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Make English a compulsory pass subject at university level  as it must no more be regarded as a foreign language but a global language and  universal basic skill



on Higher Education Ministry during committee stage debate of Second 2005 Supplementary Estimates

by Lim Kit Siang  

, Thursday) : The Cabinet took a policy decision in July 2002 that all public universities should switch to English as the medium of instruction for all Maths and Science-based degree programme by 2005.

However, the Higher Education Ministry and the public universities and their Vice Chancellors lacked commitment and seriousness to enhance the nation’s educational international competitiveness at a time when the public universities were  churning out tens of thousands of unemployed and unemployable graduates a year, resulting in the failure to implement the 2002 Cabinet decision.

In the report commissioned by the British Council, “English Next”, British applied linguist and well known writer, broadcaster, researcher and consultant on issues relating to global English, David Graddol explained that the reason for the huge rise in popularity of English is because it is no longer a foreign language for most of its learners. English is rapidly turning into a near universal basic skill.

There has been an explosion in English language teaching since 1945 so that in his previous research, Graddol was able to show that two billion people would be speaking or learning English within a decade.

Statistics showed that nearly 60 per cent of primary school children now learn English in China. What's more, the total numbers of English speakers in India  and China now exceed the number of speakers elsewhere in the world.

Graddol’s landmark report on the position of the English language in the world warns that the global dominance of English poses major problems for the English people and that the  monolingual English graduates  face a bleak economic future as qualified multilingual young people from other countries are proving to have a competitive advantage over their British counterparts in global companies and organizations.

Graddol's research highlights that once everyone speaks English, companies will naturally look for employees who speak other major languages such as Chinese, Arabic  or Spanish as well.

For Malaysia, our immediate challenge is to restore our previous competitive edge with good command of the  English language.

One way is to make English a compulsory pass subject at university level  as it must no more be regarded as a foreign language but a global language and  universal basic skill.

When will the first non-Malay Vice Chancellor of public universities be appointed?

The Zahid Higher Education Report has been tabled in Parliament but it has still to be made easily accessible to all stakeholders concerned about higher education, whether academics, students or the civil society.  I see no reason why the Higher Education Ministry could not immediately  post the full Zahid Report in both Bahasa Malaysia and English on its website – which is a test of its ICT-readiness and capability.

The 138 recommendations  of the Zahid Report failed to deal with the core issue of the higher education crisis in the country – the reason for the decline of academic standards.

The fundamental problems are quality of lecturers, quality of students and quality of leadership.  What is the answer of the Zahid Report to help improve the morale of good lecturers?  The absence of any reference to the stifling effects of the  Universities and University Colleges Act, the Statutory Bodies and Surcharge Act and Aku Janji requirements to academic freedom and creativity in its 138 recommendations is a major flaw.

Are we prepared rise up to the challenge to restore University of Malaya, the nation’s premier university, to its former heights, when in the sixties and seventies it was regarded as a world-class university at par with the universities of Singapore, Hong Kong, Sydney and Melbourne?


In 2003, the government still spoke in Parliament about  the aim of  Malaysian universities to be at par with the best in the world, such as Cambridge in England, Harvard in America and Waseda in Japan.


Why have such voices gone silent when we are talking about creating towering Malaysians and a first-world nation? Have we scaled down our ambitions?


For a start, let us break away from one disturbing phenomenon of public university development - the perception that they are Malay rather than Malaysian universities, which is a disservice not only to the nation and non-Malays but also to the Malay university population in denying them the environment of excellence and competitiveness to bring out their academic best.


Recently,  New Straits Times carried an  interview with  the Chairman of University of Malaya Board of Directors, Tan Sri Arshad Ayub, who said:"Maybe the time has come for more non-Bumiputera appointments in university administrations. Appointments should be on merit and apolitical. There should be more women and non-Bumiputeras."  Arshad specifically mentioned that“the time may even have come for a non-Bumiputera vice-chancellor”.


When will the first non-Malay Vice Chancellor in the public universities  be appointed?


*  Lim Kit Siang, Parliamentary Opposition Leader, MP for Ipoh Timur & DAP Central Policy and Strategic Planning Commission Chairman

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