Renowned academics have weighed in on the proposal to revive the Higher Education Ministry.
It was reported recently that Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, who is helming the education portfolio, is mulling to have a separate ministry for tertiary education.
Universiti Teknologi Mara vice-chancellor Emeritus Professor Datuk Dr Mohd Azraai Kassim said the proposal was a positive and catalytic move.
“Managing education is a huge task as it is at the heart of developing people and this nation as a whole.
“It is timely as each minister can commit to each ministry efficiently and effectively.”
In the advent of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (IR4.0), Azraai was confident that a higher education ministry could take the nation’s tertiary education to great heights.
“Our education system is solidly positioned as a catalyst for students and people to compete and excel internationally. Hence, the system must aggressively ensure that our Shared Prosperity Vision 2030 becomes a reality,” said Azraai.
United Nations Secretary-General’s Scientific Advisory Board member Emeritus Professor Tan Sri Dr Zakri Abdul Hamid voiced his support and even proposed a step further.
“Higher education, aside from transferring knowledge to students, is in a business of seeking and generating knowledge through research and development.
“In fact, Algeria, France, Indonesia, Jordan and Tunisia all have ministries for higher education and research. Given the RM400 million chanelled to research universities, it is prudent to create a Higher Education and Research Ministry.
“This new ministry could forge a strong link with the private sector and come up with marketable products that generate better income for the nation, besides creating jobs for our youth.”
Several conundrums faced by the sector must be addressed, including exposure to a holistic education, he added.
“There is a need to ensure that our university students are imbued with critical thinking. They need self-confidence and must articulate their views convincingly. Mastering a global language, namely English, is a must.
“Today’s problems are multisectorial and diverse, so they shouldn’t be confined in a narrow cocoon. For instance, science majors should be exposed to the humanities and vice-versa.
“A case in point is how young graduates face the advent of IR4.0, which provides new scenarios and possibilities, yet it is not without problems. A student who is prepared to multi-task will stand a better chance of surviving and excelling in this new world,” said Zakri.
Universiti Malaysia Perlis (UniMAP) vice-chancellor Professor Dr R. Badlishah Ahmad said separating the education portfolio would allow for efficient management.
“Managing the education sector in the age of disruption requires focus, equitable distribution of resources and swift decision-making backed by policies that allow for a certain degree of flexibility.
“Having both sectors under one roof may run the risk of one getting priority over the other.”
Badlishah said education should keep pace with the changing world.
“Our ability to adapt is important. The ministry needs to revise policies to enable universities to move and react faster.”
However, as many advantages there are, Professor Datuk Dr Ahmad Murad Merican of the International Institute of Islamic Thought and Civilisation said the move also has its disadvantages.
“We have seen how universities have been bureaucratised and politicised. Rules and remuneration are subject to the Public Service Department, so much so that academics, in a legal sense, become public servants and must ‘kowtow’ to the government of the day.”
Instead of a ministry, he believed that a universities commission, which was mooted two decades ago, was a better option.
“Protecting and insulating universities from partisan interests may sound utopian, but this must be done if we want to usher in a new beginning for universities.”
The gap between public and private universities must be addressed, said Murad.
“The intellectual and cultural chasm do not seem to be narrowed down over the years. At certain times, it will seem that private universities display less reverence to national values.”
He also proposed a system to focus on undergraduate studies.
“The undergraduate university, similar to the American liberal arts college or university, is critically needed to address cognitive, cultural, intellectual and employment issues.
“With an undergraduate university, the focus will not be encumbered by research or postgraduate work. After all, the future is also about de-skilling, and developing abilities with the capacity to learn, relearn and unlearn.”
For school level, Murad recommended the ministry to be restructured as the Education and Culture Ministry.
“What is education for? It cannot exist in a vacuum. We have neglected culture in our public policy. Fusing culture and education must be seriously thought of and implemented.
“After all, what is civic behaviour, tolerance, humility, responsibility, integrity, honesty, respect and upholding the moral self and collectivity, if not for culture?”