Higher Education should emulate the example of GLCs to appoint the best and brightest regardless of race to lead public universities to ensure restoration of tertiary academic excellence and quality

on the Higher Education  Ministry during the committee stage debate on the Supply (Reallocation of Appropriated Expenditure) Bill 2004
by Lim Kit Siang

(Dewan Rakyat, Thursday): Yesterday, the Second Finance Minister, Tan Sri Nor Mohamed Yakcop gave Parliament an assurance that “the best and the brightest” Malaysians regardless of whether bumiputras or non-bumiputras would be appointed to head government-linked companies (GLCs) in their best  interests and those of the nation.

The time has come for the universities to emulate the example of  GLCs to appoint the best and brightest regardless of race to lead public universities to ensure the restoration of tertiary academic excellence and quality.

At present, distinguished non-Malay academicians can only get recognition if they go overseas, like Professor Wang Gung Wu, where they are appointed as Vice Chancellors in reputable universities in Hong Kong, Australia and Singapore as well as to key academic posts  which have been denied to them in Malaysia.

If the new Higher Education Ministry is to make quality university education its watchword, then it must start with appointing the best and brightest, regardless of race, and the application of the principle of  meritocracy,  for  all academic appointments and promotions.

Last June, National Economic Action Council (NEAC)  executive director Datuk Mustapha Mohamed, who is now Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department,  proposed the building of   a world-class university by establishing   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 its  resources and status.

Is the Higher Education Ministry going to give serious consideration to this proposal for the creation of a “super university” in Malaysia?

The proposal for a  “super university” reflects a serious problem of higher education in Malaysia - the lack of academic excellence and quality standards in the public universities. 

Malaysia should learn from other countries which  are giving a premium to quality assurance and improvement in tertiary education, such as the annual  ranking of universities and colleges in terms of academic excellence..

Malaysia must be ambitious enough to strive for  world-class universities, and introduce  laws to impose the statutory responsibility on  universities and educational institutions to constantly assure and improve  quality. 

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.

I want to make a final point in calling on the National Higher Education Fund Corporation (Perbadanan Tabung Pendidikan Tinggi Nasional - PTPTN) to extend study loans to  Malaysian students who are "high flyers" with 9 to 11As in SPM and come from poor families to further their studies overseas.


This is particularly pressing for Malaysian students pursuing medical studies in the Crimea State Medical University in Ukraine, probably the single biggest university, whether in Malaysia or in the world, with the highest concentration of Malaysian students studying medicine.


There are at present  some 700 to 800  Malaysian students pursuing the medical degree in the Crimea State Medical University, as it  offers the cheapest medical course for Malaysians, including local medical faculties or colleges.


It is estimated that it will cost some RM400,000 to close to a million ringgit  to pursue a medical degree in developed countries like  Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States. It will cost some RM250,000 to pursue medical studies locally, such as at the Perak College of Medicine (PCM).


For the Crimea State Medical University, the cost of the medical course is less than RM100,000, inclusive of the one-year pre-medical course.  Furthermore, the medical degree of Crimea State Medical University is recognized in the country.


In the circumstances, urgent action needs  to be taken to widen the scope of the PTPTN to permit study loans for students pursuing overseas studies.


* Lim Kit Siang, Parliamentary Opposition Leader, Member of Parliament for Ipoh Timor & DAP National Chairman