Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Universiti Sains Malaysia: Equally Clueless?

Most of the articles of discussion on the latest rankings table compiled by the Times Higher Education Supplement (THES) has been focused on Universiti Malaya (UM), partly due to the fact that UM has trumpeted its achievements louder last year as well as the fact that the vice-chancellor of UM appeared to have been more vocal in his denial of the state of affairs at the university. In addition, UM has always been the premier institution in Malaysia, hence such a steep fall in rankings from 89th to 169th was always going to be more controversial than other universities who never made it to the Top 200 list ever.

The only exception to the above is Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) whose main campus is located in Penang. USM came in at position 111th in 2004 but disappeared altogether from the Top 200 in the current year's list. The only media comment I've read made by the vice-chancellor of USM on October 30th was highlighted in the earlier post.
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."
As discussed many times on this blog, this argument is total nonsense. The real and only reason why USM was even in the Top 200 in the first place, is because the guys engaged by THES to compile the data, QS QuacquarelliSymmonds Limited, made a major boo boo with the USM data. Because QS were likely to have treated Chinese and Indian students as "foreign students", USM was ranked an incredible 4th most international university in the world. See blog post here for a more detailed explanation. As a result, the "size" of the foreign students contingent in USM results in a surprisingly respectable position of 111th in the world universities rankings table.

However, for some reason or other, which I find really really really difficult to believe, the academics and administrators at the university appears to be totally oblivious to the above factual reason behind the dramatic "fall" in rankings by USM. The figures and facts to arrive at the above conclusion are easily available, published by THES and do not require any complex mathematical calculations at all.

Why then, do I read today, that the USM Vice-Chancellor has chosen to engage "a London-based consultant to report on the reasons for USM being dropped from the list of the world's top 200 universities".
The consultant will submit its report at a meeting with USM administrators on Nov 21, said vice chancellor Prof Datuk Dzulkifli Abdul Razak.

He said the consultant was required to report in detail the criteria used by the newspaper to evaluate the top universities this year, after ranking USM at 111th spot last year.
If I'm not wrong, the "consultant" engaged by USM is the same party that conducted the above survey i.e., QS QuacquarelliSymmonds. This is because, the UM Vice Chancellor was quoted earlier to have stated that UM is also setting up a meeting with QS around the same time to "discover" the reason behind the fall in rankings as well as to better understand the methodology.

I wish USM will just pay me the consultant fees and I'll provide the reason(s) for the "fall" in rankings. I'll even give a big discount, saving Malaysian tax payers some valuable cash. Heck, I've published the analysis here for free already!

It is interesting also to find out what type of feedback QS will be giving UM and USM, since QS is the party contracted by THES to conduct the survey. Wouldn't there be some sort of conflict of interest if QS takes $$$ from the Malaysian universities?

And so what if UM and USM managed to better understand the methodologies behind the rankings table? Would both universities then decide to adapt and change the way to run the university in accordance to the table's ranking criteria just to improve the university's ranking? That just sounds a little too silly, right?

Wouldn't it be better for both universities to just focus on improving the quality of academics and facilities at the universities? The rankings will then naturally improve if our academics produces enough quality research valued by the peers and published regularly in respected journals. I just hope that the university administrators and the education authorities will get the priorities right!

22 comments:

fooji said...

Probably, these high ranking academicians, just like the politicians, should examine the grassroots more, and read more blogs...
Maybe you should write to Prof Dzulkifli (i think he is not as shallow as Hashim Yaacob)anyway about the findings. Maybe he can cancel the engagement with the consultants.

Tony P said...

Fooji,

You know what? I was just discussing over coffee with a friend earlier today, and I said the exact same thing, the ministers and authorities in Malaysia should read more blogs to stay in touch with the grassroots.

:) Tony P

Anonymous said...

Yes, many people in power totally underestimates the power of blogs and grassroots-type media. The internet has truly changed the scene in which opinions from anyone is able to be published to the masses.

For once, freedom of speech (and opinion) is now really becoming a reality.

Anonymous said...

To the politicians in Malaysia, blog is an annoyance and also an obstacle to them in their quest for power. They are doing their best they can to ignore and discredit things like these.
It's not that they dont want to stay in touch( well some of them do :) they are seeing all these as a challenge to their 'privilleged' position.

reign226 said...

Actually, the recent debacle actually raised my respect somewhat (relative to UM. Absolute value of respect still dropped) for USM. They didn't advertise and turn their campus into a pasar malam last year, and they did the right thing which was to "Keep Your Mouth Shut If You Don't Have Anything Smart to Say". I have a feeling that if they opened their mouth, similar voices of denial and defence would issue, so the best thing is to shut up and fix the problem, silently as you're not embarrassing yourself (unlike UM). Are they clueless? I sure hope not.

It would be nice if they can issue a statement regarding this issue, but I think mainly it's because if they admit there IS a problem, then this will go against everything the Big Brother at UM says, and by extension what the government believes in. This is of course a very BAD thing to do in Malaysia. So yeah, staying silent seems to me more and more logical in this treachrous "Game of Education".

Today parliament's gonna roll the dice. Let's see what happens from here on out.

rakyat said...

If graduates from our local Unis have problems communicating in English, it is unlikely that they read blogs such as Tony P's or Kit's or any of the blogs written in English. If they read, would they be able to comprehend and follow the discussions.

clk said...

I believe what USM is doing is not that they do not know the cause of the drop, its just that they want a some sort of endorsement from a "whiteman" to say that "this..is the actual cause of the drop in ranking".

Its very similar in the corporate world when internal managers bring up some issue with the root cause to the board of directors but the directors ultimately decide that its best to hire some "external consultant" to give their "expert opinion" on the issue....

Anonymous said...

Seriously , why they just can't take a D.E.E.P look at the education system , where the decline , I believe , is all begin there .

Anonymous said...

"Seriously , why they just can't take a D.E.E.P look at the education system , where the decline , I believe , is all begin there ."

Because then it wont be politically correct. Furthermore it would get their own ass fried for admitting such thing. People in power would never say that they are in mistake. Well they rarely do.
They want to maintain status quo as long as possible. That is why they are taking all the damage control options instead of going to grass root and weed it out.
After all these people who sits at the top cannot afford to have some major revolutions, it threatens their power to certain extend.
So they have another options like what reign226 mentioned. Stay quiet and change slowly (boy I sure hope they are doing this since I dont expect them to go for it overnight) or stay quiet and hope the storm would go away. Hope that people will forget and carry on with life until the end of my VC's term.

There is however one dissapointing factor which I see. The students. It seems to me that the students did not question or push for changes from within. After all the people that can tip the scale the most are the students themselves.

Are they oblivious? Or are the expectations of the majority of the students within the uni are actually satisfied??? That is rather frightening if the second scenario is true. Reason is because it will send a chain of people out into the future and the future of Malaysia will not be as prospective as it can be or as it should be.

Therefore I really appeal the students to wake up and take a good look where are you actually standing. Before you start praising yourself or start accepting praise from others, think, evaluate and read widely. Many situations in Malaysia arent what the politicians claimed to be. Hence the word irony for Malaysia.

PS: I still remember in one of the blog long ago where a Malay student actually come up and ask people to shut up and not to criticise UM. If he is reading these now, I hope it does give him a bit of food for thought and startle him.

malayputra said...

time for reform not just for education but whole country
especially POLITIC.

reign226 said...

I don't think the students stand to gain anything by voicing their 'opinions'. My guess would be that any attemps made at critical thought and constructive criticism will be dealt with the same severity as, say, attempted sabotage of the integrity of the country (hence invoking scary images of ISA). I'm not entirely sure whether fear is a large contributor to the lack of enthusiasm among local university students in speaking out, but it certainly is a part of life there.

Except for a few scarce letters on Malaysiakini, the overall mood on this issue in the local press is somewhat subdued. That means our government censorship is working well so no big surprises there. But turn on the Internet and surf any blogs, check any forums (Recom.org is another good one) and there are heated discussions, of which many are current university students.

The awareness among the public (IE non-students) is really low. Furthermore, I'm at a loss to come up with a viable solution to the fact that there is really no political will to change the status quo right now. Those who speak out often have their voices fall upon deaf ears (eg the government)... or worse.

Anonymous said...

Maybe Malaysiakini should interview students anonymously to protect their identities in order to make things well known to the public. Media is a powerful weapon hence I think it can be used to shed some light on what is actually going on inside.

It is true, the public awareness is rather low, because there is no point for them to care. People who are in better standing financially didnt even consider about local university due to the fact people who are well informed enough know that these places are simply political testbeds for the politicians instead of university.

I dont think criticising education will result in ISA. Since it wont directly affect the executive branch of power in the goverment. What is plausible however is the administration in the university threathen students with their grades and chances to graduate. If you are a student that is one big thing to be used against you.

Also since the larger populations in the universities are Malays, they are working either directly or indirectly for the administration. In other words, they protect the interest of the current lousy administration for the do have benefits in it. For example the student elections. That is a blatant example of unfairness prevails from within. If the administration has integrity to begin with, they could have easilly stopped the fiasco from even starting. Unfortunately they chose not to.
So I am not surprised those who wants to voice their opinions in the institution felt intimidated everytime.

Actually it is not only the deaf ears of goverment. It is also partly the people. Most people chose not to listen. Simply because it is always easier to ignore a problem and go on with life than to have one and try to solve it. Human nature as you call it. So the one way to make people to listen is, like what US mass media would do, broadcast broadcast and rinse and repeat and again. That is how media in US gain strength to influence people in process of changing. The only threat for media is it can be used against you as well and also the censorship.

SO to the bloggers, I salute thee and kudos for your passion to keep writting about real problems faced in the country. Keep those opinions flowing for I myself is interested to see the year to come what impact will it give to the people.

Anonymous said...

Just one thing I want to raise is the recent observation I have had on our local varsities.

I think what has been raised by the VC of USM, Profesor Dato' Dzulkifli Abdul Razak that "lecturer-to-student ratio is low" is something that MOHE should take note.

Despite the student population has been doubled to around 30,000 odds in recent years, the staffing remains at 1,800.

In addition, one of the reasons why our local graduates lack of marketable skills
is that the courses offered are not in tandem with current trends.

New lectureres are hired soley to replace the retired professors, who taught the same course the old professors have taught.

There is hardly any motivation to hire new lecturers so that the students would be given chance to have take newer courses.

Look at Australian varsities. They offer newer courses that feed rightly into the market.

Knowledge is as good if it is shared, discussed, taught to the students, etc. In the process, synthesis of new knowledge is made.

I believe our local u can do much more than what we are right now!

Academic leadership includes the vision to envisage what is needed by the market, design the curriculum for new course, hire the right teaching staffs, bla..bla..bla..to be in the
trend...

Come on..if USM and UM want to be in the top 100, the leadership must be strategic in their focus and approach!

and obviously making a free publisity by penalising students
for not obeying what UCA is not worth the energy and time.

Focus the right thing!!! and be strategize!

The strong will to excel must come from the TOP obviously.

from,
aspiring Ph.D. candidate

Anonymous said...

Talking about fear factor in election of our local u....

I could not help but recall the 'gestapo' of the German spies in WWII. How on earth they could accuse those students who exercise their right as adults (whom have surpassed 21 years old)

There is certainly a conflict of law here between UCA and constituional right ??? Which one prevails ???

Could LKS bring this to Parliament ??

Please do something...Obviously
we should not become like Myanmar...as Aung San Suu Kyi
fights for the 'fear' factor against the totalitarianism.

We are ruled by democratic parliament! Obviously we should never ever forget that!

Anonymous said...

The student election is a pure abuse of power. There is no written rule stating that students cannot exercise their rights and what not. What the students should do is tape down all their 'illegal' activity for power abuse and implicate them using the media.

If there is no black and white written rule, they cannot do anything to you if you bring this matter to the court. Abuse of power is basically blurring the line of what is right and wrong and by blurring the line of rules one can bend it to their will. In the student elections I see those Malay students threathening some other students, which is totally a crime to begin with. It is a form of extortion and threatening my welfare like that, can be brought to the court of law.

So who is doing the illegal activities here? Use your own judgement. I know those students who fell victim to these scenarios are afraid. But play your cards smartly, document everything you do and what they do. Secretly tape the event, and broadcast it. If bad things were to happen to you, go to the PTA. Since they started the PTA in UM for their own gain, use it to yours too. In front of the PTA present your case.

These are all shameful activities that is infesting the local uni. To put them in the bright spot means burning them alive. So go ahead and burn them for they deserve it.

top gun said...

The NEP was - and is - doomed to failure because it was designed not to be accountable for its implementation. The NEP is a policy where the means justify the end. That is the reason for the use of the quota system.

If the NEP was truly meant to be implemented correctly, the use of quotas would not have been strictly adhered to.

Administrators would then be forced to use other means like handicaps to help those in need. Bumi students would be given grade handicaps while bumi businessmen would be given easier terms for business opportunities for instance. The NEP is not a real affirmative action as understood in developed countries such as the US.

The fact of the matter is that the NEP will fail because those who control it see it as an opportunity for power and wealth. It will fail because it is impossible to separate its altruism and abuse. In fact, that is generally true of all protectionist policies, which is why they do not work.

Those who believe that the NEP uplifted their lot should be careful of the context of this because they do not really know what the outcome would have been should the NEP not have been implemented. Singapore has not only narrowed the income gap between races but has done so despite having an environment that discriminates against malays.

The achievement of the malays in Singapore are real but in Malaysia, except for a few, we do not really know where most bumis stand in the competitive world. We would know better if we did not have quotas and moved to a handicap system instead. However, Umno does not want this for it will have to be accountable and measured every day, every month, every year and every four years.

There is nothing to suggest that most bumis would not have done better without the NEP. Singapore is just one example. I know of numerous bumis in the West that have achieved much in a competitive system.

There is no reason to believe that those who benefitted from the NEP would not have benefitted from a meritocractic policy (with handicaps) that encourages and supports them to measure and better themselves everyday.

Anonymous said...

Talking about consultation, most of the Malays who were under the scholarship of MARA,JPA and Petronas are not good either. These departments have to actually send people to the unis to give consultations or talk to the students face to face to 'persuade' them to study. These bunch of students are sponsored by your tax money every year. Arent you glad we have people wasting country's resources?

Of course there are some who are exceptional and some who are hard working, but in the grand scheme they are sponsoring a bunch of substandards. How do I know these you may ask? I saw it, personally. So if they could not do well in the degree they ought to do, they simply switch to the easier ones.

PS: For those Malays who are in oversea and think you are good and deserve the scholarships, I would like to see you to stay oversea and compete. The binding where you are required to return to Malaysia can be taken away. Just blow your work interview with Malaysia and accept the job offer in oversea.

PPS: I think your scholarships pays you way too much. Should reduce to the pay to sponsor you 50% instead. Just to keep you people in check and actually work.

wong said...

I am a Chinaman Malaysian, no pun intended and I am no proud of it. While I am not really a target of the government's drive to reverse some brain flow, I cannot tahan but to pen a word or two on that seemingly off-the-cuff statement.

I am kampung boy who grew up amidst paddy fields. Twenty years ago, along with tens of young Malaysians, I was lucky to be hired by a large Singapore multinational firm. However, the oil shock made our stint there short-lived. The company offered us student loans to further our studies.

We have never looked back since. Now, while most of us are in the IT industry, we are also involved in manufacturing, law, journalism, grain processing, airlines and academics. Similarly, while most are based in US, we are also in Australia, Japan, Singapore and UK.

Now, among us, how many have seriously considered returning to Malaysia to work and settle down? So far, a big, fat zero.

The terse comment in itself speaks volumes of the status quo in Malaysia. It is a classic feudalistic approach to handling things - the godfather way.

I wonder whether our man had thought of the very reasons why people flee the country in the first instance.

Least of all, the all-encompassing, racially discriminatory policies that suck the life out of citizens. Widespread corruption. The lopsided judiciary. Sickening politicians. Cruel and oppressive laws. Abuse of power. Absence of accountability. And the police? What a mess!

I also wonder if the PM-to-be realises who his audience is. Malaysian professionals abroad probably worked their butt off so as to reap the present-day fruits of labour. They are highly educated, and are keenly aware of things Malaysians and her malaise. Many have voted with their feet out of helplessness or disgust with the status quo.

Here are two questions for our man. How many Malaysian professionals does he seriously think, would want to forego what they have accumulated abroad, and return to the same environment that drove them out in the first place?

Does he also truly believe that Malaysian professionals abroad, once returned are convinced that they can contribute to nation building despite the stifling draconian laws that gag reasonable freedom of announcement, activity and expression?

Yes some, but not many will return.

For most professionals, living abroad has its own ups and downs. But, you get dignity, fair treatment, and respect for your ability. You get a voice, too. And ears to hear you.

Also, Malaysia does have a shortage of doctors and it seems ridiculous that Malaysian government-sponsored medical students are not required to return home.

All said, I do not lose hope. But talk of nation building should start at the individual level. If you take the oomph and the aaah out of the individual, chances are, no finger-snapping mere politician can lure him/her back to contribute to nation building.

I stand corrected.

vesewe said...

People who are still staying in Malaysia were taken as fool by the government in many ways:

1) Social
2) Laws
3) Economics

Government also thinks Malaysia has provided the best of all for the Chinese immigrants from China. But it was not true, I regretted that my grandparents went to Penang and didn't take the ship to San Francisco. Well, they have no choice because as they only had to East South Asia instead of San Francisco.

People who went to North America were other Chinese.

Vietnamese who left Vietnam in the 70s are better off now in North America. I think about my people in Malaysia and I am very sad.

Chinese Malaysians are not treated with respect by the malay-led government. I suggest Chinese demand for greater freedom and demand all the way.

Until government accepted and give in to your demand, and if they refused, all who are persecuted by the Malaysia laws can apply to be refugees in Canada.

Vietnamese refugees have received better treatment from Canada when I compared it to the treatment received by us - the Chinese in the malay-led country - A racist nation until today.

When you apply at any port-of-entry (airport/ boarder/seaport) to be refugee claimant, you are treated with respect.

Immigration will be processed. You will also receive monthly welfare money until you have established yourself or family.

I think this alternative provide an avenue for all Chinese who are stuck in Malaysia to demand full recognition from the malay. Chinese always hold back and too afraid to speak out. With this refugee system available in Canada, you should speak out and if the government played you out, you can come here.

Many people in the world are using this way to speak up and get better freedom back home. One very good example was 'Tienanmen' activists, they were granted refugee status not only Canada but also USA.

When you speak up for your own right, you stand to win. Regardless of which way you take - in Malaysia (political activist) or ended up in Canada as refugee.

Chinese in Malaysia, don't be a fence sitter.

romsam said...

I always welcome healthy debate and I think debates help clarify matters and promote mutual understanding........

There are rich bumis and poor non-bumis. NEP itself codifies that the poor non-bumis are not entitled to the same benefits as their rich bumi brethren. Isn't that discrimination?

Since when is opposing discrimination synonymous with bumi-bashing? What's wrong with extending help to all deserving citizens based on needs and merits regardless of race?

What I am against is the wholesale government subsidy to a particular race, regardless of their social-economic background. This policy not only places tremendous burden on the taxpayers, but also has a debilitating effect on the psyche of the recipients, as vocalised with regards to the crutch mentality.

When people talk about the apparent inadequacy of bumi students and the malays in particular, they are merely stating a reality, they're not bumi or malay-bashing.

People voice their grouses with the hope that the people in power will start to face up to reality and take steps to arrest the free fall in education standards. But while the powers-that-be indulge in self-denial, the education standards continue its free-fall.

In a mature democracy, people have the right and duty to continuously give input to the government. That helps to keep the government in check. Democracy doesn't mean voting every five years and the people's mandate is not a blank cheque. Being vocal about your view is part of the democratic process.

People that are disparaging of the government's policies and ineptness are so because they love the country too much to leave it to a handful of politicians. If we don't love the country and its people, we won't give a hoot if it goes down the drain.

A better stand for an opposition coalition to take is the fight for a democratic, just, pluralistic and secular Malaysia - free from racial, religious divisions and unjust laws and practices. We need such an opposition to be strong, so that they can challenge the views of 'enemies of disunity' such as your goodself.

fire eye said...

Umno, which effectively runs the government, is riddled with corruption and croynism.

Members crave for the award of lucrative government contracts given out under the pretext of the NEP. But the party is filled with bureaucrats with no management skills and no productive economic skills.

In a freely competitive market, they would be in the lower rungs of the public sector or would have lost their jobs altogether. To maintain their way of life, they have to ensure that the NEP is continued at all costs.

A large segment of the malays are still poor after 35 years of the NEP and on top of this the income disparity between the rich and the poor has widened. Clearly, the NEP as a method of equalising economic disparity has failed.

The benefits of the NEP to the poor malays is a pittance compared to the benefits to the rich and well-connected malays. It is in reality a tool and facade for the rich and elite malays - who are in the minority - to continue their extravagant way of life at the expense of the rest of the country.

The cost of the NEP so far include unemployable graduates who are mostly malays, increased racial polarisation, declining education standards, brain drain, bailouts of well-connected companies, an inefficient and incompetent public service, a government which makes decisions first and studies the impact later - just about everything that is wrong in this country!

Anonymous said...

"all that is neccessary for evil to triumph is that good men do nothing"

for your sharing