Thursday, August 24, 2006

Foreign versus Local Grads: Take XXX

The 'X'es refer to the many times we posted or discussed this issue on our blog. I wanted to revisit this issue after reading the following comments from Dr. Azmi Sharom at one of the panels in the recently concluded The Star-ACMS conference:

Among the points he brought up was the perception that foreign graduates were better than local graduates.

“Both go through the same schooling system, and there are an equally bad number of lecturers overseas as there are locally,” he said, rebutting some commonly given reasons.

I'll be blogging more on my thoughts on the conference when their full report in the education pullout appears this weekend. But for the time being, let's reflect over the remarks of Dr. Sharom.

Firstly, I agree with the spirit of his comments which is that we shouldn't unfairly judge against a local graduate versus a foreign graduate especially when it comes to important decisions like hirings and promotions. We have to look at people on a case by case basis. I'm sure that Tony has had his fair share of poor quality applicants from both foreign and local universities.

That being said, from a purely statistical point, I would not think that I would be wrong if I said that the OVERALL quality of foreign graduates is better than local graduates. Before you start castigating me, please hear me out first.

There are, by some latest estimates, approximately 300,000 students in our local public universities (I'm excluding those in the local private universities) versus 30,000 students in foreign universities (I'm limiting these to universities in the US, UK, Canada, Australia and NZ and excluding universities in Indonesia, Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. For those of you interested in taking a short detour, go this this MOHE link to find estimates of our students currently studying overseas. You might want to ask why more than 5,000 of our students are currently studying in Egpyt!)

So, even if the quality distribution (however you want to measure it) is exactly the same for local and foreign graduates, the sheer number of local graduates makes it so much more likely that we'll encounter more of them who are of poor quality (poor written and spoken English, poor SPM and university results, poor computer skills etc...). Most of us don't work by proportions in terms of our impressions.

For example, if we were interviewing candidates for a job and we find that 16 out of 20 local grads and 4 out of 5 foreign grads are of poor quality, the sheer number of poor quality local grads will likely overwhelm our impressions.

But I'd probably go a step further. I don't think the distribution of quality is the same between foreign and local grads. I think it is definitely biased in favor of foreign grads. I would say that at least a third of foreign grads are government sponsored in one way or another (JPA, Petronas, Tenaga, Telekom, etc...). The fact that these students were selected for scholarships probably means that they were above average performers during secondary school.

I would also say that perhaps another third of foreign grads are high performers who would have gotten government scholarships but didn't because of various reasons (didn't do that well in BM, studied in Singapore, missed the JPA by a few As, didn't want to be bonded by the government etc...). Many of these high performers are from middle class families who have scrounged and saved so as to enable their kids to go to an overseas university. And many of these parents wouldn't have made these kinds of sacrifices if they thought that their kids were going to 'waste' their money on an overseas education. Furthermore, the middle class and mostly urban bias means that many of these kids who do end up overseas are already sufficiently proficient in English. This, of course, gives them a leg up when they do return home and apply for jobs and go out into the working world. It also further cements the perception that foreign grads are somehow better than local grads.

There's probably another third or so who end up overseas because their parents are rich and not solely for their academic prowess. I'm sure we've seen our fair share of spoilt, rich brats who start their first job driving a BMW or Mercedez to work. I know I have. For these kids, there are always other options such as working for daddy's company instead of slaving away at that 9to5 job. Thus they are not likely to skew the public perception of what the average foreign grad is like compared to an average local grad.

These factors, combined with the fact that the selection mechanism for local universities are much more lax (except for the high demand courses like Medicine, Law and Economics), is it that surprising that the overall perception of foreign grads being better than local grads holds true?

There are of course exceptions to these rules. There are a bunch of great local grads out there, some of whom work for Tony, I'm sure. When I was working at BCG, one of the top performers there was a graduate from USM and another two great associates were from UM and UITM respectively. There are also hopeless foreign grads who goof off at work and regularly go for that 3 o'clock beer and siesta. But perceptions are built on OVERALL impressions and for this, the stats cannot lie.

The curve is definitely skewed in favor of foreign grads. The numbers work in their favor too. There are fewer of them and the selection and signalling mechanisms operate in such a way as to ensure that the overall quality of foreign grads is higher than that of local grads. It is not so much the fact that there are crap lecturers in both foreign and local universities (which is definitely true) but the fact that you have better and a smaller number of quality students going overseas versus the masses who attend the local public universities that goes on to shape public perception.

I don't think this gap perception is likely to decrease especially given the push to increase the intake of local public universities without a commensurate increase in teaching and related resources.

There's also the issue of further differentiation within foreign and local universities but that is for another post.

33 comments:

clk said...

Interesting commentary in the Guardian recently


http://observer.guardian.co.uk/print/0,,329557509-102273,00.html

Tony P said...

In one of the rare occasions, I actually disagree significantly with the analysis by my blogmate here :-). The key difference being the estimated breakdown of the overseas student population. I'd like to think that the overwhelming bulk of the "overseas" students today are from the local twinning colleges.

I'll give a separate take on this matter in another post :-). As usual, readers are free to disagree ;-)

Tony P

Azmi Sharom said...

I'd like to thank the two of you for providing this extra analysis on the foreign grad local grad issue. My own observations are basically based on my experiences. My fellow class mates in university (abroad) were in no way smarter than my students today (at least where sixth form grades are concerned). These are the privately sponsored students. The government scholars that I see arrive pretty much like the students we get at home, that is to say, naive and green, with many from lower income families (again there was not much difference with regard to pre-U grades). In other words, the students who enter foreign universities, come in very much like students who enter local universities (this is a generalisation but I think a fair one). Yet, there is a difference in the graduates at the end of their education and from my experience the difference between universities overseas and here is the campus life, not the classroom (granted, I am limited to speaking about law). Which is why my argument has always been that when students live independent empowered lives, they become independent empowered graduates (a complaint that our local grads face is the lack of such qualities). However, taking into account your analysis, I shall be more circumspect in my future works. Again thanks.

Anonymous said...

Tony, Kian Ming and Doc. Azmi in the panel this morning..GREAT

Leslie said...

May I deduce from Prof. Azmi Sharom's comment above that what he actually said during the panel discussion was, mashing his words and those of the Star, that:

Actually yeah, foreign graduates are better than local graduates, though probably not due to superior teaching or classroom experiences overseas (at least in Law), but more likely because the former live independent, empowered lives outside of the classroom.

Either I'm way off mark, or looks to be yet another sloppy (censorial?) Star report.

Azmi Sharom said...

Leslie,

No, you are not off the mark at all. I think the Star will probably have a fuller report on Sunday. But even if they do, I will be the first to admit that what I said was in no way different from what i have said before and neither is it particularly clever or original!

clk said...

What was remarked is the culture of "spoon feeding" which has now move to the tertiary level of our education system.

Prof Azmi could probably share more on this I believe.

Anonymous said...

CSU's treatment of their candidates ain't that great either.

President DrAzmiFan Club said...

From my experiences studying in overseas universities I find that there is no difference between the locals that did their degrees overseas and in this country.

I tend to see in most of our undergraduates overseas they tend to form clusters among themselves and do not mix with thelocal British Students.

In tutorials they tend to keep quiet and do not respond actively like the lovals.

The perceived values our overseas graduates are better off than our graduates is a myth. In fact to be fair I do find locals attending local universities do spend more time studying and more classes to attend
One forget to mention in overseas universities their classes are only 4 and a half days. No classes on Saturday and Sunday and also the second part of Wednesday for sports and extracurricular studies

The fact that the locals who went overseas are better or seemed better of seems to be from:

1 Survival in foreign land learning to be independent change their mind set positively

I cant help however admire our graduates studying overseas in that they are more independent and more proactive after the long exposure overseas...and it is not because they attend oveseas universities

Black Mojo said...

Dr Azmi,

Do you really think our universities here are world class, or to put it more specifically do you think our universities can attain world class standards.

Your frank opinion is highly sought

Anonymous said...

KM...
Please be careful in your heading of this blog. The use of capital letters in XXX might reflect our universities offer couses in pornography.

This might lead to a rush of foreign and local students to enrol in our universities!

Anonymous said...

......mmm this is interesting - perhaps foreign students studying in Malaysia are better then their local graduates? depends...

-- Old Man

Anonymous said...

I'm limiting these to universities in the US, UK, Canada, Australia and NZ...

I'm curious why you did not include Singapore universities.

Anonymous said...

I'm waiting for Tony and Kian Meng to comment on the interview of Rafiah Salim featured in the Sun recently.

ah piau said...

I've 2 points here.

1.Local vs overseas grad
From my observation and experience, I think it depends how u look at it. Why people look up at overseas grads. Generally because of their language command. In term of knowledge, I think local grads are at par if not better than overseas grad. Why? Look at the admission requirements for top courses in local U. Medic for example required perfect 10 (CGPA 4.0) either STPM or Matric. So my point is, we must improve the communication ability of our local grads. We are lacking here. As Dr Azmi rightly pointed out about local grad's background, we must take that into consideration. Language barrier not only refer to one etnic group but to all.

2. World Class University
My learned blogger (Black Mojo)raised this issue for Dr Azmi. May I comment. Personally I think our universities can attain world class standards BUT in order to do so there are thinks that need to be done.

We talk highly about oxford, cambridge, harvard and even NUS. How do we know that these uni are good If we at no point of time associated with them? How people from all over the world came to know about the universities? Why students from all over the world want to study there? How these uni able to attract best brains to be part of their team?

My point is local unis must make known their uni to the soceity at large locally and internationally. Show your existence and presence in the industry. How? Research, publication, exhibition (many will not agree but look at the bright side, these actually promote the university), publisities (how to attract students from overseas without them knowing about our unis).

How about students? Undergrads or post grads. Talking about international standards normally refers to post grads. So in order to attract them, local unis lecturers must equipt themselves with reseach skills in various areas. The potential students normally will browse through their potential supervisors (there - lecturers need to have impressive c.v.) Thus, it requires the management of unis to make a careful studies about the needs in future. Eg. which area to focus and what specialities.


Need to stop for now.

Only my 2 cents.

Anonymous said...

Anon said: "I'm limiting these to universities in the US, UK, Canada, Australia and NZ..."

Why are you limiting to those and your proposed Singapore one's? What about Japanese, Taiwanese, Chinese, European, and etc... Universities?

Do you think a Harvard Sinologist can do without a stink at Beijing University?

Or a Yale Phd student studying the Political Economy of Malaya before 1969, could do without a study stay at UM?

-- Old Man

EX-MMU lecturer said...

Hi all

I was a mmu lecturer in engineering, now a phd student in australia. The courseworks here are more organized and well designed for students to maximize their learning in a time span of 4-5 years, in respective fields. Compared to local uni, students here are doing more small projects and relavant good experiemnts, closely observed by me while conducting some of these classes. The lecturers actually prepare notes and materials with the consideration of different groups of students (local or foreign), and the contents they are delivering to students is about twice the materials delivered to student in local universities.

Hence, foreign graduates in Australia actually learn more in their undergrad career in the classroom, and more outside the classroom as well.

ah piau said...

Ex MMU Lecturer,

Local grads especially for profesional courses, the course content is not only prepared by the university BUT also with the supervision and 'approval' of relevant profesionnal bodies which is also affiliates with international bodies. In your area engineering for example, you have BOE or what not that supervise the syllabus.

Medic, dentististry, law, architecture etc are the same. I'm not sure about non profesional courses.

have a good day

Anonymous said...

Help=CSU=IGS=?????

Anonymous said...

The conclusions I can reach is that if the quality of courses or degrees are to be sustained, those courses have to be associated with the professional bodies such as medicine, dentistry, law, architecture. These professional bodies have a say to factors such as syllabus, attachment, quality of staff and ratio of students.
It is is however that these professional bodies are those from international professional bodies and not so much local bodies.
Medicine for example to be recognised by GMC or architecture by RIBA. As it is our medical courses are not recoginised by international bodies. Our architecture degrees are mostly recognised by PAM but not by ROBA
Ah Piau my learned friend is absolutely correct!

Black Mojo said...

This explains why those courses which do not have professional bodies in out local universities have a free hand in designing the courses to make it high standard or no standard.

Using external examiners is quite alright provided
1 The external examiners are recognised internationally and should if possible be FRS
2 The external examiners should not be local....hehehe. This kawan tolong kawan is a debilitating factor in attempts to maintain standards
3 More important RECOMMENDATIONS MADE BY EXTERNAL MUST BE IMPLEMENTED. It is no point saying we have this famous so and so as external examiner but their comments are not adhered to.
4 External examiners should be the AUTHORITY in the degrees awarded. No point selecting external who knows nothing about the degree to be examined.

It is sad to see that the public knows only that this external examiner is used by the University but actually the department or faculty do not follow what the external examiner says.

The coming of the external examiner is not just an exercise of "greasing" him with hotels and free dinners and sight seeing tours so that he will be favourable in his comments about the degrees.

mao said...

I agree with the old man here.

Why limit to certain countries? If we want to compare foreign and locals, lets do a fair analysis. Take all foreign universities into account rather a selective measure.

How about France, Italy, Germany, Pakistan, India, China, Hong Kong, Korea some countries in africa, so on and so forth?

It is just a public perception because some of the best universities are foreign and our universities are no where below 1000 in Newsweek list and 200 in THES?

It is always unfair to generalise. Show me some solid statistics man.

another old man said...

Come on...lets rationalise. If you think you want to argue " all foreign " universities to include ALL universities, that is just a dictum regarding defination. It is impossible to put and analyse all foreign universities.

Try to get to the spirit of the whole matter when we refer to foreign universities as represented by the few well known ones so as to facilitate bench marking.

Benkaiser said...

I do not know much about local uni course strutures and contents but from my experience in an Aussie uni for an undergrad economics and finance degree, there was a core subject which requires students to complete a research paper albeit at a smaller scale. There are no lectures nor tutorials but consist of a 2 seven-hour seminars for the first two weeks to familiarise students with research work, form a group of five and of course, choose a topic to be approved by the School and relevant professors. The research group will meet the lecturer every week for progress checks and discussion of issues. My research group went beyond the final semester due to huge amount of data work and tests which until today, gave me creeps thinking about it. But it was a great experience that exposed me to finance issues that otherwise a structured subject would not be able to do so. Many of my peers in other unis do not know the existence of alternative asset pricing models such as those of Fama and French Three Factor Model, Carhartt Model or cross the conventional lines to the Behavioural Asset Pricing Model.

Last but not least, it got me hooked to reading journals which is essential for people who are serious in finance or investment fields.

My 2 cents piece.

Anonymous said...

I should think that most public & private colleges do teach business reserch methods as a core module for undergrads. It all depends on the lecturers skills in supervising the student groups and the learning process the students get from it which also depends on their commitment and efforts put in .

Anonymous said...

Should we also talk about the quality of lecturers at local unis and colleges as well? Although no finding from research available to substatiate this, it is not wrong to say that the quality of lecturers is directly related to the quality of the grads. I had heard of stories about the lecturers coming in to the class late (very late) and then talk about his family and politics etc. Just wondering how are we going to equip our local grads with the knowledge and skills essential in their jobs with this kind of lecturers. Could be quite interesting to find out more about this.

Benkaiser said...

Yes, I agree that unis do teach business research methods but it is up to the level of writing a research proposal and then a research work based on a given set of data and objectives. For example, one of my friends, who is undergoing that subject, is conducting a reseach on terrorism impact on equit markets around the world which has the potential for journal publication. This is what im trying to say; independent quality research at the undergrad level with the potential for publication and not just another assignment.

Anonymous said...

Dr Azmi Sharom's comment in the newspapers today was wonderful..." the universities must be good first before trying to achieve world class...."

Your Fellow Anon said...

From my personal observation, the quality of the graduate does not solely depend on the university.

I have seen awesome engineers from moderately ranked universities and pretty crappy ones from good universities (both local and foreign).

It is however undeniable some good foreign universities provide superior training via additional hands on experimental work, research opportunities, additional professor interaction, etc. In many instances, our local university's intellectual and physical resources are limited.

The question turns to the student. I observe some students benefit from this additional training by embracing it while others are reluctant to take up on the challenge. For example, some students rarely mix outside their circle of Malaysian friends. After 3/4 years, their language skills might not have improved by a lot. Some get the grades without learning much.

If we would like to improve our education system. I believe the highest return on investment would be to introduce 'imagination' to our kids way before they leave secondary school. (This, I admit, is easier said than done). Many students lack this very essential ingredient for the development of our nation.

My idealistic 1.8 cents piece.

mao said...

another old man....

I was just arguing how the public perception come about.

I think the perception of the public that foreign grads are better is because when most people think foreign, they are thinking about the famous and good universities in UK, US, Australia, etc, yes I agree our universities have no fight against the few good foreign universities.

However, I would not accept the general statement that local grads are not better than foreign grads. And I completely agree with En. Sharom that hirings and promotions should not be affected by such statement. Oxford, UM, USM, UPM, etc they all deserve an equal opportunity to show off their talent. Have a nice day.

Anonymous said...

Dear all, as you can see we do have a predicament. The entire education system needs to be restructured from the ground-up.The quality of teachers & thier pay packets should also be increased. Education should be relevant to the students basic needs of literacy & numeracy. In the seconday school area,the curricullum should be structured to reflect the needed professions of the country & the personal ambitions of the student, placing emphasis on required skills for tertiary or technical courses.Thankfully English is now used in the scientific & maths areas as technological advances are often published in English & catchups should be reduced.Hopefully further reforms & transparencies in various depts should yield results in the next say..10+ years?...

We want to see our country progress, education by other means shows that we do need to buck up our national education system & provide places for everyone disregarding any prejudices. Afterall our lives work experiences are the results that should speak, not just the educational hoops that we have to jump in order to attain our qualifications & fulfill personal goals.

Anonymous said...

Local public graduates are very low quality based on the following reasons:
1. very low level academically and entrance requirement. Entrance not base on merit.
2. alot of copying in assignment or course work . There is nothing but copying among each other or from senior. What do u expect? By copying u can get A. What type of graduates are we producing?
3. Poor english
4. Contents taught are very outdated techonolgy especially in enginering.

Think of it.?

Anonymous said...

kafkalee said...
I am a local grad, working as an engineer in semicon industry + part-time postgrad at local univ.
My thoughts on this:
1. generally, local lecturers lack of industry exposure. in engineering world, things move fast and local lecturers are lagging behind. so, do you expect the contents taught are up to date?
2. language wise, i see foreign graduates are more outspoken. analytical skill, i do not see much difference between foreign and local grads that work in malaysia.
3. exposure is important. foreign grad has a huge advantage vs. local talent.

What should be done?
University should encourage industry experts to deliver talks/seminars to the local univ students. i believe this would be a good start to bring up the local univ standard.