Saturday, October 21, 2006

4 Designated as Research Universities

It was reported here and here that the following 4 research universities - USM, UPM, UM and UKM - will be designated as research universities. One of the perks of such a designation is an additional 100million RM for each university for research, development and commercialisation activities.

I think that this is a good move on the part of the MOHE. It is a sensible compromise between focusing a large proportion of government funds and resources on just ONE university and spreading out the cake to ALL public universities in the country. It would have been unfair, not to mention risky, to put most of our resources into just ONE university, especially given that it would be hard to choose between UM, USM or UKM, arguable the top 3 public universities in Malaysia, in my opinion. (I'm a little more agnostic about UPM) It would also have diluted our resources if our hard earned tax dollars were to have been spread out over the 18 public universities in our country.

Directing these resources to the 4 designated research universities is certainly a better use of public funds compared to the purported RM500 million that supposed to be heading Cambridge's way.

Does this mean that the other public universities such as UUM, UNIMAS and UITM will be left out and left behind? Yes and no. Yes because these public universities won't be receiving the RM100 million that the other 4 research universities will be getting. No, because there are other ways in which these universities can continue to seek funding. IRPA grants which are research grants given out by MOSTI (Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation) are open to to all academics in public universities. Perhaps, this will force some of the universities which have been left out to seek alternative private sources of funding including companies and wealthy benefactors and alumnus.

Tok Pa seems to be following a focused and consistent approach towards rebuilding our public universities. While throwing research money will not necessarily reverse the trend of declining standards at our public universities, my hope is that the other steps taken by Tok Pa, the MOHE and the VCs will together, arrest this declining trend. Only time will tell.

20 comments:

Anonymous said...

Well, time has tell us a lot of things. We can't wait for another 50 years. Ask yourself, what achievements has Malaysia achieved for the past 50 years? Other than being well-known for its one-sided policy (NEP) and monkey-like proceedings in the Parlimen, what else?

Throwing money is just another short cut, probably another way of making the money "halal" to certain parties. More importantly is the attitude. Although after half a century, it is not something that cannot be changed. All we need is the COURAGE! But does our politicians have the courage? You bet.

Maybe it is a good thing if MOHE and MOE are headed by academics, rather than politicians. Do you agree?

dude~ where's my brain~ said...

I don't see any point in pumping so much money into such an inefficient public education system. The money would need to be accompanied by relevant measures that should be based on the examples set by other leading universities.

A better way to improve the system is to make the universities more independent from the budgetary contraints of the federal government, the universities need to generate "their own money" via alliances with strategic partners (e.g. private companies).

In short, the money provided would come with strings attached, and universities would continue to be function as a tool for the government, not as an independent and impartial institution as it ought to be.

Your Fellow Anon said...

I applaud the increase in allocation to our universities for research. That is a move in the right direction.

The way the money is spent is also an important issue. I hope the money poured into the research would yield quantifiable results such as papers and patents that would advance our society.

I sincerely hope the money will be spent with an eye for the benefit for the general public.

chenchow said...

In terms of R&D at campuses, I think one aspect that could be enhanced would be in terms of cooperation between IPTAs and private sectors. How is the linkage between our local companies and IPTAs in R&D? What is the level of R&D done by our local firms, esp our MSC-status companies? How much utilization of IPTAs resources and how much is the cooperation?

Any thoughts?

Anonymous said...

As far as I am concerned , pumping those extra millions will just be a waste. Previously millions of dollars have been pumped through IRPA and one off sum to UM....nothing comes out of it!
The labs are over flowed with equiptments but no real significant results and commercializations of research, just the bagging of useless medals at the Geneva expo!

Dont waste the good money, instead channel it to old folk homes or aged pensioners

Anonymous said...

Well, money is a necessary but not sufficient component of a succesful research programme.

I disagree with the previous commenter that the labs are over-flowing with equipment but that there is nobody to use them. It is true that the top labs in any given field will often, upon inspection, have the same equipment as many other labs that are performing much less well, and that the difference is personnel; however, based my impression is that our labs are quite sub-standard, even in terms of equipment, not to mention personnel.

This allocation is a good first step because all researchers recognise my first statement: money doesn't mean good research, but without money, you cannot do ANY research. At the very least, this step may at least get some of our researchers abroad thinking about coming back, or even attract foreign talent. Then there is of course the problem of retention.

I agree though that the way the money is distributed is very, very important. If there is a lack of transparency and accountability, or even a perceived lack, this will fall through. What I want to know is who is reviewing the grant proposals. Are they sending them our for external (international) peer review? Or will funding be a bureaucratic decision? Those of us who are researchers know how difficult it is to judge 'good work' even in fields closely related to our own - an unfortunate fact due to the fragmentation of academia these days. It would be impossible for a non-expert to make informed and good decisions.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
chenchow said...

In terms of research equipment at our IPTAs, can anyone who is in IPTAs share with us the situation there? Is there a lack of equipment? talent? over-crowded labs? labs with no one working on?

I fully agree that a lot of development has to be emphasized on the soft side of talent building, besides the hard side of procuring equipments. Without equipments and lab space, the researchers might not be to do their jobs, but we should really be making full use of the labs.

In fact, I would strongly propose that the lab space in IPTAs to be open to secondary school students to learn and work with graduate students or even undergraduates over the weekends and school/university holidays, to create greater awareness.

Some of the Malaysians who have successfully gotten into prestigious universities in the world, have done so when they were in secondary schools. For a secondary school student, opportunity to learn from undergraduate and graduate student would open their eyes and to those university students, it is a way for them to contribute to the community and society, besides learning the skills of leading the younger ones. They would get some help too in their research.

Anonymous said...

chen chow,

"They would get some help too in their research." Sorry to disillusion you, but in my experience, 95% of all undergraduates, 99% of secondary school students and 90% of all first year post-graduate students are a NET DRAIN in terms of resources (mostly time) on the labs in which they 'work'. People start being positive contributors to their labs probably in their second or third years. Before that, a large amount of training and time has to be invested, and somebody has to really commit to training these junior people. Also, 'weekends and school holidays' is just logistically speaking a recipe for getting nothing done, probably even making costly mistakes in the absence of adequate supervision. Interesting experience for the kids, yes; kids helping to get things done, a resounding no.

I agree that in theory it would be nice to give kids some exposure and inspiration, but this requires a (large) committment on the part of the lab, and that has to be recognised. Perhaps one might even consider some kind of exchange: if you take in three secondary school students this hols, you teach one less class next term.

Anonymous said...

P.S. Think about learning to do research as an apprenticeship process. It takes a long, long time to become competent. Most of the time, unskilled labour is worse than no labour.

Anonymous said...

actually it is possible to get the young school students interested by designing special workshops for these students. This has been shown to be very successful by the university of reading by its national council of biotechnology education. in their workshops they stressed on fermentation, enzymes and microbiology, maybe we should follow their examples. its well designed and popular among schools.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of private companies involvement in our premier university's researches, maybe we could track back to the "mistake" that was done way back before. We've got several companies with the budget for education and research, but sad to say none of them will favour contributing to public universities now. Why? Because they have their OWN university! Petronas? Telekom? Tenaga? Our first 3 private university. Wouldn't it have been greater if they channeled their energy and collaborate with the well established universities rather than having another 3 sub-standard universities? (I have to admit though that MMU graduates are sometimes way better than those from our "premier universities")

Let's not just look at these 3. Sapura has APIIT or now known as UCTI, Fujitsu has Mantissa Institute and I'm sure many of the private colleges out there are backed by corporate companies too! And nowadays we hear APIIT/UCTI bragging about how some of their researches are commecially marketable even in Europe!

Let's now hope that Bank Negara, MIMOS, IRIS, Maybank, CIMB, Sunrise, Pos Malaysia or any other companies out there begin contributing research efforts to the existing universities rather than establishing more sub-standard "universities" out there.

And why did I mention such a diversed types of companies? Because I believe Malaysia should not only concentrate on science and technology research? Aren't we neglecting something? What happened to research on architectural and built environment? How about economics and management thoughts? Although it's not gonna result in a pysical product, thought leadership is what brings Malaysia towards knowledge economy! Isn't it?

Anonymous said...

yes! yes! yes! Anon above is absolutely right. Its so easy nowadays to set up universities, just rent the first floor of a shop house. Anyone can make a university. We can have universities for every interested group.. such as university of felda, university of mata mata aka polisman, university bomba, university rela
we should enter the guiness book of records as the country with the highest number of universities within a short time.
any tom, dick and harry can become university graduate. Soon kl streets will be full of people wearing all kinds of colourful convocation gowns..

But then again, where is QUALITY??

chenchow said...

In terms of cooperation between the parent company and IPTS, for instance MMU, UNITEN, UTP, can someone who has the real view of the issue share here on the actual collaboration that exists? How much industry-university alliance are there?

And I fully agree that we should not only focus on pure science & technology typed of research. A lot other sectors would need the push to build up expertise.

On enlisting the younger ones (secondary school students) to do research, I would agree that often it would take a lot of resources, and it might be counter-productive.

I would agree that perhaps workshop could be better utilized to achieve this end. Where, for instance, during school holidays, secondary school students were brought into universities to spend 1-2 weeks there, to learn with the graduate students or professors.

When I was in Raffles JC back in 2000, NTU and NUS did select about 80 students each (throughout Singapore) to spend 3 weeks doind research in their campus. About 2-3 students were assigned to a Professor (Full Prof, Assoc Prof or Asst. Prof) and we get to work with the professor essentially full time for that 3 weeks. We dine with the professors for breakfast and lunch, and spend time in the labs together to do research. It is a great learning experience, I would put it. While the research might not be significant, eventually, the students left with some experience and we presented the outcome to the rest of the group.

Actually, at least half of those places were taken by non-Singaporeans. At least 20-25% of the participants were Malaysians.

Anonymous said...

I, for one, am up for Chen Chow's suggestion to have secondary school kids 'help out' in labs. After all, it's being done in the U.S - why should not it be done in Malaysia?

Anon. (@ Mon Oct 23, 06:08:05 AM) has mentioned it is like an apprenticeship. This is precise. But I disagree with the statement that it takes a 'long, long time to become competent'. Depending on Anon.'s definition of 'long, long time' - most undergraduate research assistants (given that they put the full amount of effort in) will be competent enough to run experiments and contribute positively after a semester or two.

About contributing positively to a lab; research assistants are basically, more or less, free labor. They are taught to do the simple and menial tasks (i.e, taking measurements etc.) which can free up the time of the supervisor to do other things such as data entry for one. How is this not a 'positive contributor'? Furthermore, they will be taught more and more skills as time progresses so that they can help the supervisor/prinicpal investigator run their experiments to increase efficiency. Once the study ends, the research assistant would have these skills, techniques and knowledge to able to conduct his/her own study no? How is this not beneficial to both parties?

The lab I work at practices this. They recruit and train people every semester to help with the burgeoning amount of studies in the lab. Recently this summer, the lab had two students from a local high school do a research assistantship with them. Currently one still works in the lab after joining this summer; i'm told she can perform a multitude of techniques - such as animal surgery and brain harvesting, amongst other things. She's only a junior in high school (which makes her 16/17), and she only joined the lab last summer. Now, tell me, is one summer a 'long, long time to become competent'? Are we, as youth, really incompetent? My seniors in the lab, who are either juniors/seniors in college, have conducted their own studies, have co-authorships in papers and have (soon-to-be) publications in journals - all as UNDERGRADUATEs. Furthermore, they have presented their studies at national conferences where hundreds/thousands of experts within the field attend. Imagine how awesome that would look on their applications when they apply to graduate/medical schools. And this is after only being in the lab slightly more than a year. Offering such opportunities to Malaysian secondary school kids and undergraduates will be fantastic.

It's not impossible to have secondary school kids come in to labs to learn. I am a thorough supporter for that - that way we can breed a culture of research in the younger generations. It's just whether people are willing to or not. It's just whether people will cut through the crap and excuses and just do it. And now, seeing as these four universities have so much more money now, it shouldn't be a problem eh? After all, Malaysians are not inept and incompetent.

Anonymous said...

spend weekend in lab? haha, get real, guys. our youths prefer to watch mat rempits, go karaoke, sms girfren, download the latest ringtones or just hang out at mamak stalls.
and i don't remember ever having breakfast or lunch with my professors, or even watching them at work. i think they were locked in their rooms most of the time.
also, any effort will probably find our smart politicians or their cronies getting involved and spinning it into a pocket money generating venture. i bet that's why all those companies setup universities. business diversification mah profit to cover other division losses. if loss then sell off lor. education shmeducation.
you know our football team? rated somewhere like >120 in the world. that's where our education system is heading too.

Anonymous said...

MYR$100 million for each University? Not enough. NUS for instant has an annual R&D budget of about Sg$ 1 billion dollars. And NUS also hires top-notch experts from all over the world, paying them world class salaries.

On the other hand what Malaysia is lacking is really good Research Directors, very senior professors that plan and direct R&D projects. The problem is not really the lacked of researchers but the lack of good planners!

Unfortunately with a small government spending in R&D, there isn't much future in Research in Malaysia. I think all these exercises are waste of time.

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Anonymous said...

I was in UKM last Saturday for my Masters registration and was informed the UKM has been selected as RU.
I am delighted abt the news but I fear the investment would not do much benefit.

FYI, lots of university purchasing equipments which is similar to the industry for exposure purposes.
They purchase manufacturing equipment at huge budgets for it to go into scrap in 3-4 years time.

My vendor works closely with most of this university and said, they are wasting the grant for no reason.

A simple example, one of the University has a production line which is using solder wave technology. This thing requires high maintenance and continuous usage which is not applicable in the reseaerch area, nor education line. After the initial set up, the machine dies off. Who is to blame ?

Another goverment agency had, see the word had, PCB fabrication facility which eventually no proper maintence had lead them to scrap the entire system.

First of all, who requested this equipments and what was the core purpose ? Are they from the industry or purely in education line.

ROI is indeed required and need to be vet through industry and education ppl.

I feel sad when some huge budgets are being misused. Hope through this new RU scheme, such events doesnt repeat. Put the money in proper hand and spent it as though this is your last budget. The importance need to be felt by every individual.

I hope they are ppl from the ministry which is reading this post and are alert of such situation.

Drifter Herbert said...

unimap's gonna be next research university~