Varsities: Why the continued slide?

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With reference to the letter, Varsity rankings: Don't blame the methodology , I read with utter despair the continued decline of Malaysian universities in the world rankings. Even Indonesian and Thai universities appear to have faired much better than the universities here in Malaysia, once the pride of this region. By this time next year, we may have to resign ourselves to having all these universities out of the first 500.

Why the continued slide? Everyone including the higher education minister must surely know the causes, but why dither or fail in taking rapid remedial measures? The minister must now step in actively if he is serious about saving Malaysia this ignominy. Some essential factors he should look into are:

The English medium

The minister cannot now turn the other way and keep ignoring the vital fact that the English language is peculiar to a Commonwealth nation like ourselves. We cannot change history. Thirty years of trying to re-engineer the educational medium of instruction has brought us to this. Almost every major textbook, citation and publication is in English.

The minister must be pragmatic and muster the administrative and political will to enforce the usage of English if we are not to be left behind by countries like Laos, Vietnam and Indonesia. Even newsreaders from China today appear to be able to present news better than our local newsreaders.

Student quality

The minister may be stuck with the quota system for his own political survival, but surely he can help improve standards here by trying to keep at least good bumiputera students at our universities. Currently, the good ones are shipped off to very expensive overseas universities and the less capable ones are placed in local universities. Common sense indicates that this is a recipe for disaster in terms of trying to maintain or improve the standards of our local universities.

Appointment of lecturers

For far too long, the minister has been giving independence to our local universities to choose their lecturers. This policy must change. The dismal standards may require the ministry to step in directly to ensure that good lecturers are appointed.

It is common knowledge that lecturers who apply to a university have their application vetted first by the administration but ultimately the head of department appears to have the final say on who gets in. This practice needs to be stopped.

In at least three local universities, it is common knowledge that the heads of departments quickly reject formidable lecturers who may be a threat to their own positions. This level of inferiority complex existing at the university level must be checked immediately as it seriously affects the government's efforts to improve standards.

Perhaps the minister has already realised the existence of this practice. This may explain why his own ministry has gone on independent recruitment drives held recently at the KLCC and KL Sentral. Unfortunately, this practice continues unabated.

Publications

The ministry must set up its own audit team to ensure continuous publications. Without this most important criteria, Malaysian universities cannot hope to climb the ladder again and may be stuck in the doldrums for years to come.

The publication culture even in an established university like Universiti Malaya is surprisingly absent. Publications are what make a university and this is seriously lacking in our universities. The minister must again ensure that those lecturers who publish are rewarded and not cold-storaged for being "too clever".

Many reasons have been given for the decline in standards of Malaysian universities but focusing on a few simple measures will, at least, arrest this decline. But politics, especially in UM, has seriously affected the performance of this university and has caused irreparable damage to the nation's image.

Yes, UM had Ungku Aziz, Professor Syed Hussein Al Attas and Professor Anuar Zaini. These chaps could deliver. But no one in the Universiti Malaya will ever forget the manner in which Anuar Zaini, the last reputable vice-chancellor UM had, was removed. The education minister must step in immediately to put a stop to these unhealthy practices. Otherwise, we have to be prepared to see our universities consistently ending up at the bottom of the class.



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