INAUGURAL MESSAGE BY DR. MOK SOON CHONG
VICE-CHANCELLOR OF NEW ERA UNIVERSITY COLLEGE
I will use this inaugural message to address a few outstanding issues in the path towards Chinese higher education in Malaysia.
New Era College and Malaysia’s Chinese Education
Malaysia’s Chinese higher education began in 1955 with the founding of Nanyang University. Following its eventual closure, coupled with the official rejection of the proposed Merdeka University, the hopes for the future are now entrusted to three community-funded colleges in the country. New Era College, established by an entity of Dong Jiao Zong, is one of these colleges.
Following the administrative row of 2008, the College is now back on track and submitted an application for university college status in July 2011. The outcome of the 2008 general election has also enhanced the prospects of Chinese education. Now is an opportune moment to strive for upgrading. The rise of China is driving the rapid expansion of Chinese education in Southeast Asia. New Era College will seize the moment to ride on the winds of change.
To attain further development, New Era College has to reaffirm its mission and role in keeping with the aspirations of the Chinese community to establish a university of their own. It will then complete the set-up of Chinese education from the primary to tertiary levels. The new university will continue to practise an educational philosophy based on multi-lingualism instead of the unrealistic policy of mono-lingualism.
What type of “Chinese University”?
The bitter experience with Nanyang and Merdeka universities has not dampened the hopes of the Chinese community for a “Chinese University”. These hopes now rest on three community-funded colleges. Yet, within the operation of Malaysian laws, they are not “Chinese” colleges in the mould as envisaged by the Chinese community.
The setting up of a “Chinese University” is not merely a matter of legality but ought to be based on rational approaches to promote multi-culturalism and to cope with the demands of the changing economy. Hence, the nurturing of future talents has to go beyond the emphasis of the Chinese language alone. Indeed, the Chinese community and Dong Jiao Zong acknowledge the wisdom of the multi-cultural approach in education. There is a firm commitment to the study of the National Language and English. It is recognized that the future prospects of students are determined by their command of different languages to compete in the market.
Sensitive to market requirements, New Era College offers courses in business administration and accounting in English and those in mass media and counseling in Mandarin. English is a global language and Mandarin is not just a medium of instruction but that of a rapidly emerging China. Students proficient in the National Language who are equally versatile in Chinese and English will increase their competiveness and prospects. In the long run, the cumulative contributions of the College alumni to the nation will gather momentum. To date, out of 29 separate courses of study, ten are conducted in Chinese. All have won the stamp of approval of the Ministry of Higher Education. The recent approval for courses in Traditional Chinese Medicine by a local university is indicative of the versatility of higher education in the country.
The pioneering efforts of New Era College have added a special distinctiveness to private institutions of higher learning. It is able to strike a balance in the use of different languages in the spirit of multi-culturalism. Indeed, the College is putting into effect a core principle that the Chinese community has always been advocating.
The desire for a “Chinese University” is one that accords with the reality of the times. But it is not a university that insists on a single medium of instruction as this will go against the flow of events. In short, in striving for a “Chinese University”, we must not ignore the importance of the multi-cultural approach in the pursuit of our educational ideals.
Reaching Out to Serve Southeast Asia in the Spirit of Nanyang University
Nanyang University was set up in Singapore through the combined efforts of Malayan Chinese of all walks of life. Although abolished in 1980, it remains as a symbol of an undying spirit in the promotion of Chinese education. New Era College is the continuation of this spirit and in the pursuit of a community-funded university.
“Nanyang” embodies the idea of Southeast Asia. Nanyang University was set up in response to the higher education needs of the Chinese in Southeast Asia as a whole. This community still longs for the re-establishment of a university that can answer its aspirations. New Era College’s mission is to serve these larger regional needs to instill a greater meaning and purpose to its existence.
In an increasingly competitive age, reaching out to Southeast Asia is imperative. The region has a large Chinese population and is witnessing a revival of Chinese education, a trend in which Dong Jiao Zong as the regional secretariat of Chinese education plays a positive part. New Era College has set up a network of links that forms the basis for collaboration to stimulate future development. One of the most urgent needs of the region is the supply of trained teachers. There is a similarly urgent need for suitable teaching materials.
Dependence on China alone will not solve the long-term problems of Chinese education in the region. New Era College launched its teacher training programme in 2010 precisely to help raise a professional corps of Mandarin teachers. It is currently working closely with Indonesia to popularize the idea throughout the country.
A journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step. The College is now ready to accept foreign students. Encouraging Southeast Asian students to enroll in the College is our priority. We will then spread our wings beyond the region to reach out to the world.
Towards a Complete Chinese Education System
New Era College cannot limit its student intake only among Chinese school graduates. This would be tantamount to adopting a mono-ethnic policy that goes against the college’s principle of multi-culturalism. Right from the beginning the College has accepted students based not on language streams but purely on academic merit. For students who wish for further exposure to the Chinese language, the College plays an enabling role to meet their needs. Students enrolled in English-medium courses are also taught the fundamentals of Mandarin. It is this role that imbues the college with a meaningful mission in nurturing future talents.
Besides providing access to higher learning to students irrespective of their language backgrounds, New Era College conducts teacher training and other specialized courses in collaboration with foreign universities. These efforts are a direct contribution to the healthy development of Chinese secondary schools and the further improvement of the entire Chinese education system in the country.
From the Community to the Community: Creating a “Chinese University”
Early Chinese education saw the need to perpetuate the culture of the Chinese community lest it lost its cultural roots. Having built up a fairly complete Chinese school system, the wish is for a university of the community. But this wish has to be tempered with a sense of reality. Such a university is meant neither to serve only the community nor to teach courses relevant only to Chinese culture.
With much improved access to higher education in Greater China, the justification for a local “Chinese University” to serve the special demand of Chinese school graduates is no longer tenable. Instead, apart from teaching a wide range of courses to suit the tastes of students, the route to a New Era University with distinctive characteristics should be sought through niche functions. One is the commitment to the study and research on local Chinese culture and history, and the compilation of different types of records and materials for preservation and future reference. Related to this is the emphasis on inter-ethnic relations and issues that concern national harmony and unity. The other is to widen its role as a centre for professional instruction and training in Mandarin to local and foreign students to take advantage of a trend that is global in scope. In this manner, the future university will act as an effective bridge among different ethnic groups and between Malaysia and countries in Southeast Asia and the Greater China region.
Towards a University with Unique Characteristics
The interests and progress of Malaysian Chinese education justify the existence of a community-funded university with certain unique features. New Era College is unique in that it is nurtured by Chinese education and the community and its special role in serving the demand for Chinese education in Southeast Asia. It will, within its limited capabilities, concentrate on performing selected niche functions and to exploit new avenues of specializations to build upon past achievements and to consolidate its position.
With its origins rooted in the tradition of Chinese education and enjoying a legitimate place among institutions of higher learning in the country, the existence of New Era College as a “Chinese College” is officially acknowledged. Its healthy progress will ensure the development of Chinese culture and the nurturing of talents. In the performance of these important functions, the College will work with dedication and commitment, and to maintain a healthy concern for issues of national interests. The long-term prospects of the College will outlive its current moderate size and will grow with the steadfast determination and broad vision of the College leadership and all who wish it well.
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