There are a string of outstanding problems related to higher education that require the rapt attention and action of the minister, Mustafa K Anuar writes.
Being compelled to stay at home by the movement control order can drive some Malaysians nuts, even though it’s for the protection of their own health and safety of others.
That is why we get to see cooped-up Malaysians venting their frustration and displaying creativity, such as giving new renditions to old songs or crafting new numbers, over social media, including the often funny social networking platform TikTok.
However, when a politician, no less than the higher education minister, tried to play cute with TikTok, offering prizes to people for entries that were supposedly creative under the movement control order, it fell flat on many concerned Malaysians.
In fact, Noraini Ahmad’s poli-TikTok-ing earned the wrath of social media users to the extent that a few valiantly saved her TikTok video clip about this questionable contest, which she subsequently deleted, to forward for others to drop their jaws as well.
Mind you, this occurred when Malaysians have just reeled from that recent Doraemon brouhaha from the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development’s guide to family harmony, which, incidentally, offered comic relief to the rest of the world.
Social media users rightly pointed out that instead of Noraini engaging in such a frivolous thing, she should get her priorities right.
For example, she may want to lay out strategies to address urgent issues associated with university students who are facing the Covid-19 pandemic on and off campus. It is expected of a person assuming such an important position in the cabinet to make enlightened recommendations regarding ways to address the short and long-term impact of the pandemic on the education of university students.
What solutions can be offered to international students who are also “trapped” on Malaysian campuses, possibly burdened with financial and other problems? Similarly, what does the ministry plan to do with our students studying abroad, caught in the movement restrictions of the host countries?
In fact, parents have already made a plea to the government to allow their children studying in local universities to leave for home, especially if the movement control order is further extended.
This certainly requires a quick response from Noraini, but obviously not in a TikTok manner. At a time like this, surely we can’t afford to be sidetracked by comedic antics.
As it is, there are already other outstanding problems related to higher education in Malaysia that require the rapt attention and action of the minister. For one thing, the nagging issue of academic excellence among our public universities needs to be addressed adequately and effectively as it is indicative of the performance of academics and quality of teaching and research.
Plagiarism among students and academics should also not escape the attention of the minister, especially when number- crunching becomes an obsession in a system that has been awed by the KPI (key performance indicators) factor.
Academic leadership is also found wanting in some of the public universities.
We should be mindful here, though, that Noraini’s blooper may well enhance simplistic assumptions among some narrow-minded people. Just because the faux pas has involved three women ministers of the current cabinet within a short span of each other, this should not lend legitimacy to sexist insistence that making blunders is a female thing.
To be sure, it depends on the calibre and professionalism of the cabinet ministers, irrespective of gender, race or faith. This explains why many of the women ministers of the previous administration were able to carry out their duties as remarkably as their male counterparts.
Let’s hope that the pandemic will not spring more such surprises.