Friday, December 23, 2005

China Students @ Universiti Utara Malaysia

In what I thought was an interesting development, Universiti Utara Malaysia (UUM) welcomed 44 students from China during the first day of a new semester. This is the first time UUM was receiving students from China. They were part of a total of 269 foreigners from Indonesia, Pakistan, the United States and Yemen out of 1,079 new students (that's a fairly high 24.9%).

The Chinese students were interviewed by the Star on Monday.
The students from China found out that there are local students who can speak Mandarin.

"We do not understand English. We are glad there are people here who can understand Mandarin. We feel at home right away. I do not feel like an alien here," said 19-year-old Zhan Chen... It gives us the opportunity to mingle with people from all races. With Mandarin-speaking Malaysians around, it makes things easier for us," she said.
The question I have is, given that they have no understanding of English, and much less, Bahasa Melayu - how are these students going to cope with classes conducted in totally foreign tongues? It will definitely be tougher than watching undubbed Korean movies! How is it practical that they can be accepted into our local universities without the necessary language qualifications?

I have a decent command of spoken Mandarin and a half-decent command of the Chinese written language. But there's no chance in **** I will be able to undertake degree programmes meaningfully in China without first going through some intensive language programme.

In addition, I'm also curious as to how these students are accepted - is there an entrance examination? Or is this a government-to-government "exchange programme"? Or did UUM evaluate based on Chinese examination results? Given the large intake of foreign students, will the standards at the university be maintained, enhanced or further weakened?

How do I get answers to questions like this? Maybe there measures increase will help UUM scrape into the Top 200 rankings for the world universities league table next year.

16 comments:

Anonymous said...

probably some kind of exchange programme. AFAIK, local public unis only accept STPM and matrics as entrance requirements.

Anonymous said...

oh btw, tony, you should todays the star papers, our HR minister is planning to send our unemployable grads to the UAE and mid east. wats your take on that?

Anonymous said...

who knows the lecturers can mark mandarin papers they submit! wao! quite an achievement for UUM, eh!

Anonymous said...

Nope, I think they are allowed to bring along their own interpreter to the class and exams hall??????

Anonymous said...

With regards to sending the unemployed grads to the UAE etc, I wonder what type of jobs are available. Would it be white-collar jobs relevant to their education or menial jobs that locals don't want to do? If so, is this the first step of Malaysia joining the ranks of Indonesia and the Philippines, and next our kids will be going overseas to be construction workers and maids etc?

Another thought, if these grads have a problem with their command of English, will they find the people at UAE capable of speaking Malay the way our Chinese friends at UUM finding locals able to speaking Mandarin? BTW, how will these Chinese nationals be able "to mingle with people from all races" if they can only speak Mandarin?

Anonymous said...

As it is, we don't even have enough places for our fellow Malaysians. Why take them? Let them enrol in the private colleges.

Tiara said...

Wow, how incredibly accepting you people are. [/sarcasm]

In our Up With People crew were people of all sorts of nationalities and races - including some from Japan for whom English is not a first language. The whole program was conducted in English, and at first they did encounter some difficulty. They initially were shy, sticking to themselves or relying on their Japanese friends that spoke English better.

However, within a matter of weeks, they quickly opened up and they picked up the language VERY quickly. Even though it wasn't perfect, we could still communicate with each other and get out ideas across. Their confidence grew and so did their command of English.

When our group went to Japan (our tour covered US, Japan, and Europe), we finally understood what the heck they must have been going through. Most of us had extreme difficulties since Japan is not much of an English-speaking nation. But the Japanese students were very patient with us and helped us along the way. Eventually, through immersion, we picked up the language too.

My point being: you don't necessarily HAVE to be fluent in a certain language to study in it. Immersion works WONDERS. For these China students, having Mandarin-speaking peers helps soften the shock and allows them to gradually get used to the local culture. They will pick up on Malay and English eventually.

I have had students from China in my class (and in the Up With People group) and just because they didn't speak English fluently doesn't mean they couldn't cope. I had a relative from Bangladesh study in a local U here and even though he didn't speak Malay at first, he picked it up. My parents moved from Bangladesh to here 30+ years ago not knowing a WORD of Malay and now they're fairly conversant with it.

There's no need to judge them so quickly. Knowledge is knowledge regardless of language. No need to be stupidly elitist about it.

SoNaR said...

wondering do the foreign students pay full fee or are they subsidized by the gov also?

Anonymous said...

Tiara,

Sorry, I don't know what is the "Up With People" you mentioned. You do have a point about immersion. I have heard of people who spent 3 or 6 months in Beijing (can't remember which uni) just to learn Mandarin. Total immersion. Full of respect for these people. Must have been pretty scary going to a place with close to zero knowledge of written and spoken Chinese. Same must be said of these Chinese nationals enrolled in UUM. However, a point to note about these immersion stories is that the person's main objective is to learn a new language (and perhaps some alien culture along the way) during the time spent there. These Chinese students are presumably enrolled for other courses. If that is so, then they may miss out on the lecture contents etc if their mastery of the language of delivery is not up to scratch (also, how could they ask questions of the lecturer?). What is unclear from the blog is what steps these students have taken to prepare themselves for the course. For example, did they spend 3 to 6 months prior to the starting of these courses in intensive language classes?

In my personal experience, I shared an apartment for slightly less than a year with a Shanghainese post-graduate student in Melbourne back in the early 1980s. When he first arrived, he could already speak a smattering of English (I suppose if he couldn't, the Aussie Govt. would not have granted him his student visa, nor would the uni have accepted him), but communications between the 2 of us was difficult as my Mandarin was minimal. He watched TV every evening; he claimed it was to learn English (I was skeptical), but to my wonderment, by the end of the year, his level of English had improved tremendously. So yes, immersion does work.

Besides the question of language, another point brought up by the blog and other commentators seem to be, 24.9% of the new intake are foreign students. Given the limited availability of places at our public universities, can we afford to be so generous and are there any hidden agenda behind this move? If my faulty memory serves me correctly, Monash Uni in the early 80s (only Clayton campus then) had a total student enrollment in the region of 14K students (inclusive of post-graduates and part-timers), and about 5% of these students were foreigners (the vast majority of them [foreign students] being Malaysians). Besides having other Malaysians as friends, I recall having good friends from Australia [of course], Armenia, China, Fiji, Germany, Hong Kong, India, Iran, Korea, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Turkey. It was a golden opportunity to learn from people of other ethic cultures and countries. There is something to be said for having students from many nationalities in an educational institution. This was at a time before Australia started exporting education in ernest. I only paid a token amount in tution fees then (hardly enough to cover actual costs), and to this day, I am thankfull to the Australian taxpayers for their generousity. There must have been thousands of other foreign graduates from Australian institutions of higher education over the years, and these acts of generousity must have garnered them a fair amount of goodwill. Perhaps, the opening up of our public unis to these foreign nationals may achieve the same (if they are not made to do naked squats during their stay here ;-P), and we should look at this as a long term investment in international goodwill. Still, is 24.9% an excessive number?

As to the entrance requirements for these foreign students, that is an interesting question indeed.

Yoon Lee

Tony P said...

Hey Tiara,

I didn't mean to be "elitist" in the article I wrote. Although in my opinion, some form of academic "elitism" is a necessity particularly in many academic fields. For e.g., the best doctors didn't become where they are without attending some of the top (elitist?) schools etc. etc. I think it's a fact of life to be dealt with.

If these Chinese students have been accepted at UUM to study say, engineering and as they have been quoted, are English illiterate, then there are serious competency issues involved.

I agree with you that a holistic education involving "alternative" methods etc. is advantageous. But it's not a one-better-than-another situation. It's a case of balance. You cannot become a qualified medical doctor on "alternative education" alone.

Thanks to Yoon Lee for raising and replying some of the other points.

Tony P :-)

黄德峻 said...

I have talked to some china friends. Their situation is, they only have difficulties in speaking and listenting but not writing in english. Besides, there's still someone out there willing to help them, borrow them notes, etc.

Tiara said...

By "elitist" I was referring more to the other commenters above - though personally I feel elitism in any form of education is a bad idea, mainly because who decides the elite anyhoo? Just because a school is "top" doesn't mean it's actually any good (I came from a "top secondary school" and it was practically a waste of time) - "top" is what you make of it.

I'd imagine that if the students from China wanted to come here, they would already have the motivation to learn the language. Otherwise they'd just stay. However, being in an area where no one speaks your language is a MAJOR shock, so obviously they'd feel rather awkward at first. The good thing about coming to Malaysia is that at least there are people here who can aid with the transition.

And about hidden agendas to having foreign students - what agenda? Why should there be one? Education is borderless.

Anonymous said...

tiara,
seeing as to how "we" are tax payers of this country and still not getting local education under the excuse that we are not good enough, one would be more than a little skeptical if not upset about foreigners taking our seats in local universities...get my drift?

Rajan R said...

On the first anonymous, actually, no, most universities say "STPM or equilevent". A-Levels is also considered equilevent; I know of a A-Levels homeschooled girl who went to UTM. Not many A-Levels students try in the first place...

The last anonymous (before this comment), most top state-funded universities accept in a large number of foreign students. Most prominent universities in Australia, and all but one in the UK, after all, is financed by the state. However, if they pay the same tuition fees as local students with taxpaying parents, well... hmm...

Anonymous said...

Tiara,

With regard to your question on the hidden agenda; it is already clear from Tony's original posting that perhaps the increase in foreign student intake is to boost UUM's chances of making it into the Top 200 rankings.

With regard to your argument on elitist schools, I would like to relate my personal experience. I grew up in Kuala Lipis, a small Pahang town in the 70s. The school I attended, Clifford Secondary, had been producing students with MCE results ranging from mediocre to downright terrible for years and years except for my year. My year, we had excellent to downright terrible. The difference; a couple of us were A-list students, and there were a number of good, solid hard-working individuals with very good results as well. The environment created by the friendly competition and cooperation not only brought out the best in the students, but the teachers also went the extra mile. The overall environment created by the students made the difference. In the other years, there just did not exist a group such as ours (remember it's a small town). In this context, I would postulate that (besides the bragging rights and old-boys network) an "elite" educational institution increases the chances of having such groups of individuals; bit like the saying, "It's hard to soar like an eagle when you are surrounded by turkeys" and conversely "Now that you are surrounded by eagles, what excuse do you have for not soaring like like [unless you are a turkey]".

An earlier blog contributed by LYL also provides another argument for elitist schools. If we look at A-list students as uncut and unpolished gems, then I would venture that the additional resources at these elitist schools that are poured on these students would provide a better chance for getting flawless diamonds. Certainly can't blame the authorities for want of trying should these student fail to achieve in life. The odds are certainly stacked.

As to the comment by anonymous -

"seeing as to how 'we' are tax payers of this country and still not getting local education under the excuse that we are not good enough, one would be more than a little skeptical if not upset about foreigners taking our seats in local universities"

I recall that the Australian Government's policy of providing free or highly subsidised tertiary education to non-nationals was not very well accepted by a segment of the voters as well. I believe the reasons behind that policy was a genuine desire to help Australia's poorer neighbours and to build international goodwill. How can we quantify the goodwill so created by Australia over the years? If our reason for accepting the foreign students is not just to increase our chances for inclusion into the Top 200 list and it is for creating goodwill, then it is difficult to quantify just how much taxpayers should spend on these foreign students now. After all, there will always be a shortage of uni places and a balance would need to be kept (eg in my time, Monash reserves 2 places a year for medicine for [non-Australian] government sponsored scholars). So, it all goes back to the rationale for the foreign student intake and how much should we be prepared to pay for long term international relations and goodwill.

Yoon Lee

Tiara said...

Eh, I'm generally skeptical over claims of "elitist schools" or "premier schools" or even rankings - based on my experience in one of those so-called schools, they were more about trying to get a certain award or rank as opposed to actually CARING about their students. We got treated like cattle, only there for the grades, not for anything else.

The best educated people I've ever met didn't need such "high-class" schools. Most of them learnt by themselves, despite whatever the schools were trying to teach them.