Time the Education Ministry gets its own schooling right
The recent charging of academician Dr Azmi Sharom and the probe on Dr Aziz Bari have sent a chilling effect on academic freedom in the already under-achieving education system.
Despite the concern that none of our local universities ranks within the top 400 world universities ranking, silencing Malaysian academics shows that the Ministry of Education is not bothered about providing space for innovative and creating thinking.
All talk and hype on improving the quality of education look like mere rhetoric and without any substance.
Besides Azmi Sharom, several student activists from local universities were also arrested under the sedition charge.
It is baffling to note that on the one hand the Ministry of Education talks about improving the quality of education by promoting creative and critical thinking but on the other hand it restricts, regulates and censors the role of academics by preventing them from expressing their expert opinions and informed views. Can our higher education centres become world-class universities when the dagger of the Sedition Act hangs over academics’ and students’ heads? Our Ministry of Education may want to produce and flood the market with graduates who are neither employable nor able to express themselves to their colleagues and audiences.
Well, if nobody employs them, the government is ever ready to absorb them and convert them into their loyal vote bank. That’s how we now have 1.4 million civil servants in a bloated government service and they absorb about 40% of the operating budget every year. The university heads along with others holding key posts are political appointees. There is legislation and there are executive authorities that exert their influence in the appointment of Vice-Chancellors and members of governing bodies. Malaysia is one country where academics cannot get a transfer from one university to another to gain new experience or undertake research without the approval of Ministry of Education. In addition to the above, academics are mandated to sign a loyalty oath, the Aku Janji (I Pledge) contract or declaration document that further restricts their conduct and activities inside and outside their workplaces.
The loyalty oath is a pre-emptive move to restrict the freedom of academics. Besides, the Ministry of Education’s Universities and University Colleges Act (UUCA) has reduced higher education centres to being passive and submissive ones.
The loyalty oath is repugnant to the dignity of the academic profession. It implies that without subscribing to the oath, academics will commit or encourage an act of subversion or treason. This is a preposterous assumption that has to be totally condemned by all thinking academics. Both the Universities and University Colleges Act and the Statutory Bodies (Discipline and surcharge) Act (Act 605) are documents that show a blatant curb on academic freedom and university autonomy. Universities are slowly and surely becoming government departments taking orders from higher-ups.
Unless academic freedom is given its due place and respect within a university, significant contributions to the quality of the institution as a whole cannot be promoted to a level of excellence. Every year, the Ministry of Education is allotted the highest budget but the quality of education is sliding downwards all the while.
The yearly examination paper leakages and the frequent flip-flops, including the latest as to whether or not to use forecast examination results to enter private institutions, do not compensate for the huge amount of taxpayers’ money spent. Now, taxpayers have to pay an additional new tax – the GST – to narrow the yearly deficit. It’s time the Ministry of Education gets its act right and schools itself correctly.