THERE have been suggestions that the government engage academics as in-house consultants. As a matter of fact, this has been on-going albeit in an ad hoc manner.
The government has engaged academics to sit on various planning and implementation committees to get input on aspects of governance and management of matters ranging from economics, education to culture.
For example, the Ministry of Unity and Integration has an advisory body whose members include academics to advise the minister on matters pertaining to unity and integration.
Another one is the National Council on Heritage under the auspices of the Department of Heritage, Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture to deliberate on matters concerning the preservation and conservation as well as promotion of both tangible and intangible heritage.
Most ministries do engage academics for input and feedback on specific matters.
The involvement of academics depends on their field of expertise and the stature of the universities.
For example, in the early seventies and eighties academics and artists from Universiti Sains Malaysia’s School of Arts sat on numerous arts and culture committees of the then Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports and were instrumental in shaping the performing and visual arts programmes as well as conduct dance, music and theatre courses for practitioners all over the country.
In fact, the university conducted one-year arts and culture diploma course called Rancangan Seni Kreatif for officers from the ministry as well as independent practitioners. Those who completed this course were considered for the degree programme in the visual and performing arts.
This programme was terminated when the ministry set up the Akademi Seni Kebangsaan, now called Aswara, that now offers diploma and degree programmes.
Such collaboration is on-going, especially, in research and productions.
As recent as the second decade of the 21st century, the Ministry of Family and Women Affairs availed the expertise for arts therapy for special needs children, which was developed by Universiti Sains Malaysia researchers from the School of Arts.
From its early years, Universiti Sains Malaysia had the foresight of establishing The Centre for Policy Research to interact and engage the government through data collection for specific projects and evaluation of government policies as well as inputs on projects ranging from culture, education, economics, politics and health issues by marshalling the available expertise to sit in various national level committees and sub-committees.
At the same time, senior professors were seconded to various ministries such as Education, Culture and Health to helm various leaderships positions such as the director-general of Education for specific duration.
Some were even absorbed into the civil service as secretary-generals of various ministries.
Aside of this secondment, the involvement of academics has generally been on an ad hoc basis and mainly in an advisory capacity.
They do not have much impact on the overall policy decision and implementation, which are not solely based on rationalisation of data but also involves political and sectarian considerations.
To truly serve the government and the people, there is a need to upgrade the expertise of our academics, especially professors from our local universities.
Current elevation to professorial positions is solely based on publications and citations that may contribute to knowledge development but not on the actual contribution and engagement in the betterment and well-being of the society.
Professors should demonstrate their intellectual acumen not only through the development of new knowledge but also translating and transferring them to benefit students and the community at large and not let it remain idle as printed words in journals.
To achieve optimum leeway in various facets of governance, there must be synergy among the academics, industry and the leadership segment of the civil service in the best interest of the nation without any sectarian inclinations.
Granted that such consultative interactions are on-going process, it must, however, be systematised to fully engage the country’s varied expertise to gain maximum traction for the country and the people.
Mohamed Ghouse Nasuruddin is with Universiti Sains Malaysia’s Centre for Policy Research and International Studies.