LETTER | I am writing in response to your columnist Mariam Mokhtar's partial assessment of Maszlee Malik's tenure thus far as minister of education in her article Maszlee Malik: The most influential or most destructive minister?
While Mariam has understandably focused on the alleged low points of Maszlee's tenure - in her usual combative style - there are ongoing crucial high points leading to genuine education reform that she is either not aware of or has disregarded.
In the first place, let us be clear that not all politicians, especially new, first-time Pakatan Harapan politicians, have been media savvy or cunning enough to tirelessly face a newly-antagonistic and questioning media - revived, thanks to the freedoms provided this past year or so by the Harapan government.
In many ways, it has been a steep learning curve for all of us facing a demanding and often understandably-impatient Malaysian public and media.
This reality check aside, in the area of higher education, some crucial strategic and policy-related decisions made by Maszlee need to be highlighted.
In beginning the long journey to reforming a public university sector battered by decades of political interference and damage, Maszlee has done at least the following:
1. Setting up a University Vice-Chancellor Search and Selection committee in September 2018. This committee comprises fiercely independent and respected scholars and public intellectuals. Since it's establishment, the committee has evolved through ongoing direct and open discussions with Maszlee. It has reached a stage where the committee now directly seeks/searches for the best VC candidates in the country to lead intellectually and to restructure our public higher education system. This is pioneering. The wider objective is to reformulate public higher education - and invariably, higher education in Malaysia as a whole - as more of a public service and not merely as a commodity dictated by economic imperatives.
2. Crucial in the development of all education policies are the integrity and public accountability of education institutions and those running them. Here, also in late 2018, Maszlee personally set up an autonomous Academic Integrity Committee to independently receive and investigate cases of wrongdoing - such as academic plagiarism and sexual harassment - in our higher education institutions. This committee reports it's findings directly to the minister with recommendations.
3. Contrary to some media reports and perceptions, the total repeal of the Universities and University Colleges Act (UUCA) and the proposed removal of the academic restrictions under Act 605 are well underway. Here again, Maszlee has played a central leadership role in inviting independent, critical scholars and experts to lead this repeal.
These three examples, I believe, will suffice for now. There are many more actions that are being taken over this period, led by Maszlee and his vision for a vibrant and internationally competitive higher education system grounded on integrity, independence and intellectual leadership.
My team and I would be more than happy to discuss these with the media and concerned writers and critics like Mariam Mokhtar. I may be contacted at [email protected]
The writer is press secretary to the minister for education.
The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.