February 11th, 2012

Varsity autonomy

Now that research universities have been given more control over their own affairs, the challenge is for the institutions to rise to the occasion.

WHEN it was first announced in 1995 that Universiti Malaya (UM) would be corporatised, it was said that the move will enable the varsity to compete in the marketplace.

Among the other objectives of the corporatisation effort was to ensure a better working environment and curb the exodus of experienced staff to more lucrative pastures.

Future leaders: University students with their banner of hand prints at the National Student Assembly gathering held last year.

UM was officially corporatised in 1998, amidst controversy over the remuneration packages for staff due to the economic situation then.

But going by comments reportedly made by UM vice-chancellor Tan Sri Prof Datuk Dr Ghauth Jasmon recently, stating that the institution was plagued by “mediocrity” and has “never been good”, perhaps the corporatisation controversy was for naught.

In an interview published last week, Prof Gauth was further quoted as saying that 200 out of the 2,000-odd academic staff had failed their doctorates pursued abroad since 2008, some on university scholarships, and that in the past “we were not too selective whom we brought into the university”.

On Jan 26, Higher Education Minister Datuk Seri Mohamed Khaled Nordin officially granted autonomy status to five public universities — UM, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM), Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM), Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM), and Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM).

Speaking to reporters after the announcement, Mohamed Khaled stressed that the main focus of the autonomy status was to enable universities to excel.

Valuable findings: The commercialisation of research can be useful in generating income for institutions of higher learning.

“There will be no more excuses not to excel. They will not be tied down by Government rules or processes,” he said.

All five varsities had undergone an audit process, which started last year with a pilot audit carried out by a team headed by UKM vice-chancellor Prof Tan Sri Dr Sharifah Hapsah Syed Hasan Shahabudin.

The team developed the Code on University Good Governance and the University Good Governance Index as instruments of measure for the final audit carried out by ministry officials.

The five research universities will have autonomy in four areas; institutional governance, finance and wealth generation, human resource and academic management, and student admissions.

Mohamed Khaled said last year that the Government will still be involved in university affairs if only to safeguard national interests, and that the autonomy given would not lead to privatisation.

“Autonomous universities will continue to be funded to subsidise the cost of higher education and although they will be expected to raise private fees, student recruitment must be based on quality rather than their capacity to pay,” he said.

Governance

Deputy Higher Education Minister Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah explains that the concept of autonomy is a constantly evolving one.

“One way of looking at it is to treat public universities like government-linked companies (GLCs), with the ministry holding the ‘golden share’ amongst other stakeholders — the goal is to allow universities to govern their own affairs.

He adds: “Government officials must trust the universities to manage themselves, and university staff also need to change the way they do things.

Student power: With universities being given autonomy, it remains to be seen if this freedom will extend to students as well.

“In the spirit of receiving autonomy from the minister, it is only appropriate if vice-chancellors afford some sort of freedom to faculty deans.

“For instance, if the universities can now choose their own students for admission, perhaps faculties should be allowed to pick their students as well; for many foreign universities, students apply to the respective departments of study and not the central registrar.”

Some universities have clearly expressed this desire to share the autonomous powers, as evidenced by Prof Sharifah’s message to UKM staff and students.

“We will allocate a certain amount of money for staff salaries and so on and you must know now how to manage your own affairs.

“The sense of responsibility, being efficient and effective must be cascaded down, if not, it becomes meaningless.

“Of course we will have training sessions on management for heads of departments, deans, deputy deans also leadership courses. We are preparing our people to face the autonomy,” she was quoted as saying in a UKM news portal report.

But what of public trust in the governance of universities?

Looking ahead : Saifuddin says a a cultural shift is needed for universities to excel.

Since the corporatisation effort, the board of directors replaced the university’s council as the highest decision-making body in public universities.

The board of directors, which include the vice-chancellor and representatives from the ministry, industry and university alumni, is appointed by the minister and handles the administration of the university.

The university senate, appointed by the vice-chancellor, deals with academic matters.

Meanwhile, the minister also appoints vice-chancellors and deputy vice-chancellors based on the recommendations of a Government-appointed search committee.

Saifuddin makes a case for why the ministry still holds considerable power over universities.

“Public universities are funded by taxpayers, and so we need to play the custodian by acting on behalf of the people,” he says.

“Critics may say that these positions are all ‘political’, but this is a question of integrity — whoever the government of the day is, they need to maintain integrity.

“So long as we carry out our nomination and selection process in a transparent manner, I think most people will be supportive of the appointments.”

Despite the noble intentions of the minister of the day, it is arguable that such a system of appointments will still be seen as lacking sufficient independence.

Financial accountability

Another major reason for the autonomy status is to allow universities the required freedom to generate their own source of revenue.

Currently, taxpayer funds still make up the lion’s share of university budget income - aside from operational and developmental allocations from the Higher Education Ministry, research grants are awarded by other ministries and statutory bodies.

A cursory review of all public universities’ websites reveal that only a handful of institutions have updated annual reports available for public viewing.

At the same time, studies have indicated that our varsities frequently outperform many other government agencies and ministries when it comes to complying with financial accounting standards set by the Treasury.

What seems to be lacking then is for more universities to communicate this accountability to the public directly.

While the ministry may have tools to ensure universities make good use of public funds, it is too early to tell if a similar framework will exist for funds derived from the private sector.

As universities intensify their efforts at marketing expertise and securing grants from corporate firms, there needs to be steps taken to ensure that universities remain autonomous from commercial influence.

Global examples

Established universities overseas — including the much lauded Ivy League ones — have had considerable experience in the conflict between business interests and academic inquiry.

One famous case involved Yale University, United States (US), where the university had licensed a HIV drug invented in its labs to biopharmaceutical company Bristol-Myers Squibb in 1988. In the year 2000 alone, the university had gained around US$40mil (RM120mil) in royalties.

Almost 13 years later, the licensing agreement gained international limelight after Doctors Without Borders had asked the university to relax its patent rights to enable a cheaper generic version of the drug to be made available in South Africa.

Although initially unwilling to make a move, both the university and company eventually agreed to lower the cost of the drug following fierce protest from students and faculty as well as the public.

A more recent example would be the storm of public criticism faced by the London School of Economics, United Kingdom after it was found to have accepted a £1.5mil (RM7.15mil) pledge from a charity run by a son of the late Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi. The institution’s director Howard Davies subsequently accepted responsibility and resigned.

All the five research universities have outlined a commitment to responsible research for the greater social good in their respective action plans, and it is especially crucial now that the internal ethical controls maintain their standards for the long-term.

As the autonomous universities are now able to take charge of managing their staff, they will find it easier to establish incentives to attract the best academics.

For student admissions, the five varsities will be allowed to directly select individuals from the pool of candidates in the Universities Admissions Unit (UPU) database.

While these measures will go far in ensuring the academic performance of the universities, the issue of graduate unemployment needs to be addressed as well.

There are now some 71,000 unemployed graduates, and Government statistics further show that the number of jobless graduates had risen even though overall unemployment had dropped. Almost one in five of the 388,000 unemployed Malaysians hold a degree or diploma.

Aside from addressing the mismatch of university courses with industry needs, a deeper question at heart is whether university graduates are being taught the basic skills useful for any job – good communication, critical thinking, and the love for life-long learning.

Additionally, in light of the re-emergence of a rather vocal student movement, as well as high-profile cases of academics being silenced for their views, the granting of autonomy to the universities appears rather ambivalent to the notion of academic freedom.

As the Universities and University Colleges Act (UUCA) 1971 is set to be amended to give students more political freedom, it remains to be seen how the the Act will also suit the interests of university autonomy.

Saifuddin says that while the UUCA was still relevant as “a governing tool in lieu of other legal tools”, the move towards university autonomy may change the nature of the Act.

“What could possibly happen in the future is that either each university’s constitution is made into an Act of its own, or the UUCA is changed to a more broad-based statute to afford these autonomous powers to institutions.

“These are long-term possibilities, but we should be thinking about them now,” he says.

He reiterates that “a cultural shift” needs to occur for meaningful change in the performance of our varsities.

“You may have a dynamic vice-chancellor, but if personnel down-the-line are resistant to change, this will naturally slow things down.

“Autonomy alone will not be sufficient for institutional excellence - it’s really up to the universities now,” he says.





BY PRIYA KULASAGARAN educate@thestar.com.my



Source: The STAR Home Education Sunday February 5, 2012

Universities must make an impact

While higher education institutions need to be global players, they should not forget their obligations locally.

GOING by Higher Education Minister Datuk Seri Mohamed Khaled Nordin’s New Year address recently, the ministry seems to have plenty on the cards this year.

Themed “Think Global Act Local”, the main thrust of Mohamed Khaled’s speech at the Putrajaya International Convention Centre was that universities should live up to their roles within the local community while making an impact in the international arena.

Mohamed Khaled says that autonomy is a pre-requisite to creating a dynamic campus environment.

But the biggest announcement made was that of five local public higher education institutions (IPTAs) officially gaining autonomy - Universiti Malaya (UM), Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM), Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM), Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM) and Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM).

“Autonomy is a pre-requisite to creating a dynamic campus environment, through a university management that is more competitive, creative and flexible,” said Mohamed Khaled.

After undergoing an audit process through the Code of University Good Governance and University Good Governance Index, the universities will be given autonomy in institutional governance, finance and wealth generation, human resource and academic management as well as student intake.

Amendments to the Act

Reflecting on the impending amendments to the Universities and University Colleges Act (UUCA) 1971, Mohamed Khaled said that the changes to the Act were not a “ticket for absolute freedom”.

“I have never prevented university students from being critical, but these criticisms must be channelled in a prudent and civilised manner,” he said.

At the end of last year, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak announced that Section 15 of the Act would be amended to allow university students aged 18 years and above (age of majority) to join political parties.

A special committee to oversee the amendments was set up almost immediately after the Nov 24 announcement by the Prime Minister.

The committee currently includes Universiti Teknologi Mara law expert Prof Emeritus Datuk Dr Shad Saleem Faruqi, Universiti Malaya deputy vice-chancellor Prof Datuk Dr Rohana Yusof, UKM director of ethic studies Prof Datuk Dr Shamsul Amri Baharuddin and USM lecturer Assoc Prof Dr Sivamurugan Pandian.

Just before the announcement was made, the Court of Appeal in a landmark 2-1 majority ruling decided that UKM had breached Article 10 of the Federal Constitution when it disciplined four students involved in a political campaign.

The students, better known as the “UKM Four”, were punished under section 15(5)(a) of the Act by the university for being present during the campaign for the Hulu Selangor parliamentary by-election on April 24, 2010.

Keeping in line with the policy of allowing more student involvement in healthy activities within and outside the campus, Mohamed Khaled added that the ministry planned to set up the Yayasan Sukarelawan Malaysia to increase student volunteerism and create “University Ambassadors” who will help the “transformation and progress of society”.

Meanwhile, potential graduate students and researchers have plenty to look forward to this year as the ministry aims to make substantial investments in scholarships and research activities.

“In 2011, a total of 6,243 candidates received sponsorship for MyMaster while 1,391 MyPhD scholarships were handed out, amounting to RM6mil and RM18mil, respectively.

“This year, the ministry has allocated RM80mil for 8,000 MyMaster candidates, as well as RM50mil for 1,000 MyPhD places and 100 candidates for the Industry-PhD programme.

“An allocation of RM2mil will be channelled to the Malaysian Vice-Chancellors Committee (on research and innovation) for the High Impact Publication Programme,” said Mohamed Khaled.

New programmes

The MyMaster, MyPhD and Industry-PhD programmes are scholarship initiatives under the ministry’s MyBrain15 programme, and help qualified candidates pursue graduate study at selected local public and private higher education institutions.

The ministry is also set to provide new scholarships through the MyBrainSc this year, with the aim of producing quality academic staff in the pure science fields.

The High Impact Publication Programme on the other hand, aims to help local varsities develop suitable policies to encourage academics to publish quality research.

Mohamed Khaled added that a RM5mil RU-Research Acculturation Collaborative Effort will be introduced to kick-start research initiatives by non-research universities.

“The focus will be on universities who do not have the research university status... and research universities will act as mentors,” he said.

Mohamed Khaled also said the ministry was in the process of formulating a Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TEVT) framework.

“From 2012 onwards, polytechnics will commence new programmes involving work-based learning, and the three metro polytechnics will offer professional certification programmes in partnership with identified professional bodies,” he added.

Stressing the need for holistic students, Mohamed Khaled said that IPTAs should pay more attention to the idea of providing a liberal and multi-disciplinary education.

“(A liberal education) equips students with a broad knowledge encompassing global issues, including science, ethics, culture, language, and humanities, as well as in-depth study in specialised fields.

“This approach will enable students to be open-minded and look at national issues from various views and perspectives.

“A study is being conducted by a group of IPTA researchers on liberal education, and I hope the results of the study will serve as a guide to all educational institutions in the future,” he said.

Later on, he lamented the dearth of student interest in the sciences, saying that the number of science stream students in secondary schools had dropped to 29%.

Describing the downward trend as “worrying”, Mohamed Khaled said that more should be done to encourage bright students to take up the sciences.

“This (disinclination for science) continues to the university level ... students can’t imagine having interesting and profitable careers as scientists.

“We need to impress upon students that science is the basis of innovation, and innovation is the basis of technology and economic transformation,” he said.




BY PRIYA KULASAGARAN educate@thestar.com.my


Source: The STAR Home Education Sunday February 5, 2012

Sabar penghalang penat, tekun pembawa dekat

Sifat kerajinan terhasil menerusi usaha baik secara berterusan tanpa paksaan, arahan 

RAJIN adalah satu perkataan pendek pada sebutan tetapi luas pengertian dan kesannya dalam kehidupan. Ia adalah sifat akhlak terpuji yang menjadi penentu kepada kebaikan, kejayaan, keimanan dan ketakwaan di dunia dan akhirat.

Saya terpanggil untuk mengupas sifat ini apabila mendengar luahan seorang pemandu teksi ketika berada di Jakarta. Melihatkan ramainya masyarakat Indonesia yang sibuk dengan pelbagai urusan termasuk yang paling ketara berniaga di jalanan, pemandu itu menyatakan satu sifat yang mereka perlu ada untuk meneruskan kehidupan ialah sifat rajin. Desakan kehidupan juga menyebabkan sifat rajin menjadi sebati bagi mereka walaupun mengendalikan perniagaan secara kecil-kecilan dan hampir sama antara satu sama lain. Saya sangat tertarik dengan penjelasan ringkas pemandu itu. 

Sememangnya sifat kerajinan menjelma melalui usaha baik secara berterusan, dengan sukarela dan kesungguhan tanpa paksaan atau arahan semata-mata. Peribahasa Melayu ada menyebut ‘sabar penghilang penat, tekun pembawa dekat’ bermaksud seseorang yang sabar berusaha akan mendapat hasilnya. 

Segala nikmat yang terbentang luas di muka bumi ini pun tidak akan dapat dinikmati tanpa kerajinan. Dengan adanya sifat rajin itulah, manusia dipilih menjadi khalifah Allah SWT memakmurkan muka bumi. 

Bahkan jika diamati, rajin juga adalah benih yang membiakkan cabang nilai murni yang lain seperti berdisiplin, komited, tekun, profesional, cekap, kreatif dan inovatif. Dengan erti kata bahawa semua cabang nilai itu tidak akan tumbuh tanpa benih kerajinan. 

Rajin bukan sekadar punca kejayaan material dan duniawi seperti kejayaan dalam pelajaran dan pekerjaan tetapi yang lebih utama adalah kejayaan dalam pegangan akidah. Ia termasuk dalam pelaksanaan hukum syarak khasnya ibadat khusus seperti solat, puasa, haji dan zakat. 

Semua ibadat ini tidak tertunai tanpa adanya sifat rajin umat Islam dalam menunaikannya di kala susah mahupun senang. Dengan sebab itulah, ahli fiqah turut membincangkan hukum berdosa meninggalkan ibadat wajib dengan sengaja semata-mata kerana sifat malas. 

Malah, untuk menambah dan memperbaharui iman juga memerlukan kerajinan hatta untuk membuang duri di jalanan. Justeru semua kebaikan yang terhasil daripada sifat rajin itu menjadikannya ibadat dan sedekah kepada pelakunya. 

Sabda Rasulullah SAW bahawa setiap kebaikan itu adalah sedekah. Walaupun yang mendapat manfaat daripada hasil kerajinan kita adalah haiwan sekalipun. Sabda Rasulullah SAW, “Tiada seorang Muslim yang menanam apa jenis tanaman atau bercucuk tanam, lalu dimakan sebahagiannya oleh manusia atau haiwan ataupun sesuatu, melainkan ia menjadi sedekah.” (Riwayat al-Bukhari dan Muslim) 

Ajaran Islam juga melarang kita daripada sifat malas melalui larangan gaya hidup dengan cara meminta-minta dan kebimbangan terjerumus ke lembah kekufuran kerana berada dalam kemiskinan dan kefakiran yang disebabkan oleh kemalasan berusaha. 

Peringatan Rasulullah SAW bermaksud, “Hampir-hampir kefakiran itu membawa kekufuran.” (Riwayat Muslim). Dari aspek pekerjaan pula, masyarakat yang malas menjadi mundur dan negara tidak berjaya untuk dibangunkan menjadi negara maju. Lantaran Allah SWT berfirman agar selepas selesai melakukan kerja, maka ikutilah ia dengan kerja lain. 

Rasulullah SAW adalah contoh terbaik dalam mempamerkan nilai kerajinan holistik. Meliputi rajin beribadat, rajin bekerja dan rajin membantu masyarakat. Rasulullah SAW bersabda “Tiada seseorang yang lebih baik daripada mereka yang memakan makanan hasil usaha tangannya sendiri.” (Riwayat al-Bukhari) 

Rasulullah SAW juga mengajar sahabat untuk membaca doa bagi mengelakkan diri daripada malas iaitu “Ya Allah sesungguhnya aku berlindung kepada-Mu daripada kesedihan dan kesusahan, perasaan lemah dan malas, sikap bakhil dan penakut, hutang yang mengganggu fikiran dan orang yang menindasku.” (Riwayat al-Bukhari). 

Saidina Umar Al-Khattab juga menganjurkan masyarakatnya untuk menjaga maruah diri melalui kerajinan. 

Katanya, “Kalau aku melihat seorang pemuda tanpa pekerjaan, jatuhlah dia daripada pandangan mataku.” 

Justeru, kerajinan boleh memberikan gambaran baik dan buruk sesuatu bangsa. Justeru, negara kita menjadikan pengalaman negara Timur seperti Jepun, Korea dan Taiwan sebagai contoh, khasnya dalam aspek kualiti kerja termasuk kerajinan, ketekunan dan disiplin melalui Dasar Pandang Ke Timur pada 1982. 

Biasanya, kerajinan terbentuk apabila ada sesuatu habuan atau hajat yang ingin diperoleh. Seseorang rajin berdoa apabila dalam kesusahan atau masalah, rajin belajar apabila menghampiri tarikh peperiksaan, rajin bekerja apabila inginkan pangkat dan pendapatan. 

Oleh itu, perlulah kita sentiasa meningkatkan kefahaman dan menyemarakkan jiwa dengan mewujudkan ‘persekitaran rajin’ melalui faktor ‘tolak-tarik’. Faktor tolakan termasuklah melalui galakan dan contoh amalan baik ahli keluarga dan rakan serta majikan melalui amalan kepemimpinan melalui teladan. 

Sistem pemantauan, peraturan dan tindakan bagi yang gagal melaksanakan kerja boleh menjadi faktor tolakan untuk terus rajin dan tekun. Faktor tarikan pula ialah sistem ganjaran dan imbuhan, penghargaan, persekitaran kondusif termasuk dari aspek keselamatan, kebersihan, kemudahan tempat kerja, teknologi, hubungan sesama pekerja yang baik, kesihatan, sistem kerja yang teratur dan nilai yang didokong bersama dalam organisasi. 

Kedua-dua faktor tolak-tarik ini boleh mewujudkan amalan bekerja dan mewujudkan budaya organisasi berasaskan kerajinan. Justeru, marilah kita berusaha memupuk budaya kerja dengan rajin kerana rajin itu mendekatkan kita kepada kejayaan dan ketakwaan sedangkan malas itu mendekatkan kita dengan kemunduran dan kekufuran.


Oleh Sharifah Hayaati bhagama@bharian.com.my 2012/02/04