Ministry’s new resolve

IF THE new academic calendar indicated that 2011 would be full of surprises, Higher Education Minister Datuk Seri Mohamed Khaled Nordin’s New Year’s address did little to change the notion.

Instead, affirmation was the order of the day, and the minister’s call for universities to establish students’ parliaments highlighted the ministry’s commitment to come good on last year’s amendments to the Universities and University Colleges Act.

It was quite remarkable.

Student activism is sometimes viewed negatively by the authorities, especially when things get out of hand. However, instead of keeping “dissent” in check, the ministry is now legitimising an avenue for students to make themselves heard.

And that avenue could go all the way to become a nationwide platform.

“I encourage the students’ parliament concept,” said Mohamed Khaled in his speech to ministry staff members on Monday at the Putrajaya International Convention Centre.

“I hope that such parliaments will be established in all public universities, and subsequently, at the national level.”

The minister later disclosed in a press conference that the ministry’s pilot project at Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) — Malaysia’s apex university — was going well and other universities had the green light to follow suit.

He added that a national-level body could be set up once 75% of public universities had their own “parliament”.

Mohamed Khaled explained that a students’ parliament would provide an ideal platform to unite the voices of student leaders and their concerns could be brought directly to the Government – doing away with the need for demonstrations.

Delving deeper, it would encourage a culture of intellectual debate and this would, in turn, produce a generation of critical thinkers who would one day, helm the nation.

The minister added that the concerns of students had to be acknowledged in the formation of university policies.

Presently, USM — Malaysia’s Apex university — is the only varsity with a student parliament.

The rating game

After the 2009 Rating System for Malaysian Higher Education (Setara) exercise, it was only a matter of time before other higher education institutions entered the equation.

It’s now official: All colleges and polytechnics in Malaysia will be rated and the results should be out by the tail-end of the year.

Private colleges will partake in the Malaysia Quality Evaluation System (MyQuest) while polytechnics will be rated under a system known as PolyRate.

Mohamed Khaled said the move was necessary as universities and university colleges were already evaluated through Setara and it would be incomplete to leave out Malaysia’s 402 private colleges.

“We hope to come out with the results at the end of the year and the rating will assist students in choosing a college,” he said after launching MyQuest at the event.

“It is important to know where our many colleges stand and we cannot compromise on quality.”

Under MyQuest, private colleges will be classified into six tiers, ranging from Tier 6 (Excellent) to Tier 1 (Very poor).

MyQuest employs a 40-30-30 breakdown: 40% of a college’s score comes from its Input (students and facilities); 30% from Output (Recognition of a college’s and graduates); and 30% from its quality management system.

Developed since 2009, MyQuest is able to generate three different evaluation reports which are college-based, cluster-based and international student-focused.

To qualify for MyQuest, colleges must have at least one matured programme running, with at least one batch of graduates.

This year’s Setara rating has also been refined.

Apart from teaching and learning, the sole criterion in 2009, this year’s Setara will factor in a research component.

In specifics, this involves the quality of a varsity’s research activities, development programmes and commercialisation endeavours.

Mohamed Khaled said that the added criterion in the assessment exercise was in line with current expectations in higher education.

“Universities must not only produce quality graduates which meet industry requirements but also generate new findings through research and development endeavours,” he said.

A new phase

The new announcements are part and parcel of the ministry’s transition to the second phase of the National Higher Education Strategic Plan.

The phase involves strengthening the higher education landscape and universities are set to enjoy a freer hand in proceedings.

Mohamed Khaled said that all research universities were expected to get full autonomy by 2015 and a sixth research university would be identified by then.

Presently, USM, Universiti Malaya, Universiti Putra Malaysia, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia and Universiti Teknologi Malaysia are the five research universities.

The search is now on and Mohamed Khaled has encouraged the remaining universities to vie for the position.

The minister added that it was imperative to raise the level of English and public universities were encouraged to recruit more foreign undergraduates to enhance the usage of English in communication.

Additionally, universities were instructed to increase the number of credit hours in English.

Moving on, Malaysia’s status as a regional education hub meant that foreign student targets had to crop up and Mohamed Khaled stressed the need to achieve a consistent 13.5% growth in foreign student recruitment in order to hit the 150,000 target per year by 2015.

To do so, the ever-improving private sector would have to play a key role and the presence of renowned foreign institutions would also serve as an added draw.

The minister mentioned that the Malaysia Logistics Innovation Institute would soon be established with a prestigious foreign university.

The identity of that institution, however, was not disclosed.

by Richard Lim.

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