Private higher education sector needs assistance

THROUGHOUT this pandemic, former education minister Dr Maszlee Malik has consistently provided suggestions to address problems in the education sector faced by students, teachers and parents.

His proposals appear to have fallen on deaf ears, however. Indeed, we could say the same for any suggestions offered by groups or individuals in Malaysia who are not part of the government.

To be clear, Gerak’s (Malaysian Academic Movement) stand is that the long-term survival and success of the higher education sector requires structural and systemic reforms.

Essentially, while the pandemic has hit Malaysian higher education severely, it is the private higher education sector that appears to be the most badly affected.

We feel that short-term solutions need to be considered to prevent the virtual destruction of this sector.

Pre-Covid-19 and pre-lockdown, according to reports, this sector had more than 40% share of tertiary-level students (530,000), contributing more than RM30bil to the country’s revenue in 2018.

It is a very important sector for the country but has needed assistance over the past year or so. Sadly, help in a concerted and planned manner has not been forthcoming.

This pandemic and the ensuing crisis do really provide us with the opportunity to separate the wheat from the chaff. There are “mushroom colleges”, i.e. private higher education institutions set up to exploit the poorer public and provide education of dubious quality. How they got accreditation in the first place, only the authorities can explain.

The point is these dubious institutions should not be saved. But their students will need rescuing, and transferring them to the many public vocational colleges could be the answer.

The opportunity for a genuine qualitative assessment and much-needed pruning – and not political bailing out – of the private higher education sector can and must be undertaken by the authorities.

This must be done systematically and professionally, and led by a team of genuine and independent academic experts.

Whether it is pruning, giving tax exemptions, tax holiday or tuition fee subsidies or transferring academically-qualified students to other public institutions of higher education, the Higher Education Ministry must devise a workable rescue plan.

The ministry needs to seriously address crucial issues of survival faced by all these institutions, especially private ones, that are supposed to help educate and prepare a post-pandemic generation.

Some good proposals have been given, and we need the ministry to seriously consider them.

Plan and act wisely now, not tomorrow, not next week and certainly not next year.


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