The Sunday Star published a letter from Wong Keat Wai, an alumni of Universiti Malaya, who has spent the past eight years in Singapore working in the research and devleopment sector. His experience, having "received further training from my superiors who graduated from the National University of Singapore (NUS)" helped him arrive at the conclusion that"the quality of Malaysian technical education is very low."
In Keat Wai's letter, he argued that the Malaysian universities are not allocated with sufficient funds to perform high calibre research and a lecturer's pay is too low to attract sufficient qualified candidates to the universities. But more importantly, he argued that:
Local universities are also not recruiting enough high-calibre PhD holders who are active in research. NUS only recruits PhD holders who are active in publishing research articles in prestigious international journals.At the same time, Abdul Razak Ahmad of the New Straits Times wrote an extensive column on Sunday which was entitled "Wake-up call for the universities".
UM is no longer a government department but an independent corporate body. Such bodies are supposed to be very performance-oriented. Mindsets must change!
International university rankings are important because they reflect the general health of the education system, the competitiveness of the graduates it produces from a global perspective, the ability of the universities and the country to attract top talents from all over the world, the amount of national intellectual or science output and thus the competitiveness of the nation.
Abdul Razak cited the example of UM alumus, Ahmad Shabery Cheek, the UMNO member of parliament for Kemaman who "badly wants his daughter to take up a degree in law at his alma mater". Ahmad Shabery Cheek has a tough time convincing her.
"I am very fond of UM. But when my daughter asked me why she should study there when the ranking is poor, I found it difficult to reply...He was not alone amongst the those interviewed. Tan Sri Murad Mohamad Noor, a former director-general of education who was in-charge of an yet unpublished report on the reforms required of our education system stated clearly that:
Some administrators responded to the rankings by arguing that their universities are doing fine, it’s just that others are better. They seem to be in a state of denial."
"We should be concerned, because universities abroad may judge our standards from this ranking. We should treat this as a wake-up call. The best answer to our critics is to improve ourselves, and to get back the confidence of the public, if indeed we have lost it."It was also clear that not all academics share the UM vice-chancellors' obstinate myopic attempts to view the entire controversy as the "glass is half-full" i.e., let's ignore the negatives and just look at the bright side. As Professor Datuk Shamsul Amri Baharuddin of Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) rightly pointed out:
"If we use this logic, then if we drop to 250 next year, we can just say we’re still all right because we’re in the top 300."Professor Shamsul further argued for greater accountability in academic expenditure of the universities as well as more openess to the public.
"A proper evaluation also means that when we ask for money from the Government to produce 10 PhD holders in a department, it is done with the understanding that we have to later explain to the Government whether we managed to do it. And of the 10 PhDs a department produces, the evaluation should be on whether they perform. Are they publishing? If so, where? Just locally, or in international journals?The responses from these parties who are either part of the government machinery, civil service and academia are encouraging. We would definitely need more to raise their voices so that the Prime Minister's administration takes note and plan the necessary actions to restore the state of our higher education system.
The public should be given the opportunity to know the state of our public evaluation. It’s not difficult to do this, but it’s just not being done."
Interestingly enough, there is not another letter from an UM academic, Associate Professor Teoh Heng Teong who wrote in a letter to the Star Education segment defending the beleagured vice-chancellor.
...I was appalled when a learned member of parliament censured UM’s vice-chancellor for commenting, with reasons, that he was not worried about UM’s drop in ranking.Err... why should anyone with the right mind with the welfare of the Malaysian university students in the heart, not be "appalled" by the fact that the vice-chancellor was "not worried" about UM's dramatic drop in rankings?
Have we not heard of “qualitative analysis”? The mere improvement in points is not sufficient proof of quality. After all, UM won 33 gold medals in the latest international exhibition for innovation and invention in Geneva.
"Qualitative analysis?" I've hesitated to make the comments on the "gold medals" won earlier despite it being prominently boasted in one of the UM's web pages as I was still in the process of gathering the necessary evidence. The vice-chancellor has often boasted that "UM won an unprecedented 33 medals of awards: 19 gold, 11 silver and 3 bronze" at the 33rd International Exhibition of Inventions, New Techniques & Products in Geneva in April this year. (Yes, for accuracy's sake, it's 33 medals in total, not 33 gold medals, but that's besides the point).
I'll post more on this item later. But suffice it for me to say that the above event is a "trade show" i.e., you pay money to set up a booth to promote your products to visitors. It is not in any way, an academic event. It is a commercial event which understandably seeks promote the products or "inventions" of the exhibitors. As part of the process, the organisers will award the bulk of the exhibitors various titles and medals to improve the "feel good" factor. In last year's contingent at the exhibition during the prize giving ceremony, the Malaysian "academics" occupied a third of the hall, Iranians occupied another third, and the balance were occupied my a hodgepodge of individual amateur inventors and private companies.
This is not something for Malaysians to be proud of. It's something for us to be very embarrassed about. To put it very bluntly, UM who paid to take part in the exhibition, essentially paid for the "gold medals". Someone should ask the vice-chancellor how much UM paid for taking part in the event? And besides bring home the "medals", did the UM team manage to conclude any commercial sales at the exhibition, which is a better measure of success than the quantity of "feel good" medals received.
Associate Professor Teoh Heng Teong, who is also the Director of the Sport Centre at the university, then argued that critics like ourselves here at this blog are not compassionate. We are not "understanding, tolerant and caring".
We pride ourselves on being understanding, tolerant and caring. If we were to read the comments published in some vernacular papers, we will know that we are far from achieving this.Yes, we should be more understanding, tolerant and caring, particularly to inept and thick-skinned academics and university administrators.
He argued that we should be more concerned about our "unemployed graduates". Yes, indeed we should. But isn't the symtom of the malaise of our higher education system which has resulted in some many "unemployed graduates", represented by the unflattering rankings achieved by Universiti Malaya?
I am truly "appalled" at the demonstration of logic and critical thinking skills by some of the senior academics in our local universities. I am however, quite impressed with the art of flattery.