In remarks ignored by the mainstream media, Anwar flags the malady in Malaysian higher education quality.

23 December 2008


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From Malaysia Today

By Terrence Netto

Education is the race between civilization and oblivion, said Opposition Leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim in wide ranging remarks that virtually paraphrased H. G. Wells, the British futuristic writer, who once described education as the race between civilization and catastrophe.

While not comparably apocalyptic in tone, the PKR supremo, in recent speeches in the Dewan Rakyat on the Budget estimates on education and on amendments to the University and University Colleges Act, looked through our educational glass and felt impelled to report darkly.

“Our slumping economic fortunes are traceable to the recession in our education quality,” he said. “We are a nation at risk,” he cautioned.

Anwar saw as indivisible the link between educational quality and economic competitiveness.

“Our competitors in the region, once flailing in our wake, have caught up and are now ahead of us. We have lost our once frontal position in the region in commerce, industry, science and technological innovation,” said Anwar.
He cited several indices of decline such as the annual survey by the Times Higher Educational Supplement which saw our premier University Malaya fluctuating in the nether regions, if not actually bundled out of the publication’s annual top 200 classification. Anwar also quoted from studies and comments made about Malaysian education over two decades, including a survey done in 1983. All of them, he claimed, flagged the declension in our educational standards.

He described as “alarming” statistics recently collated by the Human Resources Ministry that found a rate of 70% unemployment among graduates of our public universities. He said this figure together with findings of 26% unemployment among graduates of private universities in Malaysia and 34% joblessness among graduates of foreign universities, especially from among Middle Eastern institutions, substantiated the perception of malady in educational quality.

The PKR leader had no doubt about the primary causal factor on the domestic front. “The in-built curbs on innovative and creative thinking contained in the University and University Collleges Act are to blame,” he opined.

Anwar equated the mediocrity percolating through our institutions of higher education as suggestive of the condition described by Nobel laureate Czeslaw Milosz, the Polish philosopher whose seminal work, The Captive Mind, mapped out the paralysis in the intellectual terrain in soviet states before the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.

“The sad fate that has befallen students in higher institutions has seeped into intellectual circles inhabited by our artists and thinkers. Robotic thinking engendered by the fetters on the intellect imposed by the University and University Colleges Act has spread its tentacles through the fabric of our society,” said Anwar.

He held that the continuing slide in our educational standards placed the country at risk, not just economically, but also socially and morally. He described amendments to Section 15D of the University and University Colleges Act, whereby an undergraduate could have his place suspended by the Vice Chancellor of his university, as boding more ill for the cause of universities as arenas for intellectual questing.

Further, Anwar criticized changes to Section 16A of the same Act that placed academic staff of public universities on the same plane as civil servants under the provisions of the disciplinary regime contained in the Disciplinary Act governing the latter.

“Though academicians in public universities are paid by the government, it is a grave misconception of the essence of their role and function to equate them with civil servants. It is a violation of the principle of academic freedom and autonomy without which true academic excellence cannot be attained,” he commented.

In summation, Anwar said Malaysia was at a grave juncture in its trajectory as independent nation where the evident loss of its economic competitiveness in the global sweepstakes was directly attributable to the decline in its educational standards and the minds of its graduate population, spawned by the mediocrity in local universities.

“The rot must be stopped; the decline has to be arrested. No investment, no effort in qualitative improvement in the higher educational sector is without its returns in the short term, more so in the longer term,” he said.

“We are never mistaken when we fret for the future of learning among our young,” said Anwar.

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