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People Commission on Higher Education crisis should be seriously considered if government is not prepared to establish a Royal Commission despite repeated calls, whether by opposition or by eminent Malaysians like Musa Hitam for a world-class university system

Speech at DAP public forum on “Higher Education – Worsening Crisis”
at Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall

by Lim Kit Siang  

(Kuala Lumpur
, Thursday): When in early June the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi intervened in the Terence Gomez case to reverse the decision of the University of Malay Vice Chancellor to allow the eminent Malaysian academic to go on secondment on unpaid leave for a prestigious United Nations research programme in Geneva, many had hoped that there was at last light at the end of the tunnel in the protracted crisis of higher education in Malaysia – that although the road of  meaningful university reforms may be long and difficult, at least the rot had been stopped.

The Professor P. Ramasamy case, where his contract of employment was arbitrarily terminated by University Kebangsaan Malaysia has however proven that the rot in the higher education system in the country had not been stopped but had become even more rotten.  Cases of victimization of academics as had happened to Terence and Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM) vice-chancellor Prof Dr Mohamad Zohadie Bardaie continued to happen, not only just in the Ramasamy case, but also concerning two Universiti Utara Malaysia academicians, Dr Azly Rahman and Dr. Mutiara Mohamad.

In both the Terence Gomez and Ramasamy cases, I had sought to meet with the Minister for Higher Education, Datuk Dr. Shafie Salleh, but he was completely inaccessible – in this era of information technology and instant communications!

I raised the P. Ramasamy issue with the Prime Minister when I met him in Putrajaya on August 19, but nothing has happened and Ramasamy’s contract of employment had been terminated last week. May be it is not possible to expect the Prime Minister to intervene and resolve every individual issue which should have been resolved by the responsible Minister concerned.

At the "Solidarity with Dr. Terence Gomez Dinner" turned "Celebratiion
with Dr. Terence Gomez dinner" in Kelana Jaya, Selangor on 13th June 2000,  I had announced my intention to convene a meeting of MPs in the parliamentary meeting later in the month to establish an  all-party caucus on higher education to give full support to the Prime Minister's aim to create "towering Malaysian personalities" by ending the decline of university  excellence to create  a  world-class university system.

However, despite repeated attempts, I failed in my efforts to establish an all-party parliamentary caucus on higher education as those Barisan Nasional MPs who would normally be very vocal in their concern about  quality and excellence at the tertiary level  shied away from the proposal. 

I suspect Shafie’s handiwork in the  sabotage of  the establishment of an all-party parliamentary caucus on higher education as he does not want to subject his ministry to close parliamentary scrutiny and public debate.

I for one had very high hopes in Shafie when he was appointed to the new Ministry of Higher Education immediately after the April 2004 general election and had very great sympathies for him when he was defeated in the UMNO Supreme Council election in September last year, regarding him as a professional and technocrat who had been sacrificed  in the  maelstrom of party politics.

I must confess that I am now  completely disappointed by Shafie’s  failure of leadership and vision to end the crisis of higher education in the country, as he does not seem to have any  notion of the urgency for Malaysia to chart out a strategy for Malaysian universities to attain world-class standards and international recognition in the highly competitive environment of the gobalised world.

Recently, Shafie expressed the hope that in the impending cabinet reshuffle he would be retained although he had lost out in party elections last September – but I do not think Malaysians would now regard it as a great loss if  he is dropped from the Cabinet altogether.

In the past two decades, many calls for a Royal Commission of Inquiry into the education system, whether primary, secondary or tertiary had been made.

The time has come for the idea of a People Commission on Higher Education crisis to be seriously considered if the government is not prepared to establish a Royal Commission despite repeated calls, whether by opposition or by eminent Malaysians like former Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri  Musa Hitam for a world-class university system. I hope the Malaysian civil society and all sectors of the nation, including eminent educationists, could give this proposal serious consideration.



*  Lim Kit Siang, Parliamentary Opposition Leader, MP for Ipoh Timur & DAP Central Policy and Strategic Planning Commission Chairman

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