University governance and achieving agenda 30 goals
Emeritus Professor Tan Sri Dato' Dzulkifli Abdul Razak
Opinion - The New Strait Time
May 17, 2019
The 7th Asia-Europe Rectors’ Conference was recently held in Bucharest, Romania, with the theme Higher Education Taking Action Towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): Perspective from Asia and Europe.
THE 7th Asia-Europe Rectors’ Conference (ARC7) and Students’ Forum ended on a high note last week.
Attended by participants from more than 100 countries, including all 51 Asia-Europe members, it saw over 200 university and student leaders participating in debates and discussions hosted by Bucharest, the capital of Romania, proudly the current president of the European Union.
Following the conference, education ministers from the two regions deliberated on the outcomes over the next two days. The coming together of the various sectors in the regions lend an aura of seriousness which began through partnerships and dialogues on education since 20 years ago.
This year’s theme: Higher Education Taking Action Towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): Perspective from Asia and Europe — set the educational focus given the dire state of the world today.
Specific to Europe, it recalled the crises and upheavals that plagued the region then, namely, the genocide and breaking-up of the Balkans, and today the problems related to mass migration and racism. Whereas in Asia, the May 13 tragedy in Malaysia was cited, coinciding with the first day of ARC7, and of late it saw a myriad of extreme violence.
Against this background, ARC7 faces new challenges to work towards an enduring sustainable transformation. Then, disseminating it far and wide through education impacting the larger canvas of humanity, if lasting solutions are to be found. This complexity is symbolised by the Rubik’s Cube logo used for ARC7. Yet there is no shortage of possible approaches that could be deployed through multilateral dynamism cutting across all barriers.
As such ARC7 aptly started “to discover the different facets of a university”. And what it must to do, for without the proper delivery of (sustainable) “education”, nothing is said to be possible in the long haul. This point is often missed as the university has morphed beyond recognition into a “factory-like” entity delivering “instant businesses” defying the ethos of “education”.
In contrast, for Romania, the campus was the eye of the transformation that shaped its future as is it today with the support of the Romanian people. The then leaders were corrupted and frivolous. The Palace of the Parliament (where ARC7 was held) was initially intended for a new kind of “monarch” in all its splendour — opulent and oppressive. Malaysians attending the conference could not but see the close resemblance of what is now happening at home.
With the theme emphatic on SDGs, it is a strong metaphor for transformation centred on education by taking the appropriate action. The aim is to build understanding between forces that are unaware of each other — for, collectively, they are able to address problems gnawing the world and its seven billion population.
To some, it may be a process of progressive self-denial in trying to bring about equality and socio-economic justice. Especially for those who have been depriving others by living on borrowed (and “stolen”) resources beyond their means — be they individually, institutionally, nationally and more so globally.
Worst, if this happens interregionally since between the two regions one has been documented to live on resources of more than one planet (three to be more exact), and it is reasonable to suspect that is at the expense of countries from the other region now wallowing in poverty.
To remedy this imbalance, ARC7 ventured into three different levels of actionable discourse: SDGs as core pillars of university governance, as drivers of social impact (which I got to speak on), and as a catalyst to reorient internationalisation. They were rich and thought-provoking sessions that delved on practical solutions and opportune experiences rather than rhetorical statements to change the future without being specific in the context of governance, social impact and internationalisation at least.
More so, to align all these towards policy directions in shaping Agenda 2030 by breaking down the walls of academia (read more autonomous and accountable) by using the whole-institution transformation approach, physically and mentally as well as intellectually.
While the former is recognised to be important and politically expedient, the latter two are crucial for survival in crafting “a future we want”. After all, they make the “soul” of the university feeding forward to the future generations as leaders in the making.
Thus, reflecting back to the question of discovering the different facets of university, the clarification of its raison d’etre must be reinstated, viz., meeting greater societal needs beyond just that of the industry which is a subset of the former.
This is vital since so much of societal needs are still unmet and worsening. This could be factored to the distorted construct of so-called “education” which, like Malaysia, has existed for decades in oblivion. In our case, the oblivion includes that of our own “Falsafah Pendidikan Kebangsaan” (National Education Philosophy) as spelt out in the Education Act.
On this note, it cannot be overemphasised that without any reference, let alone embracing the philosophy, we are just dabbling on the “business” of education.
And not “education” in sustainable ways as crystallised in many of the ARC7 sessions for Asia and Europe to move forward in partnership to reconstruct the future using the different facets of education for SDGs.