Economists: Appoint university heads based on merit

leadershipPETALING JAYA: Economists are calling for leadership positions in local universities to be appointed based on merit, not political or racial criteria.

In a report by The Edge, they said this could help Malaysian education institutions produce graduates who could move the country closer to achieving high-income status.

Prof Dwight H Perkins, from Harvard University, said the presidencies of local varsities were allocated by the government based on political or ethnic criteria.

“A lot of the privileges are going towards people who are already privileged, and that, I think, is part of the reason why universities aren’t producing graduates needed to create a high-income economy,” he was quoted as saying.

Likewise, Prof Edmund Terence Gomez from Universiti Malaya (UM) said more meritocratic polices were needed as policies which signalled favouritism were compounding the brain drain problem.

Speaking on the brain drain problem in a separate report by theSun daily, Perkins said many students go abroad for tertiary education, while a large number of these choose to remain overseas instead of coming home.

Last month, a senior fellow at Singapore’s ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute said Malaysia risked remaining in a middle-income trap if it stays on its current track.

“Unless the country starts looking at issues like producing more scientists and engineers, more university graduates that are labour-ready and of better quality, spending more on R&D, and improving its legal and regulatory framework, it is possible that Malaysia will not be able to attain high-income status,” Francis E Hutchinson was quoted as saying by The Independent daily.

In May, meanwhile, UM’s Prof Rajah Rasiah said more emphasis must be placed on merit if Malaysia wanted to stem the brain drain.

In the Edge report, Gomez added that the lack of funds for public universities also affected the quality of local institutions.

“The massive slash to university funding is a serious problem today. How are we going to build world-class universities without the funds?” he was quoted as saying.

His concerns tallied with those of academics from Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM) and the International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM), who told FMT last month that the two universities were struggling to stay afloat following Putrajaya’s reduction of funds for higher education.

When tabling Budget 2017 last October, Prime Minister Najib Razak had announced that funding for the higher education ministry was set at RM6.117 billion, down from the RM7.575 billion allocated for 2016.