Where Sould UM Be Headed To?

Since Professor Datuk Dr Ghauth Jasmon took over as Universiti Malaya's vice chancellor this month, he has on several occasions stressed that he would lead the country's premier university into the league of the world's top 200.

It has been learned that the university authorities have in place a draft to enhance academic researches. We welcome the new vice chancellor's resolution to come up with solid development plans that will entail the university's future software engineering development.

Among the more substantial solutions outlined in the draft are:

1. Hire renowned scholars from within and without the country to conduct researches in UM;

2. Recruit international students for its Masters and PhD programmes;

3. Encourage first degree honours holders to return to alma mater for postgraduate studies.

4. Establish a dedicated committee to monitor the researches of academic staff.

From this we can observe a few major points: the percentage of UM teaching staff with PhD degrees will be increased from 48% to 60%; PhD holders from Malaysia and abroad are treated with equitable importance; as well as the enhancement of cross-border cooperation, among others.

From the four solutions above and the three major reform directions, we can see that the plan offered by UM has to a certain extent taken care of some of the academic issues the university is currently encountering, while the solutions offered have been equally pragmatic.

First and foremost, the government should play a pivotal role if the academic environment were to be really enhanced. Besides resolution and determination, the allocation of funds and drafting of long and short-term solutions, another indispensable factor that the government must not overlook is that the university authorities must genuinely respect knowledge and academic dignity, including the trust in the right of knowledge and intellectuals. They must come to the full recognition of the absolutely independent nature of academic researches as well as the dignity of intellectuals, and must not intervene or distort the creation and accumulation of knowledge based on political and administrative considerations, even to disrupt the independent thinking of intellectuals.

We must be aware that a vibrant and high quality academic environment can only be anticipated provided that it comes under a liberal and democratic socio-political system.

To be frank, the ministry of higher education is currently holding very fallacious definitions of academy and knowledge. Instant panacea has been sought. On the one hand, the vice chancellor has been replaced in order to save the day after UM has dropped out of the world's top 200 universities. On the other hand, academic research results have also been exploited to perpetuate sectionalism and exclude dissident viewpoints.

Such acts of distorting knowledge, whether long term or short term, will have a negative bearing on the promotion of a conducive academic environment. Once the academic environment and dignity of knowledge are trashed, the helplessness and indifference on the part of intellectuals will then become inevitable, while a liberal, proactive and lively academic environment will become out of reach.

Secondly, while talents and funds are prerequisites in the inculcation of excellent academic quality and conducive environment, the integrity and reformation of the system are perhaps even more crucial.

There are at least a few major serious systemic problems entailing the country's academic research environment:

1. Improper personnel promotion channel: inequality in the allocation of teaching contents and R&D opportunities between experienced teaching staff and the younger ones, which is unfavourable to the hiring of high-calibre academicians from overseas;

2. Inadequate academic evaluation system in which outsiders are often made to assess the insiders, or the evaluation of academic quality being swayed by personal preferences;

3. The lack of good administrative leaders. While there are many eyeing the administrative posts, few have the far-sight, innovation or determination to promote the academic environment. This, coupled with political intervention, has further hampered the progress of top brains while indirectly emboldening conservative and compromising acts.

Moreover, there seems to be only one fundamental reason for the discussion of the adjustments to university curricula by the government and society in recent years, that is to address the increasingly serious issue of educational joblessness, while producing that kind of people required by the society.

Many graduates today are either unable to find jobs at all or jobs that could put what they have learned into application. And adjustment of university currcicula has become a problem that the newly appointed vice chancellor will have to face.

In the past many would tend to see academic studies as the ivory tower and had little idea of the academic activities carried out in the institutions of higher learning.

With UM now making the ambitious move to offer some reform solutions, it is believed that the university would lead the country's academic development with the government's pledged financial allowances. (Translated by DOMINIC LOH/Sin Chew Daily)

MySinchew 2008.11.21