Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Old Wine in New Bottles?

One of the key initiatives outlined in the 9MP in regards to enhancing the quality of tertiary education in Malaysia is the establishment of a Malaysian Qualifications Agency (MQA) which will oversee the implementation of the Malaysian Qualifications Framework (MQF). After a little digging, I found out that the MQF has been on the table on some time but that it hadn't received the necessary mandate to be implemented.

Pg.31 of the 9MP has this to say:

1.29 Efforts will be taken to enhance the quality of tertiary education to
become of international standing. For this purpose, local institutions of higher
education will be benchmarked against international standards and a rating
system will be introduced. The institutions will also be required to conform to
the standards for quality assurance procedures set out in the Malaysian
Qualifications Framework (MQF). To support the implementation of the MQF
and to establish a unified quality assurance system, the Malaysian Qualifications
Agency will be set up in 2006. The quality of the academic personnel will be
improved through more staff development programmes. In addition, the number
of academic staff with doctorate qualification in public universities will be increased to achieve the target of 60 per cent of total academic staff by 2010. In order to increase the quality and global outlook of universities and their academic
staff, international engagements with renowned international institutions will be
pursued, including through research collaborations.

The paragraph above is loaded with things of interest but for the moment, let us concentrate on the MQF and the MQA.

Thanks to one of YB Lim Kit Siang's past press statements, I found out that the MQF had been proposed as early as 2003, when Tan Sri Musa Muhamad was the Minister of Education before that ministry was split into two. The idea then was to establish some sort of benchmark for both private and public universities in Malaysia and this benchmark was to be set in relation to 'internationally accepted best practices'.

Given that the website of the Ministry of Higher Education's website did not provide any details on the MQF and the MQA, I had to look elsehwere on the net and thanks to google, I found this nugget on a UNESCO website. This paper was written by a Sharifah Hapsah Shahabuddin, the Director of the Quality Assurance Division (QAD) of the Ministry of Higher Education. From her paper, I get the impression that the concept of the MQF has evolved quite a bit since it has initially proposed.

For example, the paper proposes that LAN or the National Accreditation Board be merged with the Quality Assurance Division (QAD) in the Ministry of Higher Education to form a new organization called the Malaysian Qualifications Agency. This clearly shows that it is intended for the MQA to have more 'bite' given its larger scope and powers as well as the intention of the Ministry to establish more uniform standards in both the private and public universities in Malaysia. (Hopefully, this can help solve some of the 'misadvertising' and 'misinformation' on the part of some private colleges that Tony has highlighted)

In Puan Shahabuddin's paper, she outlines 3 main responsibilities of the MQA:

1) Develop internationally benchmarked standards for the MQF
2) Assuring the standards of qualification and quality of delivery in both public and private institutions
3) Maintaining the MQF resiter and becoming the reference point for information on qualifications and QA and mutual recognition of qualifications.

The MQA seems like it is going to be one of the main thrusts of the MOHE in regards to improving the quality of higher education in Malaysia. Tok Pah was quoted in this Bernama report, as saying that, "by having clear criteria and standards, MQF would facilitate international recognition of qualifications given out to the public and private higher education institutions in Malaysia".

The intentions are clearly good but the devil, in Malaysia's case, is always in the implementation phase. What kind of 'carrots' and 'sticks' will the MQA be able to use to ensure that both private colleges and public universities follow its guidelines? Will political expediency and the 'close-one-eye' attitude step in when certain universities or colleges fail to follow these guidelines? Will the benchmarks be 'competitive' enough such that they are recognized internationally? What is the timeframe for colleges and universities to achieve these benchmarks?

From these documents, it seems that there is a coherent strategy being hatched at the MOHE, led by Tok Pah. He wants to improve standards in the tertiary education sector in Malaysia because he feels that it is one of the keys through which Malaysia can move up the value chain and face an increasingly competitive international environment. He also wants to improve standards as a means to attract more international students to come to study in Malaysia, thus making us an 'education hub' for the region.

The game is on. We wish Tok Pah all the best in his efforts. From a realist's perspective, even if the MQA reaches half of its goals, I for one, would be fairly satisfied.


Anonymous said...

I'm not sure how should I start.. but sometimes Malaysia implement the policies the wrong way.

Example the aim to increase the number of PhD lecturers.. in my uni days I already seen some lecturers being granted the PhD or professorship too easily when in fact they don't seem to qualify for it. They were probably granted their status just because the uni or the government wanted to.

There is a much bigger challenge for improving our higher education, which has been rotten for years.

Anonymous said...

'This paper was written by a Sharifah Hapsah Shahabuddin, the Director of the Quality Assurance Division (QAD) of the Ministry of Higher Education.'

Ai-yah, this Puan Sharifah is Dr Sharifah, the prime candidate to replace Hashim as the VC of UM lah. But the outcome is still 'akan datang'.

Kian Ming said...

Dear little bird,

Thanks for the clarification. I should have caught that. If what she's written in regards to the MQA is actually implemented within the context of UM if she gets the VC job, I'd be a happy man. More importantly, we'd get to see actual change for the better at UM.