By UK Menon
The higher education minister’s proposals to introduce hybrid learning and to shorten selected higher education programmes are troubling for several reasons.
First, while it is important to continually prime the education system to meet the evolving needs of our society, any changes made for this purpose must be made through a comprehensive process involving the universities themselves and not peremptorily without disclosing how these decisions were derived at.
Changes to higher education must be based on a detailed study of student profiles and a thorough analysis of the potential impact on the entire process of higher education.
The reasons for the proposed changes and their potential consequences should be openly discussed with all stakeholders in the higher education sector, including student representatives and employers.
University students come from diverse social backgrounds and from homes that, in some cases, may not be as conducive to learning as imagined by officials.
Greater concern must be shown for the social impact of these decisions, especially on remote and rural communities. Changes to the system must not be made without the specific needs of these communities being considered and that those changes do not further marginalise them.
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Unfortunately, no consideration seems to have been given to these factors.
Higher education is undergoing a transition worldwide. The pandemic’s impact on higher education revealed inadequacies in the system that disadvantages certain groups of students over others. We have not yet established if strategies such as hybrid learning will solve or exacerbate those inequalities.
Artificial intelligence is another challenge looming over education that must be understood before making changes of the kind proposed. Universities have not yet understood the full extent of its impact on higher education. Technology, if carefully applied, offers solutions that might be better than the changes proposed or at least serve to improve them.
It is imperative that a more careful and comprehensive study of the proposed changes is conducted and their potential effect on education better understood before the changes are implemented.
Another troubling aspect is that the decision seems to have bypassed the processes of the national higher education system.
Complex systems, like the higher education system, will only function efficiently if the different components of the system are allowed to play their respective roles. Only then will the checks and balances evinced by the system’s components be able to correct possible errors and flaws in the decisions made.
The national higher education system is the product of several acts of Parliament passed around 1996.
The National Council of Higher Education Act 1996 established a Higher Education Council vested with the policymaking powers on higher education. Under the provisions of that act, all higher education policies must emanate from that body before being implemented by the minister. Policies that are not made by the council may be open to legal challenges.
Another vital component of the system is the Malaysian Qualifications Agency. The MQA is entrusted with the powers to oversee the standards and accreditation of higher education programmes.
Importantly, the agency is the keeper of the Malaysian qualifications framework, which by law, establishes the essential criteria for a programme to be classified as a higher education qualification. Changes to existing accredited programmes face the risk of their accreditation being withdrawn.
The MQA ensures that the quality and standards of higher education are upheld by fostering a well-rounded and effective learning environment.
The public universities, which are the most important components of the system, must also be direct participants in decisions altering the conditions on which they operate.
Education, which is almost a mystical process, takes place in the classrooms, the lecture theatres, and in the general ambience of the physical space the university occupies.
The experience, knowledge and accumulated data of student experience that are embedded within the universities must ultimately be capable of endorsing the changes.
No one doubts the good intentions of the minister. But changes to higher education programmes must be made through a comprehensive, consultative and inclusive process.
We must prioritise the interests of our students, educators and communities to ensure a strong and sustainable higher education system that meets the needs of our society both now and in the future. – privateeducationmalaysia.blogspot.com
UK Menon is a lawyer who left practice to teach law, and then combined law with education and developed an expertise in law and education. He finds politics to be unduly interfering in education, using law as an instrument for that interference, and feels that a better knowledge of those laws will help minimise that interference