UNIVERSITIES should aim for autonomy and accountability which is crucial for the growth and development of the higher education sector in the country said Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (IDEAS) chair of higher education Professor Tan Sri Dzulkifli Abdul Razak recently.
Speaking at the National Higher Education Conference 2017: How to Make Our Universities More Autonomous? last week, he added that universities are currently operating like a bureaucracy rather than centres run by intellectuals.
“This conference serves as another milestone where issues related to university autonomy are being re-articulated after a period of intensive research and consultative discussions culminating in the historic meeting of minds.
“This is a defining moment for higher education in Malaysia, especially in universities, to once again put forward the agenda of university autonomy on a national platform. I am very optimistic that we will arrive at another high point to elevate our universities as autonomous and accountable institutions,” he said.
The National Higher Education Conference 2017 was held as a follow-up to IDEAS’ comparative study on Laporan Jawatankuasa Mengkaji, Menyemak dan Membuat Perakuan Tentang Perkembangan dan Hala Tuju Pendidikan Tinggi Malaysia — Langkah Langkah ke arah Kecemerlangan, better known as the Wan Zahid Report, which was published in 2005, and the Malaysia Education Blueprint Higher Education 2015-2025.
The conference, held in collaboration between IDEAS and Yayasan Sime Darby, recommended the abolishment of the Universities and University College Act to be replaced by a National Higher Education Act.
Also present at the conference were Higher Education Minister Datuk Seri Idris Jusoh and Yayasan Sime Darby governing council member Tan Sri Dr Wan Mohd Zahid Wan Noordin, who led the committee tasked with making recommendations to improve higher education in Malaysia in 2005.
The Wan Zahid report made 138 recommendations to Parliament and includes proposals for academic freedom, financial autonomy and self-governance in universities, many of which were adopted by the Malaysia Education Blueprint Higher Education 2015-2025.
Wan Zahid said: “I am pleased that the government took into account our call for autonomy in the Higher Education Blueprint. Through this project, nevertheless, we hope to strengthen current higher education policies in Malaysia to bolster our institutions further.
“This project, which aims to strengthen current higher education policies, is in line with Yayasan Sime Darby’s objective of complementing the Malaysian government’s efforts in enabling society to gain quality higher education for the future of our country.”
Yayasan Sime Darby supported IDEAS’ research and advocacy initiatives based on the recommendation and findings from the comparative study.
Throughout last year and earlier this year, IDEAS conducted four roundtable discussions with relevant stakeholders from the government, public and private universities as well as think tanks on the topic of autonomy and accountability of universities.
Four policy papers were also produced on the different aspects of autonomy: the history and epistemology of universities, the history of autonomy, financial autonomy, and examples of university autonomy from around the world.
The proposed new National Higher Education Act includes:
∙ Institutional autonomy, particularly the transfer of administrative control to independent statutory bodies, the inclusion of academics to the university’s board of directors, the appointment of the vice chancellor by the board instead of the Ministry as well as the freedom for universities to hire and fire its own staff and decide on their salaries.
∙ Academic and student autonomy, including the university’s right to completely determine academic syllabi and university programmes as well as the admission of students, academic freedom for lecturers to teach content that they deem suitable for students as well as the elevation of the National Professor Council to that of an independent statutory body.
∙ Financial autonomy and accountability. Universities should have complete power to decide how to allocate funds, set tuition fees and receive tax exemptions for charitable donations. Autonomy must also be complemented by accountability with a transparent funding formula for funds from the government. Universities must also publish their financial reports on a yearly basis.
∙ Building a supportive environment for universities ensures financial support outside of government. Ideas and research work should be commercialised and charity should be encouraged in Malaysia. There should also be localised measures to ensure the quality of Malaysian universities with representation from all stakeholders.