As Malaysian Qualifications Framework can only ensure minimum quality, what the country urgently needs is  a Malaysian Quality Framework and  laws imposing statutory responsibility on  universities and educational institutions to constantly assure and improve  quality

Media Statement
by Lim Kit Siang

(Petaling JayaWednesday): Education Minister, Tan Sri Musa Mohamad yesterday announced a Malaysian Qualifications Framework from next year to streamline qualifications offered in all universities and colleges “so  that  the public, including students, parents and employers, would be assured of quality education”.

Opening the National Seminar on the Malaysian Qualifications Framework (MQF) 2003 at Putrajaya, he said: "We have a wide area of qualifications and we have to ensure that their equivalents are known and that standards are set for various stages for those qualifications."  

Musa said the MQF would be structured in such a way as to ease all confusion over the recognition granted to specific courses.  He  said that once the MQF was established, criteria and standards of all qualifications registered in it would be explicit and based on internationally accepted best practices. 

Musa said it would eventually be made “compulsory” for universities and colleges to register under the MQF.

He explained: "It will not be compulsory in the sense that there will be a penalty, but if somebody operates a college and the qualifications are not (listed) in the MQF, then it would be unlikely for the college to be given approval by the National Accreditation Board (LAN) or by the Quality Assurance Division of the Higher Education Department. If it continues to operate, then it is doing so illegally.

"Initially, we will encourage them to register voluntarily, but if they don't come under the MQF, the public will then disregard that qualification." 

Although the Malaysian Qualifications Framework is welcome as it would ensure minimum standards attained by the different qualifications offered by private institutions of higher learning, it will not assure  educational excellence  or  improve quality in higher education in Malaysia, whether in the public or private sector. 

Ensuring  qualifications have minimum quality is very different from ensuring   continuing improvement in quality as it  is a great fallacy to equate qualifications with quality. Otherwise, the country would not be   faced with the problem of tens of thousands of graduate unemployed from the public universities each year, for the simple reason that their university  qualifications from the IPTAs are not  equivalent to quality or excellence.  

Last month, National Economic Action Council (NEAC)  executive director Datuk Mustapha Mohamed had a brain-wave as to how to create a world-class university when he proposed  a “super” university with the best students and lecturers and that will be assured of the biggest grants from the Government  so  that researchers from around the world would be attracted by the resources and status of the proposed university.

Although the NEAC’s proposal for a “super university” was shot down by the Education Minister the next day as “not feasible”, it confirmed the constant DAP critique of the major failure of the higher education system in Malaysia, –the lack of a  world-class university and the  30-year decline of academic excellence and university standards in the public universities.

In the sixties, Malaysia's sole university, the University of Malaya, was rated as one of the best universities in  the Asia-Pacific but more than  three decades later, it had suffered such a serious erosion of  academic standards and quality that it was ranked a lowly 47th position out of 77 universities in the Asiaweek's 2000 ranking of Best Universities in the region, with two other named universities, Universiti Putra Malaysia in 52nd and Universiti Sains Malaysia in 57th position.

Malaysia has currently  17 public universities, 11 private universities, 4 foreign university branch campuses, 3 local private university branch campuses, 2 private university colleges and 516 private colleges/institutes of non-university status – but we do not have a single world-class university when we should have several by our global development status.  I do not think Malaysia even  ranks among the world’s  300-400  top universities.

The establishment of the Malaysian Qualifications Framework can  make no  contribution to the establishment of a culture of quality  in the universities  to  reverse  the trend of decline in academic standards and excellence or create  world-class universities. 

What Malaysia urgently needs is not just the  Malaysian Qualifications Framework to  ensure minimum quality for educational qualifications, but   a Malaysian Quality Framework and  laws to impose statutory responsibility on  universities and educational institutions to constantly assure and improve  quality. 

In the era of globalization, Malaysia must be prepared to emulate the best international practices, whether in education  or in  other fields.  In this regard, Parliament should amend both the Universities and University Colleges Act and the Private Higher Education Institutions Act to impose the statutory responsibility  of quality improvement and quality assurance on public and private universities and colleges. 

The Irish Universities Act 1997 explicitly provides that quality improvement and quality assurance are the objects of a university and sets  out the framework for educational institutions to develop their quality processes for teaching, learning, research  and other university services to consistently reach a high standard of excellence. 

As a result, every  Irish university  has a quality office with responsibility for quality assurance and quality improvement in all areas of the university’s mission and the periodic quality review of the various units of each university are made public in the interests of public accountability and in accordance with the commitment to develop a quality university  culture.


* Lim Kit Siang, DAP National Chairman