revitalise and re-energise UM. There needs to be an audit done of all academics and their research output. We need to bring in outside experts and consultants, and build up the areas in which we are lacking.”
This report card is obviously contrary to the applause given by many of the former vice-chancellor's close colleagues at his farewell party. It was a damning assessment, and I am in no doubt the opaque and unacademic nature in which the position of the vice-chancellor is decided and managed is a significant contributor the the current dismal state of affair at UM and other local universities.

The 9th Malaysian Plan called for greater emphasis to produce world-class knowledge workers based on a solid dependable education system. (I plan to write more about this once I get more time to read the actual plan).

Tok Pa, our dearest Minister of Higher Education, we cannot produce a solid dependable education system if we do not install the most qualified candidates to lead our universities. And we will not be able to accurately identify the best candidates if we do not invite the world's best to apply for the position. Limiting the shortlist to high-ranking civil servants and politically connected pseudo-academics is a sure recipe for disaster for our higher education system, one which is so critical in ensuring that Malaysia achieves its Vision 2020.


Anonymous said...

Yes, choose wisely and with ethical objectives in mind and not just commercial profits and cash flow to fill the pockets of a few. Quality should not be sacrifice for the dollar sign unlike some Australian uni mentioned in the past

Anonymous said...

You can have a Nobel Laureate as MU's Vice Chancellor but will he be able to deliver?

The whole administration stinks from top to bottom. The deputies, deans and heads are all so mediocre, so lethargic and boring. There is no vibrancy in the University, no can-do attitude. Just another ship floating aimlessly going no-where. The senior staff all think very highly of themselves and expect one of them to be promoted to VC. Otherwise the outsider who is appointed is unlikely to get any support and won't achieve anything. What can one man do if he faces obstacles everywhere and everyday? Will the Mat Salleh, Chinese, Indian or Martian get the staff's support?

What is needed is not just a new energetic and visionary VC but a whole new team, his team, to ensure things get done for the better. He must have the mandate and power to get things done.

All the current deadbeats must go. The whole lot. They were all appointed due to patronage, affiliations, politicking and not on merit.

Any new CEO will want a new team, his team, to make the sweeping changes that are necessary. But this is unlikely to happen. So expect more dull, uninspiring leadership to nowhere but down the drain. The MU lake is deep.

Anonymous said...

It always amaze me to find the many Malaysian that still hold on to hope for their public institutions despite not really not having any basis for that hope.

There is not a single public institution, formed post merdeka, that have demonstrated any form of excellence. Seriously, take any public institution or agencies and look at it in detail and you will understand what I mean. More importantly, where race is a major factor, that ministry, agencies tend to deteriote every year as challenges increase. Any form of standards is maintained by a frankly, non-bumiputras. Why is there any hope that it would be different after nearly 50 years?

I happen to be acquinted with our new Higher Education Minister and while I respect him, I have little admiration for him. The challenge is just beyond him. Being familiar with education and training in global context, I am very familiar the challenges and I have long come to the conclusion that our ministers, civil servants just don't.

Anonymous said...

Yes there is, The Income Tax :)


Anonymous said...

Dear Sheriff Singh,

some of the academics at UM are actually very good, but most of them are non-bumis.

There is one lady professor in the medical department who still refuses to teach in BM. Coincidentally shes also one of the best medical lecturers there. She tells the people "If you dont want to learn in English, dont come here". :)

She also travels the globe to give talks and ilk. In fact, UM recently asked her to discuss a student exchange programme with Cambridge.

Cambridge agreed. (SERIOUS SHIT MAN!!) with the condition that SHE handles it.

Now she's in a dilemma, because she will retire in a few years, and the continuation of the programme might be greatly affected.

But that of course is whether the programme will even take off, considering the opposition she faces now to have a free hand in that matter. :p

- insider blues

Anonymous said...



Anonymous said...

It boils down to the fact that the very few good lecturers that remain in MU are powerless and in the minority. They just can't get things done and they just don't have a free hand. And should they achieve something, you can be sure that someone else will quickly take over to take the credit and then mess things up.

The good ones are merely being used because they are good and are respected internationally. They can get things done because of their personal achievements, reputation and capabilities, and not because of the university they are attached to. Its a personal thing.

It is sad that there are not many good people in MU at the right places and level to make things happen. Thats why the University has sunk to what it is now. The blame rests with those at the top (and outside like the politicians) of the administration who continue muddle around but blare their horns all the time of their minor 'achievements' (e.g. medals at some exhibition where everybody will get one for participating).

The mediocre lot at the top must go. They are, believe me, a major cause and contributor to the University's problems.

The current leadership pales when compared to the leaders of the 50s and 60s when we had lecturers and professors of international repute. Our current team are merely jagoh kampongs who only play by local rules.

The few good ones are just marking time (for nostalgia's sake) till their retirement.

Former long time graduates are shy and embarassed to be associated with a university of declining repute. When I met a University of Malaya graduate of the 50s, he was quick to say "University of Malaya in Singapore". Enuff said.

Anonymous said...

The rot in all of our public universities is so deep that having a brilliant VC will not help much to prevent their steady decline.

To change the fortune of UM, the government has to appoint a brilliant VC and at the same time support the VC to remove many senior deadwood academics (e.g., some of the current Deputy VC, some Deans like the Dean of Engineering, some heads, etc.) and replace them with vibrant people. A major shake-up operation is necessary. However, in reality, the VC is unable to do so. Furthermore, where are the vibrant people among the exisiting staff?

So, the sad truth is that UM is doomed to sink further.

It is easier and more economical to forget UM and all the current public universities (just let them be the playgrounds of Malay academics and carry out activities to fulfil the national education agenda) and start a new university based on meritocracy, without political interference. With strong will power, we may at least have one world class university.

Anonymous said...

How sad and ridiculous that the megalomaniac culture is the legacy left by Hashim in UM. Even the recently appointed caretaker VC of UM (1 month acting VC) has grabbed this brief window of opportunity by following Hashim's megalomaniac approach in visiting different faculties in UM - meeting the staff mission. For what purpose besides showing his self glorified importance and wasting staff's time and taxpayers' money?

Anonymous said...

Hey guys...the new VC is Rafeah Salim with just an Honorory causas degree for a PhD

hehehe...MALAYSia bolih!!!

Anonymous said...

Just any dental graduates from UM if Prof Hashim is really good?