Monday, October 31, 2005

UM should never have been in the Top 100 in the first place

Having examined the content of the 2005 THES rankings and comparing it to the 2004 THES rankings, it is clear that UM should not have been ranked in the Top 100 in the 2004 THES rankings in the first place. Tony blogged about it before, and I want to highlight this year's numbers. Unlike the 2004 THES rankings, this year's final scores were normalized to 100 instead of 1000. In the 2004 rankings, UM achieved a final score of 166.4, but 40% of this score (68 out of 166.4) came from a very high mark on the International Student Score which would have made UM the 6th most international university in the world. Tony and I suspected that this was perhaps a miscoding on the part of those who compiled the numbers perhaps because they counted Chinese, Indian and other non-Bumiputera students in UM (as well as USM) as foreign students.

The 2005 THES rankings apparently have corrected this error. UM receives a paltry score of 7 out of a 100 (normalized against the LSE, the most international university in the world) instead of the 68 out of a 100 it received in the 2004 THES rankings. If UM had scored 68 in the International Students Score again in the 2005 THES rankings, it would have had a final score of 28.2 which would have made it jointed 103 (tied with SOAS and Leeds University in the UK). This is not to far off from the 89th position it achieved in 2004 and only constitutes a difference of 1 point on the final overall scale in the 2005 rankings.

If UM had scored an equivalent of the 7 it scored in 2005 in the 2004 rankings on the International Student Score, it would have achieved a total score of 104.1 (normalized against Harvard) and a ranking of 198 (very close to the 189th ranking that Tony gave to UM based on a hypothetical score of 10 for UM in the 2004 rankings).

If the VC's of both UM and USM had been more careful in analyzing the basis of their rankings in the top 100 and top 200 universities in the world, they would have realized that their respective positions were based on miscoded or miscalculated scores. It is no surprise that USM has dropped off the rankings completely since it received an even higher International Student Score of 78 in 2004 (4th in the world). Perhaps the UM VC was aware of this fact when he hinted that he was thinking about allowing a foreign intake of 5% at the undergraduate level.

I totally agree with Tony's take that because the score differentials outside the top 50 and especially at the bottom of the table are so small, it is hard to compare between the 150th and the 180th ranked universities (point differential of 2.3, smaller if one didn't normalize against Harvard), what peeves me is the fact that UM trumped the fact that it was ranked in the top 100 last year and then casually says that it is not worried that it has fallen out of the top 100 this year. If this is the case, why trump the fact that you were 89th last year?

I was joking with my wife that UM could just re-use the banners they made last year by changing the 1 in 100 to a 2. And if they fall out of the top 200 list? Maybe hope for a list that publishes the top 300 and change the 2 into a 3.

THES World Universities Rankings Table 2005

For those interested, below is the list of the Top 20 universities of the world compiled by the Times Higher Education Supplement (THES). You may download the pdf version of the full listing of the Top 200 universities here courtesy of Jeff Ooi.

My alma mater moved up one spot from 5th to 4th, whilst the other place managed a bigger jump from 6th to 3rd. Kian Ming should be happy for Duke University (where he is now) made a major leap from 52nd to 11th. His other alma mater, London School of Economics remained fixed at joint 11th with Duke. See top 20 universities below.

Both universities in neighbouring Singapore remained in the top 50, with National University of Singapore taking 4 places down at 22nd, while Nanyang Technological University improved by 2 spots to 48th. Interestingly, Chulalongkorn University of Thailand debut on the rankings table for the first time at 121st, comfortably 48 slots above Universiti Malaya.

The Top 100 list is dominated as expected by universities from the United States, taking up 31(35) spots, United Kingdom taking up 13(14) spots while Australia made 12(11) spots. Asian universities made up 15(13) spots, with China taking 4(2), Japan and Hong Kong 3 each, Singapore and India 2 each, and the remainder from South Korea. Previous year statistics were provided in brackets.

The key change to this year's methodology is basically the inclusion of "employer's feedback" with regards to which universities they prefer to recruit from. This "recruiter review" carries a weightage of 10%. At the same time, the peer review survey carried out by QS Quacquarelli was expanded from 1,300 respondents worldwide to a significantly larger same of 2,375 academics for the latest compilation table.

Although the "recruiter review" carries only 10% weightage, it is a component which may make significant differences in rankings due to the tiny gaps between ranked between 83 to 200. There's a gap of 70 points in "overall score" between no. 1 and no. 83, but only 9.2 points between no. 83 and no. 200. As an example, although Chulalongkorn University was ranked 48 places above Universiti Malaya, the difference in points was only 3.1 of which due to a favourable recruiter review for the former (16) as opposed to (0) for UM, it contributed to a overall 2.4 difference after taking weightage into consideration.

Hence, it is my personal belief that for the THES rankings table, the top 50 positions maybe fairly accurate, whilst those nearer the bottom may fluctuate wildly due to more subjective data. However, this is purely an exercise meant to provide the estimated position of a particular university to serve as a guide for prospective candidates. It is a useful guide, but at the same time, should not be taken as the biblical truth. :)

Sunday, October 30, 2005

School Calendar 2006

For those interested, below is the school calendar for 2006 published in the Star today.

UM's Fall: Denial, Ignorance and Incredulity

The fall in rankings of University Malaya in the world university rankings table has been given a fair bit of prominence by the local print media. The disappointment of our Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Badawi was given prominent coverage in the New Straits Times (NST) with the headline "Abdullah ‘very sad’ over UM’s slide in rankings".

The Star has a shorter article entitled "Pak Lah wants UM to find out why ranking dropped". However, the Star must be given credit for being able to provide extensive coverage of the rankings table in the "Star Education" pull-out segment, within such a short period of time.

The responses from various parties from the government and education sector, as well as politicians and concerned parties have come in a fast and furious pace. This blogger actually feels particular "slow" in providing the necessary response! :) Sdr Lim Kit Siang himself have issued 3 statements already on the subject.

Hence over the next couple of days, you can expect Kian Ming and myself to provide additional analysis and commentary on the issue and its wider implications. While the focus of the issue is on UM itself, we believe that the problems faced by UM are really fairly uniform across Malaysia's public universities. Therefore, this issue deserves serious attention by concerned and interested parties like ourselves and others.

But first of all, I'd just like to coagulate the responses that has been provided so far by the parties related to UM and other public universities. Unfortunately, with the exception of Pak Lah, the responses has displayed apathy, the standard denial syndrome and total incredulity to the "drastic" fall in the rankings of the universities.

Our Deputy Higher Education Minister Fu Ah Kiow said the magnitude of UM’s fall in the ranking was "inconceivable".
"There is obviously some inconsistency in the ranking criteria," he said, adding that the ministry understood that some of the criteria were not relevant to local universities. For example, he said, one criterion was the number of international students and lecturers in the universities.
Oh my goodness! First of all, just because UM suffered a large fall doesn't make it "inconceivable". Would someone like to volunteer forwarding our take on the previous year's rankings analysis to our dear inconceivably ignorant ministers?

Secondly, our deputy higher education minister blamed the international students and faculty criteria for the drop in rankings, and that the criteria wasn't relevant for Malaysian universities. Does he know that the only reason why UM was ranked in the top 100 for the previous year is solely because it received (mistakenly) an extremely favourable rating in the same criteria? Does he know that the reason why UM and USM received such favourable ratings is because ethnic Chinese and Indian Malaysians were likely to have been treated as "foreign students" previously?

While, NST was unable to make contact with the vice-chancellor of Universiti Malaya, Prof Datuk Dr Hashim Yaakob, the Star was able to extract a few invaluable quotes from him.
UM vice-chancellor Prof Datuk Dr Hashim Yaacob said that the marks the university obtained is more significant than its ranking. UM scored 0/100 in the employer survey and highest (33/100) for peer review. The university also scored low in citations (1/100) and international students (7/100).

“I am not worried because we are still within the top 200 and for the first time a Malaysian university has broken into the top 50 in the arts and humanities and the top 100 in the social sciences.”
"I am not worried" - if this doesn't make him "worried", then I really wonder what will. This statement only serves to show the type of apathy engulfing the administrators of our academic institutions. I'd hazard a cynical guess that his recent suggestion at increasing foreign student intake is to "easily" climb the rankings table. Not surprising, Sdr Lim Kit Siang has called for the vice-chancellor to be sacked.
Prof Datuk Dr. Hashim Yaacob should resign as University of Malaya Vice Chancellor not only for the shocking 80-place plunge of the nation’s premier university from 89th to 169th position in the Times Higher Education Supplement (THES) World University Ranking for Top 200 Universities 2005, but for his disgusting complacency when he could say that he was “not worried”.

From Hashim’s reaction, it would appear that there was nothing wrong whatsoever with the University of Malaya – and that the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi was completely misguided and misinformed to be “very sad” at University of Malaya’s slide in the rankings.

It is most shocking and completely unacceptable that the Vice Chancellor of University of Malaya is the very picture of smug complacency when he should be the most distressed and ashamed person in the country over the university’s drastic drop of 80 places in the 2005 Ranking.
Just a little more than a month ago, UM has arrogantly placed a full page advertisement in NST proclaiming it's excellence - and with a cocksure stance, declared that:
In 2004, UM was placed 89th in the 'University World Ranking' by The TIMES of LONDON. YAB Deputy Prime Minister earlier this year has challenged UM to be among the 50 best universities by 2020. To achieve this target, UM has to improve its position by 2.6 places each year. What is UM's position for 2005? Wait and see in November this year!!!
Yes, now we have seen - so what say you, Prof Datuk Dr Hashim Yaakob?

Of course, have you seen the large billboard outside UM proclaiming its world class status, are they going to take down the billboard now? Maybe, instead of "UM Sudah Bertaraf Dunia", they should just do the errata: "UM Pernah Bertaraf Dunia". It'll be cheaper than taking down the billboard.

USM Vice-Chancellor, Prof Datuk Dr Dzulkifli Abdul Razak was also interviewed by the Star, for the drop from 111th to "unranked". He hypothesized that "the addition of new criteria such as the employer survey could have contributed to the sharp drop in the university’s position."
“Our poor standing could also be attributed to the fact that we are a relatively young university compared to UM which is 100 years old. They have built up a stable reputation in that time.”

Prof Dzulkifli also cited the poor staff-student ratio in Malaysian universities. “Over the past years we have doubled our intake. USM now has 35,000 students including 28,000 undergraduates but the number of lecturers, about 1,800 has not increased in tandem.”
Being academics, I find their responses extremely discouraging and shows their complete ignorance of data and facts, not to mention, the lack of any credible analytical skills. Prof Dzulkifli's theory that UM did better relative to USM because UM have acquired a more "stable" reputation hence achieving better scores in the employer survey is completely off the mark. The fact is, despite a more "stable reputation", UM scored an absolute "0" for the recruiter review.

The blame on the "poor staff-student ratio" while appearing reasonable, was also not the significant issue in this case. USM scored only 15/400 in the 2004 survey (yes, that's 3.75%), hence it could not have been much worse at all in the current year survey. The fact of the matter is simple. The 2004 survey ranked USM as the 4th most international university in the world i.e., with the 4th highest international student population - probably due to the high Chinese Malaysian population in Penang, and that has wrongly resulted in the 111th ranking. This year, the mistake has been rectified and USM rightly, disappeared from the list.

We expect our university academics to be more analytically sound. Instead we find them searching for irrelevant excuses, and go as far as attempting to discredit the rankings table, when it is not in their favour. Our analysis here is made purely from widely available and published data which the same university academics have access to. Their inability to comprehend and interpret simple statistical data, or worse, their possible blatant attempt at ignoring them, makes them unbefitting leaders of our premier institutions of higher learning.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

University Malaya Slips to 169th

As partially expected, the latest world university rankings table compiled by The Times Higher Education Supplement (THES) which was released yesterday, revealed that Universiti Malaya (UM) slips to 169th in terms of ranking from the previous year's "lofty" 89th position. This was reported in the New Straits Times today.

The survey which was reviewed critically by this blog has earlier given UM the higher ranking due to the high "international students and faculty" scores given, probably errorneously, to UM.

I will be able to obtain more details of the latest university rankings table by Monday, and will together with Kian Ming, will once again review the methodology and calculation of scores compiled by THES to see if this time, the rankings table provide a better picture of where UM stand. So wait for more details early next week.

However, this severe drop in UM rankings serves to give a tight slap on the chancellor's face for the arrogance which he has proclaimed UM to have "achieved" world class standards. Humpty Dumpty had a great fall here and here.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Foreign students to be admitted to UM? Part 1

It was reported that the UM VC, Dr. Hashim Yaacob, is mulling the idea of opening up to 5% of first degree program i.e. undergraduate spaces to foreigners. The same report also had the VC saying that there are currently 1000 foreign students doing post-grad work in UM but no foreign undergrads. This, of course, confirms that UM's ranking in the top 100 universities worldwide that was based on its so-called 'foreign' student population was on shaky grounds. My understanding is that the THES 2004 rankings only took into account the undergraduate population. But even if the graduate population had been included, 1000 foreign students out of a total student population of nearly 30,000 (approximately 3%) would hardly rank UM among the top 50 in terms of % of foreign student intake. It would be interesting to see if this error is corrected in the soon to be released THES 2005 rankings.

But the point of this post is not so much to discuss the rankings but rather to debate the implications of opening up 5% of the undergraduate places to foreigners. It could potentially turn into a political timebomb but let us reasonably debate the pros and cons of this policy before the politicians get hold of this issue.

What was the reason the VC gave for wanting to open up these spaces for foreign students? In the same Bernama report, "He said the move was vital in exposing the locals with more advanced students from abroad".

Let's unpack this statement a little bit more. The underlying assumption of this statement is that admitting foreign students that are "more advanced" will someone benefit the local students. I find this assumption questionable at best. The reason why most foreign universities in the UK, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and some universities in the US accept non-citizen students is economic - they can charge them higher fees compared to local students. The recruitment of foreign students is becoming more important as public funding to many of these universities is being squeezed. Indeed, accepting more foreign students has not stopped many of these universities from charging higher fees even for local students, albeit at a lower rate compared to foreign students.

The UK university that I went to for my undergraduate degree, the London School of Economics (LSE), has a foreign student population of 50% and that number is expected to rise. The rationale was mostly economic and because of this, the % of LSE's operating budget that is state-funded is smaller than most UK universities. The foreign students accepted by the LSE have to fulfill A level requirements that are exactly the same as the British students (ABB when I was accepted) but most of the Singaporean and Malaysian students I knew had A level results that far exceeded the entry requirements. It was commonly accepted wisdom that foreign students would generally perform better than the British students.

But this does not mean that having foreign students that were generally better academically than the locals necessarily 'improved' the performance of the locals. There was only minimal contact between the foreigners, who would usually stick with their own ethnic / national groups and the British students, who would hang around each other. There was little, if any, group work done between British and foreign students.

If UM and other local universities cannot encourage local students of different races to mix with each other and to do coursework together, how will it encourage foreign students to interact with locals especially if there are additional cultural, linguistic and nationalistic barriers?

I do not think that my experience at the LSE is only unique to that university. If we examine universities like Melbourne or Sydney in Australia and universities like Nottingham and Bristol in the UK, a consistent picture would emerge.

Economic needs drive the decision to recruit foreign students and the locals do not gain very much intellectually.

The only place where one can make a plausible argument that admitting good foreign students would increase intellectual activity and benefit the locals is at the graduate level. There is presumably more intellectual interaction between graduate students than undergraduates. Many students work in laboratories on common projects or write papers together. Professors too would benefit from having capable graduate students as research assistants and would also be able to collaborate with them on projects and papers. That has certainly been the case for me based on my exposure and experience here at Duke and hopefully, such an atmosphere exists in local universities as well.

One can certainly argue that having foreign students in MBA programs contributes to the intellectual and entrepreneurial atmosphere in good school MBA schools worldwide. In most good MBA programs, group work is a big component of coursework and groups are picked by the MBA schools to maximize diversity - business and educational background, gender, length of experience and yes, nationality. Having a more diverse student population, including diversity of nationalities, is often used as a marketing tool by MBA schools to market to prospective students as well as to blue chip employers.

If the VC's 'musings' does turn into policy, I would be interested to examine the details of this proposal. Is it to generate more revenue for UM by charging foreign students more? Highly unlikely. Is it to expose local students to better foreign students in the hope that the locals will improve? Weak supposition that is not proven by facts. Is this a strategy to target more foreign graduate students? Again, this is not the intended target of the VC, at least not from his initial comments.

Perhaps the VC can examine the rules of and outcomes at the IIU (International Islamic University), which by most accounts is the most international research university in Malaysia at the undergraduate and graduate level.

Even if the VC's theory has some traction, there are still many details to be examined. What will the entry requirements be for foreign students? Where will the foreign students be recruited from? How will the admission of foreign student affect the intake of local students? Read Part 2.

Coming Up...

It has been an unbelievably busy week which is finally "settling" today. Apologies for the "quiet period". Hopefully, I'd be able to put something up by later today. :) Coming up are discussions on rural schools, more international students at Universiti Malaya (by Kian Ming), English policy disjoint and more :)

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

More Top 100 University Rankings

The Times Higher Education Supplement (THES) has released more faculty rankings in a prelude to the full Top 200 universities of the world rankings list. The latest list ranks the faculties of Biomedicine, Social Sciences, and Arts & Humanities. This is in addition to the Top 100 universities in Science and Technology blogged here.

I’ve taken the liberty to display the top 20 universities of each faculty for display here. (And guess what, University Malaya is respectably featured!) This information may be useful for those interested in finding the top universities for the relevant subject faculties they are interested in.

The Top 20 Biomedicine Universities

The Top 20 Social Science Universities

The Top 20 Arts and Humanities Universities

Interestingly enough, University Malaya has been ranked very credibly in the above surveys, which is conducted by a company - - using a global peer review methodology. UM did not appear in any of the Top 100 tables for the above faculties (only Top 50 available for Arts & Humanities) in 2004. Its rankings however, improved tremendously to 45th for Arts & Humanities, 83rd in Social Sciences and an impressive 82nd for Biomedicine.

The company in which University Malaya is keeping is shown here –

Arts & Humanities

Social Sciences


We are always keen to compare ourselves with our cousins down south, and for Arts & Humanities, we managed to “beat” National University of Singapore which was placed 56th, down from 17th the year before.

The other immediate observation I can make is that while the earlier 2004 Top 200 Universities which saw significant participation of international universities out of the United States (US) and Europe compared to other ranking tables such as that compiled by the Shanghai JiaoTung University, the recent faculty tables saw an even heavier presence of these ‘international universities’, particularly those from Latin America. I’m not certain if there has been a concerted efforted as part of the survey to provide greater weightage to non-US/Europe universities.

The Southeast Asian (besides Malaysia and Singapore) universities which have established their presence in the Top 100s are:
  • Gadjah Mada Unversity, Indonesia (56th Arts & Humanities)
  • Chulalongkorn University, Thailand (82nd BioMedicine, 46th Social Sciences)
From the look of things, University Malaya is poised to perform credibly again in the upcoming Top 200 World University Rankings Table.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Lecturer Conned

I'm not sure what to think of the quality of lecturers in our public universities when you read news reports like this:
A senior university lecturer was cheated of RM600,000 by a syndicate who duped her into believing that they had inherited millions of dollars belonging to an African leader who had died recently.
I would have thought that these types of con will typically victimise those who aren't particularly intelligent. Even if the lecturer couldn't smell the well worked con, surely, she should have read about plenty of silly sob stories of individuals being suckered by the standard highly-placed-official-died routine!
The lecturer agreed to fork out RM100,000 and handed over the money to one of the syndicate members in Kuala Lumpur to “fulfil one of the conditions”. These included “donations” to charities in Africa and also for services rendered.

The lecturer was also asked to pay for a chemical that would purportedly clean the money of black ink, which was used to discolour the cash to make them easier to smuggle into the country. The lecturer borrowed RM500,000 from her friend, who mortgaged his house to secure a bank loan.
I'm more concerned that a "senior" lecturer "educating" our university students than the fact that she lost RM600,000. The "loss" impact on our students could be much higher than that!!

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Where I Stand Politically?

Well, this post isn't exactly related to education but I thought I'd put it up just to give readers of this blog where it "appears" I stand politically :)

Thanks to Oon Yeoh who took and pointed out the survey, and published his own political "positioning", I decided to take the test myself and see how I'd be pigeon-holed. Here are the results:

"You are a Social Liberal (65% permissive) and an Economic Moderate (50% permissive). You are best described as a Centrist."

Link: The Politics Test

Well, maybe now you can tell why I write the way I write, and think the way I think :) Or maybe not :) I must say, I would never have described myself as a "social liberal" though...

Higher Education Set for Major Policy Review

Interestingly, as I read Sdr Lim Kit Siang's blog last night, I noted his entry on the announcement by the Minister of Higher Education that there is an on-going review of the University and University Colleges Act (UUCA). I thought that before, I write about it based on the report by Sdr Lim, I should probably scan the newspapers in the last couple of days to see if there has been any reports on the same issue. To my surprise and disappointment, there was none.

The fact that the Higher Education policy is under-going review has been known for some time. However, it wasn't clearly known what exactly was being reviewed and how determined are the authorities in making positive changes to the local higher education policy and institutions.

It was widely reported by the local press (NST and The Sun) late in September that the Government has received a draft policy recommendations from an "independent committee" which was appointed last October headed by former Education director-general Tan Sri Wan Zahid Mohd Noordin. The deputy Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Najib Abdul Razak announced that:
The draft was prepared by a committee tasked with coming up with suggestions on how to provide the quantum leap to turn Malaysia into a regional centre of excellence in tertiary education... We can expect more positive changes to achieve our ambition for the country."
However, when queried for further details,Datuk Seri Najib said the draft is with the prime minister and that they would only discuss it after they have "fine-tuned" the proposals.

Hence, it was only to be expected that if our Minister of Higher Education was queried in the parliament about the relevant proposals, we would get the standard fare replies which essentially means nothing. Sdr Lim argued that while "[the Minister] had been talking about turning Malaysia into an international hub for education with the capability to attract foreign students to Malaysia to pursue higher studies, he had failed to address the most important aspects to ensure university excellence, viz. students and academic staff of distinction."
I referred to recent university disputes such as those affecting Dr. Terence Gomez, Professor Ramasamy and Dr. Azly Rahman and the scandals of the recent university student elections which raise the larger question whether we want our students to have the faculties of critical inquiry vital for success in the globalization age or we just want to continue to breed apathy, timidity and mediocrity.
It was then that Datuk Shafie Salleh announced a policy review of the Universities and University Colleges Act, saying it is now 34 years since it was first passed and students had often raised UUCA as an issue.
“Kalau budak kecil berumur 34 tahun, dah kahwin, dah ada anak, mungkin di kampong dah ada cucu dah, jadi kita akan review baliklah.”
The Minister also added that feedback will be obtain from not only government officials, but also academicians, MPs and the "civil society". He even made the appeal: “Bagi saya chance. Baru setahun saya menjadi Menteri, ya. Bagi saya chance.”

The Minister should definitely be given his chance. But first things first, he needs to survive the impending cabinet reshuffle by the Prime Minister, whereby he is one of the clear favourites for the drop.

[Update: Sdr Lim have just posted an update on the above issue here, requesting the Minister of Higher Education to suspend all UUCA proceedings.]

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Attracting Top Universities to Malaysia (III)

In the earlier 2 posts here and here, on the same topic above, I've discussed Malaysia's intent in establishing itself as a education hub for the region with the objective of not only providing educational opportunities for domestic students, but also to double the foreign student intake to 100,000 by 2010.

What I'll do here in this third part, is to have a look at Singapore's policy in attracting foreign institutions to "set up shop" in Singapore. Note that I've gathered a fair bit of materials, and this post may end up being fairly long but hopefully informative. The data should provide us with a better context for comparisons with our very own policy in Malaysia.

To date, Singapore has managed to attract some of the top schools from the United States and Europe to set up their programmes or campus in Singapore. Some of the premier schools which have set up operations are:
  • INSEAD - Asia Campus

    The INSEAD campus in Singapore provides the full function of services and activities that are offered at its Fontainebleau campus. The programmes include a full MBA, and executive MBA, certificate courses and doctoral programmes.

  • Cornell University - Cornell-Nanyang Institute of Hospitality Management

    The Cornell-Nanyang Institute of Hospitality Management is an alliance between Cornell University's School of Hotel Administration and the Nanyang Technological University (NTU)'s Nanyang Business School (NBS). The mission of the Cornell-Nanyang Institute is three-fold. It aims to, among others develop Asian leaders, managers and entrepreneurs in the hospitality and tourism industry, and to build a world-class institution for the creation, translation and dissemination of knowledge to the hospitality and tourism industry in Asia.

  • Stanford University - Singapore Stanford Partnership in Environmental Engineering & Science

    The Singapore Stanford Partnership (SSP) is a joint effort between Nanyang Technological University's School of Civil & Environmental Engineering and Stanford University's Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering to establish a Singapore-based premier graduate education and research program in Environmental Engineering.

    Graduating students receive NTU’s MS or PhD degree in Environmental Science and Engineering with additional SSP certification jointly awarded by NTU and Stanford University.

  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology - Singapore MIT Alliance (SMA)

    SMA was launched in 1998 with the aim of setting a new standard in international collaboration in graduate science and engineering education and research. It involves some 50 professors from MIT and another 50 from both NUS and NTU in the teaching of courses and supervision of research. Graduates of the intensive 13-month programme have taken subjects such as Advanced Materials for Micro and Nano Systems, High Performance Computation for Engineered Systems, Innovation in Manufacturing Systems and Technology, Molecular Engineering of Biological and Chemical Systems; and Computer Science.

    "SMA-2" is a new five-year programme launched in July 2005. It will provide students in Singapore with the opportunity to earn a Masters degree from MIT as well as graduate degrees (Masters or Ph.D.) from NUS and NTU. Graduates now receive a certificate from MIT for their participation in the Singapore-MIT Alliance.

  • John Hopkins University - John Hopkins Singapore

    Johns Hopkins Singapore (JHS) was established by The Johns Hopkins University in 1998 as its base of medical operations in South East Asia. JHS has a tripartite mission of research, education and patient care, integrating basic translational and clinical research components.

    Research and educational activities are carried out by the Division of Biomedical Sciences, Johns Hopkins in Singapore (DJHS), which is an academic division of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. DJHS will initially concentrate on cellular and immuno-therapies with specific interests in stem cell biology, T cell and dendritic cell biology, virology and cancer.

    The Johns Hopkins-NUH International Medical Centre (IMC) is JHS’ clinical arm for patient care and clinical research activities. The IMC (a member of the National Healthcare Group) provides Hopkins-quality oncology services to local and foreign private patients in Singapore.

  • University of Chicago - Graduate School of Business

    Chicago GSB's Asian campus offers a full-time executive GSB programme taught by the same faculty which teaches at the school's Chicago and Barcelona campuses.

    Designed for professionals with 10 or more years of working experience, the programme's convenient modular format allows one to advance his or her career without interrupting it. Students stand to gain a broad knowledge of business fundamentals, as well as sharp analytical and creative problem-solving skills that extend beyond their jobs and the industry they are in.

    A unique feature of the Chicago GSB Executive MBA Asia is the weeklong residential sessions with Executive MBA students in Chicago and Barcelona.

  • University of Pennsylvania - Wharton SMU Research Centre (WSRC)

    The Wharton-SMU Research Center (WSRC) was established in 1999 as a center for research collaboration between SMU and the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania. Under the Wharton-SMU collaboration scheme, the Wharton professors funded by WSRC are expected to visit SMU during the year (typically, during the summer months in Philadelphia) - for research interaction with their SMU counterparts and presentation of research findings at seminars they would give while visiting SMU.

  • Georgia Institute of Technology - The Logistics Institute of Asia Pacific

    TLIAP is a collaboration between the National University of Singapore (NUS) and the Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech) for research and education programs in global logistics. TLI - Asia Pacific is modeled after The Logistics Institute (TLI) at Georgia Tech, which has wide industry recognition as one of the best institutes for education and research in logistics. This collaboration provides logistics expertise which caters to the logistics needs of the industries across the world today focusing on global logistics, information technology, industrial engineering and supply chain management.
Other premier universities which has set up programmes in Singapore include Shanghai Jiao Tong University, Shanghai Jiao Tong University, Technische Universiteit Eindhoven and Technische Universitat Munchen.

The above are really some of the top names in global education, and Singapore is indeed the envy of many Asia Pacific nations for being able to attract them to offer programmes in the country.

While some may criticise that many of the above, represents just the setting up of certain joint programmes, and not offering "direct" degree programmes or setting up branch campuses, it is far more than any other countries in the region has achieved. In addition, it is understood that many of these institutions would prefer to "get comfortable" with regards to the experiment of setting up offshore programmes, particularly in terms of the quality of output, before proceeding to award their own institutions' degrees. For example, MIT has after five years, "stepped up" their programme to offer Masters degrees, instead of just offering MIT certificates.

What did Singapore do?

What were the reasons behind Singapore's relative success in attracting these top universities and academics? The only answer I could give, is that they had a clear and specific programme in what they wanted to achieve, and they had the right competent people to achieve the targets set. They drew a list of the universities they wanted, and they put up a strategy to attract them.

In 1998, Singapore's Economic Development Board launched the World-Class University programme to attract up to 10 world-class institutions to set up a significant presence in Singapore within ten years. That goal was reached in February 2003 - five years ahead of schedule.

Singapore had a vision of being a world-class education hub, a "Global Schoolhouse," with a "self-sustaining education ecosystem that offers a diverse and distinctive mix of quality education services to the world".

So What's Next?

Clearly achieving the "targets" "five years early" isn't the end of it. Singapore has continued to be extremely aggressive in attracting top-class institutions to set up shop in Singapore, and are no longer content with just "joint research programmes". In a recent move reported by the Asian Wall Street Journal (AWSJ) on July 12th, the government of Singapore made Duke University an offer it couldn't refuse a few years ago:
The city-state would underwrite a new $310 million graduate medical school and hand the entire budget over to Duke. The Singapore school would use Duke's curriculum, and Duke would run the show, from hiring the staff to selecting the students.
Not surprisingly, the university "leapt at the offer". The only caveat was that the degree offered shall not be immediately accepted at the "Duke medical degree", probably until such a time whereby the Duke officials are comfortable with the standards of education in the "new institution" to be equivalent to the standard they offer in North Carolina. The new medical school will be opened in 2008.

The University of New South Wales, one of Australia's top universities (and one this blogger gives more credibility to due to its less "commercial" nature compared to most other Australian universities), agreed last year to build a $245 million campus over 15 years that will offer the university's full range of graduate and undergraduate programs to 15,000 students, beginning in 2007.

The Singapore government has just recently suffered a minor setback when Warwick University rejected an offer to set up a branch campus in the country. Thanks to Jeff Ooi's blog post for the heads up. This rejection was confirmed in a statement made by the university officials, although the statement also says that the university would like to pursue collaboration with Singapore through alternative means. Despite what was reported in the Independent (I found the article highly inaccurate in many of its perceptions of Singapore), I believe that the main reason for the rejection is really due to the reluctance of the academic community to commit to participating in a campus in so far in Southeast Asia. They have earlier voted against the proposal by 27 to 13.

However, I fully exect Singapore to be able to continue to attract the top institutions to set up shop in Singapore. At the end of the day, it is about packaging and being innovative. Singapore has aggressively offered schools preferential real-estate terms, tax-free status and other special deal structures to ensure that it will be successful in roping in the top foreign institutions.

What's in it for Singapore?

We have been talking about attracting these top institutions to Singapore - but what's the reasons for Singapore being so aggressive in its manouvres (such as underwriting US$310 million)?

Besides the obvious of being associated with these universities, there are many other tangible and critical reasons for Singapore's romance with these top schools:
  • It takes a terribly long time to set up and nurture a top quality school (and there's no guarantee that it'll be top quality!). By inviting these world class institutions to set up programmes and campuses in Singapore, their "know-how" and expertise are immediately "transferred" to Singapore. It's like instant noodles :). The more top quality educators Singapore attract, the better exposure Singapore students (and educators) get in becoming better educated.

  • It resolves a major education supply side issue in Singapore. It may take a whole generation of academics turnover before Singapore can obtain the right quantity of educators of the right quality. It's a natural supply side constraint for Singapore due to its size and population. But the supply side constraints will be eased with the influx of foreign academicians, which will bring about hopefully some osmosis in knowledge.

  • Singaporean students will obviously benefit from a greater choice and variety in education. From a nation's macro perspective - Singapore has outlived its usefulness as a manufacturing hub, even in the higher technology sectors. The only way to structurally reengineer the Singapore's economy from being electronics manufacturing dependent to one that is service and "knowledged-based", is to ensure that there is sufficient levels of quality knowledge in its population. It's not coincidental that the bulk of the programmes set up by the foreign institutions in Singapore are heavily service, science and bio-technology based.

  • More importantly, I believe for Singapore, is that by having the top institutions set up shop in Singapore, top students from all over Asia will then set foot in Singapore to pursue their further education. It is clear that Singapore probably do not have sufficient natural population to populate these institutions and campuses. However, it is expected that a substantial bulk of student vacancies are expected to be fulfilled through "foreign students". That way, Singapore is clearly hoping (as per the very successful Asean Scholarship scheme) to "trap" the most talented Asians to be resident in the country, in part to make up for Singapore declining birth rates as well as the oft lamented shortfall in talent. Singapore aims to draw 150,000 foreign students from across Asia within 10 years.

  • Finally, all these institutions are of course expected to contribute economically by making money. And in education, there's still plenty of money to be made in this region. As highlighted in the AWSJ report, the move already has paid off for some of the universities. French business school INSEAD, which opened a stand-alone Singapore campus in 2000, says it took in $18 million in revenue last year and has an enrollment of 300 full-time M.B.A. candidates.
The above long blog post, but still fairly brief in details, provides a background of Singapore's policy in attracting top universities. When juxtaposed against the Malaysian "declared" policy to date (through haphazard media interviews with plenty of spin and a lack in details), it gives an indication of how much more we actually need to do.

My original intent was to create 2 post on this topic, which has now become 3. However, it appears that due to the length of this post, I shall now have to leave the last bit of analysis - "what Malaysia needs to do" - in the 4th and last instalLment (for now) for this topic. Thanks for reading! :)

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

You Give National Schools A Bad Name!

Thanks to reader, John Lee for his link to this particular blog post by Cik Amoi a week ago. In the post entitled "Misguided HM in National School", Cik Amoi gave an example of the poor administration of the national schools which if not checked, will further polarise, the race community in Malaysia. Below are some excerpts from her post, whereby Cik Amoi's 'friend's daughter' was enrolled into the national secondary school (Sekolah Menengah Kebangsaan).
In her first year (Form 1), she made many friends from all races and was very happy in that school. In fact, one of her best friend is a Malay girl whose father is also a school teacher, albeit in another district. My friend's daughter did very well in her school exams and came out among the top 3 in her class. However, for some unexplained reasons, she was "demoted" and separated from the class of best students in her second year. She ended up in a class of students who are more interested in disrupting the teachers and playing the fool rather than doing any actual learning.

In her second year, she applied for leave from school to sit for her Piano ABRSM theory examination which happened to clash with the day she was to sit for a Sejarah test paper. She was told to see the HM regarding the matter. Imagine her shock when the HM refused to even listen to her plea or even look at the proof of exam attendance slip. Instead, the headmistress refused to look at her, waved her off with her hand and curtly dismissed her with a "ini semua alasan saja. Kalau kamu absent, kamu dapat markah kosonglah." With that, she was summarily dismissed from the office. Needless to say, she was almost in tears.

My friend was shocked by the callous attitude of the headmistress and went to the school the next morning to try to explain the situation to her. However, the HM was out of the office on "personal matters" and he was attended to by the asst HM. When he showed the exam slip to her, she retorted with a "Oh, ini untuk ujian Piano. Anak kamu dari keluarga elit, ya?. Maaf, saya tak boleh tolong. Kalau alasan tak mahu datang sekolah kerana sakit masuk hospital atau saudara mati, itu boleh. Lain alasan mesti tanya guru besar dulu. Datanglah besok pagi" My friend was utterly speechless!!

When he finally caught up with the HM, she was in a better mood. The HM conceded that it is not possible for the girl to change her Piano exam date and agreed to allow her to sit for the Sejarah paper in her office immediately after she finished her Piano test. When my friend queried her on why she refused to give her consideration to the request earlier, he was further shocked by her reply that it was because there are so many other students in the school who frequently apply for leave to attend "Church" matters (hal-hal agama Kristian)! She thought that my friend's daughter was also trying to skip school to attend "Church". Maybe it was the HM's good fortune that my friend is not a Christian, otherwise, he would be HUGELY OFFENDED by her remark.
Is there a HOTLINE which we can call the Ministry of Education and complain about the headmistress and assistant headmistress? I'm in agreement with Cik Amoi that the above experience is not unique, and is prevalent in many schools throughout the country. At the same time, I'm aware that there are also excellent head of schools in Malaysia and these black sheeps just give national schools, which is the critical melting pot to promote national integration, a terrible name.

The problem is, in the best case scenario, the headmistress gets transferred to another school as "punishment". To me that's not punishment for the headmistress, but instead for the poor students of this other school, at the continued expense of the taxpayers.

There's clearly plenty to be "transformed" and improved about our education system, and our team of teachers and education administrators. Things will not change overnight - not a chance. But if things do improve bit by bit over time, then that's worth fighting for the future generation of young Malaysians. The question is, where do we start?

Monday, October 17, 2005

Top 100 Science & Technology Universities

Thanks to a post in Eric Beerkens blog, I was updated of the Top 100 Science and Technology universities in the world recently compiled and published by The Times Higher Education Supplement (THES). This 2 tables serve as a prelude to the full global universities rankings table to be released next month.

The following table shows the top 20 Science universities in the world as per the THES survey. It is interesting to note that it appears that Oxbridge universities are actually rated better than the top universities in the United States for this year, and the previous year.

More interestingly, however, and it appears that the University itself have not yet discovered this, University Kebangsaan Malaysia (National University of Malaysia, UKM), has been included amongst the top 100 science universities in the world. UKM is ranked joint 91st, an improvement from being unranked in the previous year. UKM was also unranked in the world's top 200 universities ranking list for 2005 by THES. In this particular case, the ranking might just be a tad more credible than the achievement by Universiti Malaya and Universiti Sains Malaysia, which achieved their respective 89th and 111th world ranking last year, on the basis of a misguided "international faculty and students score". In this particular case, the science university ranking is provided purely on the basis of "peer review", although UKM had no "citations" to speak of. I would definitely be interested to find out more about the methodology used to derive the "peer review" score.

For those interested, the National University of Singapore (NUS) and Nanyang Technological University (NTU) are ranked 34th and 84th respectively. I've provided the table of the universities ranked 90th-100th below:

The top 100 technology universities of the world on the other hand, has a slightly different make up at the top. In this case, the universities of the United States are stronger and the top 20 consists of 7 universities from Asia as shown below. It appears that the Asian universities have been more adept in embracing technological advances to build competitive strengths than those in the Europe, which is represented by only 4 universities, of which 3 are from the United Kingdom (UK).

None of the Malaysian universities made it to the top 100 list for technology universities. On the other hand, Singapore fared particularly well here, with NUS and NTU ranked 9th and 26th respectively. More interestingly, Chulalongkorn University of Thailand made it to the 100th placement.

I hope that the above tables have been informative. I've received plenty of friendly criticisms on my blog post that I pay "way too much" attention on ranking tables for Universities. My personal opinion is that ranking tables are never going to be 100% accurate. However, I strongly believe that if the right methodology is used for the relevant compilation, the ranking tables will provide a good indication of where a university stands. For example, there probably isn't going to be much of a difference between enrolling into a university ranked 16th vs one that is ranked say, 24th. However, between say 16th and 67th, or say, between 48th and 97th, there are bound to be some significant differences.

In an age that we are bombarded with too much information, the bulk of which are ingeniously manipulated marketing information, there is a major need for some form of credible comparison tables to provide objective information to educators, students and parents. Go visit a website of a university ranked say, 104th and that of one ranked 12th, you will find that it is extremely likely that a student is unable to tell the difference in terms of quality between the two institutions. In fact, the lower ranked institution is more likely to "oversell" is quality and achievements in order to attract more students to the university, especially in the age where higher education is facing mass commercialisation.

Hence if anything, my approach to ranking tables will be to continually improve its accuracy and methodology, rather than to completely abandon or ignore such findings.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

The Sun Interview with Dr Rais Yatim

I've quoted the teaser quote publised in the Sun a few days back here, and the full interview is published in this weekend's the Sun. You can also read the full interview here.

The bulk of the article deals with the National Cultural policy for Malaysia, the problems he faces such as religion vs culture, multi-racial & inter-racial culture which are fairly sensitive issues for Malaysia. For this post, I'll just highlight the sections which were relevant to our education policy.
The Sun: You mentioned education just now. I remember our second prime minister Tun Abdul Razak said in 1965 "our National Education Policy is aimed at bringing children of all races together, learning the same thing in the same way and under the same roof so that they will feel that they share the same ideal and the same country". But this is not happening.

Yes, it is not happening. You are right. To a certain extent it does happen. Let me admit again. Culture can be nurtured. It does not happen by chance. Culture can be nurtured in the cocoon or in the testing bed. Now what is the testing bed? The testing bed is education, the schools. Instead of sharing a common experience, we see polarisation of the races. No shared experience. This because there are Chinese schools and Tamil schools. And Sekolah Kebangsaan (SK) today is not what was envisaged long ago as a place our children learn and grow up together. We want all races to pass through the same schools, but they are not. In the 60s and 70s, yes, but not now.

The Sun: Why is this happening?

Because they see certain things in the Sekolah Kebangsaan which frighten them. Too much religion, too much Islam. They became frightened. That is the big impediment to the races studying together under one roof. Therefore, if Islam in schools can be reduced, SK can once again play the role intended for it. Now it is not about the teaching of ugama that is being questioned. No, not that. Have religious classes by all means. But keep away Islam from other aspects of life in the school. No doa at the assembly, no doa in the classroom except during religious classes. Then, and only then can Sekolah Kebangsaan be the crucible where shared experience is cooked. Finally, we must improve the quality of teachers in SK.
Yes, the last sentence was short but its importance probably the greatest - the Chinese community will unfortunately continue to shun the national schools if the quality of teachers in the Sekolah Kebangsaans do not improve. See also example of obnoxious head of school here.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Maintain PMR Standards

Following the report in the Star with regards to the PMR examination which has been regarded as a little "too easy" (blogged here), a Mr Sunny Tan of Johor Bahru, wrote in the Letters column of the Star, requesting that the education authorities "maintain PMR standards".
The Education Ministry and the Malaysian Examination Syndicate (MES) should really take the views of teachers and students who are disappointed with the lack of challenge of the examination papers seriously and not just shrug them off.

We must ask ourselves if the results give a true picture of the students' understanding of, and ability in, the subjects tested when they are set below par. It is dangerous to disillusion ourselves by lowering the standards.
I'm sure all of us could not agree more. We'd like the MES to take the criticisms constructively and help us improve the standards of Malaysian students and the crediblity of the Malaysian examinaton in the future. What MES should do now is make a public statement that it will consider all the opinions of the teachers, parents and the public and make future year examinations a better one.

Sunny goes on to argue that over the years, "the ministry has reduced the content in the Mathematics and Science syllabus to make the subjects lighter on our students."

However, due to current and future needs, the syllabus should instead be enhanced ... The ministry should not take out components just because they are slightly more difficult to understand.

Apparently, there was a new format of examination for the English paper as well. This format, it appears, consists of graphic materials and short texts - as describe by PMR student John Lee in his comments on the earlier post here. Sunny argued, understandably that this new format "will not test the ability of the students".
When one looks at the current examination formats for the English Language papers, one will question the seriousness of the Government in raising its level. One only needs to check the questions over the last 30 years or so to see the steep degradation of the standard.

We would appreciate if the ministry injects more comprehension, grammar, writing and other more useful components into the syllabus to help our students get a better grasp of the language.
Sunny was not the only reader complaining, there was plenty of feedback from the Star readers published today. Some of the examples of comments are:
“Exam standards have been dropping year by year. This will affect the standard in university too. Please buck up.”

A student said the questions were probably made easy because school Mathematics and Science teachers were themselves not proficient in English. “The teachers who are teaching Maths and Science in English cannot even read or teach in English. What do you expect?”

National Union of the Teaching Profession secretary-general Lok Yim Pheng said the MES should not lower examination standards to make it easier for weaker students. [The MES] cannot lower the standard of exams like this just to make it easier for some students. The standard of public examinations must be maintained,” said Lok.
Yes, MES, we do not want to produce a generation of incompetent 'A' students.

Hear! Hear! Quote from Dr Rais Yatim

The Sun this weekend will published an interview conducted with Datuk Seri Rais Yatim, our Minister of Culture, Arts and Heritage. In a snippet provided today, Datuk Seri Rais is quoted to have argued the following, which is a sensitive but critical subject in the Malaysian education system.
Have religious classes by all means. But keep away Islam from other aspects of life in the school. No doa at the assembly, no doa in the classroom except during religious classes. Then, and only then can the national school be the crucible where shared experience is cooked.
In recent months, the retired politicians and civil servants have spoken critically about the state of the current education system. There comments are blogged here and here. Now, a sitting Minister of our current cabinet have bravely spoken. Is anyone listening? Can we expect changes?

I'll look out for the entire interview in the Sun tomorrow.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

The Lack of Competitve Pressures: A Response

Kian Ming posted a blog post entitled "Competitive Pressures... or the Lack Thereof" earlier here. Kian Ming argued that "there are no such competitive pressures within the academia in Malaysia. There is no ‘publish or perish’ culture. It is possible to stay at the level of Assistant Professor (or the equivalent titles in Malaysian academia) all your life without publishing a single piece of academic work."

His post has attracted a response from a regular reader of this blog, whose email I shall republish here below. The reader is a lecturer at a local private college himself, while his retired father was with a local public university. He seeked to establish the fact that there was to some extent, a "publish or perish" culture, but it was a discrimatory one. It also tells of the many ills which plague our local universities, supported with real life anecdotes:

"There are some aspects of your article which I do not agree with you. My dad was an academician in a public university and he was only promoted to a Professor when he was about to retire (about 2 years from retirement). There is no 'publish or perish' policy in public university for a certain group of privileged people. However as for my dad, coming from the non-privileged group, he and his colleagues have to publish a lot of their works and researches for chances of promotion and to stay alive in the university.

He would tell us at the dinner table that he was granted grants by international organizations and agencies and his other colleagues of the 'privileged group' would want to hitch a free ride or get a free meal. He would tell us that his junior colleagues 'of the privileged group' has gotten their professorship or associate professorship but has neither the experiences and the amount of work to justify the promotion.

Bear in mind, that there is a lot of politicking involved in public universities in Malaysia for academic promotion. The non-privileged group of academicians will either fight among themselves or work together. Most of them bitter about their status in the organization until the end of their tenure because they are not honored and recognized for the work they did. It happens and life is unfair. My dad and most of his colleagues from the non-privileged group have their basic degrees (some of them including my dad has first class honors), masters degrees and Ph.D. from top universities in UK and the USA.

However, even there are some people of the privileged group, were merited with promotions. However it constitutes only a small percentage from that group.

As for the private education institutions in which I am currently working in, does not permit their academicians to publish and to do research because of time constrains. The amount of teaching hours that a lecturer have to teach per week is about an average of 20 hours per week which is 2 or 3 times less the workload of a public university academician.

Private colleges and universities can hire any top notched academicians available in the market and paying them top money, but in actual fact, they would only end up teaching only and will not have the time for research. The bottom line for these private education institutions is how much money they can make. Thus is it worth the amount of money spend to hire these guys and get less teaching hours from them? That is why in most private education institutions, those with phd always end up doing administrative and managerial duties rather than to teach.

There is a lot of red-tape too in private education institutions. Don't be fooled thinking that the private sector is more efficient in their work. We private academicians have to do a lot of paperwork too. However, I would agree with you that private sector education institutions are working towards challenging the public universities for grants and better academic standing because of strong influences and pressures from their foriegn partners and the acceptance of the reality that education is not a business but a social service, by making lower profits and or breaking even. There have been arrangements for private education institutions academics to be given less workload if they are doing research and has gotten a grant for themselves. They are these arrangements now and it is a matter of time to see private education institutions being up to par or to better than public university in terms of research and development.

The government has given a lot of opportunities for public universities to improve through grants and allocations but the standards are still appalling. However, with external pressures from private education institutions, they might buck up one day!"

The reader also gave another example in a subsequent email with regards to a certain unhealthy practice at some of our local universities:

"There is another monkey business going on in university regarding to retirement. A lot of lecturers before they retire are given promotions resulting a several pay scale jumps thus upon retiring, he collects a high "pencen". It is ridiculous because it is not based on merits that he got the promotion but as a farewell gift. It happens to a lot of academic staff in the university who has retired. Although not formally admitted but openly practised."

Not a pretty picture at all for our institutions of higher learning...

PMR Too Easy?

The Penilaian Menengah Rendah (PMR) examination has just been completed on Tuesday this week, and apparently, many are of the opinion that the examinations this year has been of a lower standard, particularly for Science and English Language papers. This is reported in the Star today.
A Mathematics and Science teacher from Seremban said her students were “disappointed” with the Science paper as the questions were “too easy.”

“One of my students commented that had he known the questions were to be that easy, he would not have studied so hard! They were disappointed that the paper was not a challenge”.
Apparently, even the average and weaker students found the paper easy and not challenging. One of the teachers interviewed was even harsher with her comments, claiming that “Science was easy and English was closer to the UPSR exam”.

Is it just a one-off? Or is it representing another decline in standards in the Malaysian examinations? The immediate speculation that comes to mind is the fact that this was the first year whereby Mathematics and Science examinations are conducted in English (though not yet 100%, as Malay translations are still available) - is the lowering of standards meant to coincide with this so that students will fare "better"? This was similarly speculated by one of the teachers interviewed.
“I do not know if it has anything to do with the fact that this year’s candidates were the first to study Maths and Science in English. But the standard of most of the papers was much lower than Form Three level.
What lends credence to this speculation is the fact that just one month ago, the Ministry of Education released the results of the July trial PMR examinations conducted for Mathematics and Science in English which was apparently very poor. The New Straits Times reported on the 16th September that "Form Three teachers who have been teaching Science and Mathematics in English since January are a worried lot."

In a subsequent NST report, the Ministry of Education Director General, Datuk Ahamad Sipon said "the questions were designed to test students on their understanding of questions posed in English and Bahasa Malaysia, and Maths and Science terminology and their grasp of concepts, ideas and information presented in both languages."
Teachers were to have used the results of the "diagnostic assessment" test given to Form Three students in July to remedy weaknesses in the teaching of Science and Mathematics in English. He said the test was not meant to be a trial examination for the Penilaian Menengah Rendah and could not be used to assess students’ performance in the exam...
The Malaysian Examination Syndicate director Dr Salleh Hassan, who has been under a little bit of pressure in the recent PMR examinations due to issues blogged here and here, naturally "begged to differ". The best way for our civil servants to answer some of the tough questions posed, is by apparently "answering without answering".
He said the level of difficulty was about the same for every examination – including this year's – so the syndicate could chart and compare students’ performance over the years.

"Every examination has a combination of six levels of difficulty – understanding, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis and evaluation. Some questions will be difficult and some questions will be easier, depending on the level of testing."
Errr... how does that convince the public that the PMR examination standards were not lower, I have absolutely no idea.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Attracting Top Universities to Malaysia (II)

Wah... just as I posted Part 1 of the my post on the above title last night, the New Straits Times today "followed up" on the issue of attracting "top universities" to Malaysia by placing the latest story on its front page.

The proclamations were not at all modest, with the article headlined: "Major boost for higher education: Going big (Ivy) League".
This is the news that Malaysian parents have been waiting to hear: Malaysia is going to be home to a top-class medical university and business management institution, modelled on the famous Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.

Besides providing more places for locals otherwise forced to venture abroad, these two institutions will also give the country’s ambitions of becoming a regional education hub a major fillip. It also signals a move by the administration to aggressively chase tie-ups with brand- name foreign universities.
If it is true that Wharton is indeed coming to set up campus in Malaysia, that'll be great news. However, the fact is "the Government planned to set up a business management institute" (so it's a locally owned institution) and "the business management institution will involve a tie-up with Wharton Business School of University of Pennsylvania".

Unfortunately, the nature of this "tie-up" is not elaborated in greater detail. Any tie-ups with an institution such as Wharton will be good for Malaysia. But before we go jumping about with joy ("what parents have been waiting for..."), shouldn't we at least obtain the necessary details of what this "tie-up" is about? Will it be about an annual one-month exchage of 2 academics? Or will it be the endorsement of the local certificates by Wharton?

The above announcement is made by our "Special Envoy to Higher Education Ministry", Datuk Seri Effendi Nawawi. There is also an interview with him available here, which don't provide any further details with regards to the "tie-up". At the same time, he continued to hint at some form of collaboration between our local universities and Cambridge University without providing any additional details.

These "tie ups" with the big name schools are in no doubt positive steps, albeit we have yet to determine, how exactly "big" the steps are. What is certain however, is that they don't yet deserve a screaming headline that Malaysia is going "Big (Ivy) League", and parents will need to with hold they joy for a while longer.

I'll follow with the promised examination of Singapore policy on attracting the world's top universities for comparative purposes in the next post.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Attracting Top Universities to Malaysia (I)

In an attempt to make Malaysia one of the key destinations for global students to pursue their higher education, the Ministry of Higher Education appears to be taking a two-prong strategy. The first one appears to be the increased liberalisation in the private college sector, in terms of setting up new colleges as well as in terms of awarding degrees. The second one, which is the subject matter of this particular post, is with regards to the ministry's attempts to attract universities from the western sphere to set up "branch campuses" in Malaysia.

The policy of attracting the "top" universities of the world to set up campuses in Malaysia, is not a bad one. Theoretically, if we are able to attract the top universities in the world to set up campuses in Malaysia, it will not only attract more foreign students to the country, it will also benefit the local education environment. For instance, the local top students will have a choice of attending the local campuses at a cheaper cost to acquire top-notch education. At the same time, public universities which has been under scrutiny today will face greater competitive pressures to improve performance to maintain their standards.

It is Malaysia's offical goal to attract up to 100,000 foreign students in 5 years time from just under 50,000 students today. Deputy Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak read a speech by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi which stated that "the country needed to recognise the impact of 'internationalisation' on the education sector," when officiating the launch of the University of Nottingham Malaysian Campus (UNMC) in Semenyih. This was reported in the Star on September 27th. The UNMC has currently over 1,200 students from a remarkable 30 countries. The University of Nottingham is ranked a very respectable 12th in the Times Good University Guide for 2006 in the United Kingdom.

On Sunday, Higher Education Ministry director-general Datuk Dr Prof Hassan Said claimed that "more foreign universities from Ireland, the United Kingdom and the United States are preparing to have a presence here." This was reported in the New Straits Times on Monday this week.
Most of the universities he visited in these countries showed keen interest in either setting up branch campuses or research and development centres, he said.

"In the case of Ireland, we are discussing a lot of things. There is a possibility the individual universities will set up branch campuses. There is also the possibility that all of them might come here as a consortium."
On the surface of it, this sounded like good news. However, upon more detailed scrutiny (with no disrespect at all to Irish Universities), these colleges are no where near the top colleges of the world. In the respected and widely cited Shanghai JiaoTung University (SJTU) ranking table of the top 500 universities of the world, 1 Irish university (Trinity College Dublin) is placed in the 201-300 category while 2 others were placed in the 401-500 category (University College Cork and University College Dublin). Even in the more doubtful world rankings list compiled by the Times Higher Education Supplement (THES), the only Irish University appearing in the top 200 was Trinity College, placed at 87th. Are our Ministry officials pursuing the right universities to set up campuses in Malaysia?

In circumstances such as this, it is inevitable for anybody not to make comparisons to the policies instituted in our southern neighbour, and envy their success in some of their undertakings. Singapore has been extremely successful in attracting the top schools in the world to set up programmes or campuses in the country. Some of the top universities which have set up presence in Singapore includes Insead, the leading European business school from France, University of Chicago Business School, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (5), Stanford University (4), Cornell University (12) and John Hopkins University (19) (SJTU world rankings in brackets). Additionally, Duke University (32) from the United States and the University of New South Wales (153-202) are expected to open their campuses in Singapore within the next 3 years. I will dwell more in terms of Singapore's policy to attract the top schools in the world in the subsequent post.

The question that we (and the policy makers) need to ask is whether we have a specific strategy in recruiting these "top universities". Are we trying to really attract the top schools, but are misguidedly pursuing the second and third tier universities - University of Nottingham (83), Monash University (203-300) and the Irish Universities?

Alternatively, is it an intentional commercial decision to attract the 2nd and 3rd tier universities, as there is justifiably a very strong demand for their degrees throughout the world? From a foreign exchange income perspective, attracting these institutes is not a bad decision at all. The number of students who can qualify to the top universities of the world are few. On the other hand, there will definitely be a larger pool of students who will qualify into the next tier of good universities.

The difference in the nature of the above policies have subtle implications for our education industry in Malaysia. The latter policy may be a successful one in terms of commercial factors, but it will not have as strong an impact in their ability to improve the quality of our students and local education sector, as the former policy. In addition, Malaysia is likely to be labelled (if not already), a "mass" education centre of higher learning, instead of the "top" education centre of higher learning.

I don't think there is a strictly right or wrong to the above choices, although I'd like to believe that Malaysia should be more ambitious in attracting the real top colleges to set up some form of presence in Malaysia. It is more important that the officials at the Ministry of Higher Education formulate a clear policy for the country and stay focused in achieving the objectives of the policy. At the moment, I'm just not convinced that the officials know what they are specifically doing.

Interestingly, Datuk Prof Hassan claimed that "Cambridge University was planning to collaborate in research and development with various local universities," in the latest interview. The same newspaper published on the 6th June this year that "Cambridge University is looking into the possibility of setting up a branch campus here." It was immediately rebutted in a low-key report in Malaysiakini, in which Cambridge officials flatly denied any plans to set up any "branch" and any other countries.

Collaboration between academics are common occurences and definitely not as claimed by Prof Hassan that "[i]t is the first time that Cambridge has explored this possibility with other universities."

I just wish that our officials focus a bit more with their roles and responsibilities and a lot less in try to "name drop" to associate themselves with supposedly "great" achievements. These actions by our government officials will obviously negatively affect potential collaborations we may have with institutions like Cambridge (imagine being questioned by the Malaysian media about a non-existent plan like setting up a "branch" in Malaysia!), not to mention that it'll make Malaysians look really stupid.

As mentioned earlier, my next post on this same topic will do a comparative study on Singapore's single minded pursuit and their innovative strategies to attract the "top" institutions of the world to the tiny island.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Budget 2006: Human Capital Development

This post seeks to highlight and consolidate the information with regards to "what's in it for education", provided by the budget announced for the year 2006. The information is consolidated from the Prime Minister's budget speech and the local newspapers, the Star, the New Straits Times as well as the Sun.

In the Prime Minister's budget speech, he outlined 4 key strategies to achieve the objectives of the nation for 2006. The strategies are to implement proactive Government measures to accelerate economic activities, to provide a business-friendly environment, developing human capital and finally, to enhance the well-being and quality of life of Malaysians.

The total amount of expenditure allocated for the education sector is RM29 billion, or approximately 21.5% of the entire 2006 budget (RM134.7b). Of the amount however, only RM5 billion is available for "development" activities. That means approximately RM24 billion is utilised for existing operations, for e.g., salaries for teachers and civil servants, rental, utilities etc.

The Budget announced by the Prime Minister about a week ago provides development for Education in roughly, 3 different segments. I'll classify them as (1) Direct expenditure on Education, (2) Tax benefits in Education and (3) Post-education incentives and benefits. I'll then follow up with a quick commentary on the Budget for Education below.

(1) Direct Expenditure on Education

Of the RM5 billion development expenditure for education, RM1.3 billion will be spent on pre-school, primary, secondary and matriculation schools. In addition, approximately RM1.2 billion will be utilised to improve infratructure, IT, hostels and teachers' quarters.

As part of the education program, the Government has set a 2010 target for staffing secondary and primary schools to be 100% and 50% graduate teachers respectively.

In addition, as part of a RM700 million budget made available to eradicate poverty among Malaysians, part of the funds will be used to upgrade and renovate rural schools, especially in Sabah and Sarawak, and supply electricity to about 550 schools and water to 260 schools; increasing the food allowance for children in Tabika Kemas from 60 sen to RM1.50 per day. A specific amount of RM80 million has also been allocated to construct and equip 400 rural libraries. From the budget notes and reports, I'm not certain whether part of this RM700 million (which will also be spent on repairing houses, as well as improving the living standards of the orang asli) is taken from the education budget of RM1.3 billion.

The Higher Education Ministry will receive the amount of RM1.4 billion. Of the RM1.4 billion, RM493mil for increased enrolment of students in technical, vocational and skills training institutes, which is expected to go up from 72,000 now to 98,000 next year. Enrolment in polytechnics is to be increased from 78,000 to 80,000 next year.

In addition, the Higher Education Ministry will set up a special unit to assist private institutions of higher learning (IPTS) obtain accreditation and recognition overseas in an attempt to boost the private education system in Malaysia to become a hub for the region.

(2) Tax Benefits in Education
  • Parents with children pursuing tertiary education will get automatic tax relief of up to RM4,000. This applies also to those with children studying at recognised universities abroad.

  • Tax relief for disabled children pursuing higher education will also be increased from the current RM5,000 for each child to a total of RM9,000.

  • To encourage lifelong learning, the scope of courses that qualify for tax relief of RM5,000 for individual taxpayers will be broadened.

  • At present, tertiary-level courses on technical, vocational, industrial, science and technology skills are tax-exempt. This exemption will be extended to professional qualifications as well as accounting and law courses.

  • To increase the number of local scientists, IPTS specialising in science courses will be given Investment Tax Allowance of 100% for 10 years.

(3) Post-Education Expenditure and Benefits

Out of the RM5 billion development expenditure for education, there is a budgeted amount of RM1.1 billion allocated for "training". There appears to be many new programmes targetted at life-long learning as well as retraining (and additional training) for unemployed graduates as well as "incentives" for prospective entrepreneurs.

Some of the programmes are:
  • The Prosper Graduate Programme to help graduates become entrepreneurs. Graduates will have to set up their own businesses and the Government will provide 200 of them with financing of up to RM50,000 each;

  • The Young Entrepreneurs’ Scheme which is built around information and communications technology (ICT), tourism, halal products as well as food processing and packaging;

  • The Industrial Skills Enhancement Programme for which RM100 million has been allocated to train 4,800 people (unemployed graduates).

  • In addition to these, the other incentives involve putting more money into existing training institutes to train a bigger pool of school leavers. Nearly RM1 billion will be provided for trade and industrial training at Institute Kemahiran Mara, Pusat Giat Mara and Industrial Training Institutes.

  • To encourage companies to provide job opportunities for unemployed graduates, listed companies under the supervision of the SC that provide allowances to participants under the Unemployed Graduates Training Programmes will be given double tax deduction for a period of 3 years. It is expected that at least 1,000 unemployed graduates will be trained under this programme by listed companies in the PNB and Khazanah groups.
Quick Commentary

Compared against the previous years, the allocation for Education has increased significantly. The development expenditure for 2004 and 2005 are only RM4.3 and RM3.4 billion respectively. It also means that the budget for education has increased by a massive RM46.8% over the previous year. This is a good development for the country.

The next question to ask is whether as a percentage of the overall budget, is 20% a reasonable proportion of expenditure for education? Are we investing sufficiently in our future? A quick check with the Singapore Budget for 2005 reveals comparable expenditure proportions. A comparison with Singapore is always useful as they have the undisputed(*) lead in terms of the quality of education in this region (* with the exception of the Selangor Menteri Besar who claimed in his version of statistics that the education standards in Selangor is better than that of Singapore's).

Singapore has a overall budget expenditure of S$29.64 billion, and the amount of S$6.16 billion allocated to education works out to approximately 20.8%. Of the $6.16 education budget, approximately S$1.08 billion is reserved for development. Development expenditure hence works out to be approximately 17.5% of the education budget. Once again, the proportion of development expenditure for Malaysia's 2006 education budget is approximately the same at 17.2%. From this perspective, I'm happy that the Government has allocated sufficiently (in terms of funds) for education in this country.

However, taking the analysis a little bit further - it is clear that the average spend on each Singapore student is significantly higher than that of the Malaysian student. Although the proportion of education expenditure from the budget is the same between the two countries, the total number of students differ markly. As at 2005, the estimated number of students from primary to university is approximately 650,000 in Singapore, versus 5.7 million in Malaysia. As a result the per capita spend for a student in Singapore is S$9,470 (~RM21,300), while for Malaysia, it works out to only RM5,080. That works out to less than 25% the expenditure per student in Singapore.

The above is not so much a criticism of the budget, but more a statement of fact. The Singapore education system is significantly "ahead" of Malaysia is partly due to available expenditure. That in turn is due to the fact that Singapore (~US$23,700) is a more prosperous country per capita, compared to Malaysia (~US$4,200). [An alternative measure of GDP per capita based on purchasing power parity, gives Malaysia a per capita income of US$9,100]

The question then for our policy makers is, how are we going to ensure that our young will be able make the necessary quantum leap if our education spend will likely be significantly behind that of the leaders? While M Bakri Musa noted in the Sun on Friday, that our RM1.1 billion for Higher Education is barely a quarter of University of California (Los Angeles) (UCLA) may be factually accurate, we can only spend within our means. However, does that mean that we will have to be resigned to the fact that we are going to be forever behind these richer countries?

We must recognise that we are never going to be able to match the expenditure of the richer countries. We may argue about increasing the spend on education by a few percentage points, but the difference is still going to be miniscule compared to the absolute spend in other countries like Singapore. It is extremely important therefore, for our policy makers to become more innovative in improving our education system, and ultimately enhancing our students capabilities. If we cannot compete in dollar and cents, we must then compete in terms of guile, cunning and acumen. We must be able to formulate policies which will leverage our strengths to ensure that we receive double or triple the returns per dollar spend on education, compared to other countries.

The question then, for our education ministries, is whether we are happy with just going through the motions or are we prepared to undertake the necessary measures to ensure that we are able to compete at the highest global level and ensure that we don't fall behind. The Malaysian budget has provided for education adequately given our constraints - are we able to utilise the funds efficiently and effectively? It is important to realise that it's not always about more money.