Tuesday, August 30, 2005


Here's my simple Merdeka wish list for Education in Malaysia.

1. That young Malaysians of all races study in the same schools, share the same objectives and enjoy our rich ethnic and cultural diversity.

2. That no young Malaysians should be deprived of a fair opportunity at education because of race, gender or wealth, for education is the only equalising factor in an unfortunately unequal society.

3. That the best quality education be provided to our young Malaysians to help them become intelligent, responsible, hardworking and critical thinkers, so crucial to ensure Malaysia preserves its independence in the world map.

4. That the influence of politics be kept separate from the public policies in education to ensure a fair and meritocratic system which encourages the inquisition of the mind and the pursuit of academic excellence.

Happy Merdeka Day! :)

Bogus Universities? (III)

In an issue that I almost completely forgot - the third instalment of the Bogus Universities post (see Part I and Part II) - is to warn over eager Malaysian students who fall prey to unscrupulous agents marketing higher education qualifications of bogus universities.

The New Straits Times highlighted a complaint from the Irish Ambassador to Malaysia Daniel Mulhall on the 23rd July, calling on our Government to take action against the "Irish International University" for committing deception by parading itself as an Irish university.
"They do not offer any courses or conduct any classes in Ireland. I find the name is itself a deception because they are neither Irish nor a university. I think the Malaysian authorities are aware of this and I hope they will take action to prevent people from being deceived into thinking they have qualifications from an Irish university."

He said he was even "offended" to see the Irish native language used in the institution's prospectus, and to add insult to injury, the Gaelic words were misspelt.

"And I have never heard of the Dublin European Institute," he said, referring to an entity which the Irish International University claims is its 'bridging campus'.
It was also reported that the Irish International University had the cheek to say that it was a legitimate life-long learning institution and a "new concept" university. Yes, this "new concept" university will not require you any "real" coursework to obtain your degree certificates.

What's more, in a clearly intricate plan to confuse and mislead potential students, and of course allowing some of these students to "confuse and mislead" their potential employers, these universities will typically name their respective faculties in a prestigious fashion in order to "pass off" as credible. For example, the "Irish National University" named its "campuses" - European Business School, London Executive Schools International and Dublin European Institute.

Interestingly, Mulhall said that the embassy had raised the issue with the Higher Education Ministry on a few occasions since the previous year but apparently no actions were taken. To quote our Parliamentary opposition leader, Lim Kit Siang in his statement made on the above issue:
What is shocking is that the Ministry of Higher Education and the JPA had been parties to the scam by the Irish International University and the Cambridgeshire University [another dodgy university attempting to "pass off" as something more], whose degrees are not accredited nor recognized in the United Kingdom, United States or Ireland, by giving written assurances to Malaysians that their degrees were recognized by the Malaysian government.
It is indeed shocking that it was made known by Kit Siang that these written assurances include:
  • A letter by JPA dated 13th December 1999 on recognition of the Master of Business Administration (MBA) and Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) degrees of the Irish International University, provided the first degree is recognized by the government.

  • A letter by Department of Higher Education, Ministry of Education dated 31st October 2003 that the courses of Cambridgeshire University for Ijazah Pertama, Ijazah Sarjana and Ijazah Kedotoran are recognized by the Ministry.

  • A letter by JPA dated 21st June 2004 that Cambridgeshire University is among the list of universities recognized by JPA.
The denial syndrome was of course in immediate play for a ministry source was quoted by the Star as having said that "its hands were tied as the university was run by legitimate companies whose operations were conducted entirely online." Is that how the Ministry of Higher Education run its affairs - that it's not at all responsible for unscrupulous companies offering dubious higher education qualifications in Malaysia? The Minister of Higher Education was quoted that "his ministry was trying to rectify the problem quickly." It has been more than a month since that promise made on July 26th. Have the responsible officers for the fiasco been investigated and punished accordingly? I have yet to hear anything happening at the Ministry which is deluged with plenty of other incompetencies.

Even the government mouthpiece, the New Straits Times asked publicly: "Were there hidden hands in the Higher Education Ministry and the Public Service Department helping bogus universities operate in the country?"

The Separation of Races

The Star published a series of articles yesterday relating to the inaugural convocation ceremony conducted by Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman (UTAR) over the weekend, which saw our Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Badawi gracing the occasion.

The generous allocation of space in yesterday's papers was probably due to the fact that the Malaysia Chinese Association (MCA) owns or is closely linked to both the newspaper and the university. In an earlier post, I have discussed the issues relating to universities sponsored by political parties and its negative implications. Here, the impact can be seen.

One particular article stood out on the Star's front page - out of a total of 2,083 graduates, there was only ONE Malay student. In fact, if I understand correctly from the article, she is the ONLY Malay in the student body comprising of some estimated 6000 students.

Haslina Mohd Hassan, who graduated with a degree in business administration said that she not only obtained a degree from Utar but also learned more about Chinese culture. She admitted that she had little support in her choice of university:
“When I made up my mind to do my degree here [in UTAR], my parents and friends were not supportive. But after I got here, I realised that the Chinese were not anything like what they had been perceived as. They are friendly and helpful.”
While her willingness to test a challenging environment in UTAR is something to be applauded (loudly), the fact that she is recognised as a very rare exception does not bode well for our higher education system in Malaysia. From race-based political parties, we now have race-based universities.

Newly elected MCA president Datuk Seri Ong Ka Ting proudly proclaims that UTAR strive to make itself "The People's University".
“Utar is, after all, a university built and supported by the people for the people. It moves my heart every time I see the man in the street – the ordinary wage earners, hawkers, small traders, taxi drivers – bring in their contributions simply because they trust MCA to deliver a valuable commodity to the people.”
How is it that UTAR will become "The People's University", when in fact it is the MCA University, or in more blunt terms, the University for Malaysian Chinese? The bumiputeras will have Universiti Teknologi Mara, which the government has placed a maximum quota of 10% of non-bumiputera enrolment. There are now even calls for an UMNO University.

It is extremely disappointing to see that while many of our leaders preach national unity and integration, the policies which they advocate are instead entrenching the racial separation and segregation in the country.

Monday, August 29, 2005

“Malaysia's Races Live Peacefully -- But Separately”

In an aptly titled article “Malaysia’s races live peacefully – but separately” published by AFP on today, probably in conjunction with Malaysia celebrating its National Day in a few days’ time, it summarises the racial environment in the country.

While racial relations isn’t exactly the subject of this blog, the article highlights some of the key factors why our race relations environment is in the state it is – our education system.
Separate schools, separate friends, separate social lives -- Malaysia marks 48 years of independence Wednesday but many citizens lament the lack of ties between majority Malays and the Chinese and Indians living alongside them.
Racial integration has to start young, and that has to be in our primary and secondary schools. There was a time in the 1970s and early 1980s whereby Chinese parents were sending their children to national type schools in significant numbers. My parents sent me to a national type ex-missionary school in Batu Pahat because I will get to learn the English language which my parents are unable to teach me. They also saw the national type school as a way enable me to mix with non-Chinese students as we do live in multi-racial Malaysia after all.

However, these same students who have enrolled and graduated from the national type schools are today sending their own children to the typically overcrowded Chinese vernacular schools for various reasons I’ve blogged here and here. The resultant impact is epitomised by 24-year-old ethnic Chinese Kathleen Chong, a recent graduate of the University Putra Malaysia quoted in the article.
…it pains her to see the widespread racial polarisation on campus -- a microcosm of the national picture. "The various races only mix among themselves. There is very little interaction," she says. "Please, let us enjoy true racial unity in Malaysia. We need to stop the growing tide of division."

Chong admits that she too stuck with her Chinese friends for classes, activities and meals. "This is what every other race does in the campus."
The above scenario is not at all surprising for I see the results of the above segregation in my very own office. There is little or no mixing between, particularly the Chinese educated and the Malays / Indians. I’m concerned because should the situation persist, then our education system today will actually result in the dismantling of whatever inter-racial social structure that existed before the ensure all ethnic groups live in harmony. The harmony we enjoy today is the fruits of labour of our founding fathers and the segregation we see today will result in the likely disintegration of the harmony in the future.

I’m thankful that all is not lost, for our current Prime Minister appears to be aware of the negative circumstances and is putting effort (against resistance from various vested interest parties) in overcoming the problem. The “Rancangan Integrasi Murid Untuk Perpaduan” (RIMUP) is one such example. The president of Parti Gerakan Rakyat Malaysia appears also to have found the voice to promote the concept of Anak Malaysia. And there are also those even within the UMNO ruling party, such as Hilmi Abdul Rashid, a state assemblyman with Penang who agrees that the lack of interaction between the various racial groups “is a serious problem”.
"The young generation are not mixing as much as the older generation. I am worried now. We need to address the issue immediately."
As rightly pointed out by the article, the problems lies, contrary to popular opinion, not only with our government authorities but also with the mindset of many vernacular school educationist, who in my opinion, are overly defensive over the “rights” to Chinese education.
Education and language is one of the most visible signs of the problem. Most Chinese and Indians send their children to Mandarin- and Tamil-language schools while the Malays attend national institutions.

The government has in recent years established "visionary schools" where students share sports fields, assembly halls and canteens, but conduct classes in their own languages. But the initiative has failed to get off the ground, partly because of a fear of a loss of identity among Chinese.
It is imperative that the government set its priorities right – not just in the micro measures (such as RIMUP) but also address the macro issues which the minority communities have been voicing out over the years, in particular the overly extensive use of positive discrimination to the significant disadvantage of the other racial communities. At the same time, the vernacular school educationists need to see the light that continued segregation in the education system for our Malaysian young is leading the country towards the path that no community will ever want to thread upon.

Universiti Malaya: 89th or Nowhere? (Part III)

Ong Kian Ming, currently pursuing his political science doctorate at Duke University has provided some more detailed analysis to my blog post on whether Universiti Malaya deserves the 89th placing provided by the Times Higher Education Supplement (THES) World University Rankings. His analysis was written in the comments column for the part II of my post, but I thought that I should republish his analysis in its entirety as a blog post here:

"In my discussions with some Malaysian friends in the Malaysian Forum mailing list (a mailing list comprising maining US based Malaysian students), we discussed the THES ranking in depth. If you look at the details, there are two points that are noteworthy. Firstly, UM scored 68 in the international student category, the highest score that UM received in the 5 surveyed categories. By this measure, UM ranks 6th in the world i.e. it is the 6th most internationalized university in the world (even above Monash).(Tony P: Huh?!) USM's international student score is even higher, at 78, making it the 4th most internatalized university in the world.

If two of our local top universities has so many international students, then maybe some of our local youth political organizations should direct their ire at the university administrators for letting in so many 'foreigners'. Monash, with a score of 64, has 30% of its student population listed as foreigners. There is no way that UM or USM has a 30% foreign student population at the undergraduate level, at least to me limited knowledge. My suspicion is that THES might have counted non-Malays as 'foreign' students thereby increasing the rating of UM and USM in this category. If this is corrected, as it should be, in the next THES ranking, it wouldn't surprise me if UM and USM drops way down the ranking.

The second noteworthy point is that UM's and USM's Citations / Faculty score which accounts for 20% of the total score is 0. There are 11 schools in the toop 200 with a 0 score in this category and two of them are Malaysian universities. Granted, this score is heavily biased towards the sciences as well as towards English publications (the School of Oriental and African Studies in London and Sorbonne in Paris both score 0 as well) but even then, a large research university with a faculty whom are presumably relatively competent in English should be able to produce a score that is higher than that of let's say LSE, a predominantly social science school, which scored a 6 in this category.

Finally, if you examine THES ranking of Top 100 schools by Science, Engineering & IT, BioScience, Social Science and Top 50 Arts and Humanities, you will find that UM is NOWHERE to be found in these rankings. So the question is, if UM is ranked top 100 in the world, then surely it must be ranked top 100 in at least one of the categories surveyed here, right? Apparently not.

It was so dissapointing for me to observe all those banners around UM when I came back during summer bragging of the fact that they are one of the top 100 universities in the world. When we examine the details, we have many reasons to doubt UM's position among the elite 100 schools. It would be really funny to see what happens if THES improves their methodology next year and UM falls off the top 200. Will the VC then say that the methodology of the survey is wrong? Let's wait and see."

Tony P: I will follow up with my thoughts on the above analysis shortly. Watch this space :)

Sunday, August 28, 2005

English Frenzy in Rural Malaysia?

Well, yes, according to the regional newspaper, AsiaTimes on 25th August.
The frenzy to catch up with English in rural Malaysia is more than just palpable and nowadays second only to the craze for English football and the popular "Malaysian Idol" contest, a reality-type TV show.

Signs of the frenzy are everywhere. Bookshops are stacked high with volumes of dry English grammar, and these include familiar reprints from the1960s when English had better status than in the intervening years.

English tuition centers are mushrooming in shop houses, schools and homes - wherever space is available.

Newspapers are promoting English by giving out free copies to schools and businesses are donating millions of dollars to adopt entire schools, picking up the tab so that students can have an English education.
Yes, newspapers together with corporates and individuals are indeed sponsoring English papers for the Malaysian national schools (see blogpost here on how you can do your part). But a "frenzy"? I wonder where the source(s) of this information is/are from.

[Writer's note: I have a bias against AsiaTimes because their reporting tends to be sensationalistic and have a strong editorial tendency to portray Malaysia in a negative light, irrespective of facts and circumstances. The "facts" quoted are often generalisations and not well-supported.]

On a more serious note, the article did highlight some of the earlier oppositions to the switch in the language of teaching for the subjects of Mathematics and Science in primary schools:
"English has to be learned as a language, it can't be acquired by learning science and mathematics in English," said a school headmaster then who had opposed the scheme and asked not to be identified. "Mahathir's scheme, now into its second year, is a mess."
Yes, strictly speaking, English "can't" be acquired by learning science and mathematics in English. However, having more subjects (whatever they may be) can certain help towards achieving mastery in the language due to the simple fact that there will be greater exposure to the language.

How is it "a mess", I'd really like to know. Of course there will be the expected hiccups such as delayed textbooks, not fully trained teachers etc. But these are all teething problems which has to be faced. Over time, we expect the syllabus and the teaching of the subjects to improve and I believe that in a couple of years' time, the conduct of lessons in English for Mathematics and Science subjects in the classrooms will become the norm.

Subsidised Nurseries

As reported by both the Star and NST on Friday, low income parents can soon send their young children to community childcare centres while they go to work for approximately RM100 per month.
The Prime Minister said the Government would provide a launching grant to set up the centres and subsidise the fees for urban families earning below RM2,000 a month and rural families earning below RM1,200.

As a start, a grant of RM1.19mil will go towards the setting up of 10 childcare centres, mostly in urban and semi-urban areas. Each centre can accommodate 30 children aged four and below. The monthly fees per child is RM280 but part of the grant will be used to subsidise RM180 for each child. This means eligible parents need to pay only RM100 per child.
“Non-governmental organisations and the local community will be responsible for managing the community childcare centres. To bear part of the costs, I urge the private sector to play a role and give appropriate financial support,” said Abdullah.
This is good news, particularly for young parents who don't live with their parents and who can't afford (or do not want to engage) a maid. I'm personally thinking of running a little nursery within my office, should there be sufficient demand for such services. After all, I realise that my staff are indeed getting older, many of them getting married recently and some awaiting their newborns' arrival soon. :) It'll be a noisy and boisterous office then. :)

Friday, August 26, 2005

Universiti Malaya: 89th or Nowhere? (Part II)

My earlier post which highlighted the “credibility” issue with regards to the World Rankings Table compiled by The Times Higher Education Supplement (THES), whereby Universiti Malaya (UM) was placed on a respectable 89th position. I have argued that the methodology utilised is flawed and will not produce results that are anywhere near accurate, particularly for universities placed beyond the top 20 or so.

There is however, another university rankings report produced by the Institute of Higher Education, Shanghai Jiao Tung University (SJTU) which is often cited globally (for example, recently by the Guardian in the United Kingdom:
The respected Shanghai Jiao Tong lists 11 UK universities in the top 100, including Imperial College London, University College London, and Edinburgh University. Oxford has slipped two places in the past 12 months and is ranked 10th.

The data, recognised by academics worldwide, is dominated by US universities which get far more money in endowments than UK counterparts. Harvard is top of the list and though Cambridge pushed Stanford into third place, eight out of the top 10 places are filled by US universities.

So, in this rankings table – which ranks the worlds top 500 universities – where are the Malaysian universities placed? Believe it or not, no where. There’s absolutely no mention of any Malaysian universities.

Some statistics provided by the SJTU list:
  • There are 93 universities from the Asia Pacific listed on the top 500 rankings and Universiti Malaya is not in the list. On the other hand, the THES rankings table placed UM at a respectable 24th position for universities ranking excluding universities from the UK and US.

  • There are 34 institutions of higher learning from Japan alone in the above list.

  • Singapore has two universities in that list: the National University of Singapore (NUS) ranked 101st-150th and National Technological University (NTU) ranked 200th-300th. This is also a far cry from the THES rankings table, whereby NUS and NTU are placed commendably at 18th and 50th positions.
So based on this alternative list that you won’t find our Malaysian education authorities and vice-chancellors quoting from, are our Malaysian universities really that poor such that we are unable to crack even the top 500 universities of the world or for that matter, possibly the top 100 universities in Asia Pacific? If the compilation by Shanghai Jiao Tung University is accurate, then it is indeed a damning report on Malaysian institutions of higher learning.

Once again, before we jump to hasty conclusions, let’s review the SJTU rankings methodology (which you can find here).

Unlike the THES study which relied heavily on a survey of some 1,300 academics around 88 countries, the SJTU study relies purely on measured data and statistics such as the number of Nobel Prizes and Field Medals of alumni (10%) and staff (20%), highly cited researchers (20%), articles published in Nature and Science (20%), other citations (20%) and relative size of the academic institution (10%).

Note that the SJTU researchers readily admitted that the quality of universities cannot be precisely measured by mere numbers.
Therefore, any ranking is controversial and no ranking is absolutely objective. People should be cautious about any ranking including our Academic Ranking of World Universities.

It would be impossible to have a comprehensive ranking of universities worldwide, because of the huge differences of universities in the large variety of countries and the technical difficulties in obtaining internationally comparable data. Our ranking is using carefully selected indicators and internationally comparable data that everyone could check.

More significantly, the SJTU researchers have highlighted that the criteria used tends to favour science-based universities. As a result, a university such as London School of Economics which offers only social sciences and financial faculties are placed beyond the top 100. This is because publications for the social science subjects are more varied in nature and are hence more difficult to track.

In addition, “since English is the international language in the academic world, scholars in English-speaking institutions are more closely integrated into the global academic environment than scholars outside the English-speaking world. As a result, university ranking based on research performance may inevitably lead to bias against institutions outside the English-speaking world.”

However, we do not expect the above criteria to have significantly affected the ranking studies on Malaysian universities such as Universiti Malaya as it’s neither a social science-based university nor is it a non-English speaking institution.

More likely than not, the poor placing of UM in the SJTU rankings is due to the fact that there is a heavy bias towards “research” in the rankings as opposed to “education”. UM is clearly not known for its breakthrough research. Hence, UM may claim, as a saving grace, that it’s teaching quality, which is unmeasured, is actually better rated than its research prowess to justify a potentially better placement in the rankings.

So the only question left is if the researchers even included Universiti Malaya in their study? If UM is not included, then obviously it won’t be ranked. It was however noted in their study that they “have scanned more than two thousand universities” and “scanned major universities of every country with significant amount of articles indexed in major citation indices”. As such it is unlikely that Universiti Malaya has been excluded from the study.

Hence, why is there such a vast difference between the rankings provided by THES versus that of SJTU? Which study is more reliable? I’d like to think that Universiti Malaya is a better university than some of the universities that managed to qualify as the world’s top 500 universities in the study by SJTU. This is partly backed by the fact that I would actually prefer the top students from UM over the students from universities such as La Trobe (401st -500th), Murdoch (401st -500th), Newcastle (301st -400th) in Australia. However, as concluded in the previous post, I certainly have my doubts on the ranking of 89th provided by THES for UM which is placed better then renown UK universities such as Durham, Glasgow, Bristol, Bath and King’s College, London.

Even if UM is indeed placed in the more favourable category of 301st-400th ranked universities, it shows that there is plenty to be improved by the university to improve its standards. It is my believe that as THES improves their ranking methodology over time, and assuming that the standards at all universities remain unchanged, UM will find that it will drop down the rankings table significantly.

The fact that the UM Vice Chancellor, Prof Dr Hashim Yaakob who proudly used the results of the THES rankings table, may find that it will backfire on him in the subsequent years should UM slid down the same rankings table – not due to an actual fall in quality, but due to the fact that it was placed “wrongly” in the top 100 in the first place.

More on Malaysia’s ambition and vision for its higher education institutions in the subsequent post.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Universiti Malaya: 89th or Nowhere?

The World University Rankings published by The Times Higher Education Supplement (THES) on November 2004 ranked Universiti Malay (UM) as the 89th best university in the world. [You can download the THES PDF report here.] Whilst it’s not the world’s top twenty, it’s a “remarkable” achievement for it beat the likes of top universities in the United Kingdom (UK) such as Bristol University (91st), King’s College, London (96th), Bath University (103rd), Glasgow University (112th) and Durham University (128th).

Note that these UK universities belong to the top 20 universities in the UK, accordingly to the Times Good University Guide 2006. The above-mentioned universities are ranked 10th, 16th, 13th, 20th and 10th respectively. So does this mean that an education in Universiti Malaya will be equivalent to a top ten university in the UK? From the rankings guide provided by THES, it does appear so. [Note that while the publisher of both guides is The Times of UK, the research team and methodology used are completely independent]. A check with the alternative Guardian UK University Rankings Guide 2005 yields similar results.

It is hence unsurprising that during the centennial celebrations on July 16th, the UM Vice-Chancellor, Prof Dr Hashim Yaacob celebrated proudly the achievement of being ranked 89th in the world. The Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak at the celebrations, proudly “challenged” University of Malaya to be ranked among the top 50 universities by 2020.

However, how credible is the rankings provided by THES? I have my major doubts.
  • For example, there is no way that a law degree is worth more than one from say, Durham, King’s College, Glasgow or Bristol University which are ranked 3rd, 8th, 12th and 16th respectively on the Times Good University Guide subject rankings for Law in the UK. These universities, often require a minimum entry criteria of at least B-B-B for ‘A’ Levels which is significantly higher than that required by UM.

  • My doubts are strengthened by the fact that certain universities which I rate only as mediocre are placed highly in the THES World University Rankings. For example, Monash University is ranked 33rd and is placed higher then New South Wales (UNSW) and Sydney University, ranked 36th and 40th respectively. My personal opinion of Monash is derived from the fact that recent graduates from the university are of poor standard (and these are the ones with “decent” grades given by the university). The performance of Monash graduates in my office is only average, and many more do not make the cut past the interview stage. I believe that the standards at Monash have declined very significantly over the past 4-5 years due to over-commercialisation of their degree programmes as well as the lowering of entry criteria into the university.

  • If one were to review the methodology [page 6 of the THES report entitled “Elements that paint a portrait of global powers”] used in deriving the rankings, it would appear that the methodology is a tad simplistic and may include highly subjective factors which have significant impacts on the rankings outcome. In fact, 50% weightage is provided to 1,300 academics from 88 countries in a “survey” to identify “top institutions in the areas and subjects on which they felt able to make an informed judgement”. The problem with surveys, as always, is that objectivity will often be diluted significantly. For example, a “C” level academic will rate what is “A” class differently from say, an “A” level academic. By placing a 50% weightage on this survey alone to justify world university rankings clearly results in some of the major discrepancies I see in the THES Ranking Table.

  • In addition, it is noted in the THES methodology that 5% of the weightage is given to the “internationality” of the university campus, defined by the number of foreign students. The rationale is that if the university is in international demand, then it must be pretty good. The rationale is clearly flawed as the number of foreign students enrolled in a campus is not only defined by its quality, but also be other major factors such as affordability, convenience of access, entry level criteria etc. Hence, it isn’t surprising that Monash performed slightly better then UNSW and Sydney University due to its international commercialisation exercises such as its twinning programmes with private colleges as well as the setting up of foreign campuses such as Sunway Monash in Malaysia.
Given that Universiti Malaya could not have performed well in the criteria such as the number of international students (5%), the number of international faculty members (5%) and it would only have performed “so-so” for its faculty-students ratio (20%) and possibly poorly for the number of research reports and citations (20%) – UM must have achieved its “credible” rankings largely from the survey conducted. In fact, Universiti Sains Malaysia performed credibly at 111th. A few academics from Malaysia must certainly have participated in the survey exercise. J

If Universiti Malaya is indeed ranked 89th in the world, and is better than some of the universities I have cited above, Malaysian students and their parents will save a great deal of hard-earned monies in enrolling into premier universities overseas.

In the part II post of this same title, I will highlight another world university rankings table compiled by the Institute of Higher Education, Shanghai Jiao Tung University that is often cited internationally. How does Universiti Malaya and other Malaysian universities fare in that table?

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

"Aku Janji"

Further to the earlier post on the plight of Dr Azly Abdul Rahman and Dr Mutiara Mohamad, the following is the translated version of the Aku Janji letter provided by Malaysiakini which is required to be signed by all university academics, students and civil servants.


I, ................... bearing I/C no ................... residing in ................... solemnly declare that I will abide Statutory Bodies (Discipline and Surcharge) 2000 [Act 605] and all instructions issued and enforced by University Utara Malaysia, from time to time throughout my services with University Utara Malaysia. Thus, I solemnly declare, as required under Rule 3, Disciplinary Rules of the Statutory Bodies, that is within the Second Schedule of the Statutory Bodies Act (Discipline and Surcharge) 2000 [Act 605], that I, among others:

(i) will always be loyal to the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, country, government and University Utara Malaysia;

(ii) will always undertake my duties with caution, diligence, honesty, trust and responsibility;

(iii) will not neglect my responsibilities towards Universiti Utara Malaysia for my personal gain;

(iv) will not act in a manner that will cause my personal affairs to be in conflict with my responsibilities towards University Utara Malaysia;

(v) will not act in a manner that would cause reasonable doubt that I had allowed my personal affairs to be in conflict with my responsibilities towards University Utara Malaysia to the point where it affect my position as an officer within University Utara Malaysia.

(vi) will not use my position as a officer within University Utara Malaysia for my personal gain

(vii) will not act in a manner which would bring disrepute to University Utara Malaysia.

(viii) will not bring any form of outside influence or pressure to support or further my demands or other officers involved with or towards University Utara Malaysia; and

(xi) will not disobey or behave in any way that can be interpreted as disobedience.

I wholly understand that if I were charged with breaching this Aku Janji, disciplinary action under the Statutory Bodies (Discipline and Surcharge) 2000 [Act 605] can be taken against me.




Witnessed by

Dr Azly Rahman and Dr Mutiara Mohamad provided additional insights into the road they have taken and the challenges they have faced in their article in Malaysiakini.com here. In the same letter they have also highlighted clearly the issues concerning the "Akujanji" pledge of loyalty and why they have decided against signing the letter without modifications.

The practicality and objectivity of enforcing the "Akujanji" plegde is also called into question. For example:
What bodies of knowledge can be presented to students and what cannot? Who decides what can be presented and what cannot and how is this monitored? What is the nature of objectivity that can be presented to the students or the public that can be interpreted as a violation of the contents of the Akujanji?
As he bitterly pointed out the conclusion emphathised by this writer as well as many others in our writings:
The higher education minister needs to explain why he did not bother to attend to our letter of appeal. We do not think he is interested at all in attending to this simple yet important matter. He is an incapable minister, from our analysis thus far. He should not be taking charge of our public universities.

Our allegiance as academicians is to the pursuit of truth and justice and to freedom of inquiry; not to any political ideology. We believe that is what we are trained to do well. It shall remain this way and we want to see young lecturers embrace this spirit so that this spirit will permeate into the consciousness of our children and transform them into critical, creative, and altruistic thinkers.
Let's hope the wiser heads in our political administration will see the light. Fingers crossed.

Puppet Universities

Oh well, the "rant" on Malaysian universities will continue unabated.

In an event that occurred at the end of last year, before this blog was born - two academics of Universiti Utara Malaysia, Dr Azly Abdul Rahman and Dr Mutiara Mohamad (husband and wife) received termination letters from their university for not signing the "Akujanji" letter - a solemn promise they "will not disobey or behave in any way that can be interpreted as disobedience." Dr Azly Rahman was director of Universiti Utara Malaysia's Technology Learning Unit, while Dr Mutiara Mohamad was deputy dean of UUM's School of Languages and Scientific Thinking. Both husband and wife are at Columbia University, New York, since 1997 for their doctoral studies.

Dr Azly Abdul Rahman is also currently a columnist in Malaysiakini and his story is being recounted by Nurul Nazirin here.
Azly and Mutiara, who are married to each other, were told to leave the cognitive sciences and education faculty with effect from Dec 8 last year for failure to sign the Akujanji (pledge of loyalty), as all employees in the public sector are required to do.
The couple have filed an appeal within the 30 days provided in the letter of termination, but they have yet to hear any response from the university in the past 8 months. 8 months!

As the unjust termination of employment of critical academics have shown in the current year, exemplified by Dr Terence Gomez of Universiti Malaya as well as Prof P Ramasamy of Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia - our universities are on the verge of becoming institutions of restricted learning.

The irony of the case of Dr Azly Abdul Rahman was that one of the courses which he teaches is on thinking skills:
"I taught the courses 'Ilmu Pemikiran dan Etika' (Thinking Skills and Ethics) (at UUM) and I was fired for asking questions in a university that offers those foundation courses?" Azly told malaysiakini in an email.

"But I wish to educate more than aggravate. This is essentially what I am at heart and will always be - an educator for critical consciousness. Human beings have their follies, and worse, if they create institutions to hide behind.

"Our role is to illuminate others on how to read these institutions so that human beings hiding behind them can be seen through the walls."
What type of thinking skills are we developing exactly? "Four legs good, two legs better"?

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Sponsor Newspapers for Schools

For all those who are keen to promote the quality of English at our local secondary schools, I must say the New Straits Times (NST) has come up with a fairly innovative programme for everyone from corporates to individuals like you or me to help promote the English language.

The NST has started the School Sponsorship Programme with the following objectives:
  • To promote the use of newspapers as an alternative teaching material in classroom
  • To supplement the Education Ministry’s effort towards improving the standard of English among students
  • To promote the value of a caring society and encourage the practice of giving back to the community
The cost of sponsorship is "subsidised" at RM0.80 per copy, instead of RM1.20 street price. The sponsorship package is easily affordable by individuals and corporates as follows:
  1. Min 1 copy per day x 103 school days (6 months) = RM82.40
  2. Min 1 copy per day x 205 school days (12 months) = RM164.00
  3. Min 5 copies per day x 205 school days (12 months) = RM820.00
As the regular readers will know that I feel strongly about the serious decline in the standards of English in our Malaysian schools through my posts here, here and here. I also feel that reading English newspapers daily (even if sometimes just for the comics section!) during my primary and secondary school years has helped my English language skills tremendously, especially since my parents knows barely a handful of English words.

This writer and his wife will be doing our little part by sponsoring schools from our hometown Batu Pahat. Under the programme, you are allowed to choose which school you would like to sponsor from a list of schools published.

For those who can afford to help, you may sponsor via credit cards here, or you may instead print out a sponsorship form here and post your cheque to NST.

As publicised by the NST a few weeks earlier:
Under the programme, the NST, together with its sister daily Berita Harian, will work with the Education Ministry to supply the NST to schools, especially in rural areas.Some 285 schools and more than 10,000 students have been selected for the programme.
For further enquiries, please call Mohd Azali Abdul or Fauzi Che’ Chik of the School Sponsorship Programme unit at 03-2282-3131 ext 2852/5108. You will also be able to follow the updates on the programme practically on a daily basis through the NST website. I'm a believer that every little bit helps :)

Friday, August 19, 2005

National Service Story

I really really like to hear stories like this. Here's a short excerpt from the national service diary of 17-year old Jolene Lai. :)
Our character building teacher, Mr Jason ushered us back into our class and motioned us to gather around him. He had his hands on top of Kim Seng's and Iman's bald heads. He said, "Di Kompeni Delta/Dermaga, kita tidak mahu bergaduh okay? Tiada pasal-pasal perkauman. Jangan bergaduh sampai berdarah."(In our comapny, we do not want anyone fighting. There should not be any racial issues. No blood shed, please. )

He went on, "Cikgu datang sini bukan kerana gaji tetapi cikgu ingin mengasuh anak-anak malaysia ini supaya kelak orang Melayu boleh meletak tangan atas bahu orang Cina ataupun orang India tanpa perasaan kekok. I want us to be like brothers outside. Because, satu hari nanti, anak Cikgu akan masuk national service juga dan saya tidak harap anak Cikgu bersikap menyingkirkan sendiri. Saya sedih melihat kejadian sebegini. Sedih, cikgu, tau??"

And with that, tears sprung to his eyes. What a true Malaysian. He is actually a scientist but he chose to assist in the formation of the young Malaysians. Very inspiring indeed.
This is what National Service should be about and why its concept should be supported whole-heartedly by all Malaysians.

New University Subject: Ethnic Relations

It has been reported in the New Straits Times today that a new subject "Ethnic Relations" will be introduced to our public university students this coming December. As part of the syllabus, historical milestone events such as the racial riots of May 13th, 1969 and the Kampung Medan "incident" of 2001 will be included to provide perspective to the racial relations and developments in the country.

It is understood that the marks for the subject will be based on practical coursework (60 per cent), which requires multi-racial group participation, with 40 per cent on examinations. The strong bias towards practical multi-racial course work is indeed encouraging as you will never be able to achieve the objective to reduce racial polarisation in universities through textbooks.
"This is to explain to them the reasons behind those incidents and give undergraduates an idea of how important racial integration is," said Dr Zaid Ahmad, head of the Government and Civilisation Studies department of Universiti Putra Malaysia. He said undergraduates would also be required to undertake assignments in multi-racial groups.

A copy of the guidelines on the subject revealed that students would also be instructed on Islam Hadhari and its effects on ethnic relations, and receive an overview of the nation’s various cultures and religions.

Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia Centre for General Studies director Prof Dr Abdul Latif Samian agreed that community work was a good way to teach racial integration. "Lecturers should also arrange field trips to places of worship to get a better understanding of the different cultures," he said.

As highlighted by Universiti Utara Malaysia vice-chancellor Datuk Dr Nordin Kardi, the subject will certainly not guarantee that students would be better integrated, "but these efforts are needed to bridge the gap among undergraduates of different races".

I fully support the teaching of the Ethnic Relations in the Malaysian universities to help curb racial polarisation. In fact, I will strongly support these Ethnic Relation studies and activities being carried out at primary and secondary school levels. This subject, which may be a compulsory but non-examinable subject should replace the irrelevant and often abused "Moral Studies" subject taken by non-Muslim students for SPM.

My only and major concern will be how these "sensitive" historical events will be portrayed in the "textbooks" and whether they will be the "sanitised" version. An attempted politicisation and revisionism of the historical events will not only result in the objectives of teaching the ethnic relations subject not being met, it may actually cement the racial polarisation through perceived bias and injustice in our education and administration system.

This new subject also raises an interesting question - how are privilege Malay institutions such as Universiti Teknology Mara (UiTM) going to conduct their multi-racial project assignments? Not to mention the fact that institutions such as Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman are practically all Chinese (read post on "Political Universities"). Is it time then to stop all these political and race-based university programmes?

SMS Fantasyland

Our former prime minister, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad in a speech at Sekolah Alam Shah on 10th August raised the issue of “SMS” and its apparent role in hindering the academic achievement of Malay students. This is of course, not the first time that this issue has been raised. If I’m not wrong, it was even raised by a Barisan MP in parliament not too long ago. As reported in Berita Harian:
Sambil merujuk kepada program realiti Akademi Fantasia 3 yang mendapat sambutan hangat, Dr Mahathir berkata:

“Kerana Mawi (Asmawi Ani) hingga tidak belajar. Saya pun tertanya-tanya sama ada AF3 patut disambung kepada AF4. Kita tidak boleh berjaya sebab jari bergerak (menaip khidmat pesanan ringkas) sedangkan otak tidak bergerak... buat untungkan syarikat telekomunikasi”.
So, is it really true that Malay students are so engrossed in SMS entertainment that they forget that they are supposed to study? I’ve also seen reports that many students apparently “burnt” their study loans sending premium rate SMS to these “reality TV” shows. Should these shows be banned?

As Tun Dr Mahathir rightly pointed out, our “meritocratic” education system should not be a barrier for Malays to do well in their education. After all, it’s the same system which the other ethnic communities are subjected to as well.
Dasar dan sistem yang digubal kerajaan bukan penghalang kepada pelajar Melayu untuk maju setanding kaum lain dalam bidang pendidikan… kerana dasar dan sistem yang sama dikenakan terhadap pelajar kaum lan lain dan mereka boleh berjaya.
The most important thing after all, is to have the heart to work and study hard to ensure success:
…yang penting, usaha bersungguh-sungguh untuk mencapai kejayaan dan bukannya asyik melakukan perkara yang boleh menjejaskan pelajaran.
Hence on the same note, the critical success factor for any student to succeed in his or her education is really their motivation and dedication. But taking away certain forms of entertainment, such as Akademi Fantasia, it’s not necessarily nor like to be changing their thinking. More likely than not, they will be looking instead for other forms of entertainment.

Should these students however, possess the necessary motivation and commitment to perform well in their studies, then taking part in entertainment activities and past time such Akademi Fantasia will not in any way make them achieve less.

Therefore, unlike what is propagated by many “moralists” and politicians, Akademi is not the root cause to the problems face by many Malay students in their educational pursuits. Irrespective of the types of entertainment available, if the students possess the correct mindset, they will excel in their studies.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Curious Advice from DPM Najib

Our deputy prime minister (DPM) Datuk Seri Najib Abdul Razak recently advised (according to the New Straits Times) the graduates from University Tunku Abdul Rahman (UTAR) "Don't just stick to one firm". Errr... did he really really say that?

In the article, Datuk Seri Najib argued that:
Lifelong employment is outdated as companies can no longer guarantee that their workers will always have a job. [He] urged them instead to nurture "lifelong employability".
The above is absolutely correct as there is absolutely no reason for companies to "guarantee" lifelong employment to their employees. One of the key reasons why certain organisations in Malaysia (particularly the government linked companies (GLCs)) such as Telekom and Tenaga Nasional are clear targets for reform and restructuring today is because of the unwritten lifelong employment guarantee for its employees. As a result these organisations becomes fat and unproductive as there is clearly little incentive for the employees to perform at their optimum to ensure that they continue to possess the job in the longer run. Datuk Seri Najib rightly pointed out examples overseas such as:
...the case of United States conglomerate General Electric, Najib said its former chief executive officer, Jack Welch, had fired thousands of the company’s workers even though it was doing well.

He also said countries such as Germany and Japan, which traditionally encouraged lifelong employment, had abandoned these policies.
Hence, our deputy prime minister advised the 300 or so pioneer graduates from UTAR was:
"Forget about lifelong employment in a single company. It is no longer feasible or desirable. You must be flexible and relevant to the job market.

"Take up opportunities in different companies and do not be afraid to seek promising jobs overseas."
Did the above actually meant that he is advising these graduates to switch jobs at practically every opportunity? Is that actually sensible advise to give? Does the lack of lifelong employment mean that graduates must now switch jobs frequently (I don't understand the rationale)?

If our DPM did not actually meant the article's headlines, then clearly the reporter from NST have misunderstood his message. I don't blame the journalist though, as the quotes attributed to Datuk Seri Najib were not exactly all clear in their intent.

Irrespective of whether Datuk Seri Najib actually meant to dispense the advice - my opinion is that it is at best, a misleading advice and at worst, a career-damaging one.
  1. Switching jobs is just not the right advice to give to graduates when faced with no 100% certainly of continued employment. The right advice to provide these graduates is to work hard, think out-of-the-box, be innovative and creative and ultimately be productive to ensure that one skills and services continue to be demanded by the respective firms in this highly competitive environment. I can't believe that by switching jobs, the problem of job certainty will be resolved - how is that?

  2. This is not to say that employees should never switch jobs. One should not be blindly loyal to any particular company, but at the same time, one should be objective as to whether the next job offer is actually offering something significantly better than what he or she is already enjoying in the existing position. Do not switch jobs purely because its something "new". Switching out of this something "new" may not be the easiest thing to do after that, if it was the wrong choice.

  3. At the same time, if the existing company continues to remunerate the employees competitively, offer a good environment for learning and growth as well as take care of the employees basic needs - why should the employees switch jobs, even if he or she has been working there for 10 years? The fact is that if this company operates on a "productivity" retention basis, and if the employee has worked for more than 10 years, it means that the employee is obviously productive and valued by the organisation. At the same time, it also means that the organisation values positive contributions by the employees. In that scenario, employees should actually stay longer in this organisation instead of moving to another which might value his or her contributions equally.

  4. And finally, the candidates should beware of the trap of switching jobs too frequently. Whenever I receive a resume of someone switching jobs on a regularly every 1-2 years, I will have serious doubts about hiring the candidate. I will have very strong reasons to suspect that this candidate is unlikely to stay within the organisation for a long period of time, and the initial training and effort to ensure that the candidate gets up to speed will be wasted if he or she leaves within a couple of months. Hence the more a candidate switches jobs, the more likely he or she will not be able to secure a job position of choice in the future.
So for all you fresh graduates out there, my advice is to choose the companies you intend to work for carefully - it's not necessarily the best thing to do by taking up the very first job offer in hand. Find a position suited to your qualifications which you believe you will be able to stick to for at least a couple years. For if the position is unsuitable, changing jobs will be not only be disruptive to your lives, it may also create negative implications to your resume.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Chinese Educated English

My earlier post discussed the attempt by our Minister of Education to "placate" the Malay language nationalists to less antagonistic towards the promotino and the use of English language by asserting that "English is Malaysian". However, the Malay language nationalists are not the only community in Malaysia that needs a major change in mindset.

It is my opinion that the Chinese educationist die-hards require a substantial shift in the way they treat the English language as well. While I completely respect their right to their independence and freedom of thought, their resistance to even simple things like teaching Mathematics and Science in English is causing an entire generation of Chinese students to be inept in the language.

I've "complained" often with regards to the quality of English of many of my job applicants, particularly those from Chinese schools background, giving many anecdotes of the candidates writing skills in their application forms and resumes. However, I've just read a post by Rosalind on her blog which I thought was quite funny (in a dark sort of way) :)

In her own words, she was "bitching" about the standards of English amongst the Chinese educated student crowd. They:
1) Cannot speak proper English

2) Do not take the initiative to speak English in college (in class) to further improve their conversation skill in that language

3) Think that English speaking or Kebangsaan school students are arrogant and would look down on them

4) Blamed their lecturers when they fail to put their thoughts into words so to deliver a proper (understandable) answer in the exam which in the end will either cause them to get a weak grade or a fail.

5) Prefered not to talk to English speaking students because they do not want to speak to them back in English
Currently, while she is pursuing her degree at a private college:
...90% of the students in my tutorial are chinese ed students (those typical, never like to speak English at all kinda chinese ed students). These group of people would always be the ones working extra hard to pass their final exams at the end of every semester. When I say extra hard, I meant to say that they have to read their notes repeatedly and then translate it into Mandarin to understand those notes better.

Lecturers and tutors often find it tough to teach them because they would have to go at a slower pace during lectures and some had to be more lenient when marking the assignments as some of these students are a lil weak in their written English.
How-lah like that? :) While Rosalind may just have generalised a bit with regards to Chinese educated fellow students in her eagerness to "bitch" ;), there's more than a grain of truth in most of what she said.

I've blogged about "Chinese vs National schools" (part I and part II) and this is one of the main reasons why I'm hesitant about sending my daughter to a Chinese school (although I've not decided yet...). I'm certain that the Chinese education authorities can do much better than this.

English is Malaysian

In today's New Straits Times editorial, it was highlighted that our Minister of Education, Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein took an interesting "position" in his attempts to inculcate the necessity of learning English. Typical "positions" would have meant the minister harping on how English is the language of commerce, the lingua franca of the top academic community, the means of communication with half the world's population (or thereabouts anyway). But no, the Minister asserted:
...that English "is no longer a colonial language, no longer a ‘foreign’ one, because we have made it our own". Malaysians "need no longer feel shy of making full use of it in building our future".
As rightly pointed out by NST, the minister’s avowal that "English is a Malaysian language" remains unheard of. The NST analyses further how this unsual "position" may just unlock, at least some of the resistance to picking up the English language.
...his insistence that "it is high time we took ownership of a language that we have long made our own" may yet hold the key to loosening tongues that tend to become tied when it comes to speaking in English. Learning English is certainly not the national obsession that it has become in some countries. There has been a distinct absence of an overwhelming desire among the Malays in particular to learn English, or to want their children to learn English. This is partly the result, as alluded to by the minister, of the "disabling suggestion" that English is "not for them".

Since this seems to derive directly from the deep-seated distrust that arises from its close association with colonial rule, driving home the point that we have "appropriated the language" could serve to liberate the Malay mind and assuage the sense of alienation and embarrassment that comes from speaking English too well.
The suggestion from the Minister of Education is, if not innovative, at least novel. Its message is probably aimed more at a minority group of Malay languange nationalists who will do their utmost to ensure that no other language should ever "reign supreme" over the Malay language under whatever circumstances. These "nationalist", while in the minority, creates undue influence on the teaching profession as well as the philosophy of language education at our Ministry of Education. Hence the attempt by the Minister himself to convince the nationalist otherwise, may be critical.

However, besides the perennial philosophical arguments meted out by these nationalists, it is (as argued by the NST editor) more critical for the Ministry to review the methods and manner of teaching English in the Malaysian schools. The quality of the teachers, the environment conducive to speaking English, the standards of the English syllabus and the resolve of the Ministry officials are all critical to raising the standards of English in Malaysia, besides just a mindset change.

I've written frequently on the state of English language among Malaysian students and recent graduates - read them here, and here. I hope that with the apparent drive by the "government mouthpiece", the New Straits Times to promote the use of English in schools, we will see graduates with better standards of English in the near future. :)

Monday, August 15, 2005

Maximus Ongkili on National Unity

Our minister in our Prime Minister's department in-charge of national unity, Datuk Dr Maximus Ongkili was interviewed in the New Straits Times on Sunday, 7th August.

I've extracted the his opinions specific to the National Service programme for our Malaysian students as well as his opinions with regards to national unity in our Malaysia schools.
Q: Is the National Service programme successful?

A: From the hearings, we learnt it has been a great success in fostering racial unity. Parents told us their children had changed their attitudes about other races after attending NS.

But then, not all students can participate. Next year, the NS intake will be increased to 95,000 but even that constitutes just 22 per cent of the Form Five population. Then there are the primary and secondary school students and undergraduates.

How can we tackle racial polarisation in schools and universities?

A: We can take the NS content in a diluted form to the school. Special talks and motivational programmes can be organised.

The National Unity Department has also set up Rukunegara Clubs in secondary schools. At university level, Rukunegara Clubs will be launched next month.

Is that enough?

A: Universities should also initiate their own measures. Some are organising cultural programmes. But I feel the role of teachers, parents and community leaders is also important.

They must not just preach racial unity but lead by mixing freely and learning to appreciate the values of other communities. We must walk the talk.

Is the education system, with its different schooling streams, hampering efforts to promote racial integration?

A: According to the stated objective of our education system, it is not supposed to yield that kind of result. The positive values of our system far outweigh the negative. Besides, some of the most patriotic people I know are from Chinese schools.

To be quite frank, his answers actually don't reveal too much, and its probably tailored to ensure that he does not trigger any racially sensitive issues. :)

Here's some of my non-tailored opinion on the views that he provided as well as some of the more difficult questions, the journalist should have asked further.
  1. I whole-heartedly support the national service concept which our government is putting in place. Any qualms I have (and I do have a fair bit of them) is with regards to the finer details of the programme and its execution, which can be significantly improved. For e.g., some of the course content is probably a waste of time, while in certain camps, the "trainers" are absolutely not qualified to do the necessary training. But lets take it one step at a time, and hopefully with the valuable feedback, the government will improve the national service programme over time.

  2. Racial polarisation at our schools and particularly universities is a serious problem. There are "privilege" institutions in Malaysia whereby non-bumiputeras are not welcome. There are the increasingly popular Chinese schools, while generally academically strong, contributes little towards racial or national integration. It is hence not surprising that, in our "multi-racial" universities (excluding "privilege" institutions like Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM)), the ethnic groups tend to not interact with one another.

    Datuk Dr Ongkili has suggested that "special talks and motivational programmes can be organised" - the day that national and racial integration can be achieved through special talks, will be the day that we have absolute peace in this world. What are the percentage of students who will be at all interested in sitting in seminar rooms listening to a (in all probability) boring speaker attempting to "motivate" with an absolutely "unexciting" subject? How many students will "willingly" join "Rukun Tetangga" clubs.

    Racial integration and national unity among students will ONLY be achieved through real practical environment and experience (note: NOT a 2 hours a month hand-shaking event). Any policies to improve national unity needs to be studied from that perspective.

  3. The journalist rightly pointed out whether Datuk Dr Ongkili's suggestion above is sufficient. Our minister then added that universities should organise "cultural events" to increase greater understanding amongst ethnic groups. Well, that's not an earth-shaking suggestion, but it's a positive suggestion nevertheless. However, the practise in the past few years have been such that Chinese cultural events have been largely "forbidden" in the local universities such as Universiti Malaya (UM) and Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM). Datuk Dr Ongkili needs to ensure that the Malaysian institutes of higher education actually actively seek to promote and increase cultural understanding amongst its students!

  4. Our minister "tactfully" stated that the "positives far outweigh the negatives" in our current education system, with the different schooling streams. Only a leader blind to what's happening on the ground will make such a declaration. I've discussed the national school vs the vernacular school debate in some of my earlier posts (here and here). I certainly feel strongly that the current dichotomy in our education system is not only failing to "integrate" the various communities in Malaysia, it may actually be fortifying the separation between the racial groups in Malaysia.
Our ministers need to show leadership by being brave with what they need to do in order to deliver the objectives and mandate given to them. I'm happy that some of the actions in recent years have been "positive", such as the national service programme (despite many flaws to improve). However, such steps are only the beginning. It is important for our leaders to admit the facts and their follies in the past, in order to be able to move forward and implement solutions that will one day bring about true integration amongst Malaysians.

For all Datuk Seri Lim Keng Yaik's (the president of Barisan Nasional component party, Parti Gerakan Rakyat Malaysia (PGRM) and our Minister of Energy, Water & Communications) shortcomings, I am extremely pleased that Datuk Seri Lim has the courage to raise the issue of Anak Malaysia in his speech yesterday (see here and here).
Malaysia will never see the creation of a Bangsa Malaysia as long as there are people using the 1957 social contract to silence the non-Malays.
Well said, Datuk Seri. Well said, indeed. :)

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Student Unity: Hype or Hope?

The (what I called) Racial Integration & Malaysian Unity Programme (RIMUP) or otherwise known officially as "Rancangan Integrasi Murid Untuk Perpaduan" appears to be having a good start, having received some encouraing response from schools. Read about the initiation of this program on my blog post: "Student Unity: Light at the End of the Tunnel?".

The New Straits Times on Sunday, 7th August reported that RIMUP is receiving some "hot reception" with 150 vernacular and national schools expected to participate by year’s end.
RIMUP involves grouping together Tamil and Chinese schools with national schools to allow them to conduct joint co-curricular, sports and academic related activities.

Rimup is currently being conducted in four schools in Mantin — SJKC Chung Hua Mantin, SK Mantin, SJKT Cairo Mantin and SMK Mantin.
Deputy Education Minister Datuk Hon Choon Kim, who is in charge of implementing RIMUP was obviously pleased with the initial response to date. He claimed that:
...150 schools were suggested to be included in Rimup by Members of Parliaments who were interested in getting schools in their areas to participate.

"The figure does not include the schools which the Ministry is concurrently identifying to be included in Rimup, so indications are good."

Under the programme, schools which are grouped would form a joint committee to carry out joint activities for their pupils under five categories: academic excellence; sports and games; festivals and assemblies; camps and visits; and social service.
There are 5,756 national primary schools nationwide with an enrolment of 2,304,378; in addition to 1,287 national type Chinese primary schools with 331,481 pupils and 525 Tamil primary schools with 48,187 pupils.

So, is this the start of much improved racial relations in the coming years? Or is the Minister too eager to announce "impressive" statistics? For the benefit of the students in this country, I really hope that by the end of the year, concrete programmes have indeed been carried out and these "150 schools" have indeed organised activities to bring the students of various races together.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Academic's Axing Fuels Charges of Racism

Malaysiakini, together with Screenshots and Parliamentary Opposition leader, Lim Kit Siang played a pivotal role in assisting Dr Terence Gomez in gaining reinstatement to his position in Universiti Malaya after he was "forced" to resign due to his appointment to a United Nations agency in Geneva.

Both Lim Kit Siang and Malaysiakini are again at the forefront championing the rights of Prof P Ramasamy of Centre for History, Political Science and Strategic Studies at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM), who has been issued a letter terminating his contract this month. I've blogged on the issue here, but you will be able to obtain the most detailed media coverage via a subscription at Malaysiakini. Unsurprisingly, the issue is receiving little coverage in the local newspapers, besides an article published in the Sun last week.

In the latest and one of its most comprehensive (and balanced) commentary published (which title I used above), it discusses the challenges our Prime Minster faces in the attempt to reform our higher education system.
[Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Badawi], who is gradually making changes in the police force and the bloated bureaucracy, is also shaking up government linked-companies that are in deep financial malaise. He created the Higher Education Ministry after assuming power in 2003 to infuse a change in the campuses and the education system.

Although he has urged academics to speak up, there is strong resistance from within the ruling Umno and the politically- protected campus bureaucracy.
The opinion piece, written by Baradan Kuppusamy argued that due to the lack of transparency, Malaysian universities are under attack for racial discrimination and favouritism that favours native Malays over minority ethnic Chinese and Indians. Such accusations have marred every university recruitment and promotion exercise in recent years.

Bridget Welsh, of John Hopkins University in the United States was quoted lamenting the decline of university standards in Malaysia due to the emphasis placed on political loyalty instead of academic performance.
"Promotions appear to be based on personal relationships and political affiliations rather than on professionalism. Leadership positions within universities have become venues to fawn over politicians rather than to educate."
Malaysia should be proud that we have a prominent participant in international affairs such as Prof Ramasamy.
The pre-eminent position he held could be gauged by the fact that in 2003 he was appointed to the Sri Lankan Tamil Tigers' Constitutional Affairs Committee to help draft a proposal for an interim administration in Sri Lanka's northeast. He also acted as an observer in recent peace talks over Indonesia's Aceh province.
Such credentials of an academic in our very own local universities should typically be held in high regards and honoured accordingly. However, instead of acknowledgement and appreciation, the Ministry of Higher Education has instead issued warning letters toProf Ramasamy cautioning against future participation, which has culminated in the notice of termination he received on July 27.

The constant crisis over our higher education system have resulted in Lim Kit Siang publicly petitioning for a new Minister of Higher Education.
It is most unfortunate that the creation of a Higher Education Ministry and the appointment of a Higher Education Minister has not ushered in the reform of the higher education system where quality, intellectual creativity and academic excellence are given the highest premium.

Malaysia needs a new Minister for Higher Education with the vision and leadership to lead Malaysia’s universities, both public and private, to academic excellence and greatness.
I strongly suspect his wish will be materialised in the upcoming cabinet reshuffle expected sometime in October.

Lecturers May Get to Retire @ 66

In a report in the Star on 22nd July, the Ministry of Higher Education announced that it is planning to increase the retirement age for university lecturers from the present 56 to 66.
Higher Education Minister Datuk Seri Mohd Shafie Salleh said many quarters said professors and lecturers were still capable and “full of energy” when they reached the current retirement age. "We are looking at increasing their retirement age so that they get to retire at the same age as judges now."
The call has also been supported by the Sultan of Perak and Chancellor of Universiti Malaya, Sultan Azlan Shah at a convention held at UM two days ago. Read Berita Harian report here.
"Tenaga pengajar berpengalaman, keupayaan melakukan penyelidikan, prestasi menghasilkan penerbitan dan rekod sebagai pakar rujuk dan perunding adalah komponen yang menentukan tahap kemampuan dan kematangan.

Adalah satu kerugian besar jika mereka yang sudah mencapai tahap kematangan ini meninggalkan universiti awam kerana wajib bersara tetapi selepas itu disambut universiti swasta dengan hamparan permaidani merah.

Negara perlu mengambil langkah bijak supaya tidak wujud jurang mutu pendidikan serta pengajaran antara institusi pengajian tinggi awam dan swasta kerana ia memberi kesan negatif terhadap agenda sosioekonomi nasional."
The policy to extend the age of lecturers in our universities should be fully supported as many of these lecturers continue to possess a sound and critical mind and will be fully able to impart their knowledge and experiences to the undergraduates and postgraduates. In fact, in most of the top universities of the world, there is not "official" retirement age - the academics are offered extensions to their contracts as long as they continue to publish valuable research and continues to be able to impart their wisdom to the students. Many of the research published by these academics above the age of 56 also represent some of their finest work, a testament to their knowledge and experience over the years. I've definitely had my share of prominent lecturers and academics over the age of 56 who taught me well during my studies at Oxford. Why in fact should there be a strict age limit?

However, the policy of extending the age limit of the lecturers may become a farce if the purpose is purely to be able to selective extend contracts of lecturers who are politically friendly and terminate those who do not share the same views as the authorities (both in the university administration and the government). Prof Ramasamy, whom I've had the pleasure of listening to his speech appears to be "full of energy" and is fully able to contribute further to his students and University Kebangsaan Malaysia had his contract terminated this month without any reasons provided. Read his story here.

Of the new ministers appointed to the Prime Minister's cabinet since the last elections, our Minister of Higher Education has been one of the more disappointing appointments. It is hoped that Datuk Shafie Salleh will take the necessary actions to correct the wrongs in our higher education system (he has for e.g., remained totally silent on Prof Ramasamy's case to date). Otherwise, he will be missed when the Prime Minister reshuffles the cabinet in the coming months.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Ministry of Higher Education: It's Not Us!

As a follow up to my earlier posts here and here with regards to the "sale of confidential student information" by the Star - it has been reported to day that the Ministry of Higher Education "denies UPU link in sale of student list".
There is no proof that private colleges had used confidential data from the Higher Education Ministry's public universities’ admissions unit (UPU) to solicit students.

In response to The Star's front-page story “Student list sold” on Saturday, Higher Education Management Department director-general Prof Datuk Dr Hassan Said said “a thorough investigation” showed that UPU was not involved in selling confidential student data to private colleges.
The denial came pretty quick after the Minister announced the investigations last weekend. I'm curious how did Prof Datuk Dr Hassan Said conducted the investigation - did he ask his staff: "Will the person who sold the confidential list, please raise their hands?" The officials of the private colleges have in the earlier reports specifically stated that the information was obtained or purchased from an official at the ministry. So, were these officials mistaken? Have they been queried?

The Director General of UPU rationalised that these officials must have claimed that the information was obtained from UPU "because it added “value” to their information". He was also quick to deflect the responsibility to some "other" ministry claiming that:
“There are other ways in which private colleges can get this information. I do not want to mention them as it involves other agencies which I do not want to drag into this.”
Believable? The Anti-Corruption Agency must step into this case, as it's making a mockery out of our university entrance mechanism. The responsible parties, whether from the Ministry of Higher Education, or "some other agencies" must be punished accordingly.

Matriculation Colleges: Boon or Bane for Bumiputeras?

The Malaysian matriculation colleges, which offers one-year pre-university course for entry into universities (particularly local ones) have always been privileged and slightly controversial institutions as they cater largely towards bumiputera students at the expense of the other ethnic communities.

These colleges are “controversial” for two key reasons:
  1. Proponents of a “true” meritocratic system believe that the matriculation colleges provides a “loophole” in which the bumiputera students have an easier task of qualifying for university education by enrolling into the matriculation colleges. The alternative, which the bulk of the rest of the student population seeking to further their university education in Malaysia goes through, is via the two year Sijil Tinggi Pelajaran Malaysia (STPM) Form 6 programme.

    By having 2 separate examination and university entry qualification, the system becomes inherently subjective, and potentially open to abuse or distortion. It has been commonly argued as well as widely perceived that the STPM programme is significantly more rigourous in academic content, more extensive in its syllabus as well as more difficult in its examinations. Not many would doubt that it is easier to score straight ‘A’s in the matriculation course compared to the STPM certification.

    The unwritten rationale behind the disparity is to ensure that the bumiputeras do not then “lose out” to non-bumiputeras in the local university places, and their admission hence, “protected”.

  2. The matriculation colleges are controversial also in the fact that its students are almost entirely made up of Malay students. It was only in recent years that the entry requirements for matriculation colleges are “relaxed” to admit up to 10% non-bumiputera students.

    Such a policy is in actual fact a racial segregation policy in our education system whereby the “elite” bumiputeras will attend the matriculation colleges while the others will take the normal STPM route. Such a policy will inevitably lead to diminished national integration amongst the students of different communities in Malaysia. Not only will it reduce interaction between the communities, it strongly encourages dissatisfaction, polarisation and intolerance which will breed racially biased and prejudiced thoughts.

    The policy clearly runs counter to some of the objectives our current administration is attempting to achieve – for e.g., student unity through the RIMUP programme, encouraging national type schools as the choice of education for all communities as well as promoting tolerance and understanding within multi-racial and multi-cultural Malaysia.

The above are fairly well documented criticism and opinions with regards to the matriculation college system in Malaysia.

However, I believe that while the above criticisms are important, the more critical question for the authorities and policy makers to ask, is whether these colleges are actually helping the bumiputeras achieve the objectives they were set out to attain. Are these colleges helping the bumiputera community improve their lot by enabling more to achieve academic excellence, gain valuable knowledge and skills, as well as increasing their marketability and employability?

I’m of the strong opinion that these objectives are not only not made more achievable by the matriculation college policy, they are in fact more likely than otherwise, to be retarded by these same policies. This means that by providing the bumiputeras with the special privileges under the matriculation colleges scheme, they are actually losing out in terms of academic excellence and employability.

I have conducted many interviews with Malay candidates for positions in my company. Many of these candidates are shortlisted because they have achieved good results for their SPM. They have also attended the matriculation colleges. One of the candidates who I hired graduated in Computer Science from a respectable university from the United States. However, she admitted that her “matriculation years” were “easy” and that she did not have to study very hard for her matriculation examinations. As a result, she had an initial tough time coping with her first year in university. In fact, she was the only one of the batch of matriculation students studying at the university who did not eventually switched to other “less challenging” courses.

I had an interview with another Malay candidate with outstanding SPM and PMR grades, and speaks impeccable English last weekend. However, she fared relatively badly in her degree in computer science from Universiti Malaya with a CGPA score of 2.69 (2nd class lower). It is very rare to find candidates who had very good scores in SPM graduating with CGPA less than 3.0 in university. I asked her what happened, and not surprisingly, she was a product of the matriculation college system.

My argument for the Government and the education authorities to do away with the matriculation college system has less to do with the fact that it gives the bumiputeras an unfair advantage in admission into the Malaysian public universities or the fact that these colleges admit very few non-bumiputeras. The government should serious consider reforming the matriculation college system and synchronise the system with the standard STPM process, to ensure that the potential of these excellent young bumiputeras who have fared well in their SPM examinations are not hamper in their academic growth and development.

The matriculation colleges are hampering the development of the bumiputeras because of a few reasons:
  1. The “watered-down” syllabus and the “easier” examination structure of the matriculation colleges fail to enable the bumiputera students to fully achieve their potential. As a result, many of these students fail to cope fully with the subsequent university education. It is hence not surprising that the top students of most local universities comprises largely of non-bumiputeras. The government has in fact, inadvertently, left the superior STPM education channel to the non-bumiputeras.

  2. The ease at which many of the matriculation students are able to gain entry into the local universities will understandably inculcate a culture of complacency, as they do not need to work as hard in order to achieve their “dream” of entering university. This impact may result or have resulted in longer negative effects post-graduation as they may be used to getting more with less.

  3. Due to the nature of the matriculation colleges whereby the teaching staff are largely defined by their ethnic group rather than their teaching abilities, it is plausible that the standards of teaching may not be as good as some of the top national type schools. Hence the top Malay students are actually offered an inferior education stream.
Hence, without even taking into consideration the issues with regards to a non-standard university entrance mechanism as well as national integration issues, the government should seriously reconsider the policy of maintaining matriculation colleges.

The interests of the Malay Agenda, or the proposed revised New Economic Policy (NEP), will be better served if the top Malay students are enrolled into the top national schools for the STPM together with the to non-bumiputera students. The “simple” change in policy will produce within a few years, bumiputera students who will perform better at universities, be less complacent, more hardworking and ultimately, be able to capture a larger proportion of the enlarged Malaysian economic pie.