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Rabu, 10 Maret 2010



Sharifah Hapsah Syed Hasan Shahabudin
Vice Chancellor
Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM)


University as a vehicle for national competitiveness in the K-economy
Since the espousal of the free market ideology of the 1980s and increasing globalization, Malaysia, just as in other economies of the world, recognize two critical roles of higher education. The first is the importance of universities in producing knowledge, innovation and technology as well as skilled workers for wealth creation and comparative advantage for the national competitiveness in the k-economy international marketplace. Secondly, higher education is also seen as a revenue generator to meet the high demand for higher education by people from all corners of the world. These facts are recognized in the Higher Education Strategic Plan which was launched on 27 August 2007.

Consequently many policies, including fiscal policies and measures that were adopted by many western countries were increasingly introduced in Malaysia. These included the corporatisation of public universities and privatization of higher education directed at making Malaysia a regional hub for education that is attractive to both foreign and local students.

With this central understanding about the role of education and technology in successful economic growth, universities are being re-structured. Contained in the higher education strategic plan are notions of technical ideals of excellence guided by mission statements, strategic plans, performance output and quality outcomes. Universities are also expected to emulate private sector management where governance is based on return of rate of investment, transparency and accountability. Thus universities are expected to give priority to internationalisation, industry relations, commercialization and use of information and communication technology as they seek funding for research and development and international sites and students for teaching and research.

In such a system performance indicators may be heavily inclined to tangible outcomes such as number of foreign students enrolled, patents filed and research products that are commercialized. Higher education may largely be perceived as an economic subsystem for producing workers or retraining them through life long learning for the k-economy labour market and for generating, transmitting and applying knowledge for wealth creation.

Marginalisation of ethics, values and culture

Consequently in a purely market driven economy, the system of education which emphasizes ethics and values will inadvertently be sidelined and there may be marginalization of the intangibles such as beliefs, spirituality, happiness, tolerance, mutual respect, sharing, caring, loving, et cetera. Possible consequences are a lack of social sensitivity and communal engagement, with a lackadaisical attitude to social responsibility and community problems.

This is unfortunate because universities must continue to push the frontiers of understanding by producing knowledge for its enlightenment and empowering effects rather than just for its utilitarian role in the culture of enterprise. Whilst knowledge is an essential defining element of scientific and material progress, it is also critical for the preservation of values such as responsibility, right and wrong, good and evil, traditions, customs and culture which collectively give us our identity or national self knowledge.


A third mission of the university is often said to be services to the community where the university is expected to be an active agent and partner in social change. Under the rubric of culture the dual tasks of teaching and research are reflected in the production and inculcation of national self knowledge or identity which includes the idea of a nation and the education of national subjects with developed intellect, imbibed with values for responsible and productive citizenry.

The university steers research and curricula to meet emerging societal needs, provide innovative ideas and practices for the solution of local problems, improve the social importance of knowledge throughout the community and meet the challenges of multicultural societies and globalization.

The university which focuses on culture asks the what, how and why of teaching and research. It does not merely monitor and maintain the system for excellence.
Engaging in social change induces a cultural change in academia and society and allows independent thinking and opinion making about societal issues such as hunger, health, poverty, social unbalances, climate change, digital divide and conflicts. The university serves as critic and conscience of society. It keeps watch over the spiritual life of the people, reconciles ethnic traditions with state rationality and legitimates them by founding a set of practices, a cultural image, a discourse or an institution.

This is also part of the social contract of universities with direct effects on transparency and accountability as public institutions. It is a way of providing evidence of value for the financing spent on universities.


In a country like Malaysia, it is critically pressing for a university to be an active agent and partner in social change. The notion of national self knowledge or culture is important as a unifying idea in multi ethnic and multi religious Malaysia. Such ideas drive the fundamental vales and ethics of a university.

The fascinating mix of people with cultures from several great civilizations of the world is a result of its geographical location in SEA, a meeting point of civilizations from the east and west. The Straits of Malacca has always been an important route for traders from the east and west. Malaysia also has a colonial legacy which has brought Portuguese, Dutch and British influences to its shores. These cultures are now interwoven with its unique Malay heritage.

Malaysia is a vibrant democracy with a constitutional monarchy. It has a population of 26 million consisting of the majority Malays and other indigenous people including from Sabah and Sarawak who are called Bumiputra, Chinese and Indians. The ethnic composition is also reflected in the many languages spoken in the country, not including the dialects. Islam is the official religion and the practice of other religions and beliefs is constitutionally guaranteed. It is common to see temples, mosques and churches located in close proximity.

Social contract

Malaysia has always been perceived by many developed and developing countries as a successful story of peaceful ethnic relations, underpinned by an equally successful balancing of economic development and political stability that has now lasted for 50 years. A key historical factor was the willingness of the majority Malay polity to accommodate and confer a common citizenship to a sizeable non indigenous population at the time of independence 50 years ago. Citizenship guaranteed their economic, political and social rights. An example is the right to education in the mother tongue. In turn the non indigenous people recognize the special position of the Bumiputra and accepted the symbols of Malay polity: Malay as the national and official language, Islam as the official religion and the Malay rulers as the constitutional heads of their respective states and the Federation. This is often referred to as the social contract.

The path to social stability and cohesion is not always smooth. Overt racial tensions and riots in 1969 have brought home the point that racial integration and unity are the fundamentals to national progress. Now policies, strategies and actions are carefully crafted to ensure economic growth with equity, to restructure society to eradicate poverty and to forge a common identity from its disparate origins. The country takes pride in valuing multiculturalism as its strength and for moving forward in an increasingly globalised world.

Policies and values

The delicate tasks of balancing different interests and needs and for forging a national identity are clearly enshrined and articulated in several policy documents. An example is the National Vision 2020 which outlines nine challenges to a fully developed nation status by 2020, covering economic, social, spiritual, psychological and technological aspects. The fourth challenge in Vision 2020 is “the challenge of establishing a fully moral and ethical society whose citizens are strong in religious and spiritual values and imbued with the highest of ethical standards” .

Another code for instilling national identity is the Rukunegara or National Charter which contains five tenets: belief in God, loyalty to King and country, sanctity of the Constitution, upholding the rule of Law and guided by values and ethics. Islam Hadhari is civilisational Islam which outlines the ten principles for an integrated and well-balanced national agenda of development which include shared religious values, rights as enshrined in the Malaysian constitution and environmental protection.

The Five-Year Malaysia Development Plans and national policies such as on Education, Unity and social cohesion guide the various strategies and actions. Underpinning all the policy statements are values such as loyalty, morally upright behaviour, pursuit of knowledge and striving for excellence, justice, integrity, sincerity, mutual respect, trustworthiness and respect of human dignity.

Ethical Practices

The country tries to match policies with ethical practices in what may be called as the Malaysian way or the Malaysian mould. In governance, transparency and accountability are maintained by the separation of powers among the Legislature, Judiciary and Executive. The Legislature consists of an elected People’s House and an appointed Senate. A general election is held every five years.

Politically, the same party has ruled the country for the last fifty years. Even though there is a thriving opposition, the ruling party called the Barisan Nasional (National Front) has convinced the electorate that its coalition of ethnic based parties is the winning formula for conflict resolution and political collaboration and negotiation for peace and development. A vigorous civil society exists as the social watchdog to uphold integrity and societal values.

In reinforcing the values, Malaysians take great joy in celebrating their diversity. The practice of “open house” to celebrate the various festivals such as the Id which comes at the end of Ramadan or Muslim fasting month, Chinese New Year, Deepavali or Hindu festival of lights, Wesak or birthday of Buddha, Vasakhi or New Year of the Sikhs and Christmas can only found in Malaysia. Those celebrating the joyous occasions open their doors to welcome others of different faiths and cultures as well to partake in the festivities. These festivities are also celebrated on a national scale.

Commonalities in values

Although there are obvious differences in the belief systems, in particular with regard to the nature of God, the believers in multi ethnic Malaysia by and large share the same ethical principles. Malaysians share these commonalities more so than their differences in order for them to live together and to work effectively as a team. For example, in Islam, the Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) said “No one of you is a believer until he loves for his brother what he loves for himself” (Hadith as narrated by Bukhari and Muslim). Christians believe that “All things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you do ye even so to them” (Matthew, 7:12). Buddhists say “Hurt not others with that which pains yourself” (Udanavarga, 5:18). In Confucianism “Never do to others what you would not like them to do to you”(The Analects Book 15:23), and in Hinduism “Good people proceed while considering that what is best for others is best for themselves” (Hitopadesa).


Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia or UKM derives its values and ethics from the same national aspirations. It has a moral obligation to produce, protect and inculcate the idea of national self knowledge or culture and values that the country espouses. “Kebangsaan” means “national” in the Malay language or Bahasa Malaysia. As the national university of Malaysia, UKM proudly aligns itself to the national philosophy, mission and goals that determine the future of the country. UKM also has a unique history. It was born out of the nationalist struggle to have a university that uses Bahasa Malaysia at the pinnacle of the national education system and which is fundamental to national identity. UKM has a moral obligation to uphold this legacy and mission even though English has re-emerged as the major language for the teaching of Mathematics and Science in Malaysia.


As Malaysia moves into its second half century, it is very much aware that many issues need to be addressed and strengthened. Most of these revolve around the idea of national identity, common values, inter ethnic understanding and racial harmony. All these could threaten the plusses gained and thwart further economic progress if not managed well. This is especially so when globalization actually erodes sovereignty and gives rise to the decline of the nation state. It is also recognized that new centers of power may arise and nations such as Malaysia should try to influence the shape of things to come by playing a more proactive role in regional and international affairs . We need to go beyond pragmatic interethnic compromises and develop a more profound commitment to values such as justice, integrity and humanitarianism.


A university cannot do everything. But it can, as a national university, focus on the what, how and why of teaching and research to inculcate the idea of a nation and the education of national subjects imbibed with values and ethics for responsible and productive citizenry.

UKM also seeks greater global acceptance and stronger brand value by combining the emotional connection to its history with the foundation of academic excellence which is internationally benchmarked. Its brand essence is nurturing possibilities and inspiring futures is the rallying call to meet the challenges of multicultural societies and globalization.

Examples of initiatives to forge values and a national self knowledge at UKM

Promoting the national language in its intellectual tradition.

The idea of a nation is strongly attached to a national language, the means for citizens to communicate and understand each other. As the university established to be at the pinnacle of the national education system, UKM has given exemplary service in developing the Malay language as the language of knowledge, particularly in science. Through its contribution the scientific terminology in the Malay language has expanded and students who have graduated have no problems in completing studies at the advanced levels in foreign universities.

In 2001 the government reverted to English as the medium of instruction for the teaching of Mathematics and Science based courses. This policy change is based on the fact that the repository of scientific knowledge and technology which is growing and being communicated at phenomenal speed is mainly in the English language. To stay ahead one cannot depend on translation anymore.

The implications for UKM was large because abandoning the Malay language was totally unacceptable, a situation described in the Malay saying as “to swallow is to kill the father, to vomit is to kill the mother”. The Malay language is the reason for UKM’s establishment. It is a symbol and vehicle for unity.

As a national university UKM has to be creative in preserving the symbol of unity and yet not be oblivious to the importance of English. Today UKM adheres to the English language policy for the science and mathematics based courses but requires all students to write the final academic paper in Malay. To give greater space for the use and mastery of English as a global language, UKM is turning residential colleges into English speaking zones.

Celebrating cultural diversity
Being a microcosm of society at large and having a student population that closely reflects the ethnic composition of the country, UKM seizes the opportunity to further the goals of national unity and regional integration (with Sabah and Sarawak). Ethnic based arts and cultural activities and festivities are encouraged to foster and promote inter ethnic understanding. The only conditions imposed are that the organising committees and participation in the celebration of cultural diversity must also be multi ethnic. The understanding is that UKM students should be the living demonstration and model of inter ethnic understanding and unity that would guarantee a better future for the nation.

In addition UKM has established several research institutes to help clarify issues facing the nation and to offer creative solutions. These include the:

• Institute of Malaysian and International Studies (IKMAS) which focuses on globalization issues
• Institute of the Malay World and Civilisation (ATMA) which has an extensive collection of works about the Malay world and internationalises our identity and heritage through ATMA portal
• Institute Islam Hadhari to study the development model proposed under this concept
• Institute of Ethnic Studies, for greater understanding of the social dynamics of ethnic relations in Malaysia, and to engage in community-based advocacy for long-term sustainable and harmonious ethnic relations.
• conducting comparative studies with other ethnically-plural societies from all over the world to learn more of the strengths and weakness of our system.
• Institute of Occidental Studies which studies the Occidents through Malaysian eyes
• Institute of West Asian Studies which focuses on systematic understanding of a region which is becoming very important for Malaysia.

Community engagement

Community engagement is essential for social change. By directly putting the University’s expertise/resources in participatory, bottom-up, people-centered development, UKM has managed to enhance the quality, social relevance and effectiveness of its educational and research programmes, through links to the ‘real’ society/world

In teaching and learning the community becomes the living classroom for students to learn in a holistic manner and where their volunteerism will result in a wholesome individual and responsible citizenry. In one of the worst floods in a southern state this year, student volunteers helped in the rehabilitation efforts. Community engagement is an excellent way to achieve the lerning outcomes expected from the UKM graduate. Apart from the traditional knowledge and practical skills aspects, students are exposed to teaching and learning experiences and are assessed to ensure that they have achieved competences in seven other domains. These include social responsibility, professionalism, values and attitudes, communication and team skills, critical thinking and problem solving skills and life long learning skills.

In research, partnership with the community results in better policy formulation and programmes for community development as well as application of scientific inventions in areas such as poverty eradication, health promotion, environmental conservation, and disease prevention. An example is the solar energy research where stand alone solar panels are tested in remote villages which can make a difference to the quality of life of the Orang Asli or indigenous people by providing power for productive activities and communication.


The cultural mission of a university is pervasive in all its functions of teaching, research and community engagement. It is driven by values, ethical principles and convictions that are dear to us, which are deep in our hearts, which appeal to us, and what matter in our lives. It is something that we will fight to preserve. They motivate us as individuals and collectively as an institution to shape our decision making and actions in a balanced and moral manner.

However values alone are inconsequential. It has to be translated into acts such as caring, concern, mutual respect, collegiality, consultation, inclusion and representation, equity and fairness, gratitude (mengenang budi), integrity, respect for elders (kung fu tze), refined and civilized manners (sopan-santun), professionalism, and priority for quality.

Values don’t come automatically. They must be cultivated and nurtured through leadership, governance and personal experiences that foster shared values, shared mission and a shared vision even if there is a dichotomy of values. When staff, students and the community understand the differences, they will negotiate to resolve conflicts together for a common goal and to support what they help create.

The university has also got to establish appropriate structures (e.g. office for university-community partnership) and policies to support and ensure that values are preserved and transmitted in ethical practices. At the end of the day even when the university can show astounding economic excellence, what matters most is how a university is judged by its moral standards.

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