Call to appoint brave men with entrepreneurial spirit as VCs

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PETALING JAYA: The way to improve standards at Malaysian universities is to employ vice-chancellors who are brave enough to make changes and think like entrepreneurs.

This is the view of former Universiti Malaya Vice-Chancellor Prof Ghauth Jasmon.

He said today that Malaysian public universities had failed to produce world class universities because they had become heavily reliant on the Government. This, he said, had made vice-chancellors complacent.

“In Malaysia, the Government gives students to varsities. Money is given. There are no challenges. The VC does not have any idea how to raise funds. They are too afraid to make any change because their neck is always on the chopping block from pressure groups and the Government,” he said.

He was speaking to about 100 people, mostly from the education sector, at a forum on expanding private higher education organised by the Jeffrey Cheah Institute on Southeast Asia.

Ghauth, who is well respected in education circles, said the Malaysian Government gave 80 per cent of the operating cost to each public university whereas the governments of Thailand and Indonesia only gave 20 per cent of the operating cost.

“The VCs in these two countries have no choice but to operate like private colleges. They offer courses relevant to the market needs. Their syllabuses are current, unlike ours. Some of our syllabuses have not changed for the past 20 years.”

He said the Thai and Indonesian university heads were entrepreneurs and go-getters.

“Public universities in Thailand and Indonesia run their own businesses. Chulalongkorn University has 7 huge supermarkets, 1,400 commercial buildings. Indonesian public universities are successful too. Both countries started venturing out 30 years ago.”

The vice-chancellors in these two nations had to be on their toes to attract students without sacrificing the quality of education, as a drop in their standards or grades would not attract other students to register with them, said Ghauth.

In contrast, he said, most of the vice-chancellors in Malaysia were at a loss, especially since the Government announced budget cuts in operational costs for every public university.

The Government, in Budget 2016, had slashed university budgets by RM2.4 billion, from RM15.78 billion in 2015 to RM13.37 billion for the year 2016. Universiti Malaya had the most severe cut of 27.30 per cent, he said.

“The immediate reaction of public universities, especially the board members in UM, is to cut costs rather than expand business.”

Ghauth said some of the universities would, in such a situation, unsubscribe to online journals, charge for usage of sporting facilities and remind their staff to switch off lights, and repair leaking pipes.

Some administrators have suggested commercialising International Property rights and research papers.

“The truth is, there is not much money to be made from commercialising IP rights or selling research papers unless you are a Stanford or Harvard,” Ghauth said.

Saying the way to improve standards was to change the vice-chancellors, he pointed out that during interviews for the post of Vice-Chancellor, no one asked how the person would make money for the institution. “We need to change this,” he said.

During his time at UM, from 2008 to 2013, he had approached the University of Wales to have a joint venture with UM to open a private university – University of Malaya Wales. It started three years ago and operates out of UM. The money generated from the private university goes to UM.

“This is one way to be independent. The less we depend on money from the Government, the more UM can start standing on its feet. It can start making its own decisions to make UM world class.”

Ghauth said brave vice-chancellors were needed to make changes to Malaysian higher education. “Otherwise, it is just going to be worse from now on as the Government will continue to cut budgets due to the drop in oil prices.”

UM went up five spots to sit in 146th place in the Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) World University Rankings for 2015/ 2016. There are 20 over public universities in Malaysia.