Kerajaan telah bersetuju untuk memperuntukkan lebih setengah bilion ringgit kapada Universiti Cambridge. Petronas dan Khazanah Nasional masing-masing telah menyerahkan 190 juta ringgit sementara bakinya akan dikumpul dari sumbangan bank-bank asing yang berpengkalan di Malaysia.If this "little" piece of news is indeed true, than sure, our Government has gone a "little" bonkers in its desperate attempt to raise the standards of the Malaysian universities. I believe that I've blogged here some time earlier this year that our Minister of Higher Education, Datuk Mustapa Mohamed has announced upcoming potential collaboration between our leading universities with Cambridge to prove that our universities, despite their miserly global rankings, has the pulling power. We have waited with unabated breath for subsequent announcements on the hints provided.
Again I emphasize, if this "little" nugget of information is true, then this Government is clearly at a lost of how to dramatically improve the standards of our local varsities and finds itself needing to buy itself, at outrageous prices, the opportunity to collaborate with some of the top universities of the world. The relevant question then is, where is the money going to?
Giving grants to top foreign universities is not an unheard of practice. The leading centre of education in this region, Singapore has often given generous grants to foreign universities. However, they were given on the basis that the funds are utilised to set up branch campuses in Singapore, and the institution itself is committed to spending at the the equivalent amount in the investment.
Are we expecting Cambridge to be setting up a branch campus or college in Malaysia? I certainly do not think so.
In the most recent budget, the higher education sector received an allocation of RM10.4 billion in terms of operational and development expenditure, of which approximately RM2 billion is for development expenditure. By "donating" the sum of RM500m or RM0.5 billion, that works out to a significant 4.8% of the overall budget or a shocking estimate of 25% of this year's development expenditure! The annual grant to Universiti Malaya works out to just above RM300 million (2004). The funds may be coming from Petronas or Khazanah, or even foreign banks, but surely, there must be much more productive ways of improving the local higher education sector with RM500 million!
There are obviously plenty of questions spinning around in my head - including what the funds will be used for, to secure postgraduate places at Cambridge for Malaysians? Or whether Cambridge will second top dons to be deans of our local faculties? Or for that matter, whether Cambridge will provide unfettered access to their research capabilities by our local Malaysian academics? I cannot as yet, justify to myself the worth of RM500 million in donation to Cambridge.
I'd like to call upon the Minister of Higher Education, or even the Prime Minister himself to declare if such plans are indeed underway, and if true, what is the justification for such an act of generosity. I certainly hope that it is not another hare-brained scheme like the one by the Ministry of Youth and Sports which intended to "invest" a similar amount in a "High Performance" training centre in the UK.