Kota Kinabalu, Friday, 2 June 2017: “The news report that the Sabah government is only raising the appointment of the next Vice-Chancellor (VC) of UMS with the Minister of Higher Education is rather disappointing and proves that the current Sabah government do not have the best interests of Sabah and Sabahans at heart” said Datuk Dr. Jeffrey Kitingan, STAR Sabah Chief, in response to news that CM Musa is also seeking the appointment of a qualified Sabah to be the next VC of UMS in messages sent to the federal Education Minister.

The need for the Sabah government to raise the appointment of a Sabahan VC also proves that the federal government is insensitive to Sabahans’ aspirations and the inkling of the federal government towards non-compliance of the Borneonisation issue.

The Chief Minister and the Sabah government must have forgotten that PM Najib and the federal government agreed to devolve power and grant autonomy to Sabah and Sarawak. In fact, there is a federal Cabinet Committee looking into this aspect and correspondingly, there is also a State Cabinet Committee working on it.

It is also an aspiration of Sabahans to have autonomy in education. Part of the reason is that the federal education policy has failed Sabahans. This failure is a major contributing factor why Sabahans are exported as menial and low-paying workers to Malaya and Singapore.

It would have been a small initial step for the Chief Minister to seek the handing over of management and control of UMS to the Sabah government if the Sabah government was serious in seeking autonomy in education.  It would also be part of the devolution of federal power in education.

If UMS were indeed handed to the Sabah government, it could be managed autonomously by the Sabah government with a Sabah-centric management team.   With this autonomy, UMS could be developed on its own course into one of Malaysia’s premier universities.   It won’t be surprising if UMS produce world-class towering Malaysians especially Sabahans.

There is no dearth of world-class Sabahan academicians in UMS and working elsewhere in the world.  With autonomy including salary scales, those overseas Sabahans could be recruited to return to Sabah along with other international professors and lecturers.

The issue of handing over UMS would essentially be an issue of financing the operations. This issue is easily resolved creatively if one puts on the thinking cap.

Currently, UMS have about 850 academicians with another 1,150 supporting staff and its students spread over 3 campuses in Kota Kinabalu, Labuan and Sandakan.

While private local universities charge about RM50,000 to RM70,000 per student annually, the federal government can subside the UMS students, say, RM27,000 per student. With a 17,000 students’ enrolment, the UMS annual budget would be RM459 million.  

Assuming the present fees for local students are maintained, it will raise about RM61.5 million.   That would leave the federal government to fork out only RM397.5 million for the Sabah government to manage and operate UMS autonomously. This computation also serves to affirm that the 2017 budget allocated to UMS of RM242.45 million is grossly inadequate for UMS to operate professionally and efficiently.

UMS can continue with its foreign students’ enrolment and other programs which will contribute to its coffers in addition to partnership with the corporate sector on research and development programs.  Its private business arm could also focus on commercialization of the findings of the research and development programs.

When managed autonomously, UMS could then increase the intake of students from Sabah and Sarawak from the present 50%. The increased intake will further enhance human capital development and contribute to further progress and advancement of both nation-States. 

If the present Sabah government is unwilling to negotiate for the handing over of UMS from the federal government, Parti Solidariti Tanah Airku, in Gabungan Sabah, will willingly step up to the mantle to negotiate for it and education autonomy for Sabah, which is part of Gabungan Sabah’s 15 core objectives. This can be achieved through the 1-Federation 2-System advocated by Gabungan Sabah and public universities in Malaya can continue to be under the federal government.

Datuk Dr. Jeffrey Kitingan
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