Let’s reform our higher education system

LETTER | On the eve of the 15th General Election (GE15), Pergerakan Tenaga Akademik Malaysia (Gerak) strongly supports Pakatan Harapan (Harapan) as the coalition of choice to pull Malaysia out of the multiple crises it finds itself in, including the crisis in which our higher education.

But why Harapan? Quite simply, because it is the only coalition in the history of Gerak’s existence – and we have been around for more than a few years – that has reached out to us and other civil society organizations reform-minded (CSOs) during his brief tenure from 2018 to 2020.

There were genuine attempts to work together to undo much of the damage that had been inflicted by the BN regime, which for decades was arrogant and at the same time incompetent in the management of our higher education sector. .

After the Sheraton Move in 2020, after the betrayals against the People’s Mandate, very little progress has been made by the regime that wrested power and higher education in Malaysia remains in crisis.

Hence, for us, the two opposing factors – Harapan’s willingness to genuinely address our higher education crisis and work with concerned organizations like Gerak to find democratic solutions, and the sheer incompetence and indifference, on the other hand, of the interim minister and his henchmen – enjoins us to take this position.

Therefore, Gerak also offers a summary of the main issues affecting higher education that the new government must urgently address.

Reactivate the National Council for Higher Education

There are at least six Acts of Parliament dealing with the establishment and management of higher education institutions.

There are no less than six different types of degree-granting institutions with about six types of universities.

Divisions, including between public and private, are the result of ad hoc policies designed by politicians for political rather than educational considerations. There is currently no single authority to federate the system and coordinate its role in the development of higher education.

Harmonizing the system will require the creation of a higher education commission or similar body to regulate the different types of institutions, subject to the same standards, and bring them together under a single funding scheme.

The National Council for Higher Education, created by an Act of Parliament in 1996, was to coordinate higher education policies, which the Minister was to implement.

The council ceased to function from 2013, with no reason given. Broadening the scope and constitution of the board and giving it enforcement powers can be an alternative to creating a commission.

Whatever the solution, there must be safeguards against government non-compliance with the laws it passes.

Limit government interference in universities

There is excessive interference by our government in the educational processes of higher education institutions.

In the case of private institutions, interference is enshrined in Law 555 which regulates private universities and colleges.

Public universities and institutions of higher learning, such as government-linked corporations (GLCs), are used by ruling dynasties to reward political loyalists.

The government’s power to appoint university vice-chancellors, their deputies and directors to the university board of trustees has impacted university governance and the accountability of senior officials of the university and its board of trustees.

Instead of focusing their duties on the university community of scholars, students, and the public, these officials act to appease the government and seek its patronage.

The appointment of vice-chancellors, their deputies and directors should be made by an independent agency such as the proposed commission or a reconstituted National Council for Higher Education.

Codify laws to protect the rights of students and scholars

There are attributes associated with universities without which they lose their special character.

The Universities and University Colleges Act 1971 (UUCA) is silent on issues such as university autonomy, academic freedom and the right of students to participate in university governance, all of which are important attributes for the university, scholars and students play their respective roles. college roles.

These essential attributes must be legislated. The UUCA or any new legislation passed must enshrine these essential rights.

Protect the interests of undergraduate students

Despite the rhetoric of student-centred education, current higher education legislation provides little to safeguard student interests.

Most of the provisions for students deal with discipline and what they are prohibited from doing. There is a provision in Law 555 that allows the Ministry of Higher Education to take action against the institution when student interests are threatened, but the provision lacks clarity to be of any practical use.

There are no similar provisions in other laws. Without any legislative safeguards, students must rely on their contractual relationship with the institution.

Although the Consumer Protection Act 1999 was amended 10 years ago to extend protection to students, recent cases where students have been stuck with courses that were not accredited show that neither the Department of Higher Education, neither the Malaysian Qualifications Agency (MQA) nor the Consumer Court were able to adequately address the students’ issues.

Inclusion and non-discrimination

A fundamental problem that affects not only the higher education system but many other aspects of civil rights is the entrenched discriminatory practice in appointments to public office.

Discrimination is also rampant in our public universities and higher education institutions.

The solution is simple, but implementing it requires a government commitment to change these discriminatory practices, not only in student admissions but in the appointments of vice-chancellors and principals.

Ignoring this weakness in the system will leave our universities simply as entities bearing this description, as places of worship that have burned their basic documents.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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