The world of higher education does not seem so different from the jungles that Tiger roams, with its system of hiring the biggest and baddest as figureheads to scare away dissent. Or perhaps Tiger is mistaken, and these people were hired simply because they were incredible people. Looking at the current commoditised environment of the education sector, Tiger is afraid that may not be the case.
Tiger knows what it’s like to live in a hierarchy. The big cats on top, the small mousedeer and proletariat insects somewhere near the bottom. Even when the big cats are no longer at the top of their game, the rest of the jungle creatures cringe away from them in remembered fear.
Human society works in a similar fashion – although nowadays there seems to be the smell of rebellion in the air from the so-called peasants who don’t approve of how the big cats run things – and those on top are given opportunities to remain on top (or somewhere slightly above the regular person) once they leave their position of power.
Tiger is talking about former ministers and high-ranking ministry officials who go on to comfortably sit on the boards of universities and university colleges and colleges (so many names, but with no significant differences between them).
This kicks off an interesting cycle where they are invited to sit on these boards because of their former influence rather than their academic pursuits – and why would a school go forward with such an action if they do not expect anything in return.
These people are all investments, being paid cushy salaries to provide their experience. But how far does their experience go in an academic environment? If our education system were not so monetised and commercial-driven, perhaps the value of these former officials would be taken as it is. Many of them are former health ministry officials who must have been involved in policy and decision making when they were in office.
Unfortunately, we live in an environment where the misuse of power is rife. Ministers hire their children to work under them on the government’s payroll, million-dollar contracts are given out to spouses of ministers who then squander the money with no repercussions – everything is about who you know and how you can leverage from them.
So when you hear that former director-generals and deputy-director generals of health are now presidents, chairmans and pro-chancellors of medical schools, the mind of the average Malaysian does not go ‘oh good, competent people are taking these positions that involve the education of our future generation who may end up performing surgery on me in the operating room’.
Why not? Because we have a blatant practice of ‘rewarding’ those who have served the government well. And just because they have served the government well, does not mean they have served the people well.
Just look at the appointment of Mohamed Zahrain Hashim as ambassador to Indonesia with no prior diplomatic experience (politics doesn’t count), and even more absurd, the appointment of former Inspector-General of Police, Ismail Omar as ambassador to France. While the education appointments do not have the clear mismatch as evidenced here, the reward system is very much alive and kicking.
One cannot expect a former ministry official to keep him – or herself in their former style with merely a pensioners salary! Tigers cannot change their stripes (Tiger has tried, believing that leopard print would be a pimping change. Didn’t work).
With the Malaysian culture of kowtow and seniority winning every time over transparency and meritocracy, it is difficult to see how these appointments will not affect interactions with their former ministries, or with any ministry officials.
There will always be questions. Did they get preferential treatment when obtaining their license? Were they punished with leniency when they were caught breaking the rules, or worse, was a blind eye turned? Were they allowed to justify actions that would be unacceptable from others?
The education system here is one that is already beleaguered by questionable quality. Education providers should be sensitive to the perception of the public – although the fact it may be detrimental to their monetary benefit is a vital reason to not to consider it. Again it boils down to money, and when it comes to the choice of giving the impression of being aboveboard or the chance to hire someone who may be able to grease some wheels however inadvertently, the latter is an easier path.
This is just a small and rusty cog in the creaky machine of Malaysia’s education system that needs to be cleaned up. Until then, Tiger thinks that maybe private higher education providers should take their eyes off the prize and focus more on the quality.