Decolonising our universities: another world is desirable

Editors’ note: the statement below was issued by participants at the end of the International Conference on Decolonising Our Universities conference at Universiti Sains Malaysia (June 27-29, 2011, Penang, Malaysia). We’ve posted it here as it facilitates consideration of some of the taken-for-granted assumptions at play in most debates about the future of higher education right now. This statement, most of the talks presented at it, and this memorandum to UNESCO, reflect an unease with the subtle tendencies of exclusion (of ideas, paradigms, models, options, missions) evident in the broad transformations and debates underway in most higher education circles, including in rapidly changing South and Southeast Asia. Our thanks to the organizers, especially Vice-Chancellor Professor Tan Sri Dato’ Dzulkifli Abdul Razak, and Emeritus Professor Datuk Dr. Shad Saleem Faruqi, for information about the event. Kris Olds & Susan Robertson

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Another World is Desirable

We – people from diverse countries* in four continents – met in your lovely city of Penang for three days from June 27-29, 2011. We were invited by Universiti Sains Malaysia and Citizens International to discuss the future of our universities and how we could decolonise them. Too many of them have become pale imitations of Western universities, with marginal creative contributions of their own and with little or no organic relation with their local communities and environments. The learning environments have become hostile, meaningless and irrelevant to our lives and concerns.

In all humility, we wish to convey to you the gist of our discussions.

We agreed that for far too long have we lived under the Eurocentric assumption – drilled into our heads by educational systems inherited from colonial regimes – that our local knowledges, our ancient and contemporary scholars, our cultural practices, our indigenous intellectual traditions, our stories, our histories and our languages portray hopeless, defeated visions no longer fit to guide our universities – therefore, better given up entirely.

We are firmly convinced that every trace of Eurocentrism in our universities – reflected in various insidious forms of western controls over publications, theories and models of research must be subordinated to our own scintillating cultural and intellectual traditions. We express our disdain at the way ‘university ranking exercises’ evaluate our citadels of learning on the framework assumptions of western societies.    The Penang conference articulated different versions of intellectual and emotional resistance to the idea of continuing to submit our institutions of the mind and our learning to the tutelage and tyranny of western institutions.

We leave Penang with a firm resolve to work hard to restore the organic connection between our universities, our communities and our cultures. Service to the community and not just to the professions must be our primary concern. The recovery of indigenous intellectual traditions and resources is a priority task. Course structures, syllabi, books, reading materials, research models and research areas must reflect the treasury of our thoughts, the riches of our indigenous traditions and the felt necessities of our societies.  This must be matched with learning environments in which students do not experience learning as a burden, but as a force that liberates the soul and leads to the upliftment of society. Above all, universities must retrieve their original task of creating good citizens instead of only good workers.

For this, we seek the support of all intellectuals and other like-minded individuals and organisations that are willing to assist us in taking this initiative further.

Thank you for hosting us, the Delegates of the International Conference on Decolonising Our Universities, June 27-29. 2011, Penang, Malaysia

For more information please access www.multiworldindia.org

*Australia, China,  India, Indonesia, Iran, Japan, Malaysia, Nigeria, Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Tanzania, Thailand, Turkey, Uganda

A Universiti Sains Malaysia response to ‘A question (about universities, global challenges, and an organizational-ethical dilemma)’

Editors’ note: today’s guest entry has been kindly developed by Professor Dzulkifli Abdul Razak, Vice-Chancellor, Universiti Sains Malaysia, a position he has held since 2000. Professor Dzulkifli’s post is the seventh response to Nigel Thrift’s ‘A question (about universities, global challenges, and an organizational, ethical dilemma)‘, which was originally posted on 8 April 2010.  As noted in last week’s entry (‘A Columbia University/Millennium Promise response to ‘A question (about universities, global challenges, and an organizational-ethical dilemma)”, we are accepting contributions to the discussion through to the end of 2010.

Professor Dzulkifli Abdul Razak (pictured to the right) is presently serving as Vice-President of the International Association of Universities (IAU) - a UNESCO- affiliated organisation. He served as President of Association of Southeast Asia Institutions of Higher Learning (ASAIHL) from 2007-2008, and is also a member of Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) – Advisory Education Hub Committee, Executive Council of Association of Commonwealth Universities (ACU), and also Advisory Committee of World Universities Forum (WUF). He has served as a World Heath Organisation (WHO) Expert Advisory Panel on Drug Policies and Management since 1995, and the WHO Scientific Advisory Committee on Tobacco Product Regulation (2000-2002). At the national level, he is the Chair of Malaysian Vice-Chancellors’/Rector’s Committee, and Chair of Malaysian Examination Council, Co-chair of Malaysian and serves as Advisor to the National Higher Education Research Institute (IPPTN). Outside the academic arena, he writes regularly for his weekly column in the New Straits Times, and, fortnightly, in The Edge, where he shares his views on a host of national and global issues.

Our sincere thanks to Professor Dzulkifli Abdul Razak for developing this illuminating entry, and the first response on behalf of an Asian university.

Kris Olds & Susan Robertson

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I cannot agree more with Nigel Thrift when he posed ‘A question (about universities, global challenges, and an organizational, ethical dilemma)‘. Coming from the Global South invariably this question resonates with me, more so in articulating the raison d’être of a university in the 21st century. In short, is a university modelled on the days of the industrial age – taking more or less a metaphor of factory – still relevant for the post-industrial age with its unique global challenges and ethical dilemma? In other words, can a factory-like metaphor with its de-humanizing tendencies adequately support for the future? What James Martin termed as “The 21st Century Revolution.”

Our search for “answers” to such a question started with a Scenario Planning Workshop in May 2005. It seeks to understand what would the scenario for a university be in the year 2025? We came out with six scenarios, including a “Dead University” scenario – where the present setup fails to respond to the need of the future! This scenario is discarded since we are desirous to bring about a change; but the question is: which way forward?

After almost 15 months of university-wide consultations and soul-searching activities, backed by the emerging trends globally – not much different from that of Thrift’s, only more intense, we agreed on “The University in a Garden “ scenario – which is now the tagline of the University (see Universiti Sains Malaysia’s publication: Constructing Future Higher Education Scenarios – Insights from Universiti Sains Malaysia, 2007 (a review of this report can be downloaded here).

In summary, Constructing Future Higher Education Scenarios – Insights from Universiti Sains Malaysia concerns itself with creating a sustainable future, and how university must change to cope with this new future. Here the focus is about the prevailing disparities in all facets of societal well-being as depicted by the United Nation Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which will end in 2015 – barely five years from now. Most of the MDGs are age-old issues of extreme poverty, very simple and common diseases, basic education, malnourishment and hunger, infant and maternal health and mortality – many of which are no longer heard of in the Global North! Yet, they are very real in the South with all its accompanying shortcomings and vulnerabilities. Interestingly the last and eighth goal of MDGs is about Global Partnership! But, what kind of partnership and for what purpose? It comes back to the question what are universities for in the 21st century!

To be sure, it is more an issue of awareness and will, than knowledge or technology. Many of challenges posed by MDGs can be solved, if there is a will to share based on a truly global partnership. To quote the UN Secretary-General in his called for a special UN Summit in September 20-22, 2010: “Our world possesses the knowledge and the resources to achieve the MDGs. Our challenge today is to agree on an action agenda to achieve the MDGs.” Similarly for the universities that are keen in such a mission! First off, how many universities have MDGs on their radar screen as part of the educational framework?; let alone directed to fulfilling such global agenda. Perhaps, this is one of the organizational-ethical dilemmas alluded to by Thrift. Indeed, how many more have missed the UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development that was launched in 2005 (coinciding with USM Scenario Planning initiative) as a way to engage in elucidating this dilemma.

In that context, USM has taken a new approach with a new vision: Transforming Higher Education for a Sustainable Tomorrow. This is part of a larger agenda to redefine “excellence” in line with the challenges of the future under Malaysia’s Accelerated Programme for Excellence (APEX) of which USM is currently undergoing. In so doing we recognized the distraction that Thrift referred to when he wrote: “…as if their [universities] chief raison d’être is position in the league tables. To complete the triptych of problems, it is still too often assumed that scientific discovery, which nearly always takes place as part of a network of actors distributed across the globe, is the province of an individual actor anchored in a particular place: think only of the system of prizes and awards.”  As such, our new mission now reads: “USM is a pioneering, transdisciplinary research intensive university that empowers future talents and enables the bottom billions to transform their socio-economic well-being.”

This is our second year on the APEX journey, and we are gradually discovering that the factory-like metaphor is in main dysfunctional to serve the need for the future, at least in the Global South. In that regards the question raised by Thrift can only be adequately articulated if we are bold enough to create a new metaphor for the university of the future! Short of that, the “Dead University” scenario as mentioned above may seem more likely.

Dzulkifli Abdul Razak

The Global Bologna Policy Forum: a forum for the emerging global higher education and research space?

As our readers likely know, the Bologna Process was launched in 1999 with the objective of constructing the European Higher Education Area (EHEA) by 2010.  One increasingly important aspect of the evolution of the Bologna Process is its ‘external’ (aka ‘global’) dimension.  To cut a long story short, deliberations about the place of the EHEA within its global context have been underway since the Bologna Process was itself launched in 1999. But, as noted in one of our earlier 2007 entries (‘The ripple effects of the Bologna Process in the Asia-Pacific‘), the formalization of an external dimension to the Bologna Process was not spurred on until May 2005 when the Bergen Communiqué included the following statement:

The European Higher Education Area must be open and should be attractive to other parts of the world. Our contribution to achieving education for all should be based on the principle of sustainable development and be in accordance with the ongoing international work on developing guidelines for quality provision of crossborder higher education. We reiterate that in international academic cooperation, academic values should prevail.

We see the European Higher Education Area as a partner of higher education systems in other regions of the world, stimulating balanced student and staff exchange and cooperation between higher education institutions. We underline the importance of intercultural understanding and respect. We look forward to enhancing the understanding of the Bologna Process in other continents by sharing our experiences of reform processes with neighbouring regions. We stress the need for dialogue on issues of mutual interest. We see the need to identify partner regions and intensify the exchange of ideas and experiences with those regions.

eheaextcover.jpgThe Bergen Communiqué led to the development of a more formal 2007 strategy document titled Looking Out: The Bologna Process in Global Setting: On the External Dimension of the Bologna Process and this associated strategy document European Higher Education in a Global Setting. A Strategy for the External Dimension of the Bologna Process, which was approved by the ministers in 2007. It was this strategy document that led to the delineation of five “core policy areas”:

  • Improving information on the European Higher Education Area;
  • Promoting European Higher Education to enhance its world-wide attractiveness and competitiveness;
  • Strengthening cooperation based on partnership;
  • Intensifying policy dialogue;
  • Furthering recognition of qualifications.

Further background information, including all supporting documents, is available on this Bologna Process Follow-up Group website (European Higher Education in a Global Context) which the Bologna Secretariat sponsors.

Since 2007 we have seen a variety of activities come together to ensure that the fourth action item (“intensifying policy dialogue”) be implemented, though in a manner that cross-supports all of the other action items.  One key activity was the creation of a “policy forum” with select non-EHEA countries: see the figure below (with my emphasis) taken from the just issued EURYDICE report Focus on Higher Education in Europe 2010: The Impact of the Bologna Process to see where the inaugural 2009 forum, and its 2010 follow-up, fit within the overall Bologna Process timeline:

The First Bologna Policy Forum was held in Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium, on 29 April 2009, and brought together all 46 Bologna ministers in association with “Australia, Brazil, Canada, P.R. China, Egypt, Ethiopia, Israel, Japan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Mexico, Morocco, New Zealand, Tunisia, and the U.S., as well as the International Association of Universities.”

Representatives of the First Bologna forum sanctioned the following statement:

Statement by the Bologna Policy Forum 2009

Meeting, for the first time, at this Bologna Policy Forum held in Louvain-la-Neuve on April 29, 2009, we, the Ministers for Higher Education, heads of delegation from the 46 European countries participating in the Bologna Process and from Australia, Brazil, Canada, P.R. China, Egypt, Ethiopia, Israel, Japan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Mexico, Morocco, New Zealand, Tunisia, USA, along with the International Association of Universities and other international organizations and NGOs, have taken part in a constructive debate on world wide cooperation and partnership in higher education with a view to developing partnership between the 46 Bologna countries and countries from across the world.

We note, with satisfaction, that this Policy Forum has fostered mutual understanding and learning in the field of higher education, and has laid the ground for sustainable cooperation in the future.

We also note that there are shared values and principles underpinning higher education and a common understanding that it is fundamental to achieving human, social and economic development.

We consider that higher education constitutes an exceptionally rich and diverse cultural and scientific asset for both individuals and society.

We emphasize the key role that higher education plays in the development of our societies based on lifelong learning for all and equitable access at all levels of society to learning opportunities.

We underline the importance of public investment in higher education, and urge that this should remain a priority despite the current economic crisis, in order to support sustainable economic recovery and development.

We support the strategic role of higher education in the pursuit and advancement of knowledge and therefore advocate global sharing of knowledge through multi-national research and education projects and exchange programs for students and staff, in order to stimulate innovation and creativity.

We are convinced that fair recognition of studies and qualifications is a key element for promoting mobility and we will therefore establish dialogue on recognition policies and explore the implications of the various qualifications frameworks in order to further mutual recognition of qualifications.

We hold that transnational exchanges in higher education should be governed on the basis of academic values and we advocate a balanced exchange of teachers, researchers and students between our countries and promote fair and fruitful “brain circulation”.

We seek to establish concrete cooperation activities which should contribute to better understanding and long-term collaboration by organizing joint seminars on specific topics, like on quality assurance for example.

The next Bologna Policy Forum will be convened in Vienna on 12 March 2010.

Clearly the pros/benefits of sponsoring this rather complex event were perceived to be significant and the Second Bologna Policy Forum (sometimes deemed the Global Bologna Policy Forum) was held yesterday, on 12 March, at the end of the Bologna Ministerial Anniversary Conference 2010.

The Bologna Policy Forum has grown in size in that 73 countries attended the 12 March forum including the 46 EHEA countries as well as Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Colombia, Egypt, Ghana, Israel, Japan, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan [invited to join the EHEA in 2010], Malaysia, Mali, Mexico, Morocco, New Zealand, Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, South Africa, Thailand, Tunisia, and the United States of America. In addition the following organizations sent representatives to the second forum: BUSINESSEUROPE, Council of Europe, Education International Pan-European Structure (EI), European Association for Quality Assurance in Higher Education (ENQA), European Association of Institutions in Higher Education (EURASHE), European Commission, European Students’ Union (ESU), European University Association (EUA), International Association of Universities (IAU), Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), and United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

It is interesting to compare the second official Forum Statement to the one above:

Bologna Policy Forum Statement, Vienna, March 12, 2010

1. Today, the European Higher Education Area has officially been launched. In this context, we note that the Bologna Process of creating and further developing this European Higher Education Area has helped redefine higher education in Europe. Countries outside the area will now be able to more effectively foster increased cooperation with Bologna countries.

2. We, the Ministers of Higher Education and heads of delegation of the countries, institutions and organisations participating in the Second Bologna Policy Forum, held a dialogue on systemic and institutional changes in higher education in the developing global knowledge society.

3. We focussed our debate on how higher education systems and institutions respond to growing demands and multiple expectations, discussed mobility of staff and students, including the challenges and opportunities of “brain circulation”, and the balance between cooperation and competition in international higher education.

4. To address the great societal challenges, we need more cooperation among the higher education and research systems of the different world regions. While respecting the autonomy of higher education institutions with their diverse missions, we will therefore continue our dialogue and engage in building a community of practice from which all may draw inspiration and to which all can contribute.

5. To facilitate policy debates and exchange of ideas and experience across the European Higher Education Area and between countries, institutions and organisations participating in the Second Bologna Policy Forum, we will each nominate a contact person and inform the Bologna Secretariat by May 31, 2010. These contact persons will also function as liaison points for a better flow of information and joint activities, including the preparation of the next Bologna Policy Forum at ministerial level.

6. We welcome the commitment of the European Bologna Follow-up Group to provide expertise on the Bologna Process and the European Higher Education Area.

7. We welcome the initiatives of the institutions and organisations participating in the Second Bologna Policy Forum to promote dialogue and cooperation among higher educations institutions, staff and students and other relevant stakeholders across the world. In this context, we especially acknowledge the need to foster global student dialogue.

8. In September 2010 the OECD will be hosting an international conference on how the crisis is affecting higher education and how governments, institutions and other stakeholders can work towards a sustainable future for the sector. In 2011, a seminar on quality assurance will be organised with the support of the European Union.

9. Cooperation based on partnership between governments, higher education institutions, staff, students and other stakeholders is at the core of the European Higher Education Area. This partnership approach should therefore also be reflected in the organisation of the next Bologna Policy Forum at ministerial level in 2012.

It is too early to determine how effective the [Global] Bologna Policy Forum will be, and some bugs (e.g., the uncertain role of national research sector actors; the uncertain role of sub-national actors in countries (e.g., Canada, Germany, the US) where provinces/states/regions have principal jurisdiction over higher education matters; the incredible diversity of agendas and capabilities of non-EHEA countries vis a vis the forum) will eventually have to be worked out.

This said, it is evident that this forum is serving some important purposes, especially given that there is a genuine longing to engage in supra-national dialogue about policy challenges regarding the globalization of higher education and research. The blossoming of ‘global’ fora sponsored by international organizations (e.g., the OECD, UNESCO), new ‘players (e.g., Qatar Foundation’s World Innovation Summit for Education), key associations of universities (e.g., the International Association of Universities, the European University Association), and universities themselves (e.g., via consortia like the Worldwide Universities Network or the Global Colloquium of University Presidents), are signs that something is up, and that a global higher education and research space is in the process of being constructed.

Over time, of course, the topography of this supra-national landscape of regional, interregional and global fora will evolve, as will the broader topography of the global higher education and research space.  In this context it is critically important to pay attention to how this space is being framed and constructed, for what purposes, and with what possible effects. Moreover, from an organizational perspective, there is no template to follow and much learning is underway. The organization of modernity, to use John Law’s phrase, is underway.

Kris Olds

Global higher education: what alternative models for emerging higher education systems?

ghefposterHigher education systems in Asia, Latin America and Africa bear prominent similarities to those in Europe.  Historically, Latin America, Asia particularly Southeast Asia, and Africa had adopted the systems of their respective colonizers who also provided the major part of the funding mechanism, teaching staff, and ideologies on higher education at one time in history.  The very obvious imposition by the colonizers is the language with a large part of Latin America using Spanish, Asia using English and Africa using French.  The American higher education system became more influential after the early twentieth century with the stress on research as the main activity of universities.  Apart from that, the American system was the first to introduce massification of education which had been adopted by many countries around the world.  Higher education institutions of today emphasize on mass higher education which results in increasing access to tertiary education.

Arguably, emerging countries are in dire need of a forum to deliberate on possible models for higher education for countries of the South, in particular the Commonwealth countries where a majority of the bottom billions resides.  Countries from the South, particularly Asian countries have been adapting models from Europe and US for decades, be they sprung from voluntary adoption or influenced by external factors.  Instead of borrowing from western models and putting them to test by going through the whole process of adaptation, evaluation and experimentation, the same amount of time and effort can be utilized to examine the prospect of identifying a model in a South-South context.  This model will be made up of elements of locality, taking into consideration of the persisting cultural and scholarly values. Globalization and internationalization of higher education should not be adopted at the expense of local knowledge.

Notably, the effort to break away from the clutches of the dominating Western model is not new as evidenced by the implementation of national language in post-secondary education by Malaysia and Indonesia. However, fundamental models practiced in Asian countries remain biased towards European/American model. This factor has contributed to the peripheral status of Asian higher education institutions and with the rapid globalisation, the so-called central higher education institutions in Europe/America would remain dominant, more striking in the context of higher education internationalization. Indeed, lately Malaysia has once again beginning to embrace the English language after so many years experimenting with the Malay language as the medium of instruction in public higher education institutions. Whither Asia/indigenous models of higher education development?

The Asia models that we have in mind is deeply entrenched in the belief that even within the context of the globalization process that every country is unique; this provides ample reason to relook or reassess the higher education systems which are very much inclined towards the European/American models.  The present higher education models adopted by many countries in the South, characterized by the Western ideologies may have been tailored to suit local needs, but the extent to which the adaptation serves the emerging need to strengthen the standing of each country demands a rethinking.  There has never been a time when higher education in the South faces more opportunities and challenges than in this current global economic downturn.  We are in urgent need of models that can handle Asia’s peculiar situation with respect to quality and accountability as well as funding mechanism with shrinking public funding.  To this date, the responses to these challenges are typically European/American in character: corporatisation/privatisation of higher education, management of higher education based on entrepreneurial approach, competition within the higher education sector and the evident rise of higher education as a commodity.  Major issues mentioned above may come under the same umbrella across the world higher education systems, nonetheless a more thorough inspection would indicate varied issues faced by different regions which are subject to social, political, economic and national pressures.

The appropriateness of the growth trajectories of existing higher education systems, dominated by European/American models poses the challenge of how far the present models are justified in a South-South context, one with much greater diversity from those of the North.  In essence one may want to view that the world ranking system of universities and the notion of world class universities as proposed by the North more as concepts or attempts at standardizing universities rather than appreciating the distinct elements of each university within its national socio-political context.

ghef20091The Second Global Higher Education Forum (GHEF2009) to be held in Penang, Malaysia from 13 to 16 December 2009 will serve as a platform for debates and discussions on higher education that recognise the different characteristics of higher education institutions and systems in different regions.  It will encompass topics ranging from the current trends to the future perspectives of higher education with the present global economic downturn as the main backdrop.  GHEF2009 will consider and examine the possible effects and offer alternate avenues for mitigating the global financial and economic effects, particularly for countries of the South.  Furthermore, the current and future challenges faced by the nations in the South require different models for the development of higher education institutions and systems. There is also an urge to attempt exploration of the possibilities as well as opportunities for regional harmonisation of higher education. Apart from that, discussions will also explore how the North and South will be able to have bilateral collaboration to weather global issues with the emphasis on serving and promoting sustainable development for the cause of humanity.

Morshidi Sirat and Ooi Poh Ling

Towards harmonisation of higher education in Southeast Asia: Malaysia’s perspective

The idea of harmonising higher education systems in Southeast Asia was inspired by the development of regionalism in higher education in Europe, specifically the establishment of the European Higher Education Area (EHEA). The idea of regionalism in higher education in Asia or Southeast Asia is a very exciting idea, indeed. Is this idea feasible?

Higher education systems in Southeast Asia are very diverse, and even within each nation incompatibility is to be expected.  In the case of Malaysia, the Malaysian Qualification Framework (MQF) was introduced to ensure compatibility of qualifications and learning outcomes within and outside of Malaysia. More importantly, harmonising the highly diverse systems of higher education in the region is seen as an important step towards the regional integration objective. But, it is important to appreciate that in the context of Southeast Asia, with its diverse systems, harmonization is about comparability; not standardization or uniformity of programmes, degrees and the nature of higher education institutions.

Admittedly, there are benefits in creating a common higher education space in Southeast Asia. The more obvious ones are greater mobility, widening access and choices, academic and research collaborations, enhanced collaboration on human capital investment, and the promotion of ASEAN and/or Southeast Asian within the fast changing global higher education landscape. The immediate advantage of such a harmonisation in higher education system is presented as easier exchange and mobility for students and academics between nations within Southeast Asia.

Arguably, the model that is most desired and considered most feasible is that which does not require all higher education systems to conform to a particular model.  The general consensus is that a system that become a reference or one that can be fitted into without jeopardising cultural diversity and national identity is considered most feasible and desired.

The likely scenarios of higher education landscape in Southeast Asia as a result of such a harmonisation of higher education systems are generally perceived as follows:

  1. Students from different countries spend at least a year studying in other countries
  2. Students in different locations are offered the same quality of education regardless of  higher education institutions
  3. Graduates from one country are recruited by the employment sector in other countries
  4. A multi-national workplace
  5. Close collaboration  between faculty in creating and developing new knowledge
  6. Close collaboration between students in creating and developing new knowledge
  7. Close collaboration between employment sectors in creating and developing new knowledge
  8. Larger volume of adult students in the higher education system

The implementation of the harmonisation idea is not without challenges. Steps should be taken in order to increase student readiness. Barriers to language and communication must be overcome and there should be serious efforts to reduce constraints that are very ‘territorial’ in nature. Admittedly, students involved in mobility program may be faced with adjustment problems particularly with respect to instructional practices, curriculum incomparability, and cultural diversity. Then there is the language problem: differences in languages post a great barrier for inward and outward mobility of students at the macro level. ‘Territorial’ constraint, whereby each country hopes to safeguard the uniqueness of their educational programs, which in turn, may ultimately constrain the implementation of regional harmonization efforts is a major consideration to be factored in.

In so far as Malaysia is concerned, it has to be recognised that harmonization is not about ‘choice’. It is a global movement that now necessitates the involvement of all Malaysian higher education institutions. There are benefits to the private players. Initially, we need a state of readiness at the macro level, whereby the aims and principles of harmonization have to be agreed upon by all stakeholders and players in the local higher education scene.

In conclusion, familiarisation with the idea and concept of harmonisation, as opposed to standardisation, of higher education system in Southeast Asia is indeed an initial but a critical step towards the implementation of a meaningful and effective harmonisation of higher education system in the region. While managers of higher education institutions and academics are not ignorant of  the idea of harmonisation, they tend to talk of it with reference to the Bologna process in Europe and the creation of the EHEA. Other stakeholders (particularly students) however are not very familiar as to how this concept could be realised in the context of Southeast Asia, which is culturally and politically diverse. Generally, students failed to appreciate the positive aspects of harmonisation to their careers, job prospects and, of equal importance, cross-fertilization of cultures.

The task of creating a common higher education space is insurmountable in view of the vast differences in the structure and performance of the various higher education systems and institutions in Southeast Asia. Admittedly, we need to harmonise the internal structure of the higher education systems in the first instance before attempting a region-wide initiative. More importantly, the determination to realise this idea of harmonising higher education in Southeast Asia should permeate and be readily accepted by the regional community. Typical of Southeast Asia, directives should come from the political masters. Thus the role of Southeast Asian Ministers of Education Organisation (SEAMEO) is very critical to a successful implementation of this idea of harmonisation of the higher education systems. Equally important, national prejudices and suspicions need to be put aside if we are to realise regional aspirations and goals.

Morshidi Sirat

Incorporation of State-controlled universities in Malaysia, 1996-2008: flirting with the market

All State-controlled universities in Malaysia are by definition statutory bodies and their setting up is governed by laws. Statutory bodies are established with the objective of implementing certain duties and responsibilities in line with government objectives. When statutory entities such as universities are incorporated the objectives of this exercise is different from the incorporation of other State body such as the National Electricity Board. In the case of the latter, the objective is to transform this entity into an independent commercial company. In the context of higher education services, in particular universities, incorporated universities, according to Bostock (1999), are expected to raise a much greater proportion of their own revenue, enter into business enterprises, acquire and hold investment portfolios, encourages partnerships with private business firms, compete with other universities in the production and marketing of courses to students who are now seen as customers, and generally engage with the market for higher education. But in the case of State-controlled universities it does not necessarily mean that these universities will be privatised eventually. At least this is true in the case of Malaysia. It is interesting to examine why the flirtation with the market, but the unwillingness to leave everything to the market.

Incorporation of State-Controlled Universities in Malaysia

The World Bank (see Wall 1998) and OECD (see Marginson 1997) are the two most influential supra national bodies that have had an influence on the incorporation of State-controlled universities in Malaysia. In the early to mid nineties the changes in the global higher education landscape have exerted new demands and pressures on Malaysia’s higher education system. In order to be competitive and relevant to the global and regional changes Malaysia’s state-controlled universities in particular have to respond accordingly, specifically to the emerging challenges arising from globalisation era and the internationalisation of higher education. Mok (2007, 440) reported that technocrats in the Ministry of Higher Education (MoHE) itself felt that the old higher education governance model would never prepare public universities for facing new challenges. Thus, the incorporation of State-controlled universities is meant to make them more proactive to changes and to do these they need more resources and a governance system that is quick in its response to changing needs and demands.

In this context, State-controlled universities in Malaysia were hard pressed to accept the impending reform, which was aimed at diversifying funding sources through a range of means, including the policy of incorporation. Another important development in Malaysia at that time was the apparent success of several corporate-style universities, operated by major state-owned companies in the areas of telecommunications, petrochemicals and electricity (UNESCO 2003). The reform is seen as an attractive proposition for these State-controlled universities, as presented by the State to them, in that they are allowed (albeit under strict treasury guidelines) to generate additional revenue through university-owned companies, which generate income for these universities through the sale of services and use of university facilities.

The Government has introduced corporate governance for State-controlled universities in 1996 by amending the University and University Colleges Act, 1971. This amendment allows for the incorporation of these state-controlled universities, which sets the tone for a new way in running universities in Malaysia. It is argued that with incorporation public universities should be operating as an efficient, transparent, and most importantly, financially able (if not independent) entity. It is now up to individual universities to face up to these challenges and generate revenue equal to thirty percent of their annual running cost. Neville (1998) appropriately observed that the Malaysian government has adopted a policy of incorporation, making universities more accountable for some areas of their operations, and seeking to increase entrepreneurial activities. He argued further that in this, universities are expected to adopt management systems similar to those of the corporate sector, although the government will still retain explicit control.

Universiti Malaya was the first state-controlled university to be incorporated in 1997/8. To date, all state-controlled universities, in particular the 4 more established ones, have (in line with incorporation objectives) established their private holding companies to generate income for the universities concerned through the sales of consultancy services, medical and health (private) services and joint venture activities with the industry. While active in commercial activities, to date none of these commercial arms of the incorporated State-controlled universities have managed to generate sufficient income to be financially independent from the State. But the issue here, will the State ever allow these universities to be independent? Will the World Bank, UNESCO and other supra agencies pressure the State to let go or follow the example of Japan where national universities have been incorporated and become very competitive.

Incorporation of State-controlled Universities: Will the State Let Go?

Neville (1998) noted that incorporated universities are expected to adopt management systems similar to those of the corporate sector, although the government will still retain explicit control. Arguably, in this sense, state-centrism in higher education policy is still strong in Malaysia, but at the same time neo-liberal policies are being implemented. At the core of this irony is the statement made by the then Minister of Education (now the powerful and influential Deputy Prime Minister and Prime Minister-in-waiting) that the Cabinet of Ministers has decided that the Government will still maintain control and autonomy over the public universities once they were incorporated (Bernama News Service for Malaysian Students 1995). The then Minister of Education was quoted as saying to the effect that incorporation means that the universities will remain non-profitable but will be managed as commercial and competitive entities. More importantly, he said that the Government would have the last say in the operation and administration of universities and its administrators would have to refer to the ministry before implementing any changes. There have been no significant statements from the government so far giving the incorporated universities a sense of ‘independence’ from the State.

Conclusion

Barr (1993) distinguishes between two main types of marketisation in so far as higher education is concerned: the introduction of performance-related funding mechanisms (quasi-market element) and the introduction of tuition fees and loans (the privatization of higher education). The incorporation of state-controlled universities gave rise to an interesting phenomenon in Malaysia’s higher education landscape: a financing mechanism for incorporated universities which tie public funds to specific targets (in particular student numbers at the undergraduate level). The government set the tuition fees for students at this level for all incorporated universities. This in effect means “using the logic of the market without actually letting the market in”. At the same time, all private higher education institutions and incorporated State-controlled universities offering postgraduate qualifications are allowed to set their own tuition fees. In this sense, the price mechanism begins to operate and this is when a market in higher education is in place.
In Malaysia’s case there is clearly the unwillingness on the part of the State to let go of state-controlled universities. This situation arises, and following Levidow’s (2002) argument, because universities represent the needs of the State. Morshidi and Abdul Razak (2008) have alluded to the “national interest’ argument in the case of Malaysia. It is in this connection that the Malaysian Government continues to support and finance incorporated universities. Under incorporation set-up university staff are supposed to be delinked from the civil servants scheme of service, but to this day university staff are still paid through state-funded emoluments. However, because of incorporation, they are allowed and are increasingly driven into entrepreneurial competition for external funds for research and extra income. Slaughter and Leslie (1997) rightly observed that under central government and university pressure, staff devise ‘institutional and professional market or market-like efforts to secure external monies’.

It is also interesting to relate and connect Levidow’s (2002) observation to the case of Malaysia in that beyond simply generating more income, higher education in Malaysia has increasingly become a terrain for marketisation agendas. This is particularly pertinent in relation to Malaysia’s ambition of becoming a regional education hub with education export accounting for a substantial figure in its national account. Since the incorporation of state-controlled universities in 1997 and more so beginning 2000, affected universities have been urged to adopt commercial models of knowledge, skills, curriculum, finance, accounting, and management organization. Strategic planning becomes an important instrument for charting university’s direction. More importantly, and there is a great debate on this, university education has become more synonymous with training for ‘employability’ at the local and international level. Marketisation policy of higher education in Malaysia is already in place in the system, but it is hidden under the heavy presence of State-centrism and control.

References

Barr, N. (1993.) ‘Alternative Funding Resources for Higher Education’. Economic Journal. 103 (418): 718-28.

Bernama News Service for Malaysian Students, Thursday, July 13, 1995. ‘Najib: We’ll Maintain Control over Varsities’.

Bostock, W. W. (1999). ‘The Global Corporatisation of Universities: Causes and Consequences’. In: Antepodium, Victoria University of Wellington. (accessed 15 May 2008)

Levidow, L. (2002). ‘Marketizing Higher Education: Neoliberal Strategies and Counter-Strategies’. In: K. Robins and F. Webster, eds, The Virtual University? Knowledge, Markets and Management, Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp.227-48.

Mok. K. H (2007). ‘Questing for internationalisation of universities in Asia: critical reflections’. Journal of Studies in International Education, 11; 433. URL: http://jsi.sagepub.com. (Accessed 15 May 2008).

Morshidi, S. and Abdul Razak, A. (2008). ‘Policy for Higher Education in a Changing World: Is Malaysia’s Higher Education Policy Maturing or Just Fashionable?, Forum on Higher Education in a Globalising World: Developing and Sustaining an Excellent System, Merdeka Palace Hotel and Suites, Kuching, 11 January 2008.

Marginson, S. (1997). Markets in Education. Sydney: Allen and Unwin.

Neville, W. (1998). ‘Restructuring tertiary education in Malaysia: the nature and implications of policy changes’. Higher Education Policy 11: 257-279.

Slaughter, S. and Leslie, L.L (1997) Academic Capitalism: Politics, Policies and the Entrepreneurial University. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (2003). Higher education in Asia and the Pacific 1998-2003. Regional report on progress in implementing recommendations of the 1998 World Conference on Higher Education. Adopted at the Second Session of the Regional Follow-up Committee
(Bangkok, Thailand, 25-26 February 2003). (Accessed 15 May 2008).

Wall, E. (1998). ‘Global Funding Patterns in Higher Education; the role of the World Bank’. Paper presented at the International Conference of University Teacher Organisations, Melbourne, February.

Morshidi Sirat

A Malaysian critique of Australian branch campus operations

Further to the debates about institutional mobility we have been profiling in GlobalHigherEd, malaysiankini recently posted this story:

Foreign universities giving it to us real good

The general public is not aware that a certain Australian university which has a campus here has little interest in developing the nation’s intellectual capital. Over the last year, it’s hidden agenda is to steal Malaysia’s wealth and brain power, contributing very little to the nation while delegating distinguished locals to insignificant supporting roles while harvesting their intellectual work for the benefit of Australia.

Keep reading here, though do be warned it was written by a “disgruntled former staff” member (with all that that brings with it, for good and for bad).

Thanks to Education Malaysia for spotting this one.

Kris Olds