Thursday, December 07, 2006

Smoking RM500m for Cambridge?

Readers of the blog will remember that I posted on "RM500m for Cambridge?" more than a month back. It was posted following a post on Anwar Ibrahim's blog which alleged such an expenditure by Malaysia.

Well, it appears now that there appears to be some smoke, albeit the presence of fire is yet to be confirmed.

Sdr Lim Kit Siang had asked the Higher Education Minister, Datuk Mustapha Mohamed in Parliament whether it is true that the government had agreed to give a RM500 million donation to Cambridge University and that Petronas and Khazanah Nasional had each forked out RM190 million.

This is a budget which is exceeded only by the allocation to Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM) as no other local university would be allocated with a bigger sum for 2007.

The Minister of Higher Education denied in a roundabout way that there had been a RM500 million donation to Cambridge University, without completely dismissing the subject, using terms like “premature” and “final decision has yet to be made”.
When [Sdr Lim] pointed out that using terms of like “premature” and “final decision has yet to be made” presupposes that the subject was a very active issue and asked why, as well as the reason for the government giving consideration to such an extraordinary endowment to Cambridge University, Mustapha said that this was part of the Ministry’s “smart partnership” with foreign universities to achieve excellence in tertiary education.
Woh... now, that's definitely a case for "no smoke without fire".


Charis Quay said...

Tony, where are you quoting from?

Your Fellow Anon said... has something...

Anonymous said...

I will take this as a yes.

Anonymous said...

Did he said "smart partnership"?
mua hahaha!

Anonymous said...

"Smart partnership" is not a wrong description. How could anyone suggest Cambridge U is not smart?

What the hell is happening? Is Malaysia suddenly flushed with so much funds that it must, by any means howsoever, transfer RM500M to England? First the Sports Complex, now Cambridge U. Next is Chelsea FC, I suppose, to train our team to qualify for the next World Cup so that they can go pull teh tarik at the World Cup and throw roti chanais at opposing defenders. Or play batu seremban in the centre circle of the football field (I am sure that would get us into some record book or other as I dare guarantee no other national team has done that) The consistency of that figure hovering around the RM500M mark is indeed peculiar.

If we want to link up with Cambridge, we must first get our fundamentals right, as it is wise to remind ourselves that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. I do not see how we could get value for that 500M. If you put oil together with water, oil will remain as oil, and water as water. Putting it in another way, you cannot gain anything by mixing intellectuals of a university standard with, say, our own chappies with less than a high school mentality - one would not understand the other.

The only possible result from a partnership with Cambridge would be to lower down Cambridge's ranking.

clk said...

I believe Cambridge will take the money without strings attached...their reputation is more than RM 0.5b...

Anonymous said...

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...---

A couple of months later, FIL, SIL, Krismuddin, Tok Pah (Sampah),
and even SamyVeloo will be going to
Cambridge U to receive their Honorary Doctorates in the dubious fields of administartion, humanity etc. Just imagine-- DOCTOR SamyV the former peon...

Anonymous said...

Unless I am mistaken, the price of petrol, diesel and cooking gas will
go up by at least 30sen a litre next month...while we donate RM500,000,000 to the Brits and RM 1 billion to the Russians to carry up a Malaysian idiot in their spacecraft for the historic purpose of drinking teh tarik in space. Tunku Abdul Rahman must be turning in his grave now.

alice said...

" when a person goes bonkers, he loses ability to abstract or do conceptual thinking.."

alice said...

of course it is hoped that the government is not going bonkers on this RM500m smokie thingie..

Charis Quay said...

Well, wait and see, I suppose, though it does seem that a decision involving this much money shouldn't be made without some public debate...

nerd said...

charis quay,
Forget about public debate. We are not even allowed to voice out our dissent publicly without incurring the wrath of the authorities. We are no better from the KGB Soviet, REPUBLIC of China and DEMOCRATIC People REPUBLIC Korea. These names are just superficial misinterpreted conceptions to soothe international pressures.

Anonymous said...

This sort of "Strategic Investment" by Malaysia's government reflects the consistant failure of our leaders to make quantitative assesments of situations, before jumping into the fray.

Why give money to Cambridge? They are basically thinking, you know "we are giving them money, so that we can have a partnership, so that we may grab bits of Cambridge and make it our own."

But why do we want a piece of Cambridge? Because it's famous? Because it stands for a rigorous intellectual tradition? Whatever it is, the government never presents a quantitative valuation of what makes Cambridge, Cambridge.

The British developed Cambridge in Cambridge. Cambridge wasn't bought from the Dutch.

In that line of thought, maybe Malaysian policy makers should invest the RM500 million to hire (i.e. bring home, albeit temporarily) Malaysian professionals working abroad in academia and the corporate sector.

The Emergency University of Malaysia Task Force

They hire 10 to 20 Malaysians with distinguishable academic/administrative credentials, and offer them a fellowship of RM2 million each. The duration of this fellowship should be 2 years. The task of the fellows will be to act as consultants. The objective is to have them design and implement a truly 'world-class' university.

The budget so far for this project is RM 20-40 million alone for the consultants salaries. The remaining RM 460 - 440 million should be prudently managed into making this university a reality. (Bear in mind that the government already intends to spend BILLIONS of Ringgit on education, in the years to come. I'm just saying that a small chunk of it should be in the hands of a Malaysian academic elite.)

The task force must be held to high standards. There must be a rigorously quantified model which indicates how money (public funds) will be transformed into a significant amount of the following: (1) industrial human capital, (2) top notch research intellect, and (3) top notch research facilities.

Then we're talking business.

Of course, this won't happen in the near future, because Malaysia depends largely on non-quantitative valuation methods for such things as education. Moreover, I don't think our politicians have the balls to hand large chunks of money to people who are truly interested in raising the intelligence of our nation.

Charis Quay said...


No kidding. Is RM 2 million the going rate for this sort of consultation these days? Isn't that what they tried to do with MUST though? Did we get our money's worth out of that?

Another quick mental calculation: RM4-5 million is about the right amount to set up a reasonable lab in my field and thereafter maybe RM1 million a year for maintainence since postgraduate stipends are lower in Malaysia. If we wanted, like some state universities here, to be particularly strong in certain areas, I think half a billion RM spent over two or three years could buy us a couple of (or three or four) strong departments at one university. I assume social scientists and humanists would be much cheaper.

One question I've pondered for some time is how much money it is prudent to put into universities, and research in particular, in a developing country. So it really pains me to see such a large amount of money used neither for building up our universities, or some other more worthy cause, but simply going down the drain. I wanted to withold judgment for a bit since we don't know details of where this money is going exactly, but there don't seem to be many good options for strings to attach to this.

It *is* unfortunately true that money is necessary if you want a good university - just think about how Stanford came up from nowhere in the last few decades, basically by people throwing money at it; however, money alone is not going to solve any we keep saying on this blog, necessary but not sufficient.

Who makes these decisions? The Higher Education Minister? What is his background? Who are his advisors? Are there any people 'in the system' (which is to say the global academic/research community) who are advising him?

Another issue to raise is corruption. If Yang Jerng's scheme were to be implemented, how much money will 'disappear'? How much in the current scheme? To be provocative, should we see this as an unavoidable 'tax' on any public funds spent (since one ministry cannot change the culture of a whole country), or can measures be taken (by whom?) that will at least lessen if not eliminate this effect?

Anonymous said...

Why only negative reactions?

Imagine if Cambridge set up a Malaysian studies institute or something like that. Imagine also that a group in Cambridge publish an assessment of the government calculation methods on equity, like the ASLI report. I cannot imagine the government can defend its position then. Can you?

If the RM 500 million can buy us unbiased academic study on the myriad issues faced by Malaysia, it is money well spent. Much better than dumping RM 600 into UMNO bahagian.

The idea of putting up lots of money for Malaysians overseas to come back doesn't work well as it has been done before. Our people are too few and dispersed all over the subjects. Look at the few national fabs or MIMOS. It didn't work then, what is there to say it will work now? We cannot say the experts were not up to it, they are Malaysians and have clearly done well overseas.

Anonymous said...

I think you all need to get your facts straight, including Lim Kit Siang and Anwar Ibrahim. There is no planned donation to Cambridge Uni, as the RM500 million is going to form a fund for research for Malaysians in partnership with Cambridge. This research fund is an endowment fund and is meant to last forever. I was at a meeting a while ago in KL for senior uni officers and this is what was explained to us.

We are lucky to have Cambridge Uni help us with this new partnership. Cambridge Uni is the top science uni in the world according to the latest surveys and Number 2 overall. I would be proud to work with the top people at Cambridge Uni. We should count our blessings that such a great uni is willing to partner with our unis.

I think all the negative messages prove that we need help with our education system. Maybe the negative people should check the facts before writing silly things on the internet!


Anonymous said...

What about MUST smart partnership??
Total failure!
Isn't the fact correct?

Anonymous said...

MUST? Totally irrelevant! who cares? what about Nottingham Uni? That works! If you think Malaysia should never do anything again with top unis because of MUST, then we should all crawl back into our holes and never see daylight again! That kind of attitude is sad and depressing!


Tony P said...

Hey Omar,

Nobody said that we shouldn't form a relationship with Cambridge or for that matter, any other top universities in the world.

However, 2 questions to ponder over -

(1) RM500m?

(2) Shouldn't we learn to walk first, before attempting to sprint?

Tony ;-)

Anonymous said...

I am just curious. Ever since we started privatisation and liberalization of education have we really been siccesful?

1 Were all the glc linked companies succeeeding and making profit?

2 Are our MOU's with all other top notched universities really working and successful?

3 Are our IRPA's succesful besides getting useless medals? How many billions spent so far, and wats the real returns in terms of succesful commersialization on the market?

4 Are our grand 'micky mouse' projects such sending someone to space to make teh tarik worth it?

If the answer is NO, then something wrong with AAB or Dr M

just curious said...

.. previously, the govt. also promoted MSC (Multi Super Corridor) in about the same manner .. MSC was fast forward planned to leapfrog attract international MNCs over to invest in the country.. and to sell that, the govt. went on roadshows to showcase MSC not only to foreign investors on one hand, but also to universities on the other hand .. to buy academic influences perhaps? Was that how MUST could have been conceived ?

Anonymous said...

Hehe. The super consultancy fellowship is not a new idea by any stretch. It's a hyperbolic idea. But er, top consultants in other fields get paid more than that.

Omar's explanation makes a lot more sense. RM500 million for an endowment fund sounds like an appropriate amount, Tony. I hope they have a good fund manager though.

But is Cambridge the 'top science university' in the world? I doubt it. British unis are broke. But really, one of these days, after all this foot dragging tongue wagging... I'm sure the Malaysian government will surprise me with something that resembles a rational plan of work.

Anonymous said...

jerng, don't take my word for it, look at the recent National University of Singapore site:

Oh yeah, sorry, you are right, Cambridge is not the top science uni in the world, it is the top science AND humanities uni in the world!!!!!!!


Anonymous said...

Hi Everybody

I sent this to Lim Kit Siang, but I think you should also read it on this site:

Please let me repeat myself: THERE IS NO RM500 MIL DONATION TO CAMBRIDGE. I have been at official meetings on the project with other uni profs and I can assure you all that there is no donation to Cambridge Uni. What is being planned is a RESEARCH FUND FOR MALAYSIAN RESEARCH, which is to be used for Malaysian uni researchers when they work on research with Cambridge uni researchers. This is the ultimate opportunity for the best Malaysians to work with the best in the world at Cambridge Uni! ***This is the meritocracy we all craved for so long!*** The PPP should support such a fine move! I am no supporter of the UMNO flunkies, but to create a permament fund for supporting world class research with the best at Cambridge Uni is a really smart idea. Hats off to Datuk Mustapa for his vision for our research people in Malaysian unis. I am a professor here and we cannot publish in the best journals because we cannot easily work closely with the best profs in the world. The Cambridge uni profs are the best and they have the best networks and this research fund will help us work with them. From what I have been told and observed, the profs at Cambridge and the profs here in Malaysia have decided that the best solution to help advance Malaysian research is to work together with the support of a protected research fund that is independent of the Government and any corruption. Cambridge Uni is whiter than white and we should respect their view on uni research with our Malaysian unis. As far as I can tell, none of the bloggers on this site know anything about world class uni research as well as the Cambridge profs (kinda obvious, no?). I have read that Cambridge uni has formed world class partnerships which have stood the test of time, like their Cambridge-MIT Institute, and I think it is about time the best Malaysian profs are given the opportunity to work closely with the best Cambridge uni has to offer without silly people saying ignorant things on blogs like this.


Anonymous said...

Dear Omar
Dont assume bloggers here are as blinkered as yr self
I think they are for most better than you
You know why UM or other local universities fell and why singapore U's go up...


Anonymous said...

omar oi, just because UM is ranked in the top 100 for humanities etc. doesn't mean khrm cake to me. :P Same goes for cambridge aight?

Anonymous said...

Honestly I feel most of the local professorsn here would be scared to do research at Cambridge, because most are not skilled in research and got their professors thro campus politics

Even if they go there the Cambridge professors would look down on them.hehehe Our local professors are only capable of doing mickey mouse research projects

Their presence there would further confirm to the Cambridge dons wat stupid professor kangkongs we have here


moo_t said...

Dear Omar,

I think you failed to gasp the idea of other commenter : BAD FOUNDATION.

As some has mentioned it, don't sprint before you learn to WALK. The whole 500mils thing is nothing but similar mentality inherit from Dr.M time : BUYING skill and hope to improve weak foundation.

And the 20+ years experience has show us that bad muds really cannot stick to the wall, NOT BEFORE YOU CHANGE THE SUBSTANCE OF THE MUDS! And changing the substance need revamp from the bottom up.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if Encik Omar can predict with the 500 RM fund to Cambridge, how many GOLD MEDALS can we acquire from Geneva!!


Anonymous said...

Imagine what RM500 million would do....

1 More old folks home for the elderly
2 More support for the disabled
3 More well equipped ambulances
4 Better hospice facilities
5 More aids to the poor
6 More help for the orphans
7 More support for single mothers
and many many more....

Cant the Government gets its priorities right?

Anonymous said...

I fully agreed with the preceding anon about spending the money on social infrastructures. I read somewhere about poorly equipped rural schools without basic facilities. How about fixing that first?

Now for Prof Omar:
I can understand your frustration in your postings here. But it is also not wise to say "....without silly people saying ignorant things on blogs like this" because you may not be aware that there are knowledgeable people who read these postings.

I did not realize the existence of this particular discussion thread, so I had posted a comment in the other discussion thread under "RM500m for Cambridge?" with regard to your email at Lim Kit Siang's blog site.

I think we should learn to discuss in a more civilized manner without name calling.

All these are just suggestions. In reading the blogs, we need to have a sense of humor. So, lighten up a bit.

Anonymous said...

Don't worry, Prof Omar. I'm behind you with this project because I could see it would a viable solution to help our universities to train our lecturers and researchers. Just ignore some of the comments above. They don't know anything. They only know how to complain. And I hope that my prediction is not correct that they will reply to this with more complains.