UNIVERSITY autonomy is defined as the devolution of major decisions previously made by central agencies such as the Treasury, Public Service Department, Higher Education Ministry and Malaysian Qualifications Agency to the governing board of the respective universities that will contribute significantly towards achieving excellence.
It requires accountability in managing resources in four main areas, namely institutional governance, finance, human resource as well as academic and student enrolment.
The first principle area involves the board of directors and governance board of the university. The two boards are key decision makers in the university subject to government regulations and directives.
The boards manage and utilise the university’s generated revenues by implementing internal rules and procedures.
The autonomous status also enables the boards to approve the establishment of a faculty or centre as well as new programmes which are not under the purview of the government.
Higher Education Department director-general Datin Paduka Dr Siti Hamisah Tapsir said the boards of directors of autonomous universities are empowered to approve internal allocations for the establishment of the faculty, centre and programmes.
New programmes, however, still need to be accredited by the Malaysian Qualifications Agency.
To enable public universities to be granted autonomous status, the Higher Education Ministry conducted a series of audits to evaluate their readiness.
In 2012 and 2013, seven public tertiary institutions obtained autonomous status with another six in 2014 and 2015.
Today, all 20 public universities have autonomous status. The last six public universities — Universiti Malaysia Perlis, Universiti Sultan Zainal Abidin, Universiti Malaysia Kelantan, Universiti Pertahanan Nasional Malaysia, Universiti Perguruan Sultan Idris, and Universiti Malaysia Sabah — were recently granted autonomous status after passing a re-audit exercise.
MANAGING AUTONOMOUS STATUS
THE public universities autonomous programme was introduced in 2012 under the National Higher Education Strategic Plan in a paradigm shift towards more effective tertiary education management.
The delegation of power between the universities and other central agencies was conducted in stages.
In his New Year’s speech in 2012, then Higher Education Minister Datuk Mohamed Khaled Nordin announced that the five oldest public universities in the country, would be granted autonomous status to self-govern, manage finances and generate sources of income.
They can manage their resources including hiring and firing staff, and have full control over the academic management of the institution including student intakes, provided that the universities succeeded in meeting the mark after an audit as set by the Code of University Good Governance and University Good Governance Index.
Siti Hamisah said the autonomous status improves competitiveness and performance of public universities by giving them more flexibility in decision-making and to devise and implement their own strategies without government over-regulation, political interference and micromanagement.
“It is very much the university’s prerogative privilege to engage in any strategic decision-making process including engagement in entrepreneurial activities, adapting to changing external demands, attracting and retaining quality staff, and creating incentives for developing research strategies and portfolios.
“This status will also bring back and expand the university’s traditional functions of teaching, research, scholarship and innovation to meet the wide-ranging needs of globally connected knowledge societies.”
Siti Hamisah added that the power of public universities to manage their resources is not absolute and is subject to the government and ministry’s policies and strategies.
For example, universities must adhere to circulars by the Treasury, with the chairman of the university’s board of directors as the authority to assume the role of the Treasury in protecting the interests of the government.
“Therefore, certain key performance indexes (KPIs), which include the universities generating 20 to 30 per cent of their income by 2020, were established to monitor the performance of public universities.
“This is to reduce dependency on the government and to empower public universities in accomplishing greater success.”
Another KPI assesses the rates of graduate employability where 80 per cent have to be employed within one year upon graduation.
Public universities are expected to contribute significantly to the country’s aim to become a high-income economy by producing highly competent graduates and commercialising research output.
“The ministry promotes the role of academicians in pushing the frontiers of knowledge as well as creating new value and contributing to economic growth. With autonomy, we expect the universities to respond to societal expectations which is not only crucial to the new era of higher education ecosystems but also to the achievement of educational excellence, innovation and internationalisation in the technology convergence era.
“The best university, according to international standards, is one which benefits local and international communities in a sustainable way.”