Professor Tan Sri Dato' Dzulkifli
- Comment -
The New Sunday Times – January 25, 2009
IN his acceptance speech last year as the newly-appointed Minister of Higher
Education Datuk Seri Mohamed Khalid Nordin pledged full support to
implementing the National Strategic Plan for Higher Education launched by
Admittedly, in his own words then, the task was a daunting one, given the
complexity that surrounds higher education, which prevails not only in
Malaysia, but globally.
Even in developed countries where higher education has existed over
centuries, the confronting issues are very similar. The difference, perhaps,
is that the issues are dealt with in a more sobering approach, involving
mostly academics and their fraternities.
Collectively, they thrash out the issues and arrive at a solution backed by
their peers. By and large, politicians and political parties are seldom
involved, less still turning the situation into some kind of political
football, with points scored over one another at the expense of education
Thus, in this sense, Khalid has a tough job at hand. To use the football
analogy, he must both ensure that the game is properly played according to
the international set of rules and, at the same time, defend the goal post
from being ravaged by others, who may not be interested in the rules at all.
To his credit, Khalid has defended the goal post rather well, while taking
various initiatives to further move the game into the big league.
So, when he gave his annual address last week to the higher education
community, he did it with a sense of pride and achievement. True to his
words, he not only supported but, more than that, also facilitated the
implementation of the first phase of the strategic plan in a systematic way.
The Accelerated Programme for Excellence (Apex), MyBrain15 and enhancing the
delivering systems are among the more visible and difficult initiatives that
were launched, putting higher education on a different trajectory from the
Indeed, he is more interested in creating the future while leveraging on
what has been successfully carried out previously.
This point was well taken when Khaled underlined that there would be no more
new public universities.
Instead, the emphasis is on the need to build better "intellectual
infrastructure" which is well-captured in the ministry's new tagline: "Meneraju
Khaled talked about the need to populate the universities with high quality
and talented people, ranging from students to staff. The fact that the 2009
budget allocation is about RM14 billion, a 15 per cent increase from what it
was last year, is certainly not a pipe dream.
Further, under the MyBrain15 agenda, some 60,000 PhDs will be trained by
Thus, moving forward, Khalid expanded on 18 critical agenda which are part
of the strategic plan, all except one - academic-industry collaboration.
The tone of his address was accommodating and facilitating. This can be
illustrated by a number of concrete steps to ensure a more conducive future.
One important change is the implementation of the new amended Akta
Universiti and Kolej Universiti (Auku) next month.
Therein is a recognition that autonomy is a critical element in the
university's search for excellence, accompanied by a sense of
It follows that the "command-and-control" mode of operation that has long
beleaguered our universities is being gradually dismantled.
The new relationship with the universities is now based on trust and
respect, instead of fear.
For too long, the act, rightly or wrongly, has been perceived as an
instrument of fear. Universities are now given the flexibility to plan for
their own "destiny", as it were, using approaches of their choice in
arriving at the strategic goals.
Some of these flexibilities outlined include the mechanism of hiring and
rewards, benchmarked against world standards.
Non-conventional modes of degree-awarding courses are encouraged, so too
self-accreditation and self-auditing to enhance quality.
Sharing and exchanges of "best practices" between universities and with the
industry ought to be more creative beyond what is done today.
There must be an unshackling of the minds in trying to translate the
strategic plan for the future where "speed" is of essence.
In summary, the minister's address presents renewed hope for Malaysia's
With the return of the all-important "trust" to the universities, the
uncharted waters are now within reach to make higher education more relevant
for the future.
In a way, this perhaps represents our "audacity of hope" as championed by
the new US president who took office the same day.
If so, this too will mark a new chapter for Malaysia, particularly in the
history of the higher education sector.
Wishing all Chinese readers Gong Xi Fa Cai!
The writer is the Vice-Chancellor of
Universiti Sains Malaysia. He can be