THE unveiling of 10 shifts in the Higher Education Blueprint opens up new vistas to take the country's tertiary education to the next level. I recall the Accelerated Programme for Excellence (Apex) announced on Aug 27, 2007 by the then prime minister, Datuk Seri (now Tun) Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, an equally bold and innovative idea to achieve the same.
The Apex initiative was grounded on the principles of 3As: autonomy, accountability and audit. I thought they were just the right ingredients for success. It was framed as part of the "education revolution" introduced by Pak Lah at a dialogue with the National Economic Action Council in January 2004 where he posed a familiar question: "Is the younger generation passing through our national education system adequately equipped to thrive in an increasingly global and competitive environment?"
His response pointed to the fact that Malaysia needed "nothing less than an education revolution to ensure that our aspirations to instil a new performance culture." It sounded like a clarion call to "revolutionise", not just transform or reform education.
Fresh ideas rushed to the mind unleashing creative thoughts not just because Malaysia needs them but also because we were transiting into a new century.
The searching question that followed was: how do you revolutionise an education system created in the 19th century industrial age to fit into that of the 21st century post-industrial age?
This is indeed the extent of the revolution that was conceived especially when we were inundated with new (though at times hollow) jargon like innovative economy, knowledge society or social entrepreneurship.
Yet the "engine" – note the industrial metaphor – that fuels any one of these jargon remained locked in an old industrial mindset. So we hit the nail right on the head – another industrial metaphor – when the Apex initiative was conceived on that eventful day. The rest is history.
Thus on Sept 3, 2008 after some technical delays, a Malaysian university was announced to qualify for the unique Apex status following a bidding process involving nine other universities.
This was reinforced further by thorough on-site visits to ascertain that there was a firm commitment and preparedness in executing the "education revolution" as it were. An expert committee of locals and foreigners was at hand to ensure that the right decision was made in a transparent way because the stakes for the nation were high.
True to the spirit of an education revolution the idea of a sustainability-led university was selected to support an overarching theme: Transforming Higher Education for a Sustainable Tomorrow. This came just after the United Nations declared in July 2005 the beginning of the UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (2005-2014).
The same Malaysian university was then picked as one of the seven pioneering universities globally to be the only regional centre of expertise (RCE) on education for sustainable development in the Asean region. Given a three-year head start before the Apex initiative, it set a very strong foundation to forge ahead, what with the network of more than 120 RCEs worldwide, a decade later.
The trajectory of a pioneering sustainability-led university seemed well placed emerging from an intense scenario planning exercise.
Fast forward, today the Apex agenda as a shift clearly spelt out in Thrust 4 of the Higher Education Strategic Plan (2007-2020) seems to have taken a back seat, if at all.
This arises from a number of questions as to whether the Apex agenda is mission accomplished come 2013? Or is it still on-going as featured in an official compilation, accessible on the website, entitled "The APEX University Second Phase: 2014-2025 (Version 1.0)?"
It spews confusion by the use of Apex University yet the rather longish phase 2 (more than double that of phase 1).
But then it has an almost similar time frame to that of the national blueprint of 2015-2025 which lends much hope that the Apex agenda is well entrenched in the blueprint. After all the Apex agenda is no less transformative in its aspiration.
Sadly the agenda is not embraced in the newly hailed 10 shifts, confirmed by the disturbing recent physical development taking place at the hallowed University in the Garden.
All these come across as nagging evidence that the once glowing idea of a 21st century sustainability-led campus is somewhat dimming. And that the Apex initiative, a couple of years into the said phase 2, is somehow losing the plot.

Teks : Prof. Tan Sri Dato' Dzulkifli Abdul Razak
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