As Malaysia works towards achieving a high-income status by 2020, the conversation for a more decentralised education system should be increased, says Jeffrey Cheah Institute (JCI) president, Professor Woo Wing Thye.
“We think the education system is something that really needs to be looked at, as it requires changes such as addressing the role of the private sector,” Woo told The Edge Financial Daily on the sidelines of a media briefing.
Woo said that the mismatch of talent in the workforce claimed by employers can be linked to the overcentralised local education system.
“The ministry of education has too much regulatory power over approval and design of curriculum. It’s hard to believe that in a world of rapid technology, you could have a bureaucracy deciding what the science syllabus ought to be. The schools should be given greater flexibility in what they choose to do,” he urged.
“[Education] is used traditionally for social engineering rather than for economic construction. I think that it is time to reduce the social engineering aspect of it, and embrace quality,” said Woo.
“Decentralisation is needed for the country to innovate and remain competitive. If you are centralised then you all think alike,” he said.
Woo also called for fiscal decentralisation in education, adding that developed countries are increasingly allowing for state or privately funded education institutions.
“We are seeing the emergence of what has happened in Korea and Japan. You begin to have people who are philanthropists, who instead of leaving behind temples, they choose to leave behind universities and hospitals, instead. The result is these people will put in their own money and energy to create universities and hospitals of world class.
“For example, Sunway University is owned by [a] philanthropic foundation. It is not a profit-generating university. I think that Malaysia can have more and more of this kind of arrangement as the government relaxes control,” said Woo.
“Stop putting restrictions on the private university to compete with the public university,” Woo urged.
The professor hoped this topic could be discussed at the upcoming economic seminar that is being jointly hosted by JCI and the Malaysian Economic Association.
The seminar, themed “Revisiting the New Economic Model — Lags and prospects” will take place in the form of four sessions from Aug 1 to Oct 31 here and in Penang.
It will also discuss the state of the Malaysian economy and the policy reforms needed to increase investor confidence.