June 21, 2016
COMMENT: When it comes to university administration, no one in Malaysia today is better qualified than Tan Sri Ghauth Jasmon, former Vice Chancellor of my alma mater, The University of Malaya (now Universiti Malaya). I welcome his appointment when it announced some years ago as great hope for the university, only to be disappointed that his insecure political masters decided to remove him.
Why? Tan Sri Jasmon had an independent and entrepreneurial streak and the guts to institute drastic changes in the way our oldest university would operate. He sought to improve academic standards, improve ranking of Universiti Malaya, and adopt a “publish or perish”culture among the academic staff. He also changed the business culture of the university Universiti Malaya to make less dependent on the government for funding. These objectives are noble ones but threatening to vested interests with a different agenda.
Bringing about change is a risky business. You need guts and vision with a strong heart. Italian Niccolo Machiavelli was among the first political philosophers to have made this observation. In our country, men like Tan Sri Jasmon are not welcome because they upset the status quo. “Business as usual is good for those seek to benefit, usually of personal nature, from it.
Yes, we need strong and committed individuals, men (and women) who pursue excellence by example, to lead our universities if we are to change the standard of our institutions of higher education. I wonder who will heed his call for moral courage, and entrepreneurship.–Din Merican
Appoint brave men with entrepreneurial spirit as to captain our universities–Former UM VC Ghauth Jasmon
This, says former Universiti Malaya Vice-Chancellor Ghauth Jasmon, is the formula to improve education standards in public universities.
Tan Sri Dr. Ghauth Jasmon, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Malaya was conferred the award of Honorary Degree of the Doctor of Science (DSc) by the University of Wales, Cardiff at a convocation ceremony at the Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff on Friday, 4th May 2012. Tan Sri Jasmon is now Vice Chancellor, Sunway University
The way to improve standards at Malaysian universities is to employ vice-chancellors who are brave enough to make changes and think like entrepreneurs.
This is the view of former Universiti Malaya Vice-Chancellor Prof Ghauth Jasmon.
He said today that Malaysian public universities had failed to produce world class universities because they had become heavily reliant on the Government. This, he said, had made vice-chancellors complacent.
“In Malaysia, the Government gives students to varsities. Money is given. There are no challenges. The VC does not have any idea how to raise funds. They are too afraid to make any change because their neck is always on the chopping block from pressure groups and the Government,” he said.
He was speaking to about 100 people, mostly from the education sector, at a forum on expanding private higher education organised by the Jeffrey Cheah Institute on Southeast Asia.
Ghauth, who is well respected in education circles, said the Malaysian Government gave 80 per cent of the operating cost to each public university whereas the governments of Thailand and Indonesia only gave 20 per cent of the operating cost.
“The VCs in these two countries have no choice but to operate like private colleges. They offer courses relevant to the market needs. Their syllabuses are current, unlike ours. Some of our syllabuses have not changed for the past 20 years.”
He said the Thai and Indonesian university heads were entrepreneurs and go-getters. “Public universities in Thailand and Indonesia run their own businesses. Chulalongkorn University has 7 huge supermarkets, 1,400 commercial buildings. Indonesian public universities are successful too. Both countries started venturing out 30 years ago.”
The vice-chancellors in these two nations had to be on their toes to attract students without sacrificing the quality of education, as a drop in their standards or grades would not attract other students to register with them, said Ghauth.
In contrast, he said, most of the vice-chancellors in Malaysia were at a loss, especially since the Government announced budget cuts in operational costs for every public university.
The Government, in Budget 2016, had slashed university budgets by RM2.4 billion, from RM15.78 billion in 2015 to RM13.37 billion for the year 2016. Universiti Malaya had the most severe cut of 27.30 per cent, he said.
“The immediate reaction of public universities, especially the board members in UM, is to cut costs rather than expand business.”
Ghauth said some of the universities would, in such a situation, unsubscribe to online journals, charge for usage of sporting facilities and remind their staff to switch off lights, and repair leaking pipes.
Some administrators have suggested commercialising International Property rights and research papers.
“The truth is, there is not much money to be made from commercialising IP rights or selling research papers unless you are a Stanford or Harvard,” Ghauth said.
Saying the way to improve standards was to change the vice-chancellors, he pointed out that during interviews for the post of Vice-Chancellor, no one asked how the person would make money for the institution. “We need to change this,” he said.
During his time at UM, from 2008 to 2013, he had approached the University of Wales to have a joint venture with UM to open a private university – University of Malaya Wales. It started three years ago and operates out of UM. The money generated from the private university goes to UM.
“This is one way to be independent. The less we depend on money from the Government, the more UM can start standing on its feet. It can start making its own decisions to make UM world class.”
Ghauth said brave vice-chancellors were needed to make changes to Malaysian higher education. “Otherwise, it is just going to be worse from now on as the Government will continue to cut budgets due to the drop in oil prices.”
UM went up five spots to sit in 146th place in the Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) World University Rankings for 2015/ 2016. There are 20 over public universities in Malaysia.
Number of unemployed public university graduates to soar
The number of unemployed people who graduate from local public universities is set to rise further, an academician warned today.
Not only would the unemployed figure from this group rise higher than the present 400,000, about 80 per cent of the jobless would be Bumiputera, according to Prof Ghauth Jasmon.
He estimated the figure at 600,000 in the next few years, if nothing was done to improve university education.
The former Universiti Malaya vice-chancellor said the reality was that the private sector preferred hiring graduates from private universities and colleges.
“The private sector needs graduates who speak and write English. Many public university graduates are hired by the Government and join the civil service. But the Government cannot hire everyone,” he said.
Every year about 200,000 graduate from institutions of higher learning in the country.
He said despite the Government spending billions of ringgit on public universities, the demand for graduates from these universities remained low.
“It is a sad thing that this is happening. One way of overcoming the problem is for vice-chancellors to implement measures that will benefit the nation.Vice-chancellors need to be bold. They need to do what is good for the students and for the country so no funds are wasted.”
Ghauth, who was UM vice-chancellor from 2008 to 2013, said he had faced a lot of resistance from lecturers and students when he wanted to improve students’ soft skills, such as having extra English classes.
“The backlash to that was bad. There were demonstrations, encouraged by lecturers. They accused me of making Malay language as the second language. For the next one year, I had to continuously write to newspapers on the reasons for my move.”
Another move he made was to ask lecturers to submit their research and paperwork to International Scientific Indexing (ISI) journals. “The professors petitioned against me. They wanted to remove me. ISI journals have to be in English. They felt I was not in support of the Malay language.”
He then decided to reduce the salaries of UM professors studying PhD in Australia, United Kingdom and Canada who took three to four years longer than the deadline.
“I told them if you do not finish your courses by a certain time, the UM will cut your salary by RM200 to RM600 a month depending on the length of delay.”
Even though, there were objections, he said, the policy remained till today. He noted that almost 90 per cent of professors were now finishing their PhD on time.
He said vice-chancellors should not give in to pressure as they knew their measures were for the betterment of the country. It was not about being in the good books of everyone, he said.