Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Evaluating the Higher Education Action Plan (Part 1)

Two blueprints which outline how the Ministry of Higher Education (MOHE) aims to transform the state of higher education in Malaysia was launched in early September. These two blueprints are: the National Higher Education Strategic Plan and National Higher Education Action Plan 2007-2010. I think many of our readers have been asking us to comment on these blueprints but because of various commitments both Tony and I haven't gotten down to going through these two documents in detail. I finally had some time today and I decided that I would go through these blueprints and share some of my thoughts on some of the strengths and weaknesses of the blueprints. This first post is mostly about my general impressions of the Action Plan.

Firstly, I'm quite certain that both documents were not written by civil servants within the MOHE but was probably sub-contracted to an outside consulting firm (the likes of BCG, McKinsey or Ethos Consulting). When one compares the Zahid Commission report with these two documents, especially the Action Plan, this immediately becomes clear. The Action Plan in particular, are chock full of slides that seem vaguely familiar to me, in terms of their formats. (I was a management consultant in a former life)

If I am correct, and I'm 90% sure that I am, it points to the sad state of our civil service that such an important document needs to be subcontracted to an outside consulting firm, at taxpayer's expense, to be completed. (There has been a growing trend within the various ministries to rely more and more on outside consultants for these types of blueprints). Other than the cost to the taxpayers, which might range anywhere from 500,000RM to 3 million RM, depending on the consultant used, I think that the two documents, in particular the Action Plan, has benefited having an outside consultant's input.

For one, instead of just having a blueprint (like the Ministry of Education's National Education Blueprint), the MOHE decided on having a Strategic Plan as well as an Action Plan. Having the additional Action Plan (which is where most of the press attention has been focused on) is useful because it gives an actionable timeline which the MOHE can be made accountable to and it makes clear some of the deliverables of the Strategic Plan (such as the Apex universities, MyBrain15, Academic Audit, Graduate Training Scheme and Lifelong Learning). Under the section on critical agendas, there are clear action plans which the MOHE has oversight over and needs to follow so as to implement these deliverables.

Having an outsider's perspective also means that the MOHE is not tied down to outmoded ways of thinking that may be symptomatic of many civil servants. Some of the language used in the Action Plan is definitely 'uncivil service like' especially in the section on the selection of the VC position, which I will discuss in further detail in a subsequent post. Most of the consultant who would have drafted / crafted this Action Plan would be young, idealistic and mostly overseas educated and would not have some of the political inhibitions which a civil servant or even a politician within the BN would have.

Of course, Malaysia is well known for having the ability to come up with great blueprints but fail in the implementation stage. While the Action Plan draws up concrete steps which the MOHE needs to take, it is still up to the MOHE to implement these stages efficiently and transparently.

My second observation about these two plans is that there is a great deal of the Zahid Commission Report on Higher Education which has been included in the content of these two plans. I think that this is a good step since it brings about some continuity and also reinforces certain positive philosophies and ideas over time. It is not like the situation in the MOE where the National Education Blueprint produced under Musa Muhammed was thrown out when a new Minister of Education, in this case Hishamuddin Tun Hussein, took over as the Minister and commissioned his own new National Education Blueprint. Tok Pah took the wise step of not throwing out the findings of the Zahid Commission, which was commissioned under the previous Minister for Higher Education, Shafie Salleh.

Improving higher education in Malaysia not only entails a mindset change within the leadership of the public universities in Malaysia but also a mindset change within the civil service in the MOHE. The fact that we have a consistent message being promoted within the MOHE, from the Zahid Commission to the time period under Tok Pa, helps, in my opinion, to spur on this mindset change within the MOHE.

Of course there are specific criticisms in regards to the Strategic and Action Plan which I have and will go into in subsequent posts, but I'm generally quite positive in regards to the substance of the Action Plan. Indeed, I see positive changes being brought about slowly within the MOHE and also in other initiatives that have to do with higher education being promoted and implemented by other ministries, most notably in MOSTI such as the QB3 Malaysia Program, blogged about here. (which I hope will be a positive and sustainable program, despite the insensitive remarks on the part of JJ while he was speaking to a group of Malaysian students there).

I'll talk about proposed changes to the governance structure in public universities in my next post.

P.S. You can read both plans here.


Anonymous said...

i think giving it to professionals to work on the blueprint is a laudable decision, rather than being drafted by incompetent civil servants, and being constrained by political influence. However, MOHE should openly admit to the subcontracting and disclose the firm behind it and the cost involved.

now that we have such a good plan, and everything is good on papers, do we have the will to implement them? or will someone then utilises his power to influence the outcome? or will it become a source of income for the corrupted, as in the AG's 2006 report?

i agree with KM that Malaysia produces critical plans, but she always fail at the implementation stage. as long as the country is being led by selfish and corrupted politicians, we won't progress.

Anonymous said...

Its not the number but quality of universities which in terms is translated into quality lecturers, quality students and quality infrastructures

This is not possible under our present political scenario....hehe

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Previously MOHE appointed potential lecturers as Tutors before sponsoring their post-graduate education. But now some are being appointed as fellows and then sent for post graduate studies.

I would appreciate someone clarifying the matter. Is it just a name change? If they are 2 different categories what are the differences in terms/remunerations etc.

Thanks in advance.

Anonymous said...

Kian Ming,

You are indeed very astute. The plans do smack of top class consulting. But I know for a fact that MOHE did not use a consulting firm to do either plan. In fact, a good friend of mine who is a Kellogg MBA and an ex-AT Kearney consultant was recruited by the ministry. For national service, he joined as a full-time contract staff to help the MOHE team with the plan development.

I'm sure he would be very happy with your review. At the very least, he delivered a credible plan for the ministry and saved the taxpayers loads of money in the process. But I'm not sure how long he'll last at MOHE. The culture clash is taking a huge toll on him.

The Hon Minister made a brilliant move by recruiting people like my friend, and other fellows with MNC industry experience. This is being borne out by the results that we are now seeing.

I only hope he doesn't lose this edge by "de-tuning" these fellows' engines to civil specs and by imposing the old baggage upon them. That would be like buying a thoroughbred horse, and using it for pony rides at a children's fun fair. That would be an immense waste. That would be a huge opportunity lost to the MOHE and to the nation.

Anonymous said...

On a different topic, please visit:

ITE wins prestigious education award by IBM and Harvard University

SINGAPORE: Singapore's Institute of Technical Education beat 100 others to win a prestigious US$100,000 education award.

The prize, given for the first time by IBM and the Ash Institute for Democratic Governance and Innovation at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government recognises the best global programmes in transforming governments.

The entries were judged on five basic criteria, including the level of innovation, effectiveness and how well the programmes can be transferred to another country.

ITE has successfully achieved this having sent their teachers from Singapore to places like Vietnam, Indonesia and Jordan to provide training and set up facilities in various technical courses.

A total of 100 entries from 30 countries were submitted for the award.

Can any of our public educational institutes achieve this? Why not?

Anonymous said...


ITE makes a worldwide top educator

At a ceremony in the United States on Monday night (Tuesday morning, Singapore time), a Harvard University institute held up the ITE as a government programme to be noted for its reforms, and it wants the post-secondary education provider to share its story with the world.

ITE is getting US$100,000 (S$150,000), sponsored by IBM, to do just that. One of the key criteria for the IBM Innovations Award in Transforming Government, which saw more than 100 entries from 30 countries, is whether the programme can be replicated successfully in other countries.

In its citation of ITE, the Ash Institute at Harvard described how it was "formerly a last resort for low-achieving students" but underwent a 10-year reform plan, "revamping irrelevant curriculum, upgrading learning environments and instating new academic requirements for current teachers".

ITE has already exceeded its target last year to offer overseas opportunities to 8 per cent of its student cohort. Some 1,380, or 11.5 per cent, went to 13 countries under its global education programme.

Why is it in Malaysia we kept reading about unemployed or unamployable graduates? Where are our 'feel good' news?

Anonymous said...

Criticising that it's drafted by consultants, and not civil servants, is not helpful.

Let us discuss the content.

1) Increase PhD from 25% to 60%.
How to achieve this in 2 (2007 is ending) years?
- Get any PhD from Local Tribal University of Timbaktu?
- Sack most of the lecturers without a PhD, so your % will go up?

While I am totally shocked, and disgusted with only 25% (and not stating if from top Universities) of the lecturers have PhD, let's get to the critical part. Is there a list of acceptable PhDs per Faculty, per course?
PhDs from certain Universities, countries are crap. We know it. Step one is to draw out the acceptable PhDs. And no distance learning PhDs pls, we know they're shit.
When we get a decent no (60%), then we start insisting on them getting at least 1 year overseas experience during or after PhD pass to booster our teaching staff.

2 - How do we promote to Assoc Prof or Prof?
2 main streams in practice.
- The UK style is, there is a fixed quota of Assoc Prof or Prof per Faculty. A panel of internal and external (note not from their own country and must be top Universities in the world) Profs decide who to promote if 1 Assoc Prof or Prof leaves the post.

- The US style, is no quota. But to be promoted to Assoc Prof, you must have x number of publications in REAL International publications, hold x number of patents, citations and pass a panel interview.
To get promoted to Prof, you must get SIX EXTERNAL, world renowed Prof to support your thesis on research, teaching philiosophy, consultancies. I believe UC, NUS is using this.

We must state the correct standards for the blueprint to be effective.

I say it's a very good blueprint. Except, the standards are lacking.

Dizzer said...

Yes, the blueprint contains many solid elements but implementation will, as always, be the crucial factor. You're correct to point out that it retains many of the elements of the Wan Zahid report and I have a feeling that it is a genuine attempt to put practical plans ahead of politics. At least we all hope so.

I can also confirm that it wasn't drawn up by outside contractors. There has been an unfortunate (and expensive) trend over the past few years to commission international consulting firms to put plans together for both public and private sector education, even when they haven't the faintest clue about the complexities of the Malaysian education system. They then sub-con (with an emphasis on the final syllable) to local experts for a fraction of the fee. Nice work if you can get it.

As far as I'm aware, this time around the MoHE set up 7 different committees each tasked with providing input on particular areas. The committee I was involved with offered suggestions on "Competitiveness in Higher Education" and it consisted of three private sector folk (two college heads and me) and three Ministry officials.

These suggestions then went to another committee which incorporated them into a final draft, but I'm not sure if the finished product was contracted out for final production.
Mark Disney

Anonymous said...

well, the plan is to reinforce cemerlang gemilang terbilang ideas, become world class everything in 10years time. Anyways.