Statement by the Malaysian Social Science Association
- The recent controversy over fake degrees, or degree from ‘degree mills’ and not being transparent regarding one’s qualifications especially among certain leaders of the new government, has once again brought two interrelated issues to the forefront: that of integrity, honesty and trustworthiness among leaders, and the ‘paper chase’ or credentialism which has been plaguing Malaysian society for several decades. Both such cases are nothing new as they have manifested before among certain leaders and members of the previous government, and also among various levels of society.
- While not denying the fact that the recent controversy was partly politically motivated and arose in the context of political rivalry between the Pakatan Harapan (PH) and Barisan Nasional (BN) especially UMNO, the principles of integrity, honesty and trustworthiness among leaders must be upheld. Leaders must be accountable for their claims of who they are and what they have achieved, and for their actions. Malaysia cannot be led by dishonest persons nor by power-crazy demagogues. We need honesty, integrity and accountability as well as humility among our leaders. These are the fundamentals for building ‘Malaysia Baharu’ (new Malaysia).
- At the same time, as part of building ‘Malaysia Baharu’, the question of the ‘paper chase’ or credentialism among society and the need for education reform must be addressed if we are serious in our commitment to merit and excellence in the field of education especially higher education. The pursuit and acquisition of university degrees by illicit means, either through ‘degree mill universities’, or through ‘ghost writing’ tactics, and other forms of cheating must not be condoned. If such practices are tolerated, or accepted as somehow ‘excusable’, then we are either not taking education seriously, or oblivious to the moral and practical implications of such acts. Morally, it is wrong because the pursuit of knowledge through education, is about the pursuit of Truth, and faking or lying about degrees is the very antithesis to truth as virtue. In terms of practical consequences, it would be disastrous to society because it licenses the acceptance of those who are incompetent and unqualified, as competent and qualified. Although the problem might be more serious in the case of professional qualifications such as in engineering, architecture or medicine, misrepresentation of one’s academic credentials in ‘non-professional’ fields could also bring about adverse effects to society and the nation. Taken together, both the moral as well as the practical imperative would imply that being deceptive about one’s own qualifications or academic credentials, is something which cannot be accepted or condoned. This is especially so when one’s appointment to public office, or position in the private sector, is tied to such credentials.
- But the fact that such occurrences do surface every now and then, and cannot be totally eliminated, suggest something more fundamental about the nature of society and the role of education and knowledge in our society. Because education has become a means towards achieving social mobility, the idea of knowledge as being tied to wealth, power, and position is somehow ingrained in the education and social system. In this regard, it is imperative that we revisit and revise the underlying assumptions and ethos undergirding our education system and its purpose, and re-examine the whole idea of education as a ‘field of competition’. Our education system must somehow balance individualism and collectivism, and inculcate values such as ‘co-operative learning’, at various stages in the education system.
- The system of evaluation too needs to be revised or revamped, so that examination results and certificates do actually reflect one’s own true credentials and abilities. The same goes for the issue of promotion among lecturers. One needs to tackle basic issues such as plagiarism, in the form of ‘cut and paste’ and other forms of ‘short cuts’ as well as plucking other people’s ideas without due acknowldgement among university students and even among lecturers very seriously. Morality and integrity in education must be taken as fundamental, and seriously observed across the board at all levels. An ethics-based education system would help to ensure that individuals act responsibly towards knowledge and the society which they serve, pre-requisites which are essential for the sustainability of any nation or society.
- The Malaysian Social Science Association registers its strong disapproval of dishonesty among leaders as well as any attempt to subvert the morality and credibility of the system of academic accreditation. We must build ‘Malaysia Baharu’ based on the principles of integrity, honesty and accountability as part of the reform agenda of the new government. The reform agenda must remain on track, and not be derailed
Malaysian Social Science Association (PSSM)
16 February 2019