THE Malaysian Academic Movement (MOVE), also known as Pergerakan Tenaga Akademik Malaysia (Gerak), would like to congratulate Dr Maszlee Malik on being appointed education minister in the new Pakatan Harapan Cabinet line-up. We strongly believe that with his academic credentials and long-standing experience as a scholar in Malaysia, Dr Maszlee will be able to perform his duties effectively and carry out the structural and institutional reforms needed in our education system.
Gerak welcomes Pakatan’s institutional reform agendas and looks forward to the translation of its manifold pledges into a programme of action. As academics, we are especially eager to see reforms in education, and we draw on first-hand knowledge of the problems ailing our universities as well as the potential that can be tapped.
We wish to highlight a few areas of reforms that we believe will help make our universities more vibrant, excellent and progressive.
1. Restructure university administration: Political appointment of chairmen, board of directors, vice-chancellors, deputy vice-chancellors and other top university management has to stop. In fact, we urge the new education minister to immediately replace all these political appointees with independent-minded, honest, accountable, creative, empathetic and altruistic leaders by university search committees comprising academics of quality and experience.
2. Abolish laws that stifle academic freedom: The impediments to academic freedom and excellence, such as the University and University Colleges Act 1971, Aku Janji, and the Statutory Bodies (Discipline and Surcharge) Act prohibiting academics from expressing themselves, must go. They do nothing to make academia grow intellectually; instead they control and constrain academia for rather idiotic political reasons.
3. Change the notion that universities are factories: The role of universities is higher than just providing labour for the market. We urge the new education minister to uphold this philosophy so that we can truly develop, nurture and facilitate more creative and critical individuals who will have more to offer to society.
4. Uphold meritocracy over “kulitocracy”: The new minister must take the lead in looking at crucial questions of equal opportunity and access to all stages of education, replacing kulitocracy with meritocracy. Any discrimination based on ethnicity, religion, gender, class and age must be removed. Gerak urges the new minister to ensure that the recruitment of academics and support staff and the enrolment of students reflect the diversity of Malaysian society. In other words, recruitment and enrolment must be on the basis of merit (and a means test for potential undergraduates) and not other considerations.
5. Emphasise “why” over “how” learning: Universities need to replace rote learning with creative pedagogy. In this regard, the new minister will need to spearhead an overhaul that would in the end lead to our education system emphasising the “why” questions instead of just the “how” ones.
6. Stop the obsession with Institute for Scientific Information (ISI) publications: Universities should allow academics to publish in all reputable journals without discriminating the non-ISI ones. The publication of books or chapters in books (especially among social scientists) should also be promoted.
7. Dissolve the National Professors Council (Majlis Professor Negara): In many instances since it was formed, the Council has been used to legitimise the previous ruling party rather than to promote knowledge and help the country in nation building. It should be dissolved immediately. Furthermore, professors should not be institutionalised. They should be able to engage with the government or other stakeholders without having to go through a council like this.
8. Establish a Committee on Institutional Reforms of Higher Education: The new minister should establish a Committee on Institutional Reforms of Higher Education so that other areas of reforms that need further deliberation can be looked into. Among the examples are the appointment of academic/support staff, promotion criteria, abolition/reform of the MyRA and the many red tapes in accepting external funding.
Gerak believes that with these fundamental reforms, Malaysian universities can finally reclaim their autonomy and freedom which are crucial in producing academic excellence.
We wish Dr Maszlee all the best in carrying out his duties, especially in making good the reform agenda he has been entrusted with.
PROFESSOR ZAHAROM NAIN (chair)
ASSOC. PROF MOHD FAISAL HAZIS (exco)
DR LEE HWOK AUN (member)
Gerak Executive Committee