THE recent statement by Congress of Unions of Employees in the Public and Civil Services (Cuepacs) secretary-general Abdul Rahman Mohd Nordin on the delayed appointment of vice-chancellors in the five public universities should be taken seriously by the Higher Education Minister.
However, rushing to make these important appointments would also be a dangerous undertaking. The proper procedure for appointing vice-chancellors of public universities must be followed prudently. The candidate must pass the AKEPT (Leadership Academy of Higher Education) and Malaysia Anti- Corruption Commission screenings.
In the appointment of a vice-chancellor, the university, search committee, AKEPT and Higher Education Ministry should play their roles in selecting the best candidate based on high academic merit, scholarly aptitude with impressive credentials and dynamic academic leadership.
However, I have observed of late that the ministry or Department of Higher Education has sidelined the role of AKEPT in the screening and interviewing of candidates. There are instances of appointed vicechancellors or deputy vice-chancellors who have not undergone the AKEPT talent profiling process.
AKEPT used to conduct several rounds of talent profiling sessions for vice-chancellor and deputy vice-chancellor candidates from public universities.
Among academic circles, it is an open secret that the posts of vice-chancellor and deputy vice-chancellor carry the stigma of “political posts”. So, many are not surprised if the top university leaders selected are not the best in terms of their academic rigour.
In other words, the appointment is not necessarily made based on academic merit but more commonly by association with the political masters.
I admire the Higher Education Ministry’s efforts to realign Malaysian universities with those at the top of the world rankings so that the country can attract more foreign students and scholars.
However, some contradictory things happen in the process, the most obvious being the appointment of mediocre vice-chancellors in several public universities. Some of them possess very few publications in journals listed in Scopus or the ISI index, lack adequate research grants and have not graduated enough PhD students.
How can they instruct all their lecturers to publish in high-impact journals or obtain international research grants when they themselves are lacking in these aspects? A Malay proverb succinctly describes this as “Macam ketam menyuruh anaknya berjalan lurus (Like a crab telling its offspring to walk straight)”.
To advance our country in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, I believe our universities should be visible in the world rankings. Respect and recognition for our universities are based on the few renowned academic leaders that we have, but the majority of Malaysian vice-chancellors are not well known in the academic world.
I hope the Higher Education Minister will look into this matter and focus on following the proper procedures for selecting vice-chancellors for our public universities, especially by allowing AKEPT to do its job professionally.
The vice-chancellors appointed should earn respect and genuine recognition from their colleagues, staff and peers and not just because of their appointment letter.