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Lessons from the World Cup
  - Comments -
By: Professor Tan Sri Dato’ Dzulkifli Abd Razak
Source: New Sunday Times - July 13, 2014
   

TOMORROW will see the end of 2014 FIFA World Cup, leaving behind many memorable surprises that will have lasting impact on fans.

Those who supported Spain, for example, experienced a shocking let-down from the beginning; so tooloyal English fans. Costa Rica stole the show in an unprecedented way.

This year’s World Cup is said to be the most memorable, not only in terms of the display of skills and prowess on the pitch, but also the run-up to the matches.

At times the “beautiful game” turned ugly, with a series of protests by Brazilians demanding better public transportation and education instead of stadiums and all things football. It is made worse by Brazil’s humiliating defeat.

Furthermore, FIFA has been grappling with alleged corruption, misappropriation of funds and referees’ game fixing for a long time.

Against this scenario, the World Cup hopefuls are beginning to get nervous and are thinking of the best way to secure a win. It has been rumoured that the role of coaches has been suspended, with its high ranking officials taking over. “Game directives” have been issued and players have to comply with a checklist without exception.

The team captain is chosen based on how close (s)he is to the referees and linesmen rather than relying on the strategic vision of winning the game. The tactics to be adopted are based on “know who” rather than “know-how”. The captain is likewise tasked to form a team based on the same principle, from among a close circle of friends.

Those who have received red or yellow cards are automatically discounted since they are regarded as “risks” against winning.

Internationally renowned play-ers are not a priority because they have the audacity to question the hierarchy and challenge the status quo.

In other words, no one should be better than the captain who is fixated on those who issued the “directives” — never mind if (s)he has not even kicked a football in her/his life.

Anyone who thinks otherwise will be severely dealt with. The rule of thumb, is, if unsure, “stall” the game until a decision comes from “above”.

“Biting” is allowed to buy more time. Speed is not the essence. Neither is autonomy. The flawed overall strategy is to exert the greatest control down the line.

A similar hypothetical scenario was painted in Yangon, Myanmar at a recent higher education post-conference workshop on Governance, Academic Autonomy and Institutional Freedom attended by rectors, their deputies and senior higher education management staff, a deputy minister and members of parliament.

With the World Cup fever coming to boiling point, the analogy between soccer and higher education cannot be more apparent. Talent is everything, strikers are headhunted and retained, teams are nurtured with single-mindedness, and above all, coaches are “kings”.

Flexibility and autonomy is the most fundamental basis in nurturing a winning psyche, backed with the solid experience of a winner at all levels (see last week’s column).

Myanmar, like many Asian universities including several Asean tertiary institutions such as those in Malaysia, reportedly showed a “very low” to “low” level of autonomy and academic freedom. On the contrary, those in the “very high” range are from among East Asian universities such as Korean and Japanese tertiary institutions which do well. Is it any wonder that the Koreans and Japanese are the only Asian teams that made it to the World Cup whereas Malaysia is starkly absent, just like all Asean teams?

Like the footballers, many in the academe know too well of the correlation between institutional autonomy and enduring academic performance. Despite resistance, the “directives” still hold sway in the academia.

As a testimony to this, watch the finals tomorrow and see if the correlation holds true for the World Cup as a proxy for the world of academics.

Hopefully, the finals will awaken the unconvinced to learn some useful lessons to transform our universities, if not our football. With a stroke of luck, may they find the will and courage to move away from the comfort zone of a loser. Admittedly, this may be a long shot given the prevailing hardened mindset.


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