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Maszlee: Bringing back university autonomy with academia integrity

  • Maszlee speaks with students during a recent town hall session held at UiTM Puncak Alam campus.

This is the first of three parts by Education Minister Dr. Maszlee Malik about reforms in the higher education sector.

By Dr. Maszlee Malik

“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.”

- Simon Sinek, Leaders Eat Last

In leadership, there are three critical aspects:

Firstly, the importance of doing because people learn best from the example that leaders set;

Secondly, the importance of learning because great leaders are always learning from others and trying to take things to greater heights; and

Thirdly, the importance of dreaming because all great leaders need to have a dream -- a vision and mission that allows them to go beyond the self. Our dreams must give our lives and the work that we do true meaning.

At the ministry, we have embarked on three core areas of much-needed reform in Higher Learning Education.

Number one, we are reinvigorating the spirit of the university through empowerment, autonomy and integrity.

Number two, we are bringing Malaysia’s Higher Education system into Global Prominence.

Number three, we are developing future-proof graduates that carry with them crucial humanistic values.

Autonomy and integrity

What does it mean to empower universities? It means that we want universities to be a place of learning, a place where knowledge is explored, uplifted and imparted. Universities are, and should be, places that uplift society, be it through values, ideas, or solutions for real world problems.

This is why we are committed to bringing back university autonomy as well as to ensure the integrity of academia. I personally believe in the power of individuals -- in their creative genius and ability to thrive and be responsible.

One of the first things that the Education Ministry has done in crystallizing this idea is to repeal a section of the Universities and University Colleges Act 1971 (UUCA). Students’ Committees are allowed to conduct their own campus elections, assisting them to form students’ unions so that they can grow into leaders in the truest sense - by bringing in new ideas, ideals and a reimagination of how society can progress.

The government is also working to ensure the highest level of integrity in our academia, including improvising corporate governance, appointing eminent figures as members of our Vice-Chancellor Selection Committee to select only the best to become Vice-Chancellors of the public universities and have formed the Committee on Integrity in Higher Education.

For members of our academia, we are working to amend Act 605 governing statutory bodies to give lecturers their much-needed academic freedom. These amendments will give lecturers the freedom to publish articles and make public statements including on previously perceived “sensitive” topics. We are even looking into critical matters that come with freedom - that is, academic integrity and ethical conduct.

In that respect, academics are free to enjoy the fruits of their labor and also be accountable for their behavior. I have personally met our Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad about this and we are in discussions with the Public Service Commission to exempt members of the academia from restrictions placed upon the civil service, and to add unto them certain guidance to ensure their level of academia and scholarship.

We are also working hard to grant our universities autonomy and empowerment systematically from both a legal and policy standpoint. Last year we formed a team of education, legal and financial experts to look into the harmonization of the UUCA and Act 555 (Private Higher Education Act).

This means that we will repeal both acts, especially the UUCA and replace it with a new one. By the end of the year, we hope to propose a white paper in parliament that would look into university empowerment at all levels. The changes will cover every aspect, from funding to the appointment of board members, to the freedom for institutions to decide on their own personnel.

Our goal here is to make a fundamental shift in our role at the ministry. From a tight controller to a regulator, policymaker and funder. Most importantly, we will act as facilitators to assist in the betterment of universities - we must not control our universities from doing what they do best and we must trust that our universities have the means to progress when given the mandate to do so.

Aligned with this spirit, unlike the previous practice, now the government is working closely with private universities and colleges. Instead of being treated as customers, the private sector is now collectively working together on regulatory and governance to ensure the quality of private higher education.

(Dr. Maszlee Malik is Malaysian Education Minister.)

Part 2: Maszlee: Bringing Malaysia’s higher education system into global prominence
Part 3: Maszlee: Developing future-proof graduates


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