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Solving Malaysia’s academic problems

November 17, 2017

Writer says the main problem is systemic, mostly due to political interference in Malaysia's education system.

FMT LETTERS

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By Rosli H Mahat

Gerak wishes to thank FMT for covering Professor Omar Shawkataly’s talk yesterday under Gerak’s Seminar Series.

Gerak reiterates that many academic ill-practices and acts of misconduct happen at universities, with very few reported and only a handful investigated.

Disciplinary actions for investigated cases have been inadequate and fail to send a strong signal to prevent future perpetrators. The malpractices are also indications of the desperate actions taken by a handful of faculty members trying to cut corners to fulfil annual KPI and to gain promotions at all costs.

The main problem is, of course, systemic, primarily due to political interference in the Malaysian education system, including higher education.

As a consequence, we persistently have a situation where the direction of the institutions of higher learning is formulated by those with no real academic experience or vision.

Another consequence is that a number of recruits are also academically questionable, hence easily misdirected. Indeed, we would argue that the malpractices at universities have been committed by academics with no clear understanding of ethics, discipline and professionalism.

This has been further compounded by the lack of guidance by senior academics, many of whom often think of their own self-interests rather than professional goals.

The situation becomes worse when many academics – and the general public – are not aware of the real purpose of university education and the duties and responsibilities of faculty members.

To mitigate this decline, it is clear that apart from the cutting off of political interference, each and every university stakeholder has to play a concerted role. This includes the university board members, the media, all faculty members, alumni (donors), parents, students and administrators.

One clear and practical strategy would be universities recruiting and screening bright and hard-working individuals to be lecturers and to helm our universities, not mediocre and lazy ones.

Proper criteria for selection – and sticking to these criteria – would help weed out the “cari makan” types and bring in committed individuals. This would certainly mean advancing meritocracy and ending “kulitocracy”.

The university is a vitally important social institution. The late US Chief Justice Earl Warren said without free scholarly inquiry, autonomy and academic freedom, universities – and invariably society – will surely “stagnate and die”.

Rosli H Mahat is secretary-general of Pergerakan Tenaga Akademik Malaysia (Gerak) and the Malaysia Academics Movement (MOVE).

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.


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