Appoint talented non-Malays as vice-chancellors
Letter to the Editor -June 13, 2021 12:20 PM
From Kua Kia Soong
So, there are five vice-chancellor posts in public universities that are vacant now and there seems to be a problem trying to find the right candidates. For a country that is hoping to become a high-income society soon, one wonders what the problem is.
Some have put it down to the question of political appointments, just like finding a CEO for a government-linked company (GLC). We know it is not just an issue of political patronage as we have had ruling coalitions under Barisan Nasional, Pakatan Harapan and now Perikatan Nasional and they all refuse to confront the elephant in the room, namely blatant racial discrimination.
Before May 13, 1969, there were two non-Malay vice-chancellors at Universiti Malaya – Huang Li Song (1965-66) and Chin Fung Kee (1966-67). After the Emergency following the riots and the introduction of the so-called “quota system”, with the amendment (8A) to Article 153 of the Federal Constitution, there was no mention in the amendment nor in the New Economic Policy that the vice-chancellors of public universities must be Malay.
Still, the record speaks for itself – since 1969, every single vice-chancellor or deputy vice-chancellor for that matter, in all our public universities has been Malay.
With such a blatant racial bar on promotions and meritocracy, is it surprising that since 1971, many non-Malay academics have left for other countries to find a more level playing field that puts competence first and where their capabilities are acknowledged and celebrated?
Nonetheless, is it really the case that there are no non-Malay academics left in the country today who are qualified to be vice-chancellors in any of the 20 public universities in the country? How long must Malaysian citizens put up with this charade of trumpeting lofty sounding education philosophies while practising such overt and embarrassing racial discrimination?
Live up to the National Education Blueprint
The National Education Blueprint declares that it is “… designed to produce Malaysian citizens who are knowledgeable and competent, who possess high moral standards and who are responsible and capable of achieving high levels of personal well-being as well as being able to contribute to the harmony and betterment of the family, the society and the nation at large.”
It also promotes “Equity for All Students” and fosters “Unity among Students”.
How can our society promote high moral standards, foster unity, embrace diversity and prioritise social and systemic inclusiveness if there is blatant racial discrimination in the educational, economic and political spheres?
Reform agenda: End race-based policies
In Malaysia, given that it is now 30 years since the NEP deadline in 1990, it makes developmental sense to implement a new socially just affirmative action policy based on need or class or sector. Only such a race-free policy can convince the people that the government is socially just, fair and democratic.
The cost and consequences of the racially discriminatory policy in Malaysia have been immense, especially since the NEP in 1971. It has caused a crippling polarisation of Malaysian society and a costly brain drain.
A good place to start such a race-free policy is to ensure that capable candidates, regardless of their ethnicity, gender, religion or political affiliation are appointed as vice-chancellors of public universities.
A political commitment to equality, democracy and human rights would further involve ratifying the United Nations International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.
Are any of the political coalitions – PN, BN and PH – up to this task?