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M. Bakri Musa

Seeing Malaysia My Way

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Location: Morgan Hill, California, United States

Malaysian-born Bakri Musa writes frequently on issues affecting his native land. His essays have appeared in the Far Eastern Economic Review, Asiaweek, International Herald Tribune, Education Quarterly, SIngapore's Straits Times, and The New Straits Times. His commentary has aired on National Public Radio's Marketplace. His regular column Seeing It My Way appears in Malaysiakini. Bakri is also a regular contributor to th eSun (Malaysia). He has previously written "The Malay Dilemma Revisited: Race Dynamics in Modern Malaysia" as well as "Malaysia in the Era of Globalization," "An Education System Worthy of Malaysia," "Seeing Malaysia My Way," and "With Love, From Malaysia." Bakri's day job (and frequently night time too!) is as a surgeon in private practice in Silicon Valley, California. He and his wife Karen live on a ranch in Morgan Hill. This website is updated twice a week on Sundays and Wednesdays at 5 PM California time.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

An Education System Worthy of Malaysia #60

Chapter 9: Moe Down MOE (Cont'd)

Land LAN Elsewhere

The National Accreditation Board (LembagaAkreditasi Negara – LAN) was set up in1996 to monitor private institutions of higher learning. It accredits only private institutions; the assumption being that public institutions do not need such monitoring. How that grand leap of faith comes about I do not know.

There were many quality private institutions long before LAN. Colleges like Taylor and Stamford do not need LAN‘s imprimatur. Parents and students already knew of their quality by their products. Taylor sends more students to elite universities than any other institution in Malaysia, private or public.

LAN was established in anticipation of the rash of new private institutions expected with the amendment to the Education Act of 1996. Despite LAN, newspapers still carry horror stories of colleges and medical schools set up without adequate laboratories and other ancillary facilities. The question arises as to how these institutions were granted permits or accredited in the first place. When you read LAN’s mission statement and manual, they are replete with such minutiae as the number of reference books the libraries must have. LANS’ board of trustees is filled with former academics. Even though technically LAN is an independent statutory body under MOE, functionally it is nothing but a department within it.

LAN is still bound by the civil service rules and protocol. To complicate matters, there is yet another division within the ministry that regulates private institutions. Precisely where the jurisdiction of one ends and the other begins is not clear. I would have thought that a university or college that is not accredited should not be allowed to operate. Nor should any new institution be given a permit unless it can show that it has the resources – academic, physical, and financial – to meet accreditation requirements. That seems elementary. Similarly an unaccredited institution should not be allowed to admit any students, local or foreign, but then we found out that the authority to grant colleges the authority to recruit foreign students rests not with LAN but with that other agency.

Again when there is duplication of services, matters and responsibilities easily slip between departments. LAN should be independent, funded entirely by the fees it charges institutions seeking accreditation. All institutions must be accredited.

The same standard must apply to both public and private institutions. The public must be assured of quality with all institutions. The government’s argument that there are enough regulations to monitor public institutions and thus they do not need to be accredited does not wash.

LAN’s governing board must be made up of representatives and experts from the major universities, private and public. It should also invite foreign experts to be among its surveyors. They must not be full time employees rather part-timers contracted from active practitioners in the field. If they become fulltime surveyors and reviewers, they will forget their primary professional expertise as educators. LAN must develop specialized expertise so it could credibly evaluate and accredit professional faculties like business, engineering, law, and medicine. If any institution, private or public, cannot meet those standards, then it should not be allowed to operate.

LAN should learn from the accrediting bodies of advanced countries both on the mechanics of accrediting and also on the more important issue of enhancing quality and standards.

I work in an accredited institution. Months before the survey, the accrediting body would send out a detailed questionnaire to the hospital. These cover basic housekeeping issues as well as policy matters. The actual survey usually takes two or three days, with the surveyors divided into teams to inspect their particular area of expertise. Some would focus on the “hardware” of the hospital (from lights and fire extinguishers in the hallways to the reliability of back-up power systems), others on the “software” (policy manuals dealing with infectious diseases to mechanism of handling public complaints). On the last day of inspection, the surveyors and key hospital personnel would gather in a large hall to listen to the comments and findings, and yes, to challenge those findings if need be. At that summation hearing the hospital would know whether it gets its accreditation. No prolonged waiting or hearing the news through the media. The summation hearing is also a time for both sides to learn from each other. A few weeks later the hospital would get the formal report. If there were to be any bad news, the hospital would hear it first and directly from the surveyors. In Malaysia institutions often become aware that they have failed their accreditation only through the press. This would then be followed by a series of conflicting “clarifying” remarks from officials that resulted in further confusion.

The other pertinent point is that the surveyors and reviewers are made up of working professionals from comparable institutions. There is no point in sending an expert from a university hospital to survey a small community hospital. The problems and issues would be entirely different. Likewise with surveying an educational institution; it would be pointless to send a law professor to survey a technical institute.

Even though the hospital’s accrediting body is independent, during the survey there are participants from the state department of hospitals as well as the federal government’s Medicare agency. They too perform their own survey in tandem with the accrediting body to avoid duplication of efforts. Likewise LAN could conduct its survey together with representatives of the ministry or even the immigration department, to avoid duplication.

In surveying colleges and universities it is important not only to evaluate their “software” (course offerings, lecturers’ qualifications, libraries) but also the “hardware,” (lecture facilities, students’ amenities, and laboratory capabilities). This idea that you could run a university in a shopping mall or over some empty shop lot is ridiculous.

Accrediting agencies in America are now also factoring diversity of students and faculty in recognition of their value in the students’ overall college experience.

A good place for LAN to start would be to clarify the definitions of various terms like institute, college, university or even university-college. Have clear statutory delineations so the public would not be confused. The other major issue for LAN and the ministry to confront is the plethora of academic offerings of the various institutions. Should an institution be allowed to offer a mechanics certificate right up to a master’s or PhD degree? More importantly, can that institution do justice to its various constituents? I seriously question the competence and wisdom of an institution having such a smorgasbord offering of educational diplomas on its menu.

By eliminating such ancillary functions as publishing, translating, and testing, MOE could focus on its core mission of taking care of the education of Malaysians. That by itself is a formidable responsibility; there is no need to seek additional ones. Teachers already make up a third of the civil service, and the ministry routinely gets the biggest budget allocation. Thus even after dispensing with these extraneous activities, MOE has enough on its plate and then more. MOE should concentrate on doing only the essentials, and doing them better.

Next: Chapter 10 (Final Chapter): Putting It All Together

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