Education sector a victim of politicking?

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Greater financial autonomy for universities - but tighter controls over students' freedom

The quality of education in universities will definitely drop when staff strength is indiscriminately reduced and budgets are cut in the wrong places, says WH Cheng.

Clarification from Putrajaya is urgently required! Is the Prime Minister’s Department (PMD) taking precedence over the education sector, to the extent that budgets for public universities and related sectors were slashed.

Does Putrajaya now regard education as a lower priority for our younger generation today? Party politics and the politics of survival have apparently become an important task for Putrajaya, particularly the PMD itself.

When we complain of low productivity and a bloated civil service of about 1.68m employees, the leadership in Putrajaya decided to slash the budgets for public universities instead without considering the consequences for coming generations.

A source has been reported as saying that the budget cuts of public universities were some sort of “punishment” because many students and academics had been voicing out against policies and systems of the government.

If this is the case, then the government and the ruling party are seeking revenge against public dissent instead of learning from their mistakes and making amends in their governance to better serve the people.

PMD a big employer

The PMD employs about 34,000 staff nationwide. It also has nine ministers, three deputy ministers and 52 divisions or departments under its wings, making the PMD not only the largest government ministry in Malaysia, but also the largest in the world.

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Because of its growth in size the PMD’s budget has grown from RM5.2bn in 2000 to RM20bn in 2016. Although the PMD’s allocation for 2017 has been reduced to RM16bn, we must also remember that the prime minister, who is also the first finance minister, still has the discretionary powers to transfer more money into the PMD’s funds whenever necessary without the need to refer to Parliament or his cabinet.

Since 2000, the PMD has created more than 10 new units, divisions or departments, many of which have overlapping roles and responsibilities with existing government ministries and departments. And many of these units, divisions or departments are staffed by members of the ruling party rather than professionally trained officers.

This means that the functions of many of those attached to the PMD are mainly political rather than public service-oriented.

As Prime Minister Najib Razak is working round the clock to ensure his ruling party retains power in the next general election, which is speculated to be held this year, the nation’s coffers are expected to make a big swing into the PMD accounts and its budget is also expected to increase to about RM40bn by the end of this year.

Service of thousands terminated

So far about 6,600 professors, associate professors, research assistants and other support staff have had their contracts shortened and terminated without notice. Some of these lecturers and support staff even had their contracts terminated before the expiry of their tenure of service.

Apart from this, the budgets for research and projects were also trimmed or cut, forcing some faculties to resort to seeking funds from the private sector to finance their work. Our academics are indeed inexperienced and ill-prepared to source for this form of financing given that they have been funded by the government for decades. Seeking funds from the private sector means they have to start from scratch to convince potential funders of the worthiness of their research and projects.

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According to a report in The Edge, Putrajaya needs to allocate about RM3m for each lecturer to get their projects done to achieve their professorship every year.

So, when these public universities are without qualified academic staff to provide guidance to our students in their studies and research projects, what will happen then?

The quality of education and achievement of these students will eventually deteriorate. Just what kind of international standards Putrajaya has been boasting about when the quality of these public universities has dropped drastically following these layoffs?

It takes a lot of effort and many good academic staff and lecturers to produce universities of international standing.

And when staff strength is indiscriminately reduced and budgets are cut in the wrong places, the quality of education in these universities will definitely drop.

If we look at Putrajaya’s policy of intake for public universities, the quota for bumiputera or Malay students is 80 to 90 per cent. Therefore, whose performance is going to be affected?

At the end of the day, when these bumiputera or Malay students are not doing well because of lack of academic guidance and support, they will not be able to secure good grades or even graduate.

And when the bumiputera and Malay communities suffer and begin falling behind economically and socially, Umno mayl start beating the war drums again, targettng the Chinese community. They might start fanning racial and religious sentiments, even burning effigies of opposition leaders in the belief that Malaysians could be fooled by their actions.

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Can we get rid of all these ostriches, please?

Source: Berita Daily

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