Saturday, November 19, 2005

Higher Education Ministry: Shooting from the Hip?

Kian Ming has written twice (Part I & II) on the issue of admitting foreign students into our local public universities. They were in response to earlier comments by the vice-chancellor of Universiti Malaya (UM) as well as the Minister of Higher Education on separate occasions.

The UM Vice-Chancellor, Datuk Professor Dr Hashim Yaakob was mulling the idea of opening up to 5% of first degree program i.e. undergraduate spaces to foreigners. On the other hand, the Minister of Higher Education, Datuk Shafie Salleh suggested at recruitment of more foreigners at the post-graduate level to "give 'greater focus' to the 'internationalisation' of UM as a strategy to promote its international reputation".

Well, it has been confirmed now by the Minister himself, as reported in the Star today, that Malaysian public universities will be opened to foreigners, with 5% of undergraduate places in critical courses being allocated to them.

Kian Ming gave his opinions on why this move is not favourable in Part I of his post. I am in total agreement with his opinions. I would like to add that the actions by the Ministry of Higher Education and the universities smacks of a poorly thought knee-jerk reaction to the dramatic decline in UM and Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) in the THES world university rankings. Furthermore, the reasons or rather, excuses provided by Datuk Shafie Salleh are just unconvincingly mind-boggling.
Higher Education Minister Datuk Seri Dr Shafie Mohd Salleh described the move as a social obligation to nations with which Malaysia had exploration rights, especially for petroleum.
Huh? How the hell did we, the tax payers, end up with a "social obligation" to nations with which Petronas had exploration rights? Since it's Petronas, a private company, has the rights, Petronas should be footing the bill for the "social obligations". Petronas could very well sponsor these countries' students to study in Universiti Teknologi Petronas (UTP) or one of the other local private universities e.g., Multimedia University (MMU), University Tun Abdul Razak (UNITAR), Universiti Tenaga Nasional (UNITEN) etc.

The Minister was rightly questioned by the Star journalist if the "move would be welcomed", given the fact that public universities could not accomodate all the top students for popular courses. His answer raised more questions - "That's why we are expanding". Huh?!
The Government has allocated RM131mil to ensure adequate places are available to the foreigners and to accommodate an increased intake of Malaysian students into these critical courses at local universities.
What makes me seriously believe that the main motives behind the above move is to "improve" the local universities' placement in the THES world rankings table, is when the Minister also added that "as a short-term measure, the Government would be beefing up the number of academics by hiring more foreign lecturers with PhDs." This is apparently becuase of the need to raise the number of lecturers in the local universities to 70% from the current 29.7% by 2010, which he described as a "tall order".

Hence by increasing the foreign students and faculty intake, the Ministry is hoping that the corresponding ranking points which constitutes 10% of the overall scores, will be increased accordingly. It appears that our Ministry and university officials are now blinded by accute myopia in the need to feel better through a better ranking, however artificial it may be.

While it was reported that the Cabinet "has approved" the above, I hope it's one of those all-to-frequent supposed "misquotes", I'd like to highlight the following to the Ministry of Higher Education.
  1. By setting a target of 5% international students in the local public universities (for critical courses) will not significantly change the rankings of say, Universiti Malaya. As a comparison based on the current year table, Dartmouth College which has a international student population of 5.9% achieved 16/100 score, University of California, Berkeley with an estimated 5.2% achieved 13/100 and Georgetown University with under 5% achieved 9/100.

    Assuming Universiti Malaya manages to achieve a score of 12 which is 5 more than the current score of 7, the overall score for UM will only be increased by 0.5, and the rankings moved from 169th to 165th! It will be further unlikely that any increase in the international faculty will raise UM's position above 150th!

    Hence by making up poorly thought through measures such as increasing foreign student intake will not only have certain negative implications to the local universities, it will also not achieve the objectives of improving the local university rankings significantly!

  2. I will repeat here once again, a quote cum warning from Associate Professor Azmi Shahrom, who is the Deputy Dean of the Law Faculty at UM highlighted in an earlier post.

    Artificially enticing foreign students and lecturers will simply not work and in the long run will be disastrous for the institution. Artificial means would include lowering the standards so as to take in any Tom, Dick and Harry to study or work here; begging foreign universities to have student exchange programmes with us; or by paying huge amounts of money just to have foreign professors lend their name to our staff lists with little or no actual responsibility.

  3. If we are ever going to increase our intake of foreign students for our local undergraduate degree programmes, we should open it to all foreign candidates and select only the top students for the courses. This may have a beneficial effect on our local students being exposed to potentially more competitive and advanced students.

    However, if we are opening up our local public universities due to "social obligations", it will typically mean that we are depriving precious local resources to local students to invite, in all likelihood (with all due respect), students from Sudan, who may not meet even the basic entry requirements for our courses!

    Instead of attracting foreign talent as the universities in Singapore are so adept in doing, we are giving handouts (which we can barely afford) to individuals who will not be able to contribute to Malaysia and Malaysians.

  4. If we are really that short of Ph.D candidates for the positions of lecturers in our local universities, then why are we "retiring" internationally recognised academics such as Professor P. Ramasamy at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM)? Why scour the world for academics when there are those in the country willing to serve but not given the opportunity to do so?
Besides the above points, many other considerations have been highlighted by Kian Ming in his two posts, and many more practical aspects of implementation need to be thoroughly thought through before such a policy can be executed. For a simple example, if these foreign students are accepted based on say, 'A' Level qualifications, shouldn't then Malaysians who sit for the 'A' Level examinations be granted the same right of entry as well? Currently, only the International Islamic University (IIU) accepts 'A' Level candidates.

Why is the Ministry of Higher Education suddenly so hasty in its attempt to internationalise the local public universities? Is it so that UM will be able to print new banners and buntings to proclaim an improvement of 10 spots to 159th in the world rankings table next year? Fikirlah sikit, Datuk. Don't just shoot from the hip.

15 comments:

Dan said...

It's absolutely absurd to admit foreigners into our local universities at this stage. First of all, even deserving citizens are being denied places into uni's and now they want to let foreigners in? And secondly, with the shameful ranking and tarnished reputation, I doubt there would be many foreigners who will be willing to come in, given the pathetic state of our universities. I'd go for chulalongkorn uni if i were a foreigner choosing between um and that. It really breaks my heart to see how dimwitted and shortsighted these supposedly 'intellectual' academics can become. Woe is malaysian education, going down the drain.

Anonymous said...

i totally agree. this is outrageous. i seriously hope that Sdr. Lim will bring this issue up in parliament. deserving local students are blindly rejected because of the quota system, and now they want to allocate a further 5% to international students?

and as Tony has rightly pointed out, it is very likely that those who are "enticed" to study in malaysian public universities will very well be coming from developing nations. entrance requirement issues will also be another problem the offices of administration of the universities will have to crack up.

honestly, time and time again, the politicians and those in power have embarassed malaysia and its citizens. we are so much more capable to achieve bigger successes in the eyes of the world, but yet we aim for the short-term ones. how long can we compete in the globalized world if we continue to create silly sub-standard policies coming from our very own elected politicians?

ms. see-taw-pear-ley said...

i have to agree with Dan too, that even OUR OWN MALAYSIANS are not getting the places that they deserve in local universities.. and now they want to open it up to foreign students? i don't mean to be nasty but, 'you serious ah?' !!!

i'm already tired of seeing how the VC is justifying himself and about the rankings. if he was more empathetic over this issue i think it would not be as full blown as this.

we really need to tackle this issue seriously. not with some silly actions..

vokoyo said...

One key aspect of the higher education in crisis issue which continually refuses to stop bothering is the possibility that more than one individual involved, and these are individuals who are in positions of influence and power, may have a serious flaw in their psyche.

If the minister concerned has been farsighted, the so-called brain drain wouldn't have occurred in the first place at all.

Malaysian government's approval of twinning has little to do with trying to give greater access to further education.

The whole idea of twinning was developed to prevent capital-flight out of the country when parents started sending their children overseas, when they could not get into local universities despite getting high and top scores, due to the obnoxious racial quota system in placed under the infamous NEP.

It was a win-win situation. But as quality of the education was not on the minds of the education policy makers, and even if it is, it is a secondary issue. It was about national economics.

Our government is messing up with the future for our kids, 8 out of 10 students after SPM will want to go to private college because it is much easier than Form 6 and less challenging.

We in Malaysia politicised education till it stinks to the high heavens. I am sure that the devil himself is surprised by how we politicised it and make it a mockery to everybody except ourselves.

Just take a look at the public universities in Malaysia, where there is competition amongst the lot of via for more funding to build and expand more number of faculties, which is not in the area of their expertise.

Public universities are a hotbed for politician's wannabes and they shamelessly practice it as will. If the rot doesn't stop here, we are at the point of no return where we would see our kids with mere paper and not good education.

I really hope that the PM set up that Commission. Because, as an academic who hates politics in the university, I want the priority of having good quality staff be first in the agenda, and then let us flourish with dignity and achieve what we set out to do.

shin wee hong said...

I have been reading various comments about unemployed graduates. It amazes me that while Malaysia is recruiting hundreds of thousands of workers from other countries, we have so many unemployed graduates.

I think the main problem is the Malaysian mindset about social class and attitude towards work in general. We tend to regard certain work with disgust while employers just don't pay enough for certain kinds of work.

I am a Malaysian citizen living in a large US city as a US permanent resident. I have had the privilege of befriending a large group of Malaysian students at two local universities. There are about 200 Malaysian students in all, some on government scholarships and some self-paid.

I am quite amazed at how these Malaysian students adapt to the American mentality - in a good sense - about work ethics and their place and role in society. Within a year of schooling here, many of them went and got work permits (foreign students at American universities are allowed to work at university jobs and may apply for special work permits to work elsewhere).

Earning money to pay for their cellular phones, clothes and travel seems to be their main motivation; work experience is just a byproduct. Many of them go to places like New York, London or Italy for their short school breaks.

These Malaysian students come from different backgrounds with some growing up with maids in their homes. Yet they were willing to do all kinds of work, just like their American counterparts. It is well understood in the US that a person starts from the bottom, and goes up from there.

One girl studying marketing, and who comes from an upper class malay family in KL, started working as a janitor and is now a part-time manager with Starbucks. As a result of her work experience, she plans to own several coffee shops when she goes home after graduation.

A malay boy of 21 studying chemical engineering, works as a part-time dishwasher and server at a restaurant. An Iban girl from a prominent family, who aspires to be a cardiologist, works as a cashier at a book store.

Another student, a Chinese boy who is currently applying to do his PhD in polymer chemistry at an Ivy League university, works as a parking garage attendant. One 23-year-old student from Singapore spent the last two summers working on fishing trawlers off the coast of Alaska, earning enough to pay for his university fees thus giving his parents a break.

When I was in Malaysia around Christmas last year, I had a conversation with two of my nieces who are university students in Malaysia and was encouraging them to find part-time work for experience. I gave them, as examples, how Malaysian students in the US were getting work experience as cashiers, janitors and dishwashers.

These two young women started to laugh out loud, saying, 'How horrible!'. But when I told them that these students earn about US$10 (RM38) an hour, they became quiet.

I think one of the reasons why employers prefer to hire Malaysian graduates of foreign universities is because these people have changed their attitude about work.

malaysia sick doctor said...

It must be noted the public universities in this country have always been subjected to the mercy of the executive and lately, their own burgeoning administration.

There is a general distrust of academicians in this country by the powers-that-be, and they (the university lecturers) are cultivated to be opportune mouthpieces of the government rather than viewed as a nurturer of an increasingly knowledge-based global society.

Due to the dependency of these institutions of higher learning on the government (for both research and operation funding), academicians find themselves in a difficult spot when they try to offer their own critical views on national matters.

The current level of public discourse in this country still revolves around 'who' said what rather than 'what' was said. Therefore, academic titles come in handy for the persuasion and influencing the other members of the society.

There is a need to look deeper for the rot that's slowly exposing generations of bright young Malaysians to its decay.

Yes, we need a reform in our national education system, but we have to agree and commit to a starting point. There is simply too much political interference in our education and its devastating results are beginning to show. Whither go the autonomy, integrity and quality of our institutions of higher learning?

You cannot have public universities as degree mills and expect to excel. The cheapening of the local certification is a serious issue, and we must never whore our academicians to satisfy political brownie points.

Don't make national education policies by hamming together phrases but instead set time- measured outcomes and realistic goals.

I feel that the prime minister should take this opportunity to make a high-profile sacking of the higher education minister. He might not be guilty for the mess which he most probably inherited.

However, Pak Lah needs to make an example out of someone sometime. So, it might be a grand idea to slaughter a chicken to warn the monkey. A strong and decisive move by Pak Lah now would signal that he means business and is committed to education reform.

Malaysia seems to be going the opposite direction by getting rid of good talent and creating an environment which is not conducive to attracting top talent.

Perhaps an even bigger loss to the country and its public universities is not the talent that it is getting rid off or the foreign talent that it would not be able to recruit, but the fact that many Malaysians who are doing their PhDs abroad would be further dissuaded from coming back to teach and contribute to the Malaysian academia.

Many of these researchers would be 'lost' to Malaysia as the possibility of them returning to work back home is almost negligible especially after they have tasted the benefits of working at a leading university abroad - the salary, research resources, perks, good colleagues and not the least, the academic freedom.

Although outrage is the order of the day, we should not be surprised at all by this sorry state of affairs. What we are witnessing here is the underlying national policy of the Umno-led government. While the race factor seems to be picked up on the most, a deeper reason behind this is to remove any trace of intellectual ability and critical thinking from all national institutions.

And to our beloved prime minister who only recently spoke volumes on how important it is to lure back our foreign-based professionals, may you realise that the vast majority will now think twice before returning to apply their 'first-world' skills in an environment with a festering 'third-world' mentality.

As a budding academic myself, I will certainly not even consider applying my skills in Malaysia.

Malaysia Boleh? Indeed.

Perhaps this is part of a consistent and coherent strategy by the administrators to maintain an environment mired in mediocrity even as the rest of the world passes them by.

rakyat said...

If the 5% foreign students intake is based on Singapore's ASEAN scholarship model, that would be really great.
The Singapore ASEAN scholarships had provided opportunities for good students in ASEAN to study in Singapore JCs and Universities.

daniel said...

1. This 5% allocation for international (social responsibility?) students going to come from the bumi quota? Pls don't tell me that the quota system is no longer being practised.

2. Is intake going to be based on SPM/STPM? If my children who took "O" Levels and my neighbours' children who holds an "unrecognised" (Chinese High School) Unified Exams certificate/diploma cannot even apply, why should some non-tax paying "international" student, whose allegiance is doubtful, be admitted?

3. Are they going to headhunt prominent Professors from the Top 50 universities or are they just going to mass-import some third rate ones from some third world countries like Indonesia or, God forbid, Zimbabwe (!), to boost their faculties?

4. Tony, you give him too much credit to say that he shoots from his hips. It normally means having a quick AND ACCURATE action, just like some old John Wayne cowboy movie hero. This character we are talking about is totally way off the mark. Even the performers at a Patpong show can shoot darts more accurately from you know where :P

Anonymous said...

With more than 80000 STPM candidates this year excluding the matrics students, I doubt the latest moves by higher education ministry is viable in any sense. If 40000 is admitted to public U, what about another half? As all of us have already known, many of those who are taking STPM are thinking of cheaper cost rather than more expensive alternatives like A-Levels and AUSMAT in private colleges.

What-me-worry? said...

Talking about offering 5% of our public university places to foreigners is cheap and cakap only. Lagi to implement it next year - what a marvellous idea! The truth of the matter is tak boleh jalan punya, gomen shooting own foot lah. TOTA – Talk Only Tiada Akal.

Most of our university courses are still in BM (even though this year all first year science based courses in our public universities SHOULD be in English - just check and see, at the end of Semester 1 now, how many lecturers taught their courses in English) and the embarrassing truth is that a large majority of our lecturers, including those with PhD and trained in English-speaking countries, cannot speak and write proper English.

No confidence in handling complex English grammar mah, unlike BM, so simple grammar lah – no past, present, future tenses, and no singular and plural verbs to worry about: saya pergi, kamu pergi, kita pergi, dia pergi (semua sama, siok saja – bukan I go, you go, we go, he goes, she goes, or go, went, gone – kepala pusing). Don’t blame the poor academics, not their fault, as they are the wonderful products of our gomen’s BM policy – we reap what we sowed. Amen.

Don’t believe me? Just go to UM and attend one of the Professor’s Inaugural Lectures. Listen to the chairman (usually a member of the top management) introducing the speaker in English. Then you tell me whether it is fair to say “Why can’t our local graduates speak and write proper English?” Just our local graduates? How about their lecturers in our local universities?

Visit UM and get hold of some PhD, master’s, and bachelor’s theses written in English. Read them and judge for yourself the level of competence of English of the candidates and their supervisors.

So, are we going to have creditable foreign students, who do not know BM and may have a better command of English, coming to study in our public universities?

Anonymous said...

No..Not again.. another knee-jerk reaction !

Come on..pls draw up or have a long-term or strategic plan to boot up the standard..

We know it's the quickest measure to boot up the 5% categories of foreign students of the THES.. But isnt that "too obvious" of your intention!!

Just like MAS want to have VSS straight away to boot up the financials! But as an accounting people, let me tell you that : financials is about reporting the past (historical transanctions)..

The most imporant is to improve the operational aspect. If the operations are efficient, profitable and cost effective, then the next period financial will be good!!! So, please go for the Balanced Scorecard (BSC) !!


Come on.. Dr Shafie..Please take some time to read Steven Covey's book on 7-habits of highly effective people...

What are your visions for our IPTAs..

What are your personal mission as Malaysian Higher Education Minister ??

Not quick fix measure, please !!

We read in the press, STPM candidates with GPA 3.70 are offered just applied science course ???

Come on... aren't they deserved pharmacy or more professional inclined course in our IPTAs ??

Dont waste our talents...

If you continue such lop-sided policies i.e. being unfair to our deserving students..

Someday when 9 out of 10 Malaysians young adults shun our local IPTAs.. that's the hey day of Malaysians 2020 vision...


Why ??? Disaapointed students will leave our motherland to other countries...for their higher education..

And what Malaysia can offer ?? Better salary to woo them back ??
Ya..RM1800 for undergrad ??

With their higher educations investment, they would stay put in the third countries to plough back their investments...


Dr Shafie, I beg you to have a sense of purpose and mission for our beloved motherland!

Please put your role first and foremost for the Malaysian interest above your party and race !


Patroit

konek said...

From a Malaysian point of view, we have attracted low-cost immigrants from neighbouring countries, whilst we are losing our best and brightest, particularly non-bumis.

On the surface, we may still be doing fine if we can attract a high number of immigrants from neighbouring countries. However, we have a significant poverty percentage, a severe income disparity among bumis, and high graduate unemployment also among bumis

The conflicting signals tell us that our economy is based on weak labour fundamentals. Simply put, for the vast middle-income and lower-income earners, their labour is simply not competitive.

These are the people with the biggest incentive to migrate because they are losing their competitiveness. However, the people that are most able to migrate are the wealthiest and brightest.

This is where the NEP is self-defeating. By raising the income of the bumis while not increasing their competitiveness, it provides the means as well as the incentive for them to migrate eventually.

Evidence also suggests that migrants do not view themselves as unpatriotic. Rather they feel betrayed by their government and society who cannot fulfil their needs and ambition.

The evidence already exists. Go to Perth, London and California and you will see very bright bumis who choose to be remain there despite knowing they can do very well and probably better in Malaysia.

As it gets harder to continue the NEP and there are fewer extraordinary opportunities available, Malaysia will not only lose more non-bumis but will also lose a very significant number of bumis too.

Migrating people are usually highly trained and skillful. Marry these traits with the raw resources of their host countries and you have a potent mix, which can propel the host countries to greater economic development.

I do not think Malaysian society in general is bothered about who emigrates and who doesn't. There appears to be a lackadaisical 'good riddance' mentality prevailing. Paradoxically, and much to your disappointment, the Malaysian government recently announced that it will welcome ex Malaysians who can invest and contribute their talents.

The problem, in a nutshell is a social one and it will take more than a lifetime to clean up. We who have migrated have correctly concluded that we will not see a new Malaysia during our remaining days on this planet earth.

Like it or not, a country's best assets are its people - especially its productive ones. Any country that does not value its productive citizens certainly does not deserve to benefit from the fruits of their labour.

yoy said...

I have been reading various comments about unemployed graduates. It amazes me that while Malaysia is recruiting hundreds of thousands of workers from other countries, we have so many unemployed graduates.

I think the main problem is the Malaysian mindset about social class and attitude towards work in general. We tend to regard certain work with disgust while employers just don't pay enough for certain kinds of work.

I am a Malaysian citizen living in a large US city as a US permanent resident. I have had the privilege of befriending a large group of Malaysian students at two local universities. There are about 200 Malaysian students in all, some on government scholarships and some self-paid.

I am quite amazed at how these Malaysian students adapt to the American mentality - in a good sense - about work ethics and their place and role in society. Within a year of schooling here, many of them went and got work permits (foreign students at American universities are allowed to work at university jobs and may apply for special work permits to work elsewhere).

Earning money to pay for their cellular phones, clothes and travel seems to be their main motivation; work experience is just a byproduct. Many of them go to places like New York, London or Italy for their short school breaks.

These Malaysian students come from different backgrounds with some growing up with maids in their homes. Yet they were willing to do all kinds of work, just like their American counterparts. It is well understood in the US that a person starts from the bottom, and goes up from there.

One girl studying marketing, and who comes from an upper class malay family in KL, started working as a janitor and is now a part-time manager with Starbucks. As a result of her work experience, she plans to own several coffee shops when she goes home after graduation.

A malay boy of 21 studying chemical engineering, works as a part-time dishwasher and server at a restaurant. An Iban girl from a prominent family, who aspires to be a cardiologist, works as a cashier at a book store.

Another student, a Chinese boy who is currently applying to do his PhD in polymer chemistry at an Ivy League university, works as a parking garage attendant. One 23-year-old student from Singapore spent the last two summers working on fishing trawlers off the coast of Alaska, earning enough to pay for his university fees thus giving his parents a break.

When I was in Malaysia around Christmas last year, I had a conversation with two of my nieces who are university students in Malaysia and was encouraging them to find part-time work for experience. I gave them, as examples, how Malaysian students in the US were getting work experience as cashiers, dishwashers and janitors.

These two young women started to laugh out loud, saying, 'How horrible!'. But when I told them that these students earn about US$10 (RM38) an hour, they became quiet.

I think one of the reasons why employers prefer to hire Malaysian graduates of foreign universities is because these people have changed their attitude about work.

yoy reply to shin wee hong said...

I called my newfound friend earlier who works in Singapore. Somehow, the conversation ended up on Malaysians holding top positions in Singapore.

Well, I have a good friend who is currently working with a top-notch investment company in Singapore. When my new friend found out, immediately said, "No wonder that Pak Lah person was mentioning about the brain drain in Malaysia!"

Well, I know a lot of doctors and scientists are working overseas. A number of my school alumni are actually working overseas and not in Malaysia. Some are doing well in Boston, London, to name a few. It's even funnier to hear stories of some of my school alumni to accidentally meet each other when they are overseas. Yes, my school is guilty for contributing to the brain drain……….

Closer to home, I wonder if Pak Lah knows about our own Malaysian companies that are also contributing to the brain drain. No name mentioned, but I know of one company, due to the change in business process has forced a number of the disgruntled staff to leave the company.

The worse thing, these staff left and joined the competitors that are not Malaysian owned. And even worse, some staff actually decided to leave Malaysia and work at greener pastures.

They could have stayed in Malaysia, but no company in Malaysia could afford to pay the expected salary due to the staff being former scholars and studied overseas during the economic crisis.

Sad really. Now wonder why Pak Lah has an uphill task.

vovo said...

There is no doubt that the academic standards of our universities have dropped to a point whether we should still call them "universities" or should we actually now term these establishments as "over expanded high schools" instead.

With the departure of Gomez plus others, I wonder what is left of our so-called institutes of higher learning.

As a matter of fact, I have stopped calling graduates from some of these "universities" for interviews, as I know through my past experience, I would be wasting not only my time but also the time of the graduates.

There were those who applied for marketing positions who could not even write a proper application letter to "advertise" themselves to the prospective employers, to induce them to recruit them (the graduates) for a job. Then there were those who applied for sales position, who could not even sell themselves during the interview. Most of the time, the interviews are conducted monologues (the employer does all the talking) and the replies could be so incoherent.

It is such a waste and this is the result of Umno's idea of meritocracy. God bless Malaysia!

The Malaysian education bureaucracy has an illness, no one in the world will understand. It is build upon paranoia and insecurities that their inferiorities will be exposed and be a laughing stock by people.