Academic body: Remove deadwood, political appointees from varsities

The Malaysian Academics Movement says universities must reform in order to become more exemplary and progressive. (File pic)

KUALA LUMPUR: The Malaysian Academics Movement (Gerak) today called for an end to the politicisation of public universities, saying that political officials “impersonating” university leaders and “deadwood masquerading as academics” have to go.

In a statement, Gerak said it had met with Education Minister Maszlee Malik yesterday, and that he had assured the group that the deadwood would be removed “sooner rather than later”.

Gerak said the practice of appointing chairmen, board members, vice-chancellors, deputy vice-chancellors and other top university administrators on the basis of political patronage and loyalty must be stopped.

“Instead, we urge the new government to immediately replace all these political appointees with respected, independent-minded, analytical and accountable leaders.”

Likewise, it said, the appointment of deans, deputy deans, directors and deputy directors “based on political or personal loyalties that presently tend to perpetuate a culture of fear and/or blind loyalty” had to stop.

Gerak said for too long, Malaysia’s higher education institutions had been under the yoke of the education ministry, and that top university managements had rarely spoken independently, let alone analytically.

“This relationship needs to be reset, from the current overt hierarchy and political subordination to one of mutual respect and critical engagement.”

According to Gerak, this was one of 10 key proposals it had made at the meeting to help universities become more vibrant, exemplary and progressive.

It said another was to uphold meritocracy over what it labelled as “kulitocracy”. While it agreed with the need for affirmative action programmes begun under the New Economic Policy in 1971, Gerak said many who were supposed to benefit from these programmes “ended up being marginalised while other communities felt unjustly ignored”.

Gerak therefore proposed that university and higher education admissions be based on merit, along with an affirmative preference given to students from disadvantaged and special needs backgrounds.

“The enrolment of university students should also reflect the diversity of Malaysian society (ie. ethnicity, religion, gender, class and age). We believe that a more comprehensive and fairer system of selection (ie. a means test for the economically disadvantaged), would clearly begin to address issues of lopsided student demography in the public tertiary education system.

“Similarly, in the area of faculty recruitment and training, the efficacy of the seemingly dated Bumiputera-non-Bumiputera dichotomy needs to be re-examined. A system where one ethnic group dominates in public universities while others flock to the private sector is an unhealthy one that only reinforces the idea of and deepens segregation in our society.

“We must move towards a situation where our (public) universities attract the best talents (preferably Malaysians) and provide training opportunities (PhD scholarships, TVET, for example) to all deserving cases. The system of providing funding purely for Bumiputera candidates needs to be re-examined.”

Gerak’s other proposals are:

* Repealing/amending laws that stifle academic freedom;

* Widening access to higher education institutions by increasing student intake in higher education (especially for TVET);

* Introducing creative pedagogy and alternative assessment practices;

* Reviewing academics’ key performance index (KPI);

* Dissolving the National Professors Council;

* Providing a safe and inclusive working environment;

* Ending unethical academic practices such as plagiarism, cheating and academic bullying; and

* Establishing a committee on institutional reforms for higher education.