Groups trying to ‘sabotage’ Terengganu varsity merger, says Maszlee

Education Minister Maszlee Malik gives children the high five at the launch of the National Reading Decade, aimed at making Malaysia a reading nation by 2030, at Putrajaya today.

PUTRAJAYA: Education Minister Maszlee Malik has accused certain groups of trying to sabotage the proposed merger of Universiti Malaysia Terengganu (UMT) and Universiti Sultan Zainal Abidin (UniSZA).

He said there had been so much controversy surrounding the proposed merger of the two Terengganu universities even before it had been announced.

The Cabinet had, on Sept 4, agreed in principle to merge the two universities, but several groups and individuals have voiced their opposition against the move.

“Before we could even announce this (the merger), there were already elements of sabotage sparking the issue by only giving half the information,” Maszlee said after launching the National Reading Decade, which aims to make Malaysia a reading nation by 2030, here today.

He said it was found that some “remnants” of the old regime were using the issue to gain political leverage for the opposition, especially Umno.

Umno, he said, had been using local universities as their “political centres” before this, and the current administration wants to change that.

“When you hear part of the information and not the whole story, it will lead towards misunderstanding,” he said.

Maszlee explained the objectives of the proposed merger, saying the achievements of UMT had not been very pleasing compared to other local universities, ranking second to last.

“Even from the perspective of employability of graduates from UMT, it is also unsatisfactory,” he said.

He said that following discussions, the Cabinet suggested a merger and synergising of both universities, as has been done in countries like Norway, Finland, the United Kingdom, Australia and the United States.

“We formed a committee to carry out research on the advantages of such a merger and there were a lot of positives.

“The only thing left to do is draw up a communications plan and finalise the structural elements if the merger does happen,” he said.

Maszlee said that UMT and UniSZA have the same courses and professors from the same fields, only in different universities.

He also said that they have courses that have not been capitalised upon and should have been made a niche field.

“For example, there is a maritime course at UMT. They don’t focus on it enough because they’re too busy with the other courses,” he said.

“Our focus for our public universities at this time is to ensure we make them reference points on a global stage for their respective fields.

“We also want to ensure our professors can compete on an international level, and our graduates can compete globally while having high market appeal,” he said.

Former higher education minister Khaled Nordin had criticised the proposed merger, saying it was unprofessional and unnecessary.

Khaled said the government had failed to present a comprehensive study on its necessity and how it would affect the stakeholders, which made the merger seem reckless and politically motivated.

In response, Maszlee said it was Khaled’s opinion.