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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.

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