MERGERS: Let’s learn from the pitfalls Thailand went through
WHEN the Ministry of Higher Education (MOHE) was created, a splinter from the Education Ministry during the days of the then Prime Minister Datuk Seri (now Tun) Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, there was resounding support for the move.
Created on March 27, 2004 and officially came into operations on July 15, MOHE took charge of more than 900,000 students pursuing higher education in 20 public universities, some 33 private universities and university colleges, and four foreign university branch campuses. Twenty-two polytechnics, 37 community colleges and about 500 private colleges were also within its purview.
However, teachers' training colleges were placed under the Education Ministry as degree-awarding institutions re-labelled as Institut Pendidikan Guru.
The rationale for the split was to create a higher education environment that fostered the development of academic and institutional excellence in line with the vision of the government to make Malaysia a centre of educational excellence by 2020. MOHE's mission was to internationalise Malaysian education and nurture individuals who were competent, innovative and of noble character to serve the needs of the nation and the world.
Now almost a decade later, the two ministries are one as the Ministry of Education.
About a year before the split, neighbouring Thailand did the reverse in July 2003. It integrated three education entities, namely the Ministry of Education, Ministry of University Affairs and National Education Commission into the Ministry of Education.
Why did the Thai education authorities merge? And did Malaysia learn from its counterpart's experiences before deciding on the separation only to come together again?
The latest move can be tricky and most likely expensive -- monetarily and resource-wise -- as evident from mergers even at the level of universities.
This is quite apart from the anxiety it caused as possible overlaps will be trimmed to reduce human resource and administrative cost. This is especially so, when the move is seen as more of an "acquisition" of one over the other, rather than a voluntary consolidation.
Maybe this time we should consult our neighbour so that we can at least do better and avoid the pitfalls that it has gone through, in the interest of time and outcomes.
We have to bear in mind that our education system is undergoing a rapid transformation phase of its own and the former MOHE was just embarking on a review of its National Higher Education Strategic Plan.
Thailand's former Ministry of University Affairs is now embedded in the newly formed competent body, Commission on Higher Education (CHE), as part of the reconstituted Ministry of Education. Public and private universities and colleges are under the jurisdiction of CHE with its mandate and authority to manage and promote higher education. It also provides education at the tertiary level and grants degrees, diplomas and other credentials.
Professor Pavich Tongroach, CHE vice-chairman and former secretary general, who now advises on reforms, says the Thai education system in the areas of "quality, management, teacher production, vocational education and higher education" is in "crisis".
The Thai national school curriculum is regarded as too concise, while teachers "need more rather than less guidance". Teacher training schools are purported to produce a glut of teachers with poor employment prospects.
Students rote learn and are said to spend more hours in the classroom than their counterparts in many other countries vis-à-vis the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation's recommendation of 800 hours a year.
Public and private institutes of higher education, which are largely non-autonomous, are plagued with issues of graduate supply and demand.
Indeed, some of these problems are not strange to the Malaysian education scene. Similar to Malaysia, Thailand's education budget, including that of higher education, has traditionally been generously funded by the government to the tune of 20 per cent.
The move to "unite" education under one roof can be optimally undertaken. Matters such as perceived insensitive "takeover", gaps in communication and lack of trust leading to petty politicking and power struggles should be quickly resolved for the sake of nation-building supported by a seamless transformational education system.
Dzulkifli Abdul Razak New Straits Times Learning Curve 02 June 2013