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Reclaiming the ethos of education
  - Comment -
By: Professor Tan Sri Dato’ Dzulkifli Abd Razak
Source: New Sunday Times - June 1, 2014

THE concept of kampus sejahtera at Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM), which is being internationalised by the Regional Centre of Expertise (RCE) on Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) of Tongyeong in South Korea, was highlighted in this column (Dec 8, 2013 and Jan 15, 2012).

The Tongyeong RCE plans to launch a Sejahtera Centre to mark the end of the United Nations Decade of ESD this year.

The centre is inspired by the kampus sejahtera programme in USM which started at the turn of the new millennium.

Right Livelihood College — another USM initiative — was internationalised last week. The concept was established in 2009 to support the Accelerated Programme for Excellence (APEX) awarded to USM in 2008.

It is aimed at reshaping the future of the university in the new millennium. It is not only about transforming the university and higher education, but also making both sustainable in line with the USM goal to be a sustainability-led tertiary institution, given the global challenges so great that the mental make-up of the 20th century is no longer deemed adequate.

There is a need to realign more closely with the global demands of being more equitable and balanced.

In turn, this means to effectively diffuse existing and emerging tensions represented by the many long-standing global divides, disparities and cultural insensitivities. And the RLC is a means to do this.

There are seven RLCs in five continents, the latest in India. Last week witnessed the setting up of the RLC Global Secretariat at University of Bonn that has housed the RLC Bonn campus since 2011 in Germany.

Right Livelihood Laureates, also known as Alternative Nobel Laureates, and a number prominent invitees attended the inauguration of the RLC Global Secretariat hosted by the Lord Mayor of Bonn in the historic city hall.

This move marks a major shift from the early days at USM in terms of reaching out through various innovative programmes to advance higher education for the future where sustainable development is embedded as one of the core commitments and principles networked among existing RLCs.

By leveraging on the expertise of 153 Laureates, who are now de facto faculty members of the RLCs, the Colleges are at once armed with invaluable “best practices” demonstrated by Laureates the world over.

Uniquely, they represent a precious library of living resources and experiences that have time and again made a “real” and long-lasting difference to the community they serve.

The RLCs collectively set the stage for consolidating and codifying these “practices” so that they can be shared as a "new" source of knowledge to inspire the future of the planet.

These practices include dialogues and discourses involving researchers, graduate students and the Laureates to promote research and scholarships (such as thoseheld in Bonn last week) and community projects designed to improve the sustainable livelihood of the community.

The overarching purpose is to develop a sustainable governance structure and system of sustainable planning, decision-making and impact assessment that can lay a firm ground for the emergence of a sustainability-led university and community.

This could create an alternative institution for the new millennum while challenging the status quo at the same time.

The time has come to humanise universities (and education) by reclaiming the ethos of education that regards people as valued members of the community anchored in values and virtues to nourish humanity as its core responsibility and purpose as the new mission of 21st century education.

This is perhaps the first step to transcend marketplace logic and neoliberal practices that distort education as no more than mere cogs in a dysfunctional mechanised world dictated by the fancies of shareholders.

For instance, the trend to corporatise and commoditise education by subscribing to the hallmark of so-called competitive benchmarking, ranking and marketability have demeaned the authority of the universities in preference to the marketplace.

Ultimately, what is left is a “University of Small-Mindedness” (the other USM) that is drawn into a cocoon of “education-industry complex” — an Eisenhower “military-industrial complex” analogy— with similar and equivalent consequences as sure signs of failure ahead.

The article is based on the writer's keynote address at the inaugural ceremony.


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