Kuala Lumpur, 20 February 2017– According to research conducted by the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (IDEAS) universities need to have both administrative and financial freedom from the government in order to flourish as world class institutions.
Commenting at a recent roundtable discussion organised by IDEAS on “Autonomy and Accountability in Higher Education in Malaysia”, Chief Operating Officer Tricia Yeoh had this to say, “When we first started this research programme on university autonomy October last year, we wanted a comprehensive understanding of autonomy in public universities universities. In order to do this, Professor Tan Sri Dato’ Dzulkifli Abdul Razak former Vice-Chancellor of Universiti Sains Malaysia and the Chair of our Higher Education programme is currently overseeing independent studies on autonomy. These studies are discussed at roundtables such as this one for input and the results of our findings will then be published at our conference on higher education in May“.
“Our research is divided into four parts. First, we wanted an in depth look at how universities have fared over the years in terms of freedom to manage its own internal affairs and the laws that govern this ability. Second, our research covers the extent to which public universities are able to manage its own finances and the challenges faced with the recent spate of budget cuts. Third, we review the historical role of universities and whether or not Malaysian universities have departed from this traditional role. Finally, we are conducting a comparative study of autonomy and its impact on university governance. Using examples of best practices from abroad, we also make recommendations on how public universities in Malaysia can be better governed”.
“Although the findings are not yet conclusive, what we found is that Malaysian universities were a lot more autonomous in the past than they are now. Whether from a financial or administrative standpoint, public universities had a lot of freedom to make its own decisions. But with the introduction of acts like the 1971 Universities and University Colleges Act, universities have now become subject to government intervention, be it in terms of syllabi to the appointment of Vice Chancellors. They are also severely limited in their ability to raise funds given that they do not have the freedom to set their own fees unlike universities abroad. These factors along with several others have direct bearings on the quality of research produced by universities and even on university performance in global rankings. The lack of autonomy also has direct consequences on governance, as we found that autonomy forms a key role in improving overall governance in universities”, explained Tricia Yeoh.
”What we hope to do with our research work is to have more universities and members of government to come on board with the idea of autonomy and its importance. Although, this is not a new topic, it is important that we discuss it in as comprehensive a manner as possible. We hope that with the release of our findings, that the government seriously reconsiders some of its laws and policies on universities”, concluded Tricia Yeoh.