Research World, Volume 11, 2014
Online Version

Article A11.2

Constitutive Ideas for Asian Universities of the Future

Shad Saleem Faruqi
Emeritus Professor of Law, Universiti Teknologi MARA (UiTM), Malaysia

Published Online: January 06, 2014

Note. An earlier version of this article was presented at the Sixth International Conference on University Learning and Teaching (Jointly organised by the Faculty of Education, UiTM, Malaysia in collaboration with University of Hertfordshire, UK, University of South Australia, and Ohio University, USA), in Shah Alam, Selangor, Malaysia, during November 20-21, 2012.

1. Introduction

A university is a temple of learning and a storehouse of the knowledge and wisdom of the past. It is a receptacle of art, culture, and science, and a mirror of humanity’s great heritage. At the same time it is a laboratory for testing out a new vision of the future.

In more than four decades as a teacher, I have witnessed the ebb and flow of many educational ideologies and movements. I have to confess that not all of them leave me with the warm glow of being at the right place and doing the right thing.

2. Orientation Towards the Professions

It is entirely understandable that universities should link up with the professions, devise curricula that satisfy qualifying boards, and require students to do practical training, periods of attachment and apprenticeship. At the same time excessive profession-orientedness distorts university education in many ways:

(a) A university’s role is far broader and richer than that of a profession. Universities are supposed to build lives and characters, not just careers.

(b) No matter what one’s profession is going to be, there is need for liberal education, and some immersion in language, literature, and the arts. In their concern with narrow professional goals, many modern universities adopt curricula that are not broad based. The result is that students grow up with no preparation to appreciate culture, beauty, and human feelings. The problem is acute in Malaysia because most professional courses in this country are post-secondary and do not require a degree at entry point.

(c) If a university is true to its name, it must provide holistic education and produce well-balanced graduates who have professionalism as well as idealism, knowledge as well as wisdom, an understanding of the realities as well as a vision of what ought to be. Merely supplying technically-sound but morally-neutral human cogs in an industrial wheel to contribute to high production figures will not, in the long range, lead to enlightened development of human capital or society.

3. Over-Specialisation

Our educational system is committed to developing specialisation. We are teaching more and more about less and less. We are producing square pegs for square holes. Production of enough professionals and technocrats for the industries and the job market is an overriding goal. However there is sufficient evidence that half or more than half the graduates end up in roles outside of their university training.

In an age of globalisation, economic booms and busts, and high unemployment rates, there is a growing disconnect between what students study and what their subsequent careers are. It is therefore necessary to have split-degree courses, train students in multidisciplinary approaches, prepare them for multi-tasking, and produce graduates who have career flexibility and who are able to adapt to different challenges at work.

4. Community Links

All university courses must have an idealistic component of service to society. University faculties must straddle the divide between being profession-oriented and being people-oriented. The university must have strong community links and the curriculum must be so devised that staff and students are involved in addressing social problems. Their involvement is to be encouraged in supervised social service roles from adult education to provision for free legal, medical, and technical aid, participation in well thought-out schemes for eradicating poverty, providing fresh water, flood and storm control, protection from disease, and building of facilities for recreation. All these must be linked with the broader concern for environmental sustainability.

Tailor-made short-term courses for targeted groups should be devised to sensitise them to their rights and duties. These courses should have no formal entry requirement. The so-called town-gown relationships should extend to links with civil-society organisations, government-linked companies, and even international issue-based groups that are involved in wholesome pursuits such as like environmental protection.

5. Research

The crucial, core factor in a university’s eminence is qualified academics with proven research abilities and a solid commitment to lead and inspire their wards to travel up the mountainous path of knowledge. A university cannot become an acclaimed university unless it possesses a large number of scholars who are the voice of the professions and who not only reflect the light produced by others but are in their own right a source of new illumination for the world.

However, in some cases, emphasis on research is leading to a number of adverse tendencies: teaching is being neglected. Committed teachers are being bypassed in tenure and promotions, in favour of enterprising researchers.

Instead of singling out and supporting good researchers, wherever they are found, the Malaysian approach is to anoint some universities with “Apex” or “Research University” status and shower them with special grants. Innovators in other universities are thereby disadvantaged.

Research has various components: capacity, productivity, and utility. The first (capacity) can be developed. Sadly, often it becomes an end in itself. The second (productivity) does not necessarily follow from the first. The third (utility) is spectacularly lacking. A great deal of research is a fašade: it is for show, for the purpose of statistical record and has no impact on the alleviation of social problems. Prestige overrides public purpose. There is a definite gap between production of knowledge and its use in policy and practice, and in responding to development related challenges.

6. Seeking the Best Students

At the risk of sounding heretic, I wish to say that this modern obsession with seeking “the best students” is not conducive to social justice. Highly motivated, intelligent, and articulate students make teaching a pleasure. But what is even more satisfying is to take ordinary students and facilitate their blossoming into extraordinary persons.

I believe that the entry points to university programmes should be flexible. These should be based on holistic criteria. These should reflect awareness of initial environmental handicaps faced by various social groups. Universities should be cognizant that equitable access to knowledge is a factor in sustainable development. This would further the university’s role in facilitating social and economic progress, to cut poverty, and to bring discrimination to an end.

I believe that entry points are less important than exit points. How a student ends the race is more important than how he/she began it. All universities should be required to run some remedial programmes for under-achievers and to practise affirmative action for the marginalised sections of the population.

7. Decolonisation

The buzz words today are internationalisation and globalisation. Indeed their tide is so strong that it must not be resisted; instead it must be harnessed in our service.

At the same time we need to develop a consciousness that Asian education is heavily one-sided and suffers from a Western bias. Our programmes of education, curricula, textbooks, and icons are all European and American. It is as if the whole of Asia and Africa is, and always was, an intellectual desert. In fact, the opposite is more true. For this reason, Asian universities must build their citadels of knowledge with flowers from many gardens. That would be true globalisation.

8. Technical and Information Literacy

All campuses must take steps to enhance technical literacy in the use of computers, smart devices, and other tools in their curricula. With the availability of multimedia facilities, distance learning programmes can be facilitated across geographic boundaries.

With the incorporation of the above approaches, a balance could be achieved between the ideals of the past and the felt necessities of the current times.

Suggested Citation: Faruqi, S. S. (2014). Constitutive ideas for Asian universities of the future. Research World, 11, Article A11.2. Retrieved from http://www1.ximb.ac.in/RW.nsf/pages/A11.2

Copyleft The article may be used freely, for a noncommercial purpose, as long as the original source is properly acknowledged.

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