Slashed university funding has more to do with JPM’s increased funding than “graduates’ marketability” KPI

Speech by DAP National Political Education Director and Member of Parliament for Kluang Liew Chin Tong at Forum Kedai Kopi in Tauran, Sabah, on 12 November 2015 during the “Pantang Undur: Solidarity with Lim Kit Siang campaign”

Prime Minister Najib Razak was reported as saying that the marketability of graduates will become a new criteria for the amount of funding each public university receives.

“I have agreed that part of the university’s KPI is on marketability of graduates. If we can have such KPI, the employability of the graduates will be high and in future, we will increase the budget for the universities,” Najib told the audience at a Skim Latihan 1Malaysia (SL1M) programme in Kuala Lumpur today.

The Prime Minister’s statement is both patronising and absurd.

Budget 2016 saw massive cuts for the education sector, with 19 out of 20 public university budgets slashed. I must point out that the reduction in funding for higher education was not because of standards of academic performance or ‘marketablity’ of graduates, but because the Prime Minister’s Department has taken the lion’s share of the budget.

The JPM’s record RM20.3 billion allocation is the highest ever percentage of the budget in history, at the same time allocation for most other ministries’ experienced deep cuts.

I have also highlighted the fact that RM8.5 billion of the JPM budget is slush fund-like or “dana ikut suka hati Najib” which is at the disposal of the Prime Minister without much cabinet or parliamentary scrutiny.

Secondly, I would like to correct Najib that the purpose of universities are not just about improving the ‘marketability’ of graduates. Universities are institutions of higher learning, not just factories to produce canned “employable graduates” from the assembly line.

The twin core missions of universities are to create and generate knowledge through research and to transmit knowledge through publications as well as education. Therefore, ‘marketibility’ or ’employablity’ of graduates are not the only criteria to rate a university.

Thirdly, Najib’s comment that public works like MRT can generate jobs for graduates is either an outright lie or a reflection of his inability to understand economics. Big projects benefit big contractors associated with the ruling party. These contractors often hire massive number of unskilled foreign workers. There would be very little job spillover for ordinary Malaysians

I call on the Prime Minister to review Budget 2016 to slash the JPM budget and restore the budget for universities so as not to stifle the higher education sector. The funds should be channeled to carry out the major reforms our universities need to improve and become truly world-class.

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