Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Think global, Act global

As per Tony's most recent post, I think it's commendable that UTM is looking at hiring professors from the West in its efforts to improve its 'branding' and international 'image'. Hopefully, the lecturers that are employed will be of a decent standard and are able to boost teaching and research standards in addition to the 'branding' effects. (How UTM are going to attract these academics is another story since I can't imagine any world-class academics currently teaching in world class universities wanting to transplant themselves to UTM). But at least the UTM VC, Prof Datuk Dr Mohd Zulkifli Ghazali, recognizes the changes currently taking place in the higher education marketplace and is trying to respond to it to the best of his ability.

I recently read this advertisement in the Feb 4 edition of the Economist newspaper. NTU was asking for applications for the position of the provost of the university. The ad describes the provost positon as the 'University's Chief Academic Officer' and reports to the University's President. It describes NTU as an institution with 'an undergraduate and graduate population of over 25,000 from over 50 countries, with an international faculty of over 1,300.' It also emphasizes that English is the medium of instruction and administration.

The fact that it put up an advertisement in the Economist shows that NTU is clearly trying to spread its net to an international audience. The fact that it has employed Heidrick and Struggles, an international executive search agency, to undertake this job search also shows that they are serious in compiling an interview list that is international and internationally competitive.

The possible hiring of someone with international experience not only brings the direct benefits of having the abilities and capabilities of a foreign provost but the fact that NTU shows that it is searching for international talent also boosts its image in the eyes of academics, journalist, leaders and thinkers all over the world. They are clearly ahead of the 'branding' game and their playing field is clearly in the international rather than the local or even regional arena. They have a clear strategy to reach the achievements that they are striving for and I would not be too surprised if NTU becomes a premier reseach university in Asia in the not too distant future and perhaps internationally as well.

I'm glad that some of our VCs recognize that the higher education playing field can no longer be a localised affair and that they are trying to do come up with some coherent responsese. The NTU advertisement puts it perspective, for me at least, how far we have to go to even catch up to them, to say nothing of trying to be like Cambridge or Oxford. (On this last point, I wonder if the UTM VC really thinks that Cambridge and Oxford are the two best universities in the world in terms of research or if they have the best brand names in the world. I say this because Oxford and Cambridge are looking at the best practices of US universities and I would say that Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Stanford and other top US universities are probably at the cutting edge of most of what is ground-breaking in research)


Anonymous said...

Do you know what an Uncle Tom is?

It is ridiculous that you could discuss this without highlighting what the obvious problem is and injustice is. The original problem of low standard is due to the unmeritocratic practises of the universities. Without dealing with the issue, getting foreign professors and researchers is doomed to fail. The more likely result will be that mediocre foreign professors and researchers will come here and not achieve the objective. Any difference they make could have easily be achieved if they just practise a meritocratic system first.

The whole thing is unjust to non-bumiputras and non-politically correct professors and researchers in this country. It is a far far bigger crime against them than anything that can be achieved with such a measure. What are they going to do next, if the grades and quality don't go up. Give scholarships to foreigners to come here to better the grades and performance while keeping up deserving and even desperate Malaysians?

Anonymous said...

Erm, I thought it's UTM not UITM that's involved in this news?

Anonymous said...

I think the problems with our universities are more deeply rooted than merely not having world-class lecturers. Those world-class lecturers who come to Malaysia, often don't stay very long and leave after a year or two, out of frustration. This is something I've experienced first hand as a student, coming from MMU about 5 years back.

We had a professor from Belgium who joined our engineering faculty. He was a no-nonsense guy who was extremely committed to getting his students to LEARN, instead of feeding us with solutions and exam tips like some of the lecturers did. No doubt, I enjoyed his classes and assignments thoroughly and I must say that I learned more in his classes that any of my other classes throughout my course. He got his students (those who're willing to learn anyway) interested in the subject and today, some of them are pursuing their advanced degrees in that subject.

Nonetheless, I was surprised when I learned that some students had lodged complaints about this professor to our faculty Dean! It was because he had failed more than half the class (simply because they didn't make the grade). It was because he failed anyone who copied their assignments. It was because he didn't give any study tips. A year after I graduated, I'd learnt from some faculty members that our prof has left the uni. I was told that this prof of ours got into disagreements with the Dean because he refused to lower his standards to pass failing students. He didn't want to conform to standard university practice of making sure at least 70 or 80% of the students of each course pass the subject (regardless whether or not they deserved to pass). I say, this is a huge loss to the university and to the country. Why do you think we produce so many unemployable graduates???

So, you see why having hiring world-class lecturers will not solve anything. If you want to think global and act global, you first need to have a world-class learning culture.

Lrong said...

Dear Tony and Kian Ming,

Keep up the excellent work with this blog. I enjoy the many good points brought up in this post, both by the two of you and the readers... the root cause of all these nonsense is really what Anonymous suggested, that is, the 'unmeritocratic practises of the universities'...

Just imagine, why do these people need to have 'westerners' to 'help to lift the name and status of the university and make it more well-known'?

The only possible reason is that, these people are hopeless, useless, and out of ideas on how to 'lift the name and status of the university and make it more well-known'.

It is a similar story with the motor car industry, the so called multi media corridor thingy, etc... they just can't do it by themselves and they seem to have this weird habit to hire 'westerners' each and every time, to do the very job that they are supposed to do in the first place but are unable to do...

The other good point is that, 'The whole thing is unjust to non-bumiputras and non-politically correct professors and researchers in this country'...

I urge interested parties to go and make a check on the percentage and number of non-Malay faculty members in the said university...

I cannot verify this, but I was made to understand by a pretty reliable source that the pecentage of non-Malay faculty members is a mere 2.8%...

So, what does this say? They are not tapping into the local resources as they should... and we can all guess the reason why...

Finally I totally agree with the opinion that the 'westerners' will cut short their stay, leaving the university out of frustration... wouldn't anyone do the same with those hopeless people running the show?

I look forward to seeing these fellows making a fool out of themselves in trying to execute this grand plan...

clk said...

What is needed is sincerity and real acknowlegement of the root causes of the problems; not identifying merely the symptoms. Unemployable graduates and poor quality of faculty members are merely symptoms of the deep rooted problems of meritocracy (lack of it), political intervention, favouritism, cronyism etc. We must be objective rather than just choose to look at things from rose tinted glasses.

We have to look at ourselves in the mirror! That is something I cannot see happening as nearly everyone is here for short-term gains and immediate results at the expense of long-term.

Anonymous said...

there are too many student in courses academically unsuitable for them. pass them and they may end up unemployable.
meanwhile, in certain industries we have labour shortage and have to rely on foreign labour, draining money out of the country.

Anonymous said...

The main problem is, they wanted to have quantity rather than quality in the first place. This had begun since the inception of NEP. Those studying history should have an idea about it. Remember the 60:40 for secondary school? How the LCE was downgraded to PMR? They just want more people with degree or whatsoever, but never think of whether they deserved in the first place.

Which means, as long as NEP keep going without alteration to the current situation, the number of unemployed undergraduates will increase year after year. The country will keep on rotting.

Anonymous said...

To get world class lecturers that can think and act global, first we must have world class deans that do that.

Anonymous said...

If we still don't improve, there will be a time degrees obtained within Malaysia shall not be more than a piece of junk. And if we use it outside of malaysia, we can only work as housemaid and cleaners.

Anonymous said...

Correction, most of them are already considered as junk. Most of them arent even recognised beyond the boundary of Malaysia.
Yet they are still creating this kind of phenomenon. Hiring someone with international experience will bring benefits under the assumptions that, these guys dont butcher that someone like the poor Belgium prof mentioned by anony. They are really good in butchering those talented people with mediocrity policies.
I am still not really convinced with the things they do, since they are really good in putting up shows. Sure they say they will hire people from the west, sure they say they can do biotech and improve the uni, but if they had honor what they had said, we wont be in these kind of predicament far deeper than we can handle.

But that is just my 2cents.


lyl said...

Before we turn to hiring at least 30 top professors from the West and Australia (sic), why not hire capable Malaysians who are teaching abroad?

According to Global Malaysians,
we have these much people in the following countries in the Education field :

Albania ( 1 )
Australia ( 49 )
Belgium ( 2 )
Brunei ( 2 )
Cambodia ( 1 )
Canada ( 9 )
China ( 13 )
Colombia ( 1 )
Denmark ( 1 )
Egypt ( 1 )
France ( 2 )
Germany ( 1 )
Hong Kong ( 4 )
Hungary ( 1 )
India ( 2 )
Japan ( 11 )
Monaco ( 1 )
Myanmar ( 1 )
Netherlands ( 2 )
New Zealand ( 14 )
Norway ( 1 )
Philippines ( 1 )
Qatar ( 3 )
Russian Federation ( 1 )
Singapore ( 17 )
Sweden ( 1 )
Taiwan ( 1 )
Thailand ( 2 )
Ukraine ( 1 )
United Arab Emirates ( 2 )
United Kingdom ( 45 )
United States ( 69 )
Vietnam ( 2 )

, as well as these much people in as Academician / Reseach & Development in

Asia ( 5 )
Australia and New Zealand ( 5 )
Britain ( 5 )
Europe ( 5 )
North America ( 12 )

Do keep in mind that among this list includes Head of Departments and ilk in top universities like Harvard, Stanford, etc. And this list are those who are bothered to be interview/register. We all know there are a whole lot of academicians across the Causeway, and probably a lot more elsewhere in the world.

Why go for westerners when we have fellow qualified countrymen to hire?

That of course, is the naive question we want to ask.

Sadly, we all know why.

Sadder is the fact that most of them would not want to return anyway.

clk said...

It's no different from many organisations that choose to get some "foreign" consultant to tell them what their local managers can tell them without additional costs.

It's the ear and the spaces btw the ears chooses what they want to hear that matters ultimately.

Maverick SM said...

I once observed a class conducted by a "Mat Salleh". After the class, the students congregate and made one point of contention: "Almost all of them didn't understand a single sentences. The lecturer spoke in "Tongues" - this is the conclusion.

At such, would it help if we had 10% foreign english speaking lecturers? Please take a good observation at a class in local U conducted by a Mat Salleh before you form your opinion.

Unless the level of English proficiency is improve at secondary school levels, by the time these students are in U, not much can be expected from the students even if you have 100% British or American lecturers.

Worse off, we have foreign lecturers from Egypt, Sudan, Nigeria, and other Middle East and African countries who speak English with their heavy slang. Even I am English educated and considered proficient, I too don't understand them. Do you expect the undergraduates to understand? Wishful thoughts and fallacy of ideas.

Anonymous said...

looks like an easy way out to "boost" the local universities image. will it help? sure it will, but only in the short-term.

Anonymous said...

Tony, don't get me wrong, I am not against having foreign lecturers or foreign managers and expertise. What I am against is covering up problems with cosmetic solutions because it either is wasteful and far worst, it covers up injustices and damages that are very very wrong.

In Malaysia many discriminated and disenfranchised particularly in the media have been beaten down not to deal with the issues in the name of tolerance and compromise. The problem now is that there are many situations now that those same group have been conditioned such that they now perpetuate myths and hence the problem.

The intention of your blog is admirable in trying to be part of a solution but its also as easily you have become part of perpetuating the myth and the problems.

Tony P said...

err... Anon 07:58

Not sure if I understood you correctly... are you saying that just because we don't harp on the racial discrimination, meritocratic issues etc. etc. etc. on each and every of our post, we are helping to "perpetuate" the myth and the problem (whatever they may be)?

I don't think any of us deny the above issues, and we have both written about it passionately. But to view everything thing in the above context will just be equally narrow and counter-productive.

All in our humble opinion.

Anonymous83 said...

I agree, the above issues are undeniable.

Everyone is afraid that by perpetuating it openly, the consequence will be insufferable. It is a common fear that things might just blow up. If it is so apparent, then why is it not fixed?

"Its not that simple" is the common answer I get. I wonder then, if no one dare speak up openly, what hope is there that anything will change in my generation or the next?

Many anons have given up hope on Malaysia. "run away if you can!" is a frequent suggestion. I sense others have a covert desire to make a difference. But it seems nothing could be done, except of course to pray for a better future.

For the time being, we congregate at this blog as an outlet to vent our frustration and take pleasure in reading sympathetic views of others while participating in delightful debates. After all, nothings going to change, right?

And this too, is all in my humble opinion.