Firstly, I would like to emphasize that this article about changing the roles and mindset of universities in Malaysia is NOT my attempt to be a backseat driver to the new Minister of Higher Education, YB Khaled Nordin.
This article is simply my personal observation and opinion on how to make universities more relevant for our social and political change rather than its present concerns for more research, more papers, more graduates and all about numbers and more numbers.
I feel that the time has come for universities to be oriented to make the research and knowledge be impactful to society
The recent GE15 must have come as a shock to many Malaysians and political analysts on how within a span of just a few months massive Malay votes swung to PN, leaving BN as if naked to the bare bones.
Many analysts were quick to identify the social influencers using TikTok to fan the hatred between races and religious faiths in order to create a narrative of Malays and Islam under threat.
Usually that narrative solely belongs to Umno. However, Umno would not resort too much on issues of Christianization or Jewish conspiracies as used shamefully by Muhyiddin Yassin in his last pitch to the voters, but Umno would only resort to creating the Malay siege mindset.
PAS has now become Malaysia’s official extremist party weaponizing Islam for its own unholy and sinful act of grabbing political power.
PAS not only used the communist narrative, immoral non-Muslim narrative and even declared Muslims supporting certain political parties as puppets or deviationists.
There was also a supporter who threatened to kill non-Muslims when he spoke at a PAS platform.
I am probably the only analyst who would disagree that the influence on the Malays was only because of TikTok or the infighting between Umno factions.
I had already warned Malaysians in many of my articles that the narrative of Islam would be the battleground of future politics, but my warning went unheeded by the PH government of the past.
I am also the only analyst who identifies that universities are the main culprit of our nation un-building.
I know the attitudes of many university professors and administrators and they are as ignorant about Islam, nation-building and the fundamental idea of spirituality as the ignorant youth who listen to TikTok for information.
From the academic and management side, firstly, the new KPI should not just be research and class teaching or supervision, but the bigger KPI must be given to society engagement and projects that would impact directly on social change of attitude, mindsets and behavior.
For any field, academics must show how their research and knowledge have changed society. This can be shown through media writings, being a forum panelist, interviews with media, public talks and membership in NGOs.
The percentage for this part of the promotion must be at least 30% instead of the present 5%.
Secondly, no Malaysian academic must be given any promotion to associate professor or professorship unless they have 30% of their publications and society engagement in Bahasa Malaysia.
The Malays need to be educated on many aspects of a civilized society from issues of sustainable environment to according dignity to others as well as the appreciation of arts and heritage of all cultures.
At the present time, English publication is recognized highly because of its international reputation, but I say that national publication and engagement in Bahasa Malaysia must now take precedent.
I am not trying to be a patriotic Melayu, but the practical issue here is that the Malay mind has been so narrowed by its own Bahasa Malaysia that it fails to understand the larger picture of the global concern of things.
Thirdly, the writing of books for the people and children by academics to explain the relevance of their field must also be made a priority.
Presently only ‘research books’ are deemed highly favorable but I say that this attitude will not change our society.
Fourthly, the university management must open fully its doors to engagement with NGOs and politicians by way of forums, talks and collaborative projects.
I would like to suggest to the Minister to propose that all MPs must give two talks or appear as a panelist in university forums and events every year.
In this manner, both students and academics can engage in a Q&A activity that would increase significantly their outlook of what Malaysia is and what it needs.
No longer would university students be subjected to ignorant content of TikTok users and narrow-minded religious clerics on nation building.
Presently, universities such as UIAM and UM or UKM have been known to shut electricity, close gates and use security escorts in order that certain personalities are not allowed to interact with students.
I have always been harsh at this attitude of the university management and labelled universities as sekolah asrama penuh.
University students are adults and a full citizen of Malaysia. They have the power to put in a progressive thinking MP or a bigoted and racist MP.
I would also like to propose that each university student be exposed to three co-op or practical experience attachments.
The first attachment of two months would be at the office of an MP where students learn about interacting with people directly and understand their concerns.
The second attachment should be with an NGO and understand how the organisation seeks funding and makes changes in society.
The third attachment would be with the student’s own field of profession.
In this way, universities not only produce professional or skilled workers, they also produce strong and dynamic Malaysians ready to serve or lead society.
In conclusion, I wish to say that all that I have asked and suggested have no financial implication and are all doable.
Academics and university management must change from simply being a self-serving entity churning out graduates and papers by the truck loads, the university must play a crucial role in changing society.
I have always said that the university is the test of First Nation. If the graduates are uncaring, racist, bigots and can’t tell real knowledge from TikTok garbage, then our nation is already a failure.
Politicians and political parties cannot change a nation; only educators and their students can.
(Prof Dr. Mohd Tajuddin Mohd Rasdi is Professor of Architecture at a local university and his writing reflects his own personal opinion entirely.)