Our uni­ver­si­ties must pro­duce world cham­pi­ons

The Sun (Malaysia) - - SPEAK UP -

“WHAT is a uni­ver­sity?” (My View, Oct 5) pro­vides food for thought for pol­icy plan­ners.

If we use the def­i­ni­tion cited in the ar­ti­cle as a mea­sure of what a uni­ver­sity should be, ours fall short. Our pub­lic uni­ver­si­ties are not “above pol­i­tics”. They are not above busi­ness, ei­ther. For ex­am­ple, all pub­lic uni­ver­si­ties have es­tab­lished hold­ing com­pa­nies to bring in ex­tra cash. While the in­ten­tion is no­ble, its con­se­quence is not al­ways straight­for­ward.

The govern­ment can­not shirk pri­mary re­spon­si­bil­ity of educating the rakyat un­der the pre­text of giv­ing fi­nan­cial au­ton­omy to uni­ver­si­ties.

As a cit­i­zen, I am con­cerned with the qual­ity of ed­u­ca­tion in our pub­lic uni­ver­si­ties. None of our 20 pub­lic uni­ver­si­ties ap­pear in the top 100 in the World Uni­ver­sity rank­ings for 2015 and ear­lier. The low rat­ing speaks vol­umes of the qual­ity of ed­u­ca­tion in the uni­ver­si­ties. With the fi­nan­cial sup­port (RM41.3 bil­lion; about 20% of al­lo­ca­tions in 2016), there are no ex­cuses for poor per­for­mance.

The scholas­tic per­for­mance of our 15year-old stu­dents in maths, sci­ence, and read­ing as as­sessed by the Pro­gramme for In­ter­na­tional Stu­dent As­sess­ment (man­aged by the Paris-based Or­gan­i­sa­tion for Eco­nomic Co­op­er­a­tion and De­vel­op­ment since 2000) is equally em­bar­rass­ing. In 2012, while Malaysia was ahead of In­done­sia and Mex­ico, it was many notches down from the per­for­mance of stu­dents in Thai­land, Turkey, Viet­nam, Tai­wan, Hong Kong, Sin­ga­pore and China. The PISA per­for­mance of Malaysian stu­dents for 2016 is ex­pected to be the same, if not worse.

The 15-year-old stu­dents who end up in uni­ver­si­ties are likely to show the same traits and the cy­cle of ac­cu­mu­lat­ing deficits in qual­ity ed­u­ca­tion will be en­trenched fur­ther. The deficits will surely show in fu­ture rank­ings. And, world­wide, peo­ple will con­tinue to judge our ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem neg­a­tively.

The au­thor­i­ties must ac­knowl­edge that some­thing is wrong with the qual­ity of ed­u­ca­tion. Can we blame the teach­ers? Should we blame the ed­u­ca­tion-ecosys­tem that em­pha­sises ac­cess at the ex­pense of qual­ity? Or does it have to do with the politi­ci­sa­tion of the ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem and man­age­ment that has left a few hun­dred grad­u­ates with­out jobs for years? Or, has the de­cline in aca­demic schol­ar­ship in our uni­ver­si­ties to do with politi­cians’ ob­ses­sion with the phys­i­cal as­sets of build­ing ivory tow­ers, at the ex­pense of qual­ity ed­u­ca­tion? Or, could it be the medium of in­struc­tion, where the cor­pus of ad­vanced knowl­edge in sci­ence, math­e­mat­ics and lit­er­a­ture is still un­der-de­vel­oped?

Most Malaysians have a clear pur­pose of for­mal ed­u­ca­tion. For them, knowl­edge is ac­quired through for­mal ed­u­ca­tion in schools and uni­ver­si­ties. They ex­pect their uni­ver­si­ties to pro­duce world cham­pi­ons.

BA Hamzah Kuala Lumpur

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