20-10-2012 05:47

'Let students speak up'

EMPOWERING YOUTH: They should be encouraged to debate, speak freely and be recognised, says Saifuddin

PUTRAJAYA: MALAYSIA needs to let students think and act for themselves to create a creative and innovative society.

Deputy Higher Education Minister Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah said the syllabus in school and universities did not provide empowerment to the students.

"We actually have a good and comprehensive education plan at school level and the government has came out with the Malaysia Education Blueprint, while at the tertiary level, we have the National Higher Education Strategic Plan.

"But if there is something that I think must be added in both plans are empowerment, which I define as giving youth a right to think and act for themselves, which is a concept used in many fields such as business, innovation and politics among others."

Saifuddin was speaking after taking part in a forum titled "Citizenship in the Age of the Internet: Has the Internet Increased Political Awareness among Malaysian youth?" at the the Perdana Leadership Foundation here yesterday.

The forum was jointly organised by the Perdana Leadership Foundation and Maybank Foundation.

Saifuddin was one of the panellists along with Tricia Yeoh, Anas Zubedy, Cheah Kar Fei and moderated by Lim Teck Hoe.

He said the idea behind empowerment was to create an environment where the youths were encouraged to debate, could speak freely and be recognised. However, he added, that did not mean there were no rules in classes.

He said the education plan had the empowerment element incorporated in it, but educators would not encourage their students to debate, to speak, to ask questions or even to have differing opinions as everything must be conformed to a set of thoughts.

On top of that, Saifuddin said educators also labelled students as supporters of the opposition or of some politicians.

"This is wrong as what the students really have is just a difference in opinions."

Saifuddin said it was important to address the issue for the country to move forward as a developed nation.

"I think we must have this culture, as to create talent, we must have empowerment because the full potential of a real talent can only be unleashed if there is space allocated for creativity.

"Looking from the innovation side, it is all about creativity, on whether freedom is allocated for talent to express itself."

Saifuddin said realising this, the government had introduced measures to promote this culture in both schools and at the tertiary level.

He said among the steps taken at the higher learning level were the amendments to the Universities and University Colleges Act and the Generic Student Attributes where one of the seven softskill elements were on critical thinking.

"But this must be made an ongoing process until it becomes a culture and manifest itself in the working world and in government departments and agencies.

"It might, however, take a generation for it to be adapted into the Malaysian culture."

He said the people and society needed to play their roles in creating this culture by contributing their ideas to the government via the Malaysia Education Blueprint and other education blueprints.

29-06-2011 13:50

Serve local needs, regional varsities urged

 Deputy Higher Education Minister Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah (right) welcoming participants of the ‘De-colonising Our Universities’ conference organised by Universiti Sains Malaysia  and Citizens International yesterday. — NST picture by Ramdzan Masiam

Deputy Higher Education Minister Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah (right) welcoming participants of the ‘De-colonising Our Universities’ conference organised by Universiti Sains Malaysia and Citizens International yesterday. — NST picture by Ramdzan Masiam

GEORGE TOWN: Universities in the region must work together to "de-Westernise" and move to redefine the higher education and knowledge they provide.

Deputy Higher Education Minister Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah said Eastern universities had reached a time where they must form their own world views, instead of following those prescribed by former colonial masters and the Western world.

Knowledge from universities in the region should benefit the community and serve local needs, rather than a thing copied straight from the West.

"We are not waging war against Western education, but to ensure that knowledge and researches by our higher-learning institutions benefit our people and address local issues.

"We need our own definition for knowledge as well as to develop indigenous knowledge.

"We need to understand that we are facing a new kind of 'imperialism', through knowledge derived from the West and their systems like the university ranking system, as well as the importance of universities in this region to work together to remedy this situation," he said at the opening of the "De-colonising Our Universities" conference yesterday.

The event was organised by Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) and Citizens International.

Present were USM vice-chancellor Professor Tan Sri Dzulkifli Abdul Razak and Citizens International chairman S.M. Mohamed Idris.

The three-day conference in Tanjung Bungah near here had drawn scholars and academicians from 20 countries and aimed to address the increasing need for regional universities to overcome the monopoly of knowledge and scientific research by the West.

Saifuddin said Malaysian universities were not compelled to follow the Western university ranking system, but were encouraged to adopt an accreditation system alongside its Eastern peers, which shared similar views in knowledge, objectives and cultural values.

Earlier, Iranian Higher Education, Research and Technology Ministry adviser Dr Asghar Zarei gave his keynote address.

He called for more rigorous South to South academic, scientific, technological and research cooperation to "de-colonise" the region's universities and prevent knowledge and science from being monopolised.

New Straits Times group editor Datuk Syed Nadzri Syed Harun also chaired a session where three speakers deliberated on the topic of "Decolonising the Social Sciences Across the World" and the World Social Science Report.

The United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) regional adviser on social and human sciences in Asia and the Pacific, Darryl R.J. Macer, said there was a need to reflect on social sciences and knowledge, and to rethink the citation system used by academicians in their research papers.

Responding to criticisms from participating academicians, he said Unesco would also look into translating more research papers and journals to make non-English publications available to a wide spectrum of researchers.

Another speaker, Shyam Singh, pointed out that most of the journals cited by researchers came from Europe and North America.

This, he said, could be caused by a knowledge hierarchy that was dominated by the West and the lack of funding from governments of non-Western nations to conduct social science studies and the publication of journals.

He mentioned India's case as an example.

Another speaker, fiction writer Vishram Gupte, pointed out that ideas based on the intangible such as intuition, the teachings of "gurus" (spiritual leaders) and knowledge conveyed by folklore or traditional wisdom were not recognised in the Western-centric study of social sciences.

02-03-2011 21:08

Getting more students from developed countries

CYBERJAYA: Malaysia is gearing up to attract more students and teaching staff from developed countries.

Deputy Higher Education Minister Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah said this would strengthen Malaysia's position as an education hub in the region.

"We want more students and lecturers from developed nations to come here. We are also inviting universities from countries like Belgium to set up branch campuses in Malaysia," he said after witnessing the signing of three memoranda of understanding between Belgian and Malaysian universities.

The MoUs were between HEC-University of Liege and NetAcademy; Haute Ecole de la Province de Liege and Multimedia University; and University of Brussels and Universiti Malaysia Terengganu.

The universities would cooperate in areas ranging from research to student exchange programmes.

Earlier, Saifuddin met Belgian Minister of Higher Education of the French Community Jean-Claude Marcourt as well as the representatives from the three Belgian universities.

Very few students from developed countries come to Malaysia to study. Last year, only 19 students from Australia came to Malaysia to pursue their tertiary education.

There were 20 students from Canada, 12 from France, 14 from Germany and three from Italy. The others included Japan (17), New Zealand (three), the United Kingdom (37), and the United States (57).

On the number of teaching staff from developed nations last year, there were 11 from Australia, 16 from Canada, nine from France, 16 from Germany, seven from Italy, 69 from Japan, 35 from the UK and 33 from the US.

Saifuddin also said two universities each from the US and the UK would set up branch campuses in Malaysia.

10-01-2011 08:44

Saifuddin: Red tape cause of communication gulf

KUALA LUMPUR: Universities have been told to improve their administration to better attend to the needs of students.

Deputy Higher Education Minister Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah said yesterday the communication gulf between students and administrators was a long-standing matter which was due to excessive bureaucracy.

"The ministry has received and attended to a lot of these complaints, but the problem is still there and needs constant monitoring.

"Much of the time, it's due to students having to navigate the university bureaucracy, such as having too many forms to fill or to submit official requests to organise small forums or events. This can lead to a lot of time-wasting and distracts students from their studies."

On Saturday, 60 student leaders had a dialogue with the MCA leadership. The students said there was a general lack of communication with university administrations. MCA president Datuk Seri Dr Chua Soi Lek said the MCA would submit a memorandum on it to the ministry.

To this, Saifuddin said: "We will be more than happy to receive the memorandum as it is in the best interests of the students that we listen to them and attend to their needs."

He said that while many students were now approaching the universities' top management for help through more directly, more could be done to improve efficiency at the administrative level.

"I think it's important to note that university officers are measured by work completed by the year, while students live their lives by the semester. Students just want their problems solved more quickly."

Senior university administrators say they have told students to approach them directly on any matter.

Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia vice-chancellor Professor Datuk Dr Sharifah Hapsah Syed Hasan Shahabudin said she spoke with students everyday on multiple issues.

"They contact me via my mobile phone, where they can call, text or email me directly, or they get in touch through my Twitter and Facebook accounts."

Similarly, Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM) vice-chancellor Professor Datuk Dr Sahol Hamid said he responded daily to students' requests and concerns through his Facebook page, which had more than 27,000 subscribers.

"My deputies and I are committed to attending to the students directly. It has worked very well for UiTM -- we are very big but very close."

Universiti Putra Malaysia vice-chancellor Professor Datuk Dr Radin Umar said the university had an open door policy.

Read more: Saifuddin: Red tape cause of communication gulf

06-10-2010 22:31

Hunt for top local business schools

United States assistant secretary for economic, energy and business affairs Jose W. Fernandez (left) with Deputy Minister of Higher Education Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah at the forum yesterday.
United States assistant secretary for economic, energy and business affairs Jose W. Fernandez (left) with Deputy Minister of Higher Education Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah at the forum yesterday.

KUALA LUMPUR: In order to promote entrepreneurship, the Higher Education Ministry will identify the top business schools from among the 20 public and 48 private universities in the country.

Deputy Minister Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah said two public universities -- Universiti Putra Malaysia and Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia -- had already been identified as fitting the bill two years ago but were constantly being assessed."We are still on the lookout for two more business schools to be included in the top business schools cluster," he said.

Saifuddin was speaking after delivering a speech at the "New Beginnings -- Connecting Through Entrepreneurship" forum organised in conjunction with Global Entrepreneurship Week next month.

He said the move was not a form of ranking process, but was intended to boost entrepreneurship as a means to make Malaysia a high-income nation.Saifuddin said the selection would also mean more autonomy for the teaching staff from the business schools of the selected universities.

"In western countries, lecturers from business faculties and schools are allowed to have businesses of their own, and more often than not, successful entrepreneurs are offered positions as lecturers."This enables them to be very much exposed in the entrepreneurial world, which they then teach their students, making the learning experience a wholesome one."Saifuddin said the current rules in public varsities hindered lecturers from the business faculties in gaining better exposure.

"Therefore, this move will allow for the exercise of flexibility, whereby teaching hours for lecturers would be limited, to allow them to engage themselves in entrepreneurial-related activities, from which they will derive more practical knowledge to be handed down to their students."Saifuddin said that young entrepreneurs were very much needed in the country as they were the key to the success of the country's New Economic Model plan.

27-08-2010 09:35

Universities and their irrelevant rankings

LOVE them or loathe them, rankings of universities across countries and regions are here to stay.

They began with the release of the Shanghai Jiao Tong University's Academic Ranking of World Universities in 2003, followed the next year by the famous (or infamous) Times Higher Education Supplement World University Rankings.

These annual products are now referred to by aspiring students, by academics and researchers looking for greener pastures, and by employers keen to recruit the best and brightest candidates. Collaboration among universities can often be influenced by their respective ranks.

The recent elevation of five Malaysian universities as research universities can be seen as a form of ranking.

Increasingly, scientific research and experimentation have become the major focus of universities, resulting in an explosion of scientific knowledge and technological development of immense human benefit.

Sadly, advances in the North do not necessarily advance the interests of the South. In 2003, the then United Nations secretary-general Kofi Annan lamented: "95 per cent of the new science in the world is created in the countries comprising only one-fifth of the world's population. And much of that science... neglects the problems that afflict most of the world's people."

This ties in directly to the biggest flaw of university rankings. They are based very much on research output rather than teaching or community service, for example. Additional criteria would better reflect the relevance of a 21st century university.

Surely there is scope -- perhaps in the form of Key Intangible Performance (KIP) indicators -- to credit university academics who get involved in the larger community at home or abroad. For instance, academics who enjoin controversial public debates like global warming, genetically modified organisms, nuclear energy and stem cell cloning.

I recall several years ago the disappointed reaction of university vice-chancellors in our part of the world, Malaysia in particular, to a global ranking of universities that failed to include even one local university in the top 100.

My vice-chancellor friends should not despair. I was at a United Nations meeting at the time in the company of many world academic leaders who hardly noticed the announcement.

They were more concerned about the relevance of today's universities' agenda to the plight of the world's have-nots -- specifically, the contributions of universities worldwide towards the Millennium Development Goals. (The MDGs include eradication of extreme poverty and hunger; achieving universal primary education; promoting gender equality and empowering women; reducing child mortality rates; combating HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases; ensuring environmental sustainability, and developing a global partnership for development.)

The past 50 years have been characterised by unprecedented economic growth; increased life expectancy and increased agricultural production. However, inequality has widened: 1.2 billion people -- nearly one in four on Earth -- live on less than US$1 (RM3) per day; one billion people lack access to clean water; more than two billion people lack access to sanitation; 1.3 billion are breathing air deemed unacceptable by the World Health Organisation, and 800 million people are food insecure.

The UN estimates that one-third of the world is well fed, one-third under-fed, and one-third starving. Every 3.6 seconds someone dies of hunger.

To satisfy the world's sanitation and food requirements would cost only US$13 billion (RM45 billion) -- what the people of the United States and the European Union spend on perfume each year.

Have our universities faced up to the "human challenge" confronting the global community? Sadly not. We are mired in the game of trying to become the equals of the great universities of Europe, North America and Japan.

Seeking the collaboration and assistance of such organisations should be encouraged. Publishing in high-impact journals such as Science or Nature is a reasonable goal as our universities evolve in the global academic community.

For too long, however, we have been mesmerised by the "publish or perish" paradigm, as captured in the mono-dimensional global university rankings, even though the "human challenge" we face is multi-dimensional.

The mission of our universities needs to include meeting the socioeconomic challenges faced by the world's bottom billions.

Paradoxically, of late such a reorientation of focus has been taken up by universities such as the UK's Cambridge and Imperial College London, and by America's Harvard, MIT and Princeton.

Today, Malaysia's economic well-being is at a crossroad. As the prime minister put it recently, we risk being trapped in the middle-income bracket.

To achieve the country's New Economic Model, eight strategic reform initiatives are being proposed. Our universities are needed to take up the challenge of meeting the possible policy measures so eloquently outlined.

Today's universities can never be oblivious to the problems faced by the rakyat, at one level within our own shores, and at another level, the world beyond our borders.

Let us ignore the irrelevant rankings of world universities, re-examine our fundamentals, and strive to be relevant to the pressing problems close to home in our increasingly challenging world.

Professor Datuk Zakri Abdul Hamid is chairman of the National Professors Council and science adviser to the prime minister. This is an excerpt of a recent address given at a function of the Malaysian Qualifications Agency



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