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Malaysia’s higher education sector has been sidelined since the two education ministries; Education and Higher Education, were merged into one, claims Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM) General Staff Union (Kepertama) president Mohd Razali Singah (2nd from right). - NSTP/ROSELA ISMAIL

SERDANG: Malaysia’s higher education sector has been sidelined since the two education ministries; Education and Higher Education, were merged into one, claims Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM) General Staff Union (Kepertama) president Mohd Razali Singah.

He said this during a press conference held at UPM today in response to Prime Minister and interim Education Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad mulling whether or not to revive the Higher Education Ministry.

Voicing Kepertama’s support for the ministry to be revived, Mohd Razali, who is also the deputy president of the Joint Councils of Presidents and Honorary Secretaries of the Malaysian Universities Staff Union (Gakum) believed that this move would strengthen the focus on higher education institutions (HEIs) in Malaysia.

“From our observation, the progress of HEIs in Malaysia have lagged behind and we are not given the focus that we need.

“While we acknowledge and appreciate the many reforms that the former minister Dr Maszlee Malik made, there is no denying that higher education has been sidelined.

“We are aware of the increasingly challenging higher education sphere. Hence, it calls for a specific ministry to focus on spearheading the direction of HEIs in the nation.

“With the split, we hope the new Higher Education Ministry will propel public universities to achieve a higher prestige in the global arena,” said Mohd Razali.

He highlighted several issues faced by the Malaysian HEIs that need to be addressed.

Firstly, Razali said the ministry has been too concentrated on improving schools in Malaysia, leaving universities to be set aside.

“We found it difficult to communicate with the ministry to share our wishes and complaints. The current ministry’s portfolio is too wide, as it comprises both school-level and tertiary education.”

Secondly, the proposed merger of Universiti Malaysia Terengganu (UMT) and Universiti Sultan Zainal Abidin (UniSZA) was not well planned.

“We are not happy with the merger due to the universities’ very distinct specialisations. Unisza focuses on Islamic studies, management and medicine while UMT is marine-focused.

“It is not relevant to merge the two universities due to geographical convenience. It is more efficient for UMT which originated from our Fisheries and Marine Science Centre to merge with UPM.

“We are concerned that the ministry did not go through more consultation and engagement with the stakeholders. This might have happened due to the lack of focus.”

Thirdly, the university and academic staff’s burdens need to be addressed.

“There is a shortage of executive staff. As universities progress and the number of students increase, our welfare is getting more sidelined.

“For instance, issues relating to the appointment of vice chancellors which falls under the ministry’s purview can disrupt the university’s administration. Again, we are not blaming anyone, but we feel that the portfolio is just too huge for one ministry.”

Mohd Razali added: “We worry for the future of higher education in this country. On behalf of public universities, we hope that the government can take our aspirations into consideration.

“We hope to see a ministry which exclusively oversees higher education, led by an experienced minister. We are confident that Dr Mahathir will make the right appointment.”

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