PUTRAJAYA: Datuk Seri Mohamed Khaled Nordin is setting his course on regaining the trust of Malaysians in the country’s higher education system.
Trust, stressed the Higher Education Minister, would be the most important value of his administration and leadership.
“Our universities were once respected by locals and foreigners because we had quality leaders; students who were on a perpetual quest for knowledge; and professors and graduates who were great intellectuals.
“We didn’t have superficial measurements of success but people believed in our universities because we were serious about educating; they chose us not because we’re champions in rankings or top of the league in the pursuit of commercialising our education,” he said when delivering his New Year Message to ministry staff on Jan 30.
Mohamad Khaled wants his ministry to be associated with integrity.
“I want to create a culture where you have confidence in me not because I am a minister, but because I am able to work with every single one of you to make this ministry trusted and respected again.
“I want this ministry to be free from scandals, controversies, power abuses and wild gossip,” he said, when sharing his strategic plan to improve the ministry (see infographic).
Cleaning up the ministry
At the ministry level, Mohamed Khaled announced the formation of the National Review Committee to deliver the national aspirations of Malaysia Madani.
“Everything we do at the ministry and all agencies under it must translate the national aspirations (of Malaysia Madani) firmly, thoroughly and accurately.
“We must be the most trusted ministry and the most credible system again,” he said, adding that this was critical due to the multifaceted nature of today’s national education landscape and setbacks brought on by the health pandemic, climate change, energy crisis and cognitive war.
He said the ministry would focus on fair, professional, objective and non-political appointments.
“All leadership positions in MoHE and other related agencies will be heavily scrutinised from now on.
“It will be an open search for the most credible and deserving individuals. Those who understand the national aspirations of Malaysia Madani will be prioritised.
“Our mission, plans and projects must have a clear, measurable goal and these must be backed up by solid evidence and driven by good leadership,” he added while reminding vice chancellors at higher education institutions (HEIs) of their roles and responsibilities.
“University leaders should be able to provide solutions to national problems, build synergies with other institutions, find initiatives for universities to become financially independent and become catalysts to uncover hidden talents in their institutions.”
He announced that the Higher Education Leadership Academy (Akept) would be reinstated and streamlined to do more than just selecting and training HEI heads.
Akept, he said, must design a programme to boost talented leaders, whether from Malaysia or other developing countries, to become global-class higher education leaders.
Mohamed Khaled said the ministry’s capabilities, achievements and future undertakings would be re-evaluated.
“The higher education sector is a fortress for Malaysia’s competitiveness, not a place for ego boosting.
“Although we had a head start, countries like South Korea, Taiwan, Vietnam, the Philippines and Singapore, which were almost on par with us 30 years ago, are now way ahead of us,” he noted.
Proposing that the national higher education sector establish a unit akin to the Performance Management and Delivery Unit (Pemandu) or the Economic Stimulus Implementation and Coordination Unit Between National Agencies (Laksana), he said this was necessary to ensure that the ministry’s strategic plans were implemented and its targets met.
The MoHE Development Committee, he added, had to be enhanced and digital infrastructure development made a priority.
“Infrastructure developments such as new buildings and new public universities will be suspended until the country’s fiscal position recovers and strengthens,” he shared.
To prepare for the future, “A New Horizon for Science, Technology and Innovation – A Strategy for Malaysia”, a white paper will be prepared to assess the ministry’s strategy and impact in managing current and future technological disruptions.
“This will help us to plan ways to propel our knowledge forward, enrich our innovations, and lessen the administrative burdens,” he added.
Mohamed Khaled also stressed the need to strengthen Malaysia’s role as the lynchpin that attracts students, researchers and talents from around the globe.
“We cannot just be an international student hub. The Global Malaysia Outreach agenda will be revived so that we can be a talent and knowledge hub and centre of universal knowledge,” he added.
The focus on internationalisation, however, should not be on quantity, but on quality.
“I want the best students, not just the most students,” he said.
Making higher education inclusive and accessible through flexible learning and the conversion of the National Higher Education Fund Corporation (PTPTN) into a national trust fund will be looked into.
Eye on HEIs
The country’s intellectual resources must be reinforced, Mohamed Khaled said.
“MoHE is Malaysia’s brain trust, so it is only right that the brightest ideas, the most authentic findings and the most respected thinkers come from our HEIs, which must work towards preventing the brain drain.”
The ministry, he said, would increase its investments in postgraduate training, doctorate and specialty education, and make “big changes” to the national technical and vocational education and training (TVET) ecosystem as the country would need more individuals with “future-proof” technological skills and competencies.
Community colleges, he added, would be “returned to the people” as these should be the main destination for graduates, or those who lost their jobs, to rebuild and revive their careers or interests.
“Community colleges are not a place to chase diplomas and certificates, but a place to fuel passion with skills that will eventually benefit their lives,” he added.
Crediting private HEIs for their resilience, Mohamed Khaled said the ministry would do all it could to help the sector expand beyond the country’s shores.
It was pertinent that the Malaysian Qualifications Agency (MQA) collaborated with the private sector to market the Malaysian curriculum globally, he added.
“Educational policing must be stopped so that we can create a whole higher education system that does not segregate between public and private HEIs, community colleges and polytechnics.”
Putting students first
HEIs, stressed Mohamed Khaled, must strive for academic excellence at the highest level, and of the highest quality.
The focus, should be on developing students with “smart and sharp skills”, as explained by Prof Willem Smit and Dr Shien Jin from Asia Business School.
Smart skills were co-developed with other humans while sharp skills were developed with computers, Mohamed Khaled said.
He added that the ministry must empower students by providing them with more autonomy in their education.
“In the process of ‘humanising people’, students will be given more power, freedom, responsibility and room to make decisions through student movements and student unions such as opening businesses, managing the association’s finances and planning their own way of working and fighting for the student agenda,” he said.
“This is done so that students are able to experience both the good and the bad, enjoy their own successes and reflect on their failures.
“Use your powers for the greater good of mankind and the country; keep our hopes high and be compassionate.
“Let us all give our very best to make higher education the most important, and the best, sector in this country,” Mohamed Khaled concluded.