Archive for September, 2018

Do not politicise PTPTN: borrowers must pay back loans, says Dr Maszlee.

Sunday, September 23rd, 2018

KODIANG (Bernama): The Education Ministry has called on all quarters, including the opposition, to cease linking the National Higher Education Fund (PTPTN) with the Pakatan Harapan (PH)  manifesto for the 14th general election.

Its minister, Dr Maszlee Malik, said this was because all borrowers, no matter of what loans, were obliged to settle their repayments.

“Whatever the manifesto says, the borrowers have to pay back the loan.

“The opposition, they just want to politicise the issue. This concerns one’s behaviour and moral; when you borrow money, you have to pay, even at RM10 a month,” he told reporters after a visit to Sekolah Kebangsaan Siputeh on Sunday (Sept 23).

Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad had three days ago expressed regret over the untrustworthy attitude of PTPTN borrowers who did not pay back their loans, resulting in arrears totalling RM36bil.

According to Dr Mahathir, the loan defaulters included those who already secured jobs.

PH, in its last general election manifesto, among others, stated that it would defer repayment of PTPTN loans for borrowers earning RM4,000 a month and below.

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Students look East for a wider perspective, global viewpoint

Sunday, September 23rd, 2018
Malaysian students at Wuhan University pose at the Malaysian Booth at the International Culture Festival to promote the nation’s cultures, costumes and cuisine.

STUDY destinations in Japan and China have seen an increasing number of enrolments from Malaysian higher education students these past few years.

Their affordable fees, the similarity in society and culture, as well as excellence in education and research attract students by the hordes.

There is also an opportunity to master languages such as Mandarin or Japanese during their stay in the countries.

High world university rankings also contribute to the trend. Japan, for instance, has nine universities in the top 200 QS World University Rankings 2017.

A large number of Chinese universities in China are also recognised by the Malaysian Qualifications Agency. These include Beijing University, Renmin University of China, Tsinghua University, Beijing Jiaotong University and Beijing University of Science and Technology.

Malaysian students who are interested in furthering their higher education studies in Japan are advised to prepare at least nine months to one year in advance.

Embassy of Japan in Malaysia education attache Sentaro Ishikawa said once students decide to pursue their studies in the Land of the Rising Sun, they will need to research into their choice of programme.

“Take note of application dates and the standardised admission tests as well as admission procedures,” added Ishikawa.

The application period for April 2019 intake is from June through November 2018.

“For courses beginning in September, the application period is usually from December of the previous year through February.”

The student selection for university admission in Japan is a process in which universities independently decide the enrolment through the entrance examination uniquely set by each institution.

The process varies depending on the applicant’s school of choice and the entrance exam commonly consists of one test or a combination such as test of academic ability, interview, short essay, competence and aptitude tests, and Examination for Japanese University (EJU) Examination (evaluates international students’ Japanese language and academic abilities to study at a higher education institution in Japan).

“Students sit the entrance exam by applying directly to the university of their choice and they are advised to check the school’s Application Guideline for International Students for the latest update.”


There are three pathways for Malaysian students to further higher education in Japan.

Those with 12 years of formal education and who are proficient in English can apply for Japanese undergraduate courses offered in English.

Sentaro Ishikawa counselling a potential student on choosing a tertiary institution in Japan.

“They have to submit a certificate of proficiency in English (IELTS/TOEFL), a certificate of academic achievement, scores of a high school graduation standardised examination in the home country and short essays in English in the first round of screening of applications.

“The second round comprises an interview, which will either be conducted in the country or region where applicants live or via an online interview.

“Those who are proficient in Japanese can apply to sit the EJU Examination and apply for Japanese undergraduate courses offered in Japanese.

“Japanese universities especially the national-type institutions usually conduct their primary assessment of potential international students based on EJU Examination scores,” added Ishikawa.

Malaysian students, who have no knowledge of the Japanese language but wish to apply for a course conducted in Japanese, have to study the language for at least a year in one of the designated Japanese language institutes before applying for admission into higher education institutions in Japan.

“Those who have less than 12 years of formal education are required to do at least a year of University Preparatory Course (or pre-university programme), inclusive of learning the Japanese language at institutes designated by the Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT, also known as Monbukagakusho) Japan to be eligible to apply for admission into universities in the country.

“Only 25 Japanese language institutes offer the University Preparatory Course. One is located at Kuala Lumpur, the rest are in Japan.”


University of Malaya’s Special Preparatory Programme to Japan is one of the sponsored courses which send students to study in the country, .

Programme coordinator Mohd Norhaswira Hasan said the course aims to equip students with a basic education in Japanese and three core subjects of science — mathematics, physics and chemistry.

Upon completing the programme, they will further their studies at select Japanese universities.

Students are assisted in the selection of university from a list provided by MEXT.

This selection and application process take place in October, and the results are announced in February.

Students will then make their selection (three choices of university and course) in October. In early November, they sit EJU.

The EJU results, which are announced in January, determine the university the student will enrolling in February.

Mohd Norhaswira, who is an alumnus of the Special Preparatory Programme to Japan, said he applied for the course because of his interest in the Japanese language.

He started learning Japanese as his third foreign language from Form One.

“I was motivated by my Japanese language teacher, Zubaidah Ali, during my early years in secondary school,” said Mohd Norhaswira, who studied mechanical engineering at Nagoya University and graduated in March 2007.


As Japanese universities have become more globalised, there are emerging programmes at universities and graduate schools where students can obtain a degree by taking classes entirely in English.

The number of Malaysian students who pursue courses offered in English at both the undergraduate and postgraduate levels is increasing over the years.

“Of course, they also have the chance to learn Japanese at the university. Therefore, they gain a significant advantage, especially if they wish to work in Japan after graduation.

“Over the years, more companies in Japan are hiring international students with diverse backgrounds, who understand Japanese language and culture.

By Zulita Mustafa.

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A ticking time bomb

Sunday, September 23rd, 2018
Turkey is still struggling to stabilise its lira. AFP PIC

GEORGE Soros, Bill Gates and other pundits have been predicting another financial crisis.

In their recent book, Revolution Required: The Ticking Bombs of the G7 Model, Peter Dittus and Herve Hamoun, former senior officials of the Bank of International Settlements, warned of “ticking time bombs” in the global financial system waiting to explode, mainly due to the policies of major developed countries.

Recent events vindicate such fears. Many emerging market currencies have come under considerable pressure, with the Indonesian rupiah, Indian rupee and South African rand all struggling since early this year. Brazilian real fell sharply in June, and Argentina has failed to stabilise its peso despite seeking International Monetary Fund (IMF) aid. As Turkey struggles to stabilise its lira, many European banks’ exposure has heightened fears of another global financial crisis.

Why the vulnerability?

Some fundamental weaknesses are at the core of this vulnerability. These include the international financial “non-system” since the collapse of the Bretton Woods system in 1971, and continuing to use the United States dollar as the main international reserve currency.

This burdens deficit countries vis-à-vis surplus countries and ensures near-universal vulnerability to the US monetary policy. Thus, most countries accumulate dollars as a precaution, that is, for “protection”, eschewing other options, such as investing in socially desirable projects.

Policymakers not only failed to address these weaknesses following the 2008-2009 global financial crisis (GFC), but also compounded other problems. Having eschewed stronger, more sustained fiscal policy interventions, monetary policy virtually became the sole policy instrument. Major central banks, led by the US Federal Reserve, embarked on “unconventional monetary policies”, pushing real interest rates down, even into negative territory.

Emerging and developing economies (EDEs) offering higher returns temporarily experienced large short-term capital inflows. The external debt of emerging market economies has grown to over US$40 trillion (RM165.6 trillion) since the GFC. The combined debt of 26 large emerging markets rose from 148 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) at the end of 2008 to 211 per cent in September last year, according to the Institute of International Finance (IIF).

Easy money raised household and corporate debt, fuelling property and financial asset price bubbles. According to IMF April 2018 Fiscal Monitor, global debt peaked at US$164 trillion in 2016, or 225 per cent of global GDP, compared with 125 per cent before the GFC. The IIF reported that global debt rose to over US$247 trillion in early 2018, that is, equivalent to 318 per cent of GDP.

Rising debt levels pose serious downside risks for the global economy. With easy money coming to an end, as the Fed continues to “normalise” monetary policy by raising the policy interest rate, capital flight to the US is undermining emerging market currencies. When debt defaults increase with interest rates while income growth remains subdued, the world becomes more vulnerable to financial crisis.

Both developed and developing countries have less policy space than during the GFC. Most governments are saddled with more debt following massive financial bail outs followed by abandonment of efforts to sustain robust recovery.

According to the IMF’s April 2018 Fiscal Monitor, average public debt of advanced economies was 105 per cent of GDP in 2017, constraining fiscal capacity to respond to crisis. Meanwhile, monetary policy options are exhausted after a decade of “unconventional” monetary policies.

General government debt-to-GDP ratios in emerging market and middle-income economies almost reached 50 per cent in 2017 — a level only seen during the 1980s’ debt crisis. The 2017 ratio exceeded 40 per cent in low-income developing countries, climbing by more than 10 percentage points since 2012.

Playing With Fire by Yilmaz Akyuz, former South Centre chief economist, has highlighted the self-inflicted vulnerabilities of developing countries. Public debt-GDP ratios in EDEs are likely to rise due to falling commodity prices and stagnant global trade, while they have almost no monetary policy independence due to deeper global financial integration.

While corporate sectors have been busy with mergers, acquisitions and share buybacks with cheap credit, instead of investing in the real economy, the financial sector has successfully portrayed sovereign debt as “public enemy number one”.

Held hostage to finance capital, governments around the world have wasted the opportunity to improve productive capacities by investing in infrastructure and social goods when real interest rates were at historic lows. At around 24 per cent of global GDP, the global investment rate remains below the pre-crisis level of around 27 per cent, with investment rates in EDEs either declining or stagnant since 2010.

Failure to address the falling wages’ share of GDP, rising executive pay and asset price bubbles, due to “easy” monetary policy, have continued to worsen growing income inequality and wealth concentration. Meanwhile, deep cuts in government spending and public services, while reducing top tax rates, cause anger and resentment, often blamed on “the other”, contributing to the spread of “ethno-populism”.

In turn, growing inequality limits aggregate demand, which has been maintained by unsustainably raising household debt, that is, perverse “financial inclusion”.

Turbulence in currency markets is due to developing countries’ limited economic policy space. A decade after the GFC, developing countries still experience lower growth and investment rates.

Financial sectors of emerging market economies now have more and deeper links with international financial markets, also reflected in high foreign ownership of stocks and government bonds, with large sudden capital outflows causing financial crises.

By ANIS CHOWDHURYJomo Kwame Sundaram.

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Malaysia National Industry 4.0 Policy Framework

Saturday, September 22nd, 2018

Malaysia’s Ministry of International Trade and Industry has published the National Industry 4.0 Policy Framework Draft and now open for public consultation (Duration: Feb. 12, 2018 – March 2, 2018).

I believed with the brains of various contributing organizations (government agencies, universities, Associations, Industry, etc), MITI has managed to collectively gather all the relevant and necessary inputs. Except that I noticed they did not consult Startups for whatever unknown reasons since I believed Startups have their own vision too. In fact, Startups looks at the world differently from the bigger conglomerates.

Also, take note that the Industry 4.0 Policy Framework only focused on the Manufacturing sector. Thus, the definition 4.0 takes into the progress and impact of manufacturing sector due to the advancement of technologies. Previously there’s an argument about the differences between the terms 4th Industrial Revolution and Industry 4.0. Personally, I felt limiting ourselves to the lower part of the value-chain (manufacturing), will also limit ourselves to transform our Nation into totally digital (digital lifestyle).

Framework is one thing, but the most important success factor after this will be the execution of the Framework by the respective parties (Government, Public, Private or Universities, etc)

Below are my personal public comments (will upload this comment to the MITI website later):

  1. Talent Development – It’s difficult for a Nation to move forward without enough talent pool. We can depend on foreign expertise only when we don’t have enough talent locally. But have we done enough? How do expedite the process of approving new Courses or revamping old syllabus in the Universities?
  2. Buy Local Attitude – We must ensure a balance between importing technology and using local technology. Local companies can’t immediately go global if they are not given a chance to prove locally. To encourage the growth of Startups that are key to becoming job creators, we must support them in providing the necessary trust and environment to proof their technology are also at par or better than the overseas.
  3. Digital Transformation Mindset – If your company doesn’t have Internet, not many or none of the younger generation wants to work there simply because the current generation is tech savvy. It’s about time, the “older” generation take a bold step forward and become tech-savvy themselves. We didn’t realize that having an Internet access and IT database are actually prerequisites to Industry 3.0. Ask ourselves, are we already in Industry 3.0 before stepping towards 4.0? If yes, how big is the gap between rural and urban in this digital transformation?
  4. Impact of Industry Integration to Policy Making – Remember UBER and how we react towards them? Remember motorcycle-sharing Dego and how we react towards them? Who will regulate a driverless taxi? What happens when a Taxi can fly? All of these disrupt the current business and need a new way of regulating them. We need to be fast. Thus, we must have trials as early as possible to see the impact of public usage and government regulations. In future, Insurance and Transportation or Insurance and Home or Health will be merged as an Outcome-based economy rather than the product-based economy. How flexible are we in handling this inevitable business merger?

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Education Industry in 2018 at a Glance

Saturday, September 22nd, 2018

The educational services market is large and growing with multiple types of opportunities available for franchisees. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are over 100k establishments in the private Education Service industry; almost 200k when including local, state and federal government institutions; combined this industry employs over 3.5 million people. On the private side, the industry is largely fragmented – the fifty largest companies represent just 30% of the total revenue in the industry.

Last year there were 55 million students attending school in grades K-12, all of whom are potential clients for educational services. However, franchise opportunities in the educational services industry are not limited to tutoring school age kids in subjects like math and science – opportunities abound in childcare and early education, career education, art, dance, adult language, test preparation and even driving.

Industry Overview

The vast majority of revenue in this industry comes from tuition or program fees. Gross profits tend to range from 60-90% depending on geographical location and subject matter, and net profit averages out to between 2-10%.

As companies within the industry have grown they have realized some benefits to scale – lower fixed costs and greater operational efficiency; however with that growth has often come a difficulty finding qualified instructors. If considering franchising in this sector it is important to understand the demographics and potential fit in your local hiring pool.

Online training resources, programs and even mobile apps have traditionally been seen as challenges to the industry, but in recent years successful educational service providers have found ways to leverage this technology to their great benefit. Not only are these tools helping students learn in new and exciting ways, but they are helping providers manage students, administrative functions and source material distribution more efficiently.

The growth in this industry is in part attributed to the growing global competitive landscape for higher education, but also for greater recognition of the value of trade schools. Many folks are realizing that the cost of a college education can saddle a person for life – and are opting to skip college, learn a trade and start making money faster and with less debt.

Tutoring and Child Education

Tutoring in the US is a $7 billion dollar industry and a popular franchise option, either based out of the home or at an on-site location. The home-based model employs the franchisee as a broker who acts as an intermediary between educators that provide tutoring and students needing instruction in any number of subjects. Examples of this model include Club Z Tutoringand Creative. Interesting for those considering opportunities in this sector: brokering franchisees of this type do not need to have prior experience in education.

The on-site location based model involves the franchisee having a center at which kids come to be tutored or take classes. In addition to subjects like math and writing, these franchises will also often offer standardized test preparation. Two franchises with this model are Kumon and Huntington Learning Center. The disadvantage of this model relative to the home-based model is that, because it requires real estate, it is more expensive to start.

Some franchises are geared towards younger children and provide a combination of child care and education. It’s estimated that 11 million children under the age of 5 spend at least 35 hours/week in childcare, and there is a growing recognition that early childhood education is immensely important and provides lifelong benefits. Child care is a growing field and the US Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the industry will have some of the fastest employment growth through 2020. In addition to standard child care during the work day, these franchises often also provide after school programs. Child care franchises include Primrose Schools and Rainbow Station.

Artistic Education.

Some franchises instruct children in subjects such as music or painting. Similar to the options in tutoring, some of these are home-based – the franchisee for, say, Virtuoso Music, manages the music instructors and matches them up with students eager to learn.

Adult Educational Services.

Educational franchises aren’t just for the young. Estimates say that there are about 30 million US residents without a high school diploma, and 20% of the adult population has only basic literacy skills. There are various types of franchises designed to teach or train adults either in GED programs, occupational training, language and more.

Franchises are also available to help teach adults business skills – teaching salesmen better sales techniques (such as Sandler Training) or passing on organizational and leadership skills (such as Crestcom); there are also franchises designed to teach financial planning, both for business and personal finance.

911 Driving School teaches defensive driving, license certification, and more.

Other franchises focus on recreational activities, such as dancing or cooking (Fred Astaire Dance StudioViva the Chef). This field of leisure education is a multi-billion dollar industry driven by individuals’ desires to learn new skills and abilities. But these businesses do tend to be more susceptible to economic downturns as they are more closely tied to personal income than other adult education options.

Franchises can also serve as jumping off points for people looking to enter new industries and learn about new careers. For example, there are franchises to train and certify an individual to become a medical technician. There are others that teach financial trading – stocks, options, futures and more.

The advantage of franchising in the educational services area is that the franchisee has access not only to the positive reputation and brand name enjoyed by these franchises, but also to time-tested educational systems. It allows franchisees to have a role in education without needing the qualifications or skills to be a teacher him or herself.

In addition, working with a large company offers potential marketing advantages not available to a smaller company. Purchasing an education franchise is a great way to succeed financially while also making a positive impact on the community.

by Matt Sena, who is a writer and researcher, a co-founder, a former portfolio manager,

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Education 4.0 … the future of learning will be dramatically different, in school and throughout life.

Saturday, September 22nd, 2018

Global connectivity, smart machines, and new media are just some of the drivers reshaping how we think about work, what constitutes work, and how we learn and develop the skills to work in the future. The concept of a “100 year life” becoming the norm, and the majority of that spent studying and working, means that learning will be a lot more important, and different, for the next generations. Most people will have at least 6 different careers, requiring fundamental reeducating, whilst the relentless speed of innovation will constantly demand new skills and knowledge to keep pace, let alone an edge.

I recently delivered a keynote on “Changing the Game of Education” … a vision for the future of education, from schools to lifelong learning … how it will evolve, the drivers, inspirations and what will matter most.

Educationalists debate the many ways in which the content of education – at all levels – and the process of learning, will need to change over the years ahead. Disruptive innovation guru Clay Christiansen, for example, points to the dramatic unbundling of education from its current forms so that it can be personalised, repackaging, peer to peer and continuous. Whether it is classroom or workplace, online or offline, structured or unstructured, taught or learnt, standardised or not, certificated or not, then learning is likely to break free from our old mindsets in the coming years.

“Education 4.0” is my vision for the future of education, which

  • responds to the needs of “industry 4.0” or the fourth industrial revolution, where man and machine align to enable new possibilities
  • harnesses the potential of digital technologies, personalised data, open sourced content, and the new humanity of this globally-connected, technology-fueled world
  • establishes a blueprint for the future of learning – lifelong learning – from childhood schooling, to continuous learning  in the workplace, to learning to play a better role in society.


“Changing the game” is all about redefining the way an activity works. In general, its about

  • who are the companies right now who are reshaping their industries, challenging the old rules and creating new ones, new ways of working, new ways of winning
  • in my Gamechangers book I explored 100 of them – they are audacious, harnessing the power of ideas and networks to be intelligent, collaborative, and enabling people to achieve more.
  • taking the principles of how these companies change the game – how can we apply that to the world of education?


“The future of education” is therefore a new vision for learning, starting right now

  • more important to know why you need something, a knowledge or skill, and then where to find it – rather than cramming your head full … don’t try to learn everything!
  • built around each individual, their personal choice of where and how to learn, and tracking of performance through data-based customisation … whatever sits you
  • learning together and from each other – peer to peer learning will dominate, teachers more as facilitators, of communities built around shared learning and aspiration


Among the many discussions, innovations and general shifts in the world of learning – from school children to business executive – there are 9 trends that stand out:

  1. Diverse time and place.
    Students will have more opportunities to learn at different times in different places. eLearning tools facilitate opportunities for remote, self-paced learning. Classrooms will be flipped, which means the theoretical part is learned outside the classroom, whereas the practical part shall be taught face to face, interactively.
  2. Personalized learning.
    Students will learn with study tools that adapt to the capabilities of a student. This means above average students shall be challenged with harder tasks and questions when a certain level is achieved. Students who experience difficulties with a subject will get the opportunity to practice more until they reach the required level. Students will be positively reinforced during their individual learning processes. This can result in to positive learning experiences and will diminish the amount of students losing confidence about their academic abilities. Furthermore, teachers will be able to see clearly which students need help in which areas.
  3. Free choice.
    Though every subject that is taught aims for the same destination, the road leading towards that destination can vary per student. Similarly to the personalized learning experience, students will be able to modify their learning process with tools they feel are necessary for them. Students will learn with different devices, different programs and techniques based on their own preference. Blended learning, flipped classrooms and BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) form important terminology within this change.
  4. Project based.
    As careers are adapting to the future freelance economy, students of today will adapt to project based learning and working. This means they have to learn how to apply their skills in shorter terms to a variety of situations. Students should already get acquainted with project based learning in high school. This is when organizational, collaborative, and time management skills can be taught as basics that every student can use in their further academic careers.
  5. Field experience.
    Because technology can facilitate more efficiency in certain domains, curricula will make room for skills that solely require human knowledge and face-to-face interaction. Thus, experience in ‘the field’ will be emphasized within courses. Schools will provide more opportunities for students to obtain real-world skills that are representative to their jobs. This means curricula will create more room for students to fulfill internships, mentoring projects and collaboration projects (e.g.).
  6. Data interpretation.
    Though mathematics is considered one of three literacies, it is without a doubt that the manual part of this literacy will become irrelevant in the near future. Computers will soon take care of every statistical analysis, and describe and analyse data and predict future trends. Therefore, the human interpretation of these data will become a much more important part of the future curricula. Applying the theoretical knowledge to numbers, and using human reasoning to infer logic and trends from these data will become a fundamental new aspect of this literacy.
  7. Exams will change completely.
    As courseware platforms will assess students capabilities at each step, measuring their competencies through Q&A might become irrelevant, or might not suffice. Many argue that exams are now designed in such a way, that students cram their materials, and forget the next day. Educators worry that exams might not validly measure what students should be capable of when they enter their first job. As the factual knowledge of a student can be measured during their learning process, the application of their knowledge is best tested when they work on projects in the field.
  8. Student ownership.
    Students will become more and more involved in forming their curricula. Maintaining a curriculum that is contemporary, up-to-date and useful is only realistic when professionals as well as ‘youngsters’ are involved. Critical input from students on the content and durability of their courses is a must for an all-embracing study program.
  9. Mentoring will become more important.
    In 20 years, students will incorporate so much independence in to their learning process, that mentoring will become fundamental to student success. Teachers will form a central point in the jungle of information that our students will be paving their way through. Though the future of education seems remote, the teacher and educational institution are vital to academic performance.

These are exciting, provocative and potentially far-reaching challenges. For individuals and society, new educational tools and resources hold the promise of empowering individuals to develop a fuller array of competencies, skills and knowledge and of unleashing their creative potential.

Indeed, many of the changes underway call to mind the evocative words of Irish poet William Butler Yeats that, “Education is not about filling a bucket but lighting a fire.”

Technology has become integrated into virtually every aspect of work. And because we spend so much time working, work really is the place where we most directly feel the impact of developing technologies. From collaboration to productivity; from new ways of approaching workspace design to the increasing ability to work from virtually anywhere; and from hiring and recruitment to new skill sets—it is a time of experimentation for companies and organizations as trends in technology converge to change what it means to work.


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Ombudsmen needed in varsities

Friday, September 21st, 2018
(File pix) Graduands at the Al-Madinah International University convocation in Shah Alam. Every university administrator must be concerned about the reputational risk from complaints going public. Pix by Faiz Anuar
ACCORDING to the 2017 statistics from the Higher Education Ministry, there are 25,823 international students in public universities in Malaysia. This number does not include the number of enrolments in private colleges and diploma centres.

The complaint handling policy in the education sector for students is contained in the code of practice for programme accreditation, which, in paragraph 4.4.1, states: “There must be a mechanism for students to air grievances and make appeals relating to student support services.”

The complaint handling and dispute resolution policy in the education sector falls short of global best practices.

Academic staff are required to deliver quality teaching. When the service is perceived to be inadequate by a student, he should have the right to complain to the lecturer, head of department or the dean of faculty.

Similarly, academic and nonacademic staff may have reasons to complain about the terms of service. Grievances without appropriate channel to direct them can jeopardise the performance of academic staff, and affect productivity and research output.

The offices of legal advisers or student affairs are the easiest channels to lodge complaints in most universities, but the personnel are rarely seen to be independent and neutral.

Quality control and feedback me chanisms are not the same as having an ombudsman. Feedback mechanism serves the purpose of assessing quality services, while an ombudsman would provide a wider scope for grievance and complaint handling. An ombudsman is seen as independent, impartial and fair.

Confidentiality of information is key. Sexual harassment and misconduct cases involving academics are handled with extreme confidence under ombudsman procedures. Only in rare instances are cases taken to the court. Ombudsman policy can help fix this.

The lack of specific policy direction for university ombudsman implies that stakeholders have options either to do nothing or to do whatever pleases the university.

It is interesting to note that despite the absence of a policy on this issue, Universiti Sains Malaysia and Monash University deem it necessary to have ombudsman offices for grievance handling in line with international best practices.

In 2012, USM created the ombudsman office as a platform for the university’s staff and undergraduates to voice their dissatisfaction on issues. While this is encouraging, it seems that no other public university has seen the need to establish an ombudsman office to handle complaints effectively. The university also leverages this internal policy to protect whistle-blowers.

Realising the gap in grievance handling policy, Monash University in Malaysia made ombudsman procedures operational. The Education Ministry may want to explore this for introduction in other universities in the country.

In Malaysia, although the Public Complaint Bureau (PCB) performs a similar role to the ombudsman, it lacks speciality, independence and transparency, which are essential for the education sector. In addition, for a sector comprising both private and public entities, it is necessary to detach university complaints from PCB.

International best practices in the United States, Canada and New Zealand show that the notion of a public officer for all kinds of complaints is becoming a thing of the past. Ombudsman has become the new face of complaint handling in public, quasi-public and private sectors in many parts of the world, and Malaysia should not be an exception.

Young people find it very easy to complain over the social media on issues which may be capable of resolution by the ombudsman.

University ombudsman with online accessibility or mobile app could be an attractive and user-friendly option for young university students.

Every university administrator must be concerned about the reputational risk from complaints going public. The number of foreign students seeking admission may also be affected in the absence of a clear policy on complaint handling.

To avoid lengthy and cumbersome litigation process, a university ombudsman could be tailormade to suit the nature of complaints peculiar to the sector.

This underlines the need for a clear policy for uniform complaint handling among stakeholders in the education sector.

The policy document is only a framework for complaint handling in the university and could mandate every university in Malaysia to establish an office of ombudsman, which must be separate and independent of the legal adviser’s office.

The ombudsman’s office and its head must uphold independence, neutrality, confidentiality and fairness. The policy must not exclude the right of the complainant from proceeding to court as a last resort.

By Dr Sodiq Omoola.

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A government for and with the people

Friday, September 21st, 2018
(File pix) Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail and Pakatan Harapan members of parliament at the first session of the 14th Parliament in July. Pix by Aizuddin Saad

MORE important than being seen to accomplish promises in the Pakatan Harapan election manifesto is the fulfilment of the promise of a leaner, cleaner government, working with the people to foster unity, uphold the rule of law, protect and promote people’s wellbeing and ensure a stable, growing economy that benefits all.

Pointing a finger at the previous administration takes as much, if not more, of the new government’s time and effort.

If and where misdeeds have been committed against the nation and people, those responsible must face the consequences.

After all, voters who rejected the previous administration were aware that all was not right.

So, let’s move towards a better and brighter future for all.

To that end, there has to be the overriding priority of running the government professionally. Having served, for almost three decades, with United Nations programmes of assistance in organisational and institutional reform, I am aware that governments often fail to make the right decisions as they set up their systems, structures and relationships from the first day in office.

There is the need to resist temptation to dismantle structures, terminate projects and move people, only to have them reinvented, reintroduced or replaced with others that in the end are costlier, less efficient, unproductive and, hopefully not, fraught with the same or worse deficiencies as their predecessors.

Crucial areas for reform must be identified in each ministry, department and agency.

And there needs to be a critical mass of expertise and experience to initiate and execute that process.

Relying on generalists or those politically or personally connected is a recipe for failure.

Secondly, it is incumbent on the chief secretary to the government, as head of the civil service and the highest-ranking civil servant, to ensure that there is clear understanding, strong support, full commitment and the where-withal across all sectors and levels of the administration to implement the government’s policies and programmes.

There has been talk of a civil service that’s hostile to the new government and past reports of a “bloated and unsustainably costly ” civil service.

This is an opportune time, whatever the facts are, to address those concerns.

It calls for the cabinet and the civil service to sing from the same page, as the prime minister put it.

Not necessarily “yes” men and women, but who through consultation and feedback reach a consensus to implement the government’s agenda in the best interest of the nation and its people.

And as a corollary to working in unison is the need for the coalition of parties forming the government to work to fulfil the change that they pledged to the people who voted them to office.

New ministers and those appointed to assist them need to take the time for inductions and training to help them set priorities and manage the institutions they lead.

Many have limited or lack the experience of working in a major public department.

Simply saying “government must be run like a business” or “like a successful non-government organisation”, one will soon find out it is not true.

And ministers have to think of implementation from the outset.

While it’s critical to have a clear timetable to drive progress, as former auditor-general Tan Sri Ambrin Buang advised the PH government, it is vital to learn from the mistakes of the previous administration and not ignore audit reports, if it is serious about transparency and accountability, ending leakages and graft and using budgets to meet goals.

It’s in the ministers’ self-interest and the institutions they lead to make sure strategies and structures, timelines and targets, and allocated resources and projected results are challenged and reoriented, and not just by civil servants.

The people who need to make things happen on the ground, and indeed the public who are going to be affected, need to help the administration develop those plans and deliver what will work for their benefit.


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Is a one-chamber Parliament feasible?

Friday, September 21st, 2018
(File pix) Yang di-Pertuan Agong Sultan Muhammad V at the opening of the first session of the 14th Parliament in July. Malaysia’s Parliament comprises the lower chamber (Dewan Rakyat) and the upper chamber (Dewan Negara). Pix by Asyraf Hamzah

EVER since the Federation of Malaya came into being on Aug 31, 1957, our federal legislature (Parliament) has comprised two chambers: the lower chamber (Dewan Rakyat) and the upper chamber (Dewan Negara).

Members of the lower chamber are elected while the members of the upper chamber are appointed, some by state legislative assemblies, others by the Yang diPertuan Agong.

Article 44 of the Federal Constitution states that, “The legislative authority of the Federation shall be vested in a Parliament”, which consists of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, the Dewan Negara (Senate) and the Dewan Rakyat (House of Representatives).

We are told that we follow the Westminster model of democratic government. The Parliament of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (commonly known as the UK Parliament, or British Parliament) is made up of the House of Commons (lower chamber), the House of Lords (upper chamber) and the Queen.

The British Parliament has sometimes been called the Mother of Parliaments.

A good friend, a retired civil servant noted for his interest in politics, asked me recently whether it was feasible for Malaysia to have just one chamber, consisting of just the Dewan Rakyat.

When I asked him why, he said that recent events seemed to show that our upper chamber (Dewan Negara) is no longer relevant.

He reminded me that our state legislature has always (since Merdeka) been unicameral, comprising the Dewan Undangan Negeri (state legislative assembly) and the sultan (ruler).

There is no second (or upper) chamber in state legislative assemblies, he added.

In other countries, the lower chamber is known by various names (House of Representatives, House of Commons, Chamber of Deputies and Federal Assembly), while the upper chamber is also known by equally various names (the Senate, House of Lords or Federal Council).

The lower chamber is usually larger in size than the upper chamber.

According to a study by the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, the are several advantages of bicameral legislatures (with two houses, or chambers): they are capable of representing diverse constituencies, they facilitate a “deliberative approach” to legislation, they hinder the passage of hasty or flawed legislation, and they provide enhanced oversight or control of the executive branch of government.

The authority of the two chambers in a bicameral legislature varies widely from country to country.

In the United Kingdom, which hasaweak form of bicameralism, one chamber enjoys superior legislativepowers.

The degree of predominance also differs in these countries.

In some countries, the upper chambers has the power to delay or review legislation initiated by the lower chamber, while in other places, their roles are merely consultative.

In the United States, where a strong form of bicameralism exists, both chambers have equal powers, and legislation must be approved by both houses.

Unicameral legislatures are often found in countries structured on a unitary governmental system.

Unlike the federal model of government, such as that found in Malaysia, where power is distributed between the central government and constituent territorial units, power in the unitary system is concentrated in one central unit.

The advantages of a unicameral legislature include the capacity to introduce new legislation rapidly, greater accountability, fewer elected representatives for the population to monitor, and reduced costs to the taxpayers.

Bicameral legislatures exist in the United Kingdom, the United States, Germany, Canada, Switzerland, Romania, while unicameral legislatures are found in Costa Rica, Portugal and Hungary.

Instances of countries switching from bicameral to unicameral legislatures can be found in recent years.

Iceland switched from a bicameral to a unicameral legislature in 1991; and Denmark, from a unicameral to a bicameral legislature in 1953. New Zealand did the

same thing in 1950.

In Peru, after the conclusion of a national referendum in 1993, the Senate was abolished and the country moved from a bicameral to a unicameral legislature.

Sweden had a difficult and turbulent constitutional history. It began a four-chamber legislature before it was changed to a bicameral legislature in 1867. The two chambers exercised equal legislative power, like in the US, and this led to unending conflict — the upper house was controlled by a conservative majority and the lower house dominated by a liberal majority.

This ideological divide provoked a legislative stalemate and resulted in political stagnation.

Finally, in 1967, after more than a century of bicameralism, the Swedish legislature became a unicameral body.

Morocco’s legislature began as a unicameral body (House of Representatives) before it became bicameral in 1996 with the creation of the House of Councillors.

Learning from the experience of these countries, it is not impossible for our national legislature to become unicameral, just like our state assemblies, if that is the wish of the people and the government.


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Understand, empathise with their woes

Friday, September 21st, 2018
(File pix) The recent Malaysia Day celebration at Padang Merdeka, Kota Kinabalu. Inclusiveness and respect for diversity have been an integral part of the people of Sabah and Sarawak for centuries. Pix by Malai Rosmah Tuah

IN reflecting upon the status of Sabah and Sarawak in the Malaysian Federation during a Malaysia Day celebration at Padang Merdeka Kota Kinabalu, on Sept 16, Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad made some significant observations which should shape our understanding of how the two states relate to Putrajaya.

It is true that Sabah and Sarawak together with Singapore and Peninsular Malaysia were deemed to be four equal partners in the formation of Malaysia in 1963. This was recognised not only in the Malaysia Agreement of 1963 (MA63) but also under the original Schedule 1(2) of the Federal Constitution.

However, what the merger of four entities meant in the actual structure of governance and in the delineation of powers within the Federation was not really clear. It was further complicated by the tensions generated by the acrimonious exchange between the national elite under Tunku Abdul Rahman and the Singapore leadership under Lee Kuan Yew starting early 1964 which resulted eventually in the separation of Singapore from the rest of the Federation on Aug 9, 1965.

Partly because of the Singapore episode, the Federal Government became more concerned in the subsequent years with the consolidation of the state. This was more important to the national leaders than giving meaning to the notion of equal partnership in building the nation.

Economic and administrative realities in a sense—as in other similar situations — drove the national leadership in the direction of greater centralisation of power.

It was not surprising, therefore, that in July 1976 under prime minister Tun Hussein Onn, the Federal Constitution was amended to change the status of Sabah and Sarawak. They became states in the Federation like the other 11 states from Peninsular Malaysia.

Of course, they retained the special grants and some of the rights bestowed upon them in 1963 such as control over immigration.

Similarly, various constitutional provisions pertaining to the distribution of legislative powers and the structure of the judicial system remained. It is worth observing that almost all Members of Parliament from Sabah and Sarawak present in the Dewan Rakyat voted for the constitutional amendment. We can safely assume that it will not happen today.

A significant segment of the populace in Sabah and Sarawak appear to be unhappy with the dominance of the centre over the two states in matters such as control over their own oil resource; the administration and management of public education; and the appointment and promotion of state officials in certain spheres.

There is a general feeling that Sabahans and Sarawakians do not have as much say over those aspects of governance that impact upon their lives as they had hoped for at the time of the formation of Malaysia.

These are genuine grievances which have to be addressed. A sincere attempt on the part of Putrajaya to understand and empathise with the woes of Sabahans and Sarawakians would be the key in the quest for solutions.

At the same time, the people in the two states should realise that sometimes in asserting one’s rights one should also be conscious of the need to concede and compromise in the larger interest of the nation as a whole.

When the rights of Sabah and Sarawak are respected and this is translated into tangible policies and programmes that benefit the vast majority of the people, they would begin to feel that they are equal to their sisters and brothers on the peninsula. There would be no need to amend the Constitution to recognise Sabah and Sarawak as equal to Peninsular Malaysia.

It is through improvement in the socio-economic status of the masses, underscored by respect and empathy for the people and their cultures and their heritage that Sabahans and Sarawakians will be bonded to the folk on the peninsula.

In this bonding not only will respect for cultural and religious diversity play a major role; a firm commitment to inclusiveness would be fundamental. Inclusiveness and respect for diversity have been so integral to the value system of the people of Sabah and Sarawak for centuries. These are also values that the majority of Peninsular Malaysians cherish — although sometimes they are pushed to the margins by small groups of exclusivists in different communities. Nonetheless, inclusiveness and respect for diversity hold us together, in spite of the vast expanse of the South China Sea.


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