Thursday, January 26, 2012

Four more universities get autonomy

In a bid to promote excellence in local varsities, the Higher Education Ministry today granted the prized autonomy status to four more universities who now have flexibility in finance, administration and academic matters.

Universiti Malaya (UM), Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM), Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) and Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM) join the elite list which includes Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM) - the first local varsity to achieve the status on Jan 8.

There are currently 20 public universities nationwide.

"The universities will be given autonomy in the areas of institutional governance, finance and wealth generation, human resource and academic management, as well as student intake," said minister Datuk Seri Mohd Khaled Nordin.

He was delivering the Higher Education Ministry's New Year address at the Putrajaya International Convention Centre.

Mohd Khaled said autonomy is an essential prerequisite for creating a dynamic campus environment as it allows these universities to be more competitive, creative and flexible.

"The universities always argue that in order for them to be excellent, they must have autonomy and are not bound by the government regulations.

"Therefore, the awarding of autonomy is to ensure there will not be anymore excuses for the universities to achieve excellence," said Mohd Khaled in a press conference later.

He explained that the vice chancellors and the board of directors in the universities must play a role to ensure this.

Asked if the present Central University Admissions Unit (UPU) will be no longer channel students to these universities, Mohd Khaled said it remained relevant.

He explained that the five institutions have been given the power to review criteria, and to select and announce results based on students' first preference.

Mohd Khaled said the ministry would continue to fine tune the implementation of the powers to prevent overlap, particularly in the process of student selection.

UPM Vice Chancellor Prof Datuk Dr Radin Umar Radin Sohadi told theSun the announcement is certainly positive as varsities will be given more flexibility.

"It also comes together with the spirit of excellence because if we want to be on par with the rest of the world, then we have to remove whatever barriers in order to achieve it," he said.

However Radin also said such autonomy comes with accountability.

"It is not a blank cheque. The ministry will look into the outcome but how and what the outcomes are will be referred to the central agencies for their approvals," said Radin.

He added that the flexibility will also give the universities an opportunity to have a balanced composition of students.

"Somehow for UPM we have a good balance but since it is (usually) decided by ministry, we don't have leeway to modify if we want something different," he said.

Radin added that with good governance and the right mindset, he is positive that local varsities can strive further in excellence despite initial hiccups.

"There will be challenges and it won't be straight forward (but) we will work it out," he said.

UKM vice-chancellor Tan Sri Prof Sharifah Hapsah Syed Hassan Shahabudin, when contacted, said autonomy enables universities to make faster decisions, which is vital for excellence.

"We cut down a lot of layers in between. We (universities) have to be very competitive. So, if we want to start a new programme, we cannot wait forever to do so," she said.

Sharifah added that autonomy allows universities to improve their performance but stressed that the varsities should abide and be clear on their academic procedures.

"These (five) universities have been audited using the Code of University Good Governance and University Good Governance Index so we now have to prove that we are able to produce the results," she said.

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