By Dzulkifli Abdul Razak
Datuk Seri Mohamed Khaled Nordin became the new higher education minister in early December 2022. It was his second stint in the same portfolio, namely from 2008 to 2013.
The period was particularly momentous because of the historic moment celebrating the country’s first and only APEX (Accelerated Programme for Excellence University) on September 2, 2008.
Thus, in his second term, Mohamed Khaled regarded his return as ‘sireh pulang ke gagang’ (back to where one started). He introduced some good policies that would take the higher education sector to greater heights.
Especially, after the Covid-19 pandemic, the education sector in general has undergone many unprecedented changes and challenges. There is a need to look at how the sector could cope and become resilient.
In this regard, he announced the introduction of a hybrid and flexible learning system at universities, focusing on in-person delivery limited only to the first and final year students. In between, the students will be given the choice and flexibility to study from home, without having to be physically present in class, whereby they can attend lectures virtually online.
In this way, students are taught to organise their activities more flexibly and effectively bringing with it several advantages such as reducing the number and amount of educational loans and therefore making education more accessible and affordable.
It also allows the students to work or do things together without having to be campus-centric. Meaning, the space for education and learning will be expanded further to enhance wider scope for experiential learning which has been severely lacking in the traditional class-based activities as practiced then.
Reportedly, a total of 95 first-degree programmes from 19 public universities were ready to be offered in a flexible learning mode for the 2023/2024 academic session.
Some courses could even be shortened and made more relevant to the context it is intended for, not as a one-size-fits-all!
This could also open up opportunities for graduates to enter the job market earlier.
Another milestone that Mohamed Khaled would be known for, will be his decisiveness to reign in the so-called ‘university ranking’ obsession especially that is promoted commercially by foreign consortiums.
He remarked that currently “the measure used may be suitable only for developed countries” given the differences in context upon which it is conceptualised and developed.
“It is not possible to measure all universities in general because each university was created for different goals. So, the ranking can only be used to see where the position is, but not as a basis for a university to be excellent, of quality or not,” he concluded.
Indeed, many articles have been published about the ranking system, including those by international bodies like the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), and the International Association of Universities (IAU) have expressed concerns about the system. Even the United Nations University of late.
Consequently, initiatives are on the way to revamp and realign the conventional evaluation used for the local higher education, such as the SETARA system. This bold step if properly executed will put Malaysia at the forefront of the higher education sector in ushering a new type of university for the future.
Being at the forefront of education, implies that knowledges are important levers to ensure that the cause of humanity is best served while shaping the leaders of tomorrow.
There is no time better for this than today, in asserting justice, fairness and equity to which the universities must be held accountable.
Not only the delivery must be at its “best,” but also the most relevant with respect to global agenda like Sustainable Development Goals, Agenda 2030.
Last week’s column, however, highlighted some of the emerging issues of world class hypocrisy and contradicting standards ( https://www.bacalahmalaysia.my/kacamata-ku-world-class-hypocrisy-and-contradicting-standards-emerging/ ) that can be tackled to advance a truly vibrant future education for all of humanity.
Academic visions and missions crafted as a deceptive narrative of excellence are no longer acceptable.
This calls for an inclusive debate on the ‘true’ purpose and integrity of higher education to reflect on its values beyond ranking. It is time for society to question the metrics used to measure educational success in challenging the status quo.
It therefore demands transparency and accountability to redefine the “new” metrics, emphasising on the quality of teaching and learning, research impact, as well as the engagement and contributions to society over numerical rankings.
The foundational principles of education: honesty, inquiry, and the relentless pursuit of all knowledges in transdisciplinary ways must be urgently restored.
Ultimately, it lies on the leadership that must be recognised and held in high esteem internationally as well.
Gone are the days when higher education leaders assumed a mere caretaker role of maintaining (or pandering to) the status quo in the interest of self-preservation (read: to ensure their appointments are extended) by making cosmetic changes of no academic and intellectual significance.
After all, transformation is not about playing safe but taking calculated risks to bring about the desired changes to the status quo, knowing full well that the same situation, in all its disguises, will come back to haunt the future if not adequately dealt with.
This is how Mohamed Khaled will be best remembered! Thank you, YB! – BACALAHMALAYSIA.MY
- The writer is Rector, International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM)