When I study issues or events to write about, I try to look for the bloggability factor. I can only say that when I saw and read the advertisement placed by Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM) in the New Straits Times (NST) yesterday, it will be an absolute travesty if I don't stick my nosey-self into it.
But before I get into the full swing of things, let me just clarify that I have absolutely nothing against UiTM students (although they rarely end up on my shortlist of candidates for interviews). I am certain that there are exceptional UiTM students out there who have achieved great success with the careers. I'm also not disputing the fact that UiTM is providing greater opportunities for many bumiputera students to obtain their degrees. UiTM makes access to tertiary education, which may otherwise have not been possible, easily available for some of them. The argument is much like some of the critical comments I received for an earlier post on Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman (UTAR), which argued that I shouldn't criticise UTAR because it enables access by Chinese students squeezed out of our public universities.
My post here isn't about the role of UiTM. My beef is with the fact that UiTM has the cheek to spend some RM50,000 to put up 2 pages worth of full-colour advertisement to declare itself a “world-class university”. More money was likely to have been burnt on advertisements in the Malay newspapers as well.
After Datuk Kapten Professor Dr Hashim Yaakob's disastrous attempts at boosting his own ratings with self-congratulatory newspaper advertisements, billboards, banners and more advertisements on Universiti Malaya (UM), the vice-chancellor of UiTM, Dato' Seri Prof Dr Ibrahim Abu Shah has obviously not learnt the lesson of his peer who got the sack. I wonder if the term of Dato' Seri Prof Dr Ibrahim Abu Shah is up for renewal, hence the apparent pressure to “impress”?
A visit to the UiTM website today will also see it framed by its lofty slogan “Gloabl Aspiration... A World-Class University” on every page.
Back to the 2-page advertisement – I will not be able to write a complete deconstruction of it (or it'll take me another 3 hours to complete this post, and it'll probably bore you to death) but to focus on some of the ridiculous which “justified” UiTM's world class status.
For those who have not seen the advertisement, it was entitled “Evolution of A World-Class University: Driving National Development through 13 Dimensions of Excellence”. The remainder of the ad extolled on “these 13 dimensions that UiTM's status as a world-class university is clearly evident”.
Research & Publications
In terms of innovations, UiTM won the highest number of medals (18 in total) amongst the Malaysian universities at the prestigious Geneva Inventor's Award in 2005. While in publications, the University published a total of 68 titles placing UiTM as the university with the highest number of academic publications among universities who are members Majlis Penerbitan Ilmiah Malaysia.Regular readers will know the type of contempt I hold for the “prestigious” Geneva Inventor's “Award”, which is essentially tokens of appreciation from the trade show organisers to generous paying participants from 3rd world countries to the event like Malaysia and Iran.
As for the number of titles published? I'm certain that Kian Ming will agree that 68 publications for a university the “size” of UiTM is worse than mediocre and that doesn't even take into consideration the quality of the journals and publications.
Intake Based on Meritocracy
This has to be the biggest joke of the advertisement.
Though large in capacity UiTM is stringent on the criteria of student intake, adhering strictly to the requirements of Admission Unit (UPU) of the Ministry of Higher Education which is strongly based on meritocracy.Does the vice-chancellor of UiTM need a gentle reminder on the definition of meritocracy – which will probably only serve to highlight UiTM is one of the least meritocratic public universities in Malaysia. UiTM was afterall born out of the Government's extensive affirmative action policy for the bumiputeras. Do we need to also remind the vice-chancellor that his former boss once screamed at the top of his lungs that “no non-bumiputera students shall ever set foot in UiTM”?
UiTM is the first institution of higher learning in the world to receive the prestigious ISO 9001:2000 award in the scope of corporate management for all its management services and the scope of teaching and learning in all its 24 faculties and 12 branch campuses all over Malaysia... This certification signifies that UiTM meets the highest world standards in terms of quality for its corporate teaching and learning practices, placing UiTM as an outstanding example of world-class standards.Do you know why UiTM is the first “world-class” institution of higher learning to receive the ISO certification – a process which costs hundreds of thousands of ringgit? It's because the certification has almost no relevance whatsoever to the actually quality of academic teaching and research at the university. Hence, no university worth its salt will believe that an ISO certification is a requirement, much less a certification worth shouting about.
For example, almost no IT company will attempt a painful ISO certification process, except for reasons of misleading naïve clients. The certification process only reviews the documentation and file management process, and does nothing to evaluate the quality of a company's products or software codes. In fact, most of the time, these assessors know nothing about writing software!
The above are just 3 of the "dimensions" highlighted in the advertisement. The rest of the reasons provided are either riddled with unsubstantiated claims or irrelevant facts and figures – UiTM has “the highest number of students with 100,000 to date... Only the best governance and a good solid system, will an institution be able to manage such a large organisation”. (!!?)
What's more, UiTM claims to have a “World-Class Alumni” and listed more than 15 “illustrious personalities” who are managing directors or CEOs or chairmen of Malaysian listed companies. Err... wait, are these Malaysian companies “world-class” companies with sprawling empires all over the world? Or are they our very own jaguh kampungs?
And what's almost laughable, “UiTM's graduates are accepted at the world level because of their ability to communicate in English and their good communication skills”. No statistics are of course given, as to the number of graduates UiTM contributes to the unemployed pool on a yearly basis, despite claims of “Graduate Marketability”.
Finally, in Malaysia, you can never complete your attempts at self-congratulatory messages without dragging our Prime Ministers into the picture (literally). While UM plastered its 1-page congratulatory advertisement with our Prime Minister's mugshot, UiTM went one better, by plastering its 2-page advertisement with both our Prime and Deputy Prime Minister's mugshots. See another brown-nosing attempt by the vice-chancellor here.
So what should actually qualify as markers that one has turned into a world class institution? Pretty simple really, and of course, blatantly ignored by UiTM's vice-chancellor:
- How many of UiTM's academics publish research in internationally recognised journals in recent years?
- What percentage of UiTM academics are PhD holders? Has there been any collaborations done in recent years with the top 20 or 30 universities in the world?
- Are UiTM graduates in demand by some of the largest multinational companies locally and overseas?
- How selective is UiTM or how high (or low) are the entry criteria into UiTM set?
- Where did UiTM rank in some of the often cited global university ranking tables such as the one compiled by Shanghai JiaoTung University or The Times Higher Education Supplement?
When will Malaysian vice-chancellors learn that becoming “world-class” is a lot more than just putting up an advertisement with some half-baked arguments and statistics to justify being “world-class”? The only consolation in the advertisement is that at the very least, the English is good (while the one by UM was atrocious).
I think the time has come for our new Minister of Higher Education, Tok Pa to review Dato' Seri Prof Dr Ibrahim Abu Shah's contract to see if it really justifies an extension (or a termination).
p.s., I'll try to put up a scan of the advertisement tomorrow some time