Embrace global challenges or risk irrelevance, minister urges

Malaysian Cabinet member says universities should prioritise local needs over global reputation

四月 29, 2024
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Source: iStock/TS YEW

Ongoing student protests on US campuses demonstrate that universities should not shy away from addressing global tensions, Malaysia’s higher education minister has said.

Speaking at Times Higher Education’s Asia Universities Summit on 29 April, Zambry Abdul Kadir said recent demonstrations in the wake of the Israel-Hamas conflict reflected the rise of students “as a force to reckon with” as well as their power as “a harbinger of peace”.

Escalating protests at universities across the US have seen dozens of campuses taken over by encampments and hundreds of students arrested.

Dr Zambry told the THE event at Kuala Lumpur’s Sunway University that if higher education institutions “close [their] eyes” to issues such as these and other geopolitical challenges, they “risk being alienated from realities of the world we live in today”.

“There are many challenges we face, and we cannot shy away from what’s happening on the ground,” he said. “It is this emerging landscape that we must address if universities are to remain at the forefront of the development of leaders, individuals, societies and civilisation.”

The minister also spoke about the importance of universities serving their country’s needs, including the “alignment of university ranking indicators with local context and Malaysia’s aspirations for future development”.

He said Malaysian institutions should avoid “isomorphic mimicry” – trying to imitate top international institutions. “Everyone wants to model after the Ivy Leagues in the world,” he said, warning that this could create a tendency to forget about “societal needs” in the country.

“This is our real challenge – how can we strike the balance as well as to maintain the status of the universities?” Dr Zambry asked the conference.

“While our universities undoubtedly produce high achievers across various fields, it is crucial to ponder their motivations,” he added. “Are their endeavours purely driven by capitalistic pursuits, or do they serve a greater communal and higher purpose?

“This includes ensuring equal opportunities for disadvantaged students and support for those facing hardship.”

The minister’s comments were echoed by speakers later in the conference discussing the purpose of transnational education in South-east Asia. Representatives from branch campuses in the region emphasised the importance of developing campuses that were aligned to local needs, rather than copying like-for-like programmes from their home countries.

Matthew Nicholson, president and pro vice-chancellor at Monash University Indonesia, said the institution had established courses it thinks will have a “significant impact” on the nation, including urban design, public health and public policy, and focused on making the campus a research-intensive one.

“To only do teaching is, I think, to negate many of the possibilities of being in a place like Indonesia, and we’re absolutely determined through the research that we’re doing to contribute to great national, social, cultural, economic outcomes in Indonesia,” he said.

“We have to serve that community in order to be valuable to that community. We cannot simply mount the argument that the development of human capital through people paying for our education is significant enough that our social licence to operate is allowed to continue.”




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