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Some time ago, I wrote in the magazine Minda (now no longer published) by Karangkraf - about the stagnant quality of university graduates which is akin to “a loaf of bread which, after being taken out of the oven, still remains an ordinary loaf of bread instead of becoming a baguette”. This may not seem logical, but at times even that which seems illogical may bear fruit.
The reality which has plagued us until now is that we are still stuck in the quagmire of discussion about the deteriorating quality of Malaysian graduates. However, it would be unfair to compare the quality of “local products” of our higher learning institutes (IPTs) to those of other countries which have undergone a much longer process of intellectual transformation.
Undeniably, the level of quality of local IPTs is constantly monitored and given special attention by the government. This is clearly evident, such as on 27th August, 2007, when Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi launched the National Higher Education Strategic Plan (PSPTN), which served as an indicator of the nation’s higher education development. The next course of action was taken by the Minister of Higher Education, Datuk Seri Mohamad Khaled Nordin, who underlined steps on implementing the PSPTN and elevating the performance of IPTs in order to rival the achievements of world-renowned universities.
“Elevation” in this concept does not mean proclaiming the names of IPT to all corners of the world with the intention of being recognised for specific accomplishments. Rather, it focuses more on holistic achievements at all higher learning institutions, which will enable Malaysia to become worthy of being a regional hub for international higher learning excellence.
However, in order to fulfill the government’s goal of elevating higher education, an intellectual culture must be moulded within all individuals until a community comes into being where its people are capable of intellectual discourse, are productive and write and think intellectually. Although a person may have mastered a knowledge of physics, it would also be more beneficial for him, in addition, to endeavour to advance in other fields of knowledge in order to become and be recognised as a towering personality, as put forth by Dato’ Sri Mohd Najib Razak. Ibnu Sina was one of the best examples in this aspect, as he was renowned not only as the father of medicine, but also as a prolific writer.
These issues, as well as many others, are discussed by the Vice-Chancellor of the Technological University of Malaysia (UTM), Professor Datuk Dr. Zaini Ujang, in his book, The Elevation of Higher Learning, translated from the original Malay title, Mengangkasa Pengajian Tinggi, which is a joint publication between the Malaysian National Institute of Translation and UTM Publishers. This book was not written within a specific period of time, but came about as a collection of weekly written notes by the author, or observations and discussions with friends about academia and higher learning. Certain parts have been previously published in local newspapers, others have been presented at conferences and seminars, while others were retained as personal recorded notes.
Moreover, in adhering to the principle of manifesting the tradition of knowledge which places emphasis on the print culture, Prof. Zaini has compiled all of his notes, which were originally published in Malay. He chose the title “elevation” inspired by Dato’ Sri Najib during the latter’s speech entitled “The Elevation of Civilization” at the UMNO Gathering in October 2007. In the context of equating “elevation” to higher learning, it is his aim to raise the level of national higher learning to a more prominent position – where it will not only become truly established but can also be appreciated, felt, savoured and enjoyed by students, academicians and indeed by the whole society alike.