Thankful to the alma mater

Professor Tan Sri Dato' Dzulkifli Abdul Razak
My View - The Sun Daily
October 24, 2018

YESTERDAY I had the good fortune of being recognised by my alma mater on the 56th convocation of the university. Such an event is always a highlight for any institution as it is the time to take stock of how the university is delivering and maturing vis-a-vis in fulfilling its role and responsibility, not as an Ivory Tower of days gone by, or increasingly as Trading Post as it is made out to be, but more as Custodian of Trust for the rakyat at large. More so as a public institution paid by the public to ensure that their welfare is well looked after as the university makes a name for itself.

As an alumni, I would like to address such expectations, particularly in relation to this convocation as it coincided with three major events that have very intimate associations with the university. To miss them is to miss a golden opportunity to live by its impulsive slogan: "Kami Memimpin" (We Lead), which is close to the hearts of all who had sampled the exquisite experiences of the Universiti Pulau Pinang, Universiti Sains Malaysia dualism.

Let us start with the 10th anniversary award of the Apex status that took place on Sept 4, 2008. It is certainly a memorable Kami Memimpin phenomenon by any count because the university stood as one in committing itself to "excellence" that is explicit in the acronym Apex – accelerated programme for excellence (read transformation for the future). There took place a spectrum of unlearning and relearning that was systematically and meticulously undertaken in very participatory and consultative ways. After a decade of such a process, where is it now and what is next?

To respond to these questions in any meaningful way is to recall that this year saw that concept of sustainable development being introduced some 30 years ago by the United Nations (UN). The aim, to safeguard the welfare of inhabitants of the ailing planet Earth. After all, the Apex initiative was crafted on a similar theme as a sustainability-led university with the tagline "Transforming Higher Education for a Sustainable Tomorrow".

The link between the UN and the Apex agenda is without a doubt intimate. What more, when the university was honoured in 2005 as one of seven pioneering UN University acknowledged regional centres of expertise (RCE) on education for sustainable development (ESD) worldwide. Since the RCE was fashioned as the precursor of a university of the future, it compounded the question as to how futuristic the Apex scenario is moving forward given today's untold crisis-prone (unsustainable) world. What lies ahead in living up to its Apex tagline of 10 years ago?

Yet this is not the end of it all because this year too is the 30th anniversary of the National Education Philosophy of Malaysia, better know as Falsafah Pendidikan Negara, later Kebangsaan (FPK). It may come as a surprise to many that the FPK was first crafted in 1988 – a year short of SD in 1987.

Moreover, it is now abundantly clear that the FPK is arguably an excellent conduit in paving ways to attaining ESD and its five overarching goals of Peace, Prosperity, People, Planet and Partnership.

In essence, the FPK advocates and aims at similar "sustainable" targets linked to the desired sustainability-led university of tomorrow (read Apex). It is therefore hard to imagine how the Apex ambition could be arrived at without taking the FPK into serious consideration in its overall implementation.

This includes creating an ambience that is balanced and harmonious, be it at the individual or community level as a living lab both at the micro- and macrocosmos respectively. This translates, in the words of the FPK, into an aura of "sejahtera" – a concept which was introduced by the university in the early 2000s through the unique Kampus Sejahtera initiative.

Hence, the ultimate question that needs to be asked: at what level is sejahtera today? That is, how sustainable is the campus as an indication of a balanced and harmonious lifestyle as well as the ecological makeup that supports such a desirable state of being? Is the campus a sejahtera living lab for all to experience?

This no doubt asserts another demand on the Kami Memimpin mantra, which, most of the time, has been the pride of its alumni in leading the way. And this cannot be more pressing in about a year from now when the university celebrates its Golden Jubilee on Oct 4. A day that is known as Hari Pemimpin, a tribute to the many leaders at all levels who have made the university what it is, some more impactful than others. Notably the founding vice-chancellor, the late Tan Sri Hamzah Sendut who dreamed it all.

On that day perhaps we will have all the forthcoming answers that the university truly deserves in asserting the Kami Memimpin role.

As for now, we are grateful to the alma mater for what it imparted and instilled in us, the need to stay ahead. For that can never be graceful enough in keeping the spirit of Kami Memimpin high on the agenda. The university needs to amply demonstrate this come its 50th anniversary in 2019, as a gesture of thanks to the alma mater.