Monday, December 11, 2006

Medal Obsession Continues... (Part II)

I've written in the first part of "Medal Obsession Continues..." on how our universities were gloating about their achievements to the press. And how, with a little common sense and research, it is obvious for all the (lack of) value of the multi-coloured medals collected by our academics.

Many readers have also commented on the post that I should submit the article to the mainstream and online press... Should I? I doubt that the mainstream media will print the letter though, given its fairly "tough" language. If however, any journalist who are reading this, who'd like to do an article on it, I'm more than happy to be quoted or for the article to be used. Or you can contact me for further clarifications. ;)

Now, back to the second part of my "Medal Obsession" thesis ;). Again using the example of the Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM)'s participation at the World Exhibition of Innovation, Research and New Technologies Brussels Innova & Eureka in Belgium.

While I have discredited the value of the medals and awards achieved by the Malaysian contingent in Brussels, I'd like to also emphasize the fact that I am not suggesting that universities should not be taking part in trade fairs and exhibitions altogether.

Let's have a look at the Brussels-Eureka event and its target visitors.
Brussels-Eureka is looking to attract manufacturers, distributors, investors and sales professionals from Belgium and several foreign countries, wanting to establish specific commercial and industrial relationships.
The organisers hence seek to attract exhibitors
  • To make your inventions, original prototypes or new technology known.
  • To establish the necessary contacts to commercialize your patent.
  • To realize your commercial or industrial relations.
  • To meet manufacturers, financiers and/or traders from various countries.
The event was clearly not a "competition" for judging "inventions" for the award of ego-boosting medals.

However, by looking at the objectives of the event and the types of exhibitors it sought to attract, there may be useful reasons why university researchers could take part in the event. If, for example, the UiTM academics are truly interested to meet financiers or manufacturers to market their products, then such events could possibly be the platform for their commercialisation.

The problem is, it is clear from the total emphasis given to the medal tally by all participating local universities in the past 3 years, and none on the commercialisation aspects, the universities aren't particularly interested in the latter objective of the exercise.

The Ministry of Higher Education (MoHE) must insist on establishing certain parameters and ground rules for participation of local universities in such events. These ground rules are to ensure that taking part in trade fairs overseas do not become junkett trips for academics to have a jolly time at exotic destinations in Europe. Or equivalent to our local councils toilet inspection trips to Maldives.

First to be established must be key performance indicators (KPIs) to judge the usefulness of the academics participation in the events. MoHE must seek replies from the universities on some of the following questions:
  • For the past 3 years, with millions spent on taking part in these trade fairs, how much tangible (medals not included) returns are there.

  • How many contracts have been signed between our universities with international manufacturers or venture capitalists to explore the potential of the "award-winning" inventions?

  • Have there even been any serious discussions with international manufacturers or venture capitalists to develop the products or inventions exhibited by our university academics?

  • Or for that matter, have there even been any interest at all, by these foreign parties in our so-called inventions at these trade fairs? After spending millions, how many of the international venture capitalists or businessmen have our academics even had a conversation with?
Surely, if even a single multi-million contract have been signed by the universities, that will be a better achievement to gloat about than bringing home dozens of coloured medals.

No, our local universities chose to prove their worth by simply taking the easier route, by spending precious funds in dog and pony shows to collect medals of little or no value. And given that the gullible government administration and the uninformed public, the universities have the opportunity to showcase themselves as multiple international award-winning "academics".


Anonymous said...


Please..please.. at least publish your comments on

They will certainly publish your comments...

Anonymous said...

or publish in the sun.

or send a letter to the Ministry of Higher Education.

please do something!

Kian Ming said...

We are often judged by the company we keep. Refer to The 4 countries with the most number of medals (other than Malaysia) are the Republic of Moldova, Poland, Romania and the Russian Federation. Other countries that participated in this tradeshow included well-known research powerhouses such as Azerbajian, Bosnia, Croatia, Jordan, Kazakstan and the Ukraine.

There was only one gold medal "awarded" to the UK and to the US respectively.

I haven't looked at the details of each particular "award" or "medal" but I'm quite sure that the winners did not include academics from distinguished universities in the US, UK, Australia, Singapore, Canada, China, Japan (and the list goes on).

Kudos to Tony for highlighting this 'false promotion' of the part of UITM.

Anonymous said...

As an lecturer as well as a PhD student, I would like to share some experience in terms of Malaysian universities. I quote from my ex professor's book where he gave some interesting comments related to education in a British asian system:

"...But alas, an honours students in Southeast Asia today is nothing like the one I obtained in 1950. In a brazen grade inflation (consequent degree deflation), anyone gets an Honours degree after 3-4 years of undergraduate studies. Nobody has to read 800 pages per week, let alone in 14 weeks. Nobody has to defend a careful forecast of the futrue with arguments and computations. Just memorize the notes handed out, written on the board, and/or presented online (A study who regularly got "B" boasted to me that he simply memorized online notes, never opened the textbook and hardly attended classes), and regurgitate them on the examination. How much knowledge can be expeted out of the so called imposter of an Honours degree...

But the Honours is an Honours. The British University could not be faulted for assuming that the candidate to be wide-read as the genuine Honours student in the UK. So it was the lady faculty member at a National Uiversity in a Southeast Asian country told me produly that she wrote her 1995 PhD dissertation on something like Life on an Asian plantation". How could the British professor know anything about Asian plantation when he hemself had never visited Asia? Which self-respecting university gives its highest epitome of excellence to a description, no matter how poetic, of life on a remoate Asian plantation?

Understandably, the more I discuss with Asian faculty their PHD dissertaitons at British Univrsities, the more they descend in my Amercan estimation. So after the lady faculty member told me of her underwhelming academic contribution to genuine knowledge, I was horried to see that she was a assigned a fresh crop of PhD students!" (Chacko, Problem formation and formulation, page 23-24).

achong, just a lecturer

Anonymous said...

Dear enlightened readers,
Now quickly (before it is removed)visit each of the established IPTA websites and tell me which IPTA does not showcase their trade expo trophies under so-called world-class achievements/awards/what-have-you?

here is an example

is ITEX as dubious as EUREKA?

coleong said...

My impression about the issue is that most of the public universities focus more on applied research rather than basic research. In term of commercialization, I think it's good to promote any invention from the public universities to the world. But the problem is, how many of those "invention" really attract the manufacturer. Hunting for the medals from these expo shouldn't be the main focus for the universities nor it should be used as a measure for the quality of the university. In fact, many years ago, the local public universities spend million of dollars to get the ISO9000 which has nothing to do with academic standard or quality. To me, publication is still the most important part if you want the university to be known worldwide.

Anonymous said...

Why oh why do we have shameless nincompoops lording some of our public universities?

Anonymous said...

i could not agree more with everyone else. it would be great if you spoke up against these issues more aggresively and beyond the realm of cyberspace. These are not just your opinions, while reading it i couldn't agree more. I'm amazed at these things you bring up, that we could stoop so low as a country. I encourage you to speak up! We all need to!

Anonymous said...

Nincompoops lording our public universities and perpetuating mediocrity ...brutal but honest? Those who can make a diference, please listen, listen, listen to us. Do something fast before it gets rotten to the core.

Anonymous said...

No point complaing maaaaa!

Just remember where you put your "x" next time. Dont follow your DAP and the opposition parties