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No academic freedom in public varsities without autonomy

 | July 20, 2017

Think-tank IDEAS calls for policies to allow Malaysian universities to enjoy greater autonomy over their own administrative affairs without political interference.


PETALING JAYA: The Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (IDEAS) has called for policies to bring about greater autonomy among Malaysia’s public universities over their own administrative affairs, in order to make academic freedom in these institutions possible.

‘’At the moment, our universities are not free to make independent decisions on governance, financial and admission matters,” IDEAS director of research Ali Salman said.

“The hiring of vice-chancellors, drafting of university budgets and determination of student numbers and profiles are subjected to the ministry of higher education’s control.”

“The more dependent a university is on other institutions, the more questionable the integrity of knowledge generated will be. In order to safeguard academic freedom, true autonomy is the way forward for Malaysian universities,’’ he said in statement.

He said academic freedom was tied closely to university autonomy. “When universities have the right to self-govern, academics are protected from being influenced by the interests of external parties,” he said.

Ali was commenting on a study commissioned by IDEAS on the need for universities to be free from political interference.

In his paper titled “History and Epistemology of Universities” released on July 11, Munif Zarirruddin Fikri Nordin, associate professor at Universiti Utara Malaysia’s College of Arts and Sciences, addressed whether Malaysian universities had diverged from their role as centres of knowledge and platforms for open discourse.

Ali said much of the country’s intellectual, cultural and economic development was driven by free discussion of opinions, with academics at the heart of such dialogue.

“Universities should be the breeding ground for the exploration and debate of ideas. Individual freedom to speak out without fear should be given to academics as well as students,” he said.

“In this way, the pursuit of true facts, concepts and knowledge will not be at risk,” he added.

On June 20, IDEAS released its report on a study titled “The History of University Autonomy in Malaysia” which said that despite their formal status, autonomous public universities in Malaysia had their freedom significantly curtailed as they relied on the government for fund allocations and research grants.

The report also stated that private universities which did not receive financial support from the government were subjected to “extra-legal” requirements.

IDEAS chief executive Wan Saiful Wan Jan said the report put into question the government’s determination in ensuring autonomy for the country’s institutions of higher learning.

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