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.
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?
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".