Tuesday, October 17, 2006

More Postgrads for UM - implications?

It's been a slow week for education issues. The reaction to the ASLI report has been dominating the headlines. I'll refrain from commenting too much on that issue for now, given our concentration on matters to do with education. The latest newspaper report to grab my attention is the UM VC's announcement that the number of post graduate students at UM will be increased.

This latest report in the Star is not something new. It announced that:Universiti Malaya plans to take in fewer undergraduates but would increase the number of postgraduate students in line with its status as a research university. Vice-chancellor Datuk Rafiah Salim said the university had about 18,000 undergraduates and about 8,000 masters and PhD candidates.

I blogged about this as early as April of this year. It is in line with the Ministry of Higher Education's policy of having a three fold increase in the number of post graduates in public universities.

While an increase in the number of post grads is probably necessary if one wants to become a research university, it is not a sufficient condition. I asked in my earlier post the following questions:

- Can our public universities sustain such a dramatic and large increase in the intake of post grads?
- Do we have enough PhDs among our academia who are sufficiently trained to teach these new post grad students? (Currently only 30% of our academic staff have PhDs, the MOHE plans to increase this to 60%)
- Will we compromise on the standards newly hired academics to cope with this increase in the number of post grads?

These questions are still relevant. I doubt that we have the infrastructure (physical hardware and software) to support this level of increase in the number of post grads. But I can be convinced if I see substantive changes in the way resources are allocated within the universities, the way in which academics are hired and promoted and the way in which post grads are trained and supported.

What was interesting about the most recent newspaper report was the the UM VC stated that the number of undergrads accepted would be decreased. While I always thought that the number of post grads would increase over time in our public universities, I've assumed that the number of undergrads would also increase given the high and increasing demand for affordable higher education (albeit at a slower rate compared to the post grads). This surprises me somewhat.

While I think there are genuinely good reasons why the number of undergrads should be capped or reduced (more resources can be diverted to the post grads and academics), I'm wondering whether part of the motivation behind this is to increase UM's faculty / student ratio (since QS calculates only the undergrad population and not the post grads as students, as far as I know) score and hence increase its THES ranking.

I would also like to ask the UM VC the following questions:

- What is the breakdown between Masters and PhD students among the post graduates now and what is her targetted breakdown for the next 10 years?
- Are there certain faculties like the sciences and engineering which would be given priority in terms of expansion and if so, what the underlying rationale?

If given a chance I would love to have an opportunity, together with Tony, to interview the new UM and UKM VCs and ask them these and other tough questions, together with questions given to us by our readers. Maybe this could be my summer project when I come back next summer?


Gene said...

Kian Ming, it is very heartening for you to blog on local issues despite staying at Durham. Keep up the good work and all the best in your Ph.D study.

Anonymous said...

This is typical Malaysian solution - can't make quality, lets just make quantity and hope for the best.

There is another issue here which is how many of the post-grad students are in rigorous fields like engineering, sciences? If we are going to triple the number of liberal-arts post-graduates students, all we would be doing is creating rable rousing UMNO-ultras good only for cronyism..

Ahpiau Academic said...

Gene, Kian Ming is studying at Duke lar...Not Durham.......

Anonymous said...

Wat is important is not the number of post graduates but the academic quality of the post graduates. Do you think at present UM is capable of producing and training such high quality post graduates?

As it is the quality of the supervisors and internal as well as external eaminers are questionable.

The criteria of external examiners chosen is not challenged anymore. I doubt the names and the CV of external examiners will be made public. Neither would be his comments.

Quailty and quantity have an inverse relationship.

As it is now with the spawning of so many IPTA and IPTS which are given the power to issue degrees I can only say that it will lead to abuse of the rights. Any university now can just churned out any number of PhDs with no questions asked about the quality.

As it is now, we can see a number of half cooked PhDs on the markets. I fear to think of the repercussions of these massive on slaught of "locally produced" doctorates

Trouble is in our country we have too many monkeys tinkering with our education system, The end product will be increased in the production of more monkeys.

Kian Ming said...

Dear Ahpiau Academic,

With due respect, Duke is in Durham, North Carolina, USA. There's also a Durham University in Durham, Englad, which I've heard good things about but which I'm not a part of.

Anonymous said...

Thousand apologies KM, Ah Piau failed his geography in his LCE...hehe

nerd said...

Perhaps UM or even other public universities should look at the applications and admission of its undergraduates and postgraduate students on individual basis. What I mean is, admission decentralisation for prospective students applying the university. The current admission policy, which is a centralised one has raised sceptics among the applicants and the general public. Hence, some will say, why some top students didn't get admitted to their chosen courses in a particular university.
Better still, a specialised course application should be considered by the particular faculty or department carte blanche with final admission report sent to those failed applicants who still sceptical about the admission process. This will dispel the
the notion of lack of transparency in the admission process.

chenchow said...

In terms of reducing undergraduate places at UM/UKM/UPM/USM, it might have some negative implications. There would be fewer Malaysians who would graduate from such "premier" IPTAs for bachelor's degree. And these universities are the more reputable ones in Malaysia. This will mean that in the short run, the number of quality undergraduates might decrease, and if this is not taken care of well, we might not have a good supply of potential future candidates of PhD, due to the shortcoming for undergraduate studies.

This is a long term issue that we should all long into, especially in terms of education issues.

Casper said...

I just picked up from chinese papers that says Tok Pa has just said that government will make UM, USM, UPM, UKM "research university" under Malaysia Plan 9 with a target to attract foreign students and to be ranked within top 100 in world university ranking.

RM1bn will be allocated to each of the universit under the plan for search and development purposes in order to improve the standards of the university.

I wish him well.

Anonymous said...

To the naysayers here, similar to what I said on the post about the RM100m allocation for research universities that this is an extremely necessary but not sufficient step. In the sciences and engineering much more than the humanities or social sciences, good post-graduate students (and post-doctoral fellows) are everything - they will determine the success or failure of your research. Many here may not know that in most research labs in these fields, the professor or principal investigator does not 'get his/her hands dirty' doing the actual experiments, but rather spends most of his/her time applying for research grants and advising students on the scientific aspects of their experiment. Most prof.s are quite out of touch with the finer technical details of experiments by the time they get tenure (7-10 years into the job) and so having a 'tag team' of talented students is key to the success of a lab.

I think I speak for others considering returning to Malaysia as academics in the next few years when I say that I see this step as a sign of hope, as one of the greatest concerns among this group of people is not being able to find and fund (yes, money again) sufficiently large numbers of sufficiently bright students. I expect progress to be made on other fronts as well and await further developments with bated breath. I hear (and see) also that we have started to draw foreign students, particularly from Afica and the Middle East. I hope this will continue.

Anonymous said...

How come we can only attract students from the "coloured countries"?
Why dont the students from "white countries" come here?

The answer is simple. We have not reached the world class in research. So only those dumber countries will come here.

Anonymous said...

It's a matter of economics, standard of living, culture etc. Where we attract people from is irrelevant as long as we can get good people. There are brilliant students everywhere. The best Africans, the best Chinese etc. are every bit as good as the best Americans, if not better, as they have a larger pool to draw from. (Singapore, the US etc. have realised this a long time ago.) If we can get them to come to Malaysia instead of the US or continental Europe (the UK is sad to say out of the running in most fields), we might achieve a critical mass of good students to staff the research labs.

Look carefully at the top researchers in the West. In many fields, especially the more technical ones, half of all post-grad students at top universities are foreign. Of these, at least half come from your 'coloured' countries. Look further up the line at the active researchers...you get the idea.

I am not of course denying that the US is far and away ahead of us (and all other countries, BTW) in most areas of research. I merely take issue with your assumption that Africans are inherently less intelligent than Americans. I think I have met and taught enough undergraduates from around the world by now to say that this is patently false. In many cases, in fact, Americans are less willing to work hard (and more willing to argue about marks) because life has been easier for them up till now.