5 April 2020, Sunday | 03:12pm

UiTM autonomy the way forward

AUTONOMY is the means by which Malaysian universities will be transformed to the next level in the pursuit of academic excellence. That autonomy has proved to be an effective tool is evidenced worldwide. However, autonomy, as that which was announced for Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM) by the prime minister recently does not come without accountability. Rather, it is intended that these institutions be more proactive, entrepreneurial and adaptable to changes in the ecosystem that are induced externally.

This last would be morphing when necessary to embrace new disciplines like those induced by the Information Technology (IT) revolution of the late 20th century. UiTM is set to have a student body of almost a quarter of a million by 2020, no small number for a country with a population just touching 30 million. That its campuses will be autonomous will allow it to accommodate its diverse student profile while retaining quality staff. And, the university will have the ability to be creative in an effort to encourage research, the hallmark of a high quality learning establishment. Because there is not one definitive transformative model to be followed, autonomy will enable an institution to take given constructs of best practices from elsewhere and adapt them to local cultural/traditional and legal needs of the national higher education system.

According to one of Malaysia’s leading educationists, “Autonomy requires the right balance of institutional accountability and commitment from public authorities”. The recently launched Malaysia Education Blueprint (Higher Education) 2015-2025 is ample testament to that commitment. Apart from government obligations, autonomy is futile without the financial means to exercise it.

Enter the endowment fund. The newly launched UiTM’s RM1 billion Education Fund is exactly this, the other leg upon which the transformation of higher learning institutions must rest. This particular endowment fund, built through a collection from the institution’s alumni members of some half a million, the prime minister claimed when launching it, can be achieved in 40 months even on a monthly contribution of RM50 from each former student. Endowments are common in the United States and Europe.

Some are of a general nature and others are more specific in the way of purpose. UiTM will be the pioneer institution in the country leading the way to a new era of excellence with autonomy steering it in the desired direction. Given that autonomy means governance by the university’s board of directors (BOD), those who make up the board under the new regime then is of the utmost importance. No longer about taking instructions from the relevant ministry, the BOD must be management competent, able to take initiatives, creative and always on the ball vis-à-vis developments involving knowledge and expertise building. It should comprise of visionaries able to meet the country’s short and long term objectives.

Source: NST Online