Welcoming Remarks

Prof. Dr. Mohamad Kamal Hj Harun, Director AKEPT

Prof Kamal welcomed the audience consisting of senior members of their respective universities. In this eight-talk series on university leadership, AKEPT intends to provide a platform to deliberate and help shape thoughts on academic leadership, academic management and institutional leadership, particularly in today’s ever-changing landscape of higher education. The format varies from talks to forums to roundtable dialogue. The consistent message throughout prior engagements with academic stakeholders is that “universities should place absolute commitment to the quality of higher education,” and that quality revolves around individual respect, beliefs, sense of caring for the community, and profound values. This knowledge could then be used as instruments to drive sustainability of human existence. Albeit philosophical, this holds true to universities’ role to build and impart knowledge while upholding communal commitments. However, perception, reputation and economic challenges have often confronted and distracted from the idealism of universities. Global ranking, employability statistics, income generation and more have been focal in university leadership that providing quality student experiences is seldom heard nor projected. It is uncertain whether these issues have been sidestepped because they have been so well addressed, or because we have been drowned by what we consider as more pertaining issues of the day. AKEPT intends to dwell on the theme “Higher Education Leads Malaysia’s Future” in shaping the thought process of our university leaders. Issues to be addressed include the idea and role of universities, the leadership compass of values and morals, anticipating the game changer, ivory towers, changing demographics, global impact within a diverse culture, inclusive leadership, defining the performance contract, strategizing academic freedom, enabling international collaboration, and global positioning. Today’s session would delve into the evolution of universities, the past, present and future roles of university leadership, and also identifying achievable solutions amongst comprehensive, research and technical universities in Malaysia.

Session 1: The Idea and Role of a University

Prof Tan Sri Dato’ Dzulkifli Abdul Razak, President IAU

Tan Sri Dzul delivered a no holds barred talk encouraging the audience to participate in the change process of the current local and global educational landscape. Sharing his 11-year experience as the Vice Chancellor of Universiti Sains Malaysia, he began with an overview of the four dimensions of higher education, namely ancient centres of learning, Islamic centres of learning, medieval Western education and modern 21st century universities. The word “university” didn’t exist before the 11th century. Universities were predated by centres of learning defined not by physical buildings, but by the mental power of the communities they had. Islamic madrasahs and centres of learning produced polymaths proficient in 14 disciplines like Al-Kindi. Over time, Western doctrine shaped universities into what they are today, beginning with University of Bologna in 1088, thus redefining and leading the game for everybody else. The Magna Charta Universitatium signed in 1988 by global university leaders dictated four principles including how universities must be trustees of European humanist traditions. Why exclusively European, and what about Asian humanist traditions? In European history, there was a 1000-year gap – the Dark Ages – which corresponds to the glory days of Islamic civilization. Was this a deliberate attempt to sideline other civilizations? More input is needed to incorporate soul, ethics and integrity in STEM. In the Q&A session, Tan Sri Dzul fielded a question on the national education philosophy, on how leadership is not about money and fame but of responsibility. As for the National Education Blueprint, he commented how ethics and the spiritual was added last-minute, and measuring intangibles is hard. The mismatch between planning and action can be resolved by going to the ground and make education about civilization, not business.

 

Session 2: Leadership in HEIs for 21st Century

Tan Sri Dato Dr Wan Mohd Zahid Mohd Noordin, Chairman, Board of Advisors AKEPT

Tan Sri Wan Zahid gave a provocative talk intended to trigger thinking, promote creativity, and lead to rebellion. The talk raised many questions but no definitive answers, because answers imply finality, putting one in a straight-jacket without needing to think. Great dreams do not seem to be matched by great deeds. He stressed that we need leadership insights, not cookbooks. He waxed lyrical about Kelantan, where people with less privileged backgrounds can think more creatively – the blooming of audacity in a place least expected. Creativity must be nurtured with no fear. A leader must be a “complete” person; confident and not easily intimidated. Leaders harbour no zero sum mentality, recounting a dialogue amongst Tumpat teachers where he was lambasted as a “bangsawan mari daripada awan” (nobleman from the clouds). In a zero sum mentality, these people would’ve been told off, but when listened to, they gave constructive ideas. Leaders do not need to feel minimized, therefore “completeness” is critical. The purpose of leadership is to liberate, not to intimidate nor to enslave, and to make those you lead to not want you anymore. If followers continue to need you, you’ve created dependents, and creativity cannot be expected. Collective leadership involves shared responsibility. Space, liberation and protection will expand people’s ways of thinking. In the Q&A, provocation from superiors was addressed. He understood the fear of zero sum reactions, musing that our universities can be great but talents are not given the opportunity to unfold. The key takeaway is shared vision where honour can be shared by all. The backlash from speaking up can be great but it must be done. You cannot wait for things to be safe before exercising leadership – it won’t come. In Islam, you’ll be asked what did you do, and fear of a boss is unacceptable.

 

Forum: Challenges in Managing the Modern University

Prof Dr Mohd Jailani Mohd Nor, DVC Research & Innovation UTEM,
Prof Datuk Dr Sufean Hussin, Professor UM,
Prof Roshada Hashim, Director USIM Alamiyyah

The panelists answered questions from moderator Tan Sri Dzul and the audience. On the challenges of leading modern universities, Prof Roshada lamented the micromanagement coming from multitudes of circulars. Getting the buy in from people is difficult in Malaysia. We risk current generations sinking; in an ocean of soulless KPIs. Prof Jailani reckons the biggest challenge is future irrelevance. Stakeholders’ expectations have changed, and yet the issue of the university-industry gap is still huge and as prevalent in the 90s. Datuk Sufean highlighted that professors and high-learned people were faculties prior to the modern industrial revolution interpretation of universities. This has morphed into a pragmatic model where research benefits are for monetary return. Massification of education resulted in meritocracy being discounted. On whether educational concepts has changed, Prof Jailani stressed the forte of universities is dissemination and preservation of new knowledge. Nowadays it is equivalent to managing a company to produce workers. If R&D grants prioritizes commercialization KPIs, then who will strategize policies? Datuk Sufean relayed the sacrifice of culture in China in lieu of getting jobs. Prof Roshada said current knowledge imparted is borrowed, but different literacies aren’t embedded. Questions from the audience touched on the current trend for VCs to be elected by political masters, the over-pandering to one community, the over-emphasis on employability, and the importance of culture in educating a multiracial society. The panelists also addressed the role of universities in nurturing new knowledge, the lack of academic freedom, the corporatization of universities hindering creativity, proposing universities as non-profit organizations instead of business entities, and the identity crisis stemming from politicized education, thus losing our “jati diri” (identity or essence). Tan Sri Dzul concluded the forum by reiterating the challenges of managing a university and his hope for continued discourse by university leaders to instigate change.