Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Education in Australia: Declining Quality?

The bloggers here aren't experts on the quality of Australian education. However based on requests by some readers, I've written a little on it here and here.

I'm personally no big fan of Australia in general, mainly due to the excessive commercialisation aspects of Australian tertiary education. In addition, based on anecdotal evidence of the many Australian graduates whom I have received job applications from, as well as interviewed, the general entry requirements into many well-known Australian universities are set too low.

As reported in the Sun today, a study by demographer Bob Birrell of Monash University, “more than one-third of foreign students graduating from Australian universities, mainly Asians, have such poor English skills they should never have been admitted”.
Overall, 34% of the graduating foreign students offered permanent redisence visas last year did not have competent English... [Bob Birell] said he believed the study to be representative of all foreign students, partly because Asia was amajor source of fee-paying overseas students for Australian universities. “It does raise questions about university standards.
Apparently, while these students have sufficient grasp of the English language “to cope with most situations” i.e., for day to day use. However, it is rightly argued that English competency for academic studies should be set at a higher standard.
... people who have reached this standard (to cope with most situations) are still not capable of conducting a sophisticated discourse at the professional level.
Birrell even claimed that there was a “mountain of anecdotal material” that many overseas students struggled to meet their couse requirements and that universities coped by lowering the English demands of courses.

If indeed true, it is nonetheless, not surprising. Tertiary institutions in Australia are heavily reliant on international students for the latter provides at least 15% of funding, which leads to suggestions that academic standards are sacrificed in favour of financial rewards.

Professor Gerard Sutton, the president of the Australian Vice-Chancellors Committee, could only suggest that the result might be just due to a “deficiency in spoken language”, and not due to proficiency in reading, writing and listening. While possibly valid to a limited extent, I'm doubtful that the reason provided forms the substantive factor behind the large percentage of English sub-competence (is there such a word? ;)) highlighted by Birrell's study.

Does this mean that one should not attend Australian universities? No. But it does mean that students, particularly top students should be more discerning with regards to the universities which they choose to go in Australia, should it be the destination country. If in doubt, always pick the universities with the highest entry requirements.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Medical College Cons?

This issue has been raised regularly over the past year or so. It has also been blogged fairly regularly here. Concern Malaysians as well as those involved in the medical profession have been asking, "are we sacrificing too much of quality to boost the quantity of doctors?"

Two private medical colleges in Malaysia are under investigation by the Health Ministry for violating regulations pertaining to training of students in the clinical phase of their studies.
The colleges are believed to be taking in too many students and not providing adequate training for them, which is vital before they can be full-fledged doctors. Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr Chua Soi Lek said that, after a six-month-probe, the ministry found the lecturer-student ratio to be 1:20 when ideally it should be one to between six and eight.

“While Universiti Malaya alone is churning out about 200 students each year, these private colleges, which have been operating less than 10 years and have produced 300 students,” he said.
What's more investigations have found that there are NO permanent lecturers at the colleges, just part-timers!

How did the Minister of Higher Education approve these colleges in the first place? Unlike the expansion of tertiary education in other aspects, reckless expansion of medical colleges will result in unqualified doctors, who will put the lives of all Malaysians at risk. And instead of acting with greater urgency, the Minister of Higher Education, Datuk Mustapa Mohamed could only say that "he had not received a report on the matter from the Health Ministry."

Then next question then is, who are these colleges and why are they banned with immediate effect? It has been more than a week since this was reported, what are our Ministries waiting for?

See further related post here:

Saturday, January 27, 2007

More on Pre-U ASEAN Scholarship

Ah... the Scholarship post has obviously attracted a fair bit of attention, with many giving their diverse opinions on the matter. I can only say that while Charlotte's and the posts by the bloggers' here did give a positive slant (and it is largely positive) to the scholarship experience, there are of course niggling negatives which I dare say, all of us have experienced. However, both ends of the experience certainly gives me a better perspective to the world, hence I am who I am today. ;)

Anyway, here's another article hosted at TinKosong.com written by another Asean Scholar, currently pursuing his degree in Dartmouth College. Unlike many of the earlier batches of Asean Scholars who were sent to the "top" junior colleges like Raffles or Hwa Chong, Benjamin Lo did his at Andersen Junior College (AJC) under the pre-university scheme.

In contrast to Charlotte's post which was more experiential, Benjamin gave a thorough account on the specifics of Junior College life, the hostels as well as the system in general. He emphasised specifically on the fact that enrolment into different colleges may result in distinctly different experiences, and as such, scholars should pay attention to the JCs allocated before deciding on the acceptance of the scholarship.
Know your school well, and know your own goals before accepting the scholarship. Recognize that the school you are placed into is highly important; good schools will provide you with a wealth of opportunities and further scholarships to go to top schools abroad, while giving you the connections to make successful applications. Mediocre schools will turn you into what’s derided as a “mugger” – A student who merely can work and memorize, devoid of any spark of creativity because it was burned out by Singapore’s harsh fires.
The ASEAN scholarship scheme has obviously evolved since my days (I was a scholar back in 1985 as a secondary 1 student) where students were largely sent almost exclusively to the Raffles schools. However, I'm just glad that despite the years of difference, those who still managed to gain entry into Raffles like Charlotte still shared largely the same experience, which I hope many more will get to enjoy. ;)

Friday, January 26, 2007

An intellectual giant passes away

We lost Prof Syed Hussein Alatas this week (January 23rd, 2007), an intellectual giant in Malaysia's educational landscape. He is arguably, one of Malaysia's greatest scholar in the social science tradition. His book, the Myth of the Lazy Native, is internationally renowned and is well known among scholars, including the likes of Edward Said. He is one of the few Malaysian social scientists who has a decent publication trail on google. There are not many in the Malaysian academia who have followed his footsteps of academic excellence. For a more eloquent essay on the life and achievements of Prof Syed Hussein Alatas, please read an essay by Prof Abdul Rahman Embong in Malaysiakini. My condolences to his family.

Bloggers under fire!

I'm sure most of us in the blog world in Malaysia have heard of the lawsuits filed by NST and some of their senior management against Jeff Ooi and Rocky. Tony has blogged about it here in his personal blog and I've been following this issue closely. Given that this is not specifically an 'educational' issue, I think we've both refrained from discussing it in this blog. But I think it's high time that I flesh out some of the pertinent issues in regards to these lawsuits.

First of all, let me say right off the bat that I am categorically against the actions taken by NST and its senior management against Jeff and Rocky. It's a classic case of David(s) versus Goliath, the resources of the NSTP group against two individual bloggers. Why didn't NST also sue BBC over the story that a column which was written by Brendan Pereira was actually plagiarized from a Mitch Albom column? (which from my understanding, forms part of the case against Jeff) It's clearly a case of not only wanting to muzzle these two bloggers but also to send a strong signal to the larger blog community to 'take note' of what they write.

What impact will these cases have on the blogosphere in Malaysia? I thought about the possibility of some of our private colleges or public universities suing myself and Tony for some of our posts, which in some people's opinion, might be considered 'defamatory'. Might a blogger also be sued for posting a negative review of a restaurant, or for saying that he or she is frustrated by the actions (or inactions) of a politician over a certain matter, or for pointing out the deficiencies of a certain product?

Perhaps what is more ironic about this situation is that it's usually individuals who sue newspapers and journalists for making defamatory remarks about these individuals in the journalists' newspapers, not the other way round! For a short and insightful opinion on this, please read Azmi Sharom's letter in Malaysiakini.

I wish Jeff and Rocky all the best as do most of our readers, I'm sure.

But if there's any good that comes out of these cases, it is that:

1) Civil society and members of the public have and will continue to 'mobilize' in response to this issue. There's nothing like an interesting story of the small guy taking on the giant corporation to incense some members of the public and to capture the attention of the public at large.

2) That future lawsuits against bloggers will not be as likely given the negative 'press' that has been given to the NST following the lawsuits. If there is growing momentum to 'boycott' the NST as a sign of protest, the already flagging sales of that newspaper might be further affected (as well as the group's bottom line, of course).

(This is quite sad since I know that there are good journalists at the NST who just want to get on with their jobs and write good and insightful stories / columns / pieces)

Hopefully, Tony and I won't be sued anytime in the near future. But if we do, hopefully some of our readers will come to our aid! :)

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Malaysia Room at the LSE

Just a short one. Pak Lah is in London now and presented a check worth 50,000 pounds (350,000RM) to the LSE, one of my alma maters, for the creation of a Malaysian room. Read about it here and here.

The LSE has been associated with many distinguished Malaysians including the likes of the late Dr. Nordin Sopiee, the late Dr. Ishaak Shaari, Azman Yahya, Munir Majid and Yong Teck Lee. You can see a list of active alumni here. Not in the list of active alumni, two politicians who graduated from the LSE - Minister of Education, Hishamuddin Tun Hussein and Deputy Minister of Agriculture, Mah Siew Keong.

P.S. I think I didn't pay my annual dues so I'm not on the list.

ASEAN Scholarship - A Life's Experience

Readers out there are probably aware that both Kian Ming and myself, who are both loyal and dedicated Malaysians, were both products of the Singapore, or more specifically, the Rafflesian secondary school system, courtesy of the Asean Scholarship. I've written about it a year ago here, whilst Kian Ming wrote on the pros of the Singapore education system here.

But I thought, instead of just listening to both of us, have a read at Charlotte's experience, which she has published on her blog. Charlotte's a final year engineering student at Imperial College under a Scholarship from a Malaysian corporation. I can only say that her words were true to me, and if there were that many scholars who actually shared the same experience despite a total gap between Charlotte, Kian Ming and myself of more than a dozen years - then surely, the Asean Scholars' experience is a fairly consistent one.

Her post certainly struck a chord when she talked about her teachers, the rich extra-curricular activities, the "competition" and even the facilities. She posed the hypothetical question if she would do it all over again, and the answer as affirmative. Mine will certainly be the same.

But the most thankful thing (in my opinion anyway) I found in her post? It was in her last paragraph:
Deep down, I'm patriotically Malaysian by nature and I still snigger at Singaporean news from time to time, however I can't deny that Singapore gave me a chance to see things from a different perspective, while Malaysia is continuously trying to pull wool over my eyes. Would I do it all over again? Any day, baby, any day.
Yes, Singapore gave me a different perspective and certainly opened up the world to me in a way which I'm not sure if the Malaysian secondary education system could. However, it's that experience which I've gathered and earned which I wish to share and contribute to further the development and betterment of all Malaysians.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Don't want to teach in English!

Right on the heels of yesterday's Star report about an English proficiency test for teachers in Science and Math, there was a follow up report in today's Star with the headline "Many still refusing to teach in English".

Said a teacher/trainer, who declined to be named: “There are three main reasons why teachers are still not teaching Maths and Science in English: lack of confidence, the hope that the policy will revert to Bahasa Malaysia and the fact that the exams are in both languages.”

I was only aware that the Math and Science exams were still in both languages for the new batch of students who were taught both of these subjects in English when one of our readers pointed this out in the comments section. While there may have been some validity in having this policy during the transition period, if the MOE is committed to this policy, then dual language exam papers should certainly be phased out and soon. If not, the very thing which the anonymous teacher / trainer pointed out will occur - that many teachers will refuse to teach Science and Math in English thinking that the policy will be reversed in the near future.

While I think the move to teach Science and Math in English was badly implemented, to do a U-turn now and revert back to the old policy would be an even worse policy option. Certainly, I think the cabinet and MOE deserves at least some faint praise for sticking to their guns on this policy despite pressure at the UMNO General Assembly last November to abandon this policy.

Hopefully, having more press coverage on this issue will ensure that the MOE keeps taking proactive steps to rectify the situation.

Ironically but perhaps not surprisingly, also in today's Star, a report which showed that almost a third of students graduating from public universities have limited proficiency in English. How many of these graduates are channeled into our primary and secondary schools as well as into the public service? One can only wonder...

Monday, January 22, 2007

Can speak English or not?

According to a recent Star report, teachers who don't pass an English proficiency test might have to go back to school to brush up their English. My question is - what were they doing teaching Science and Math in English in the first place?

I would have thought that English proficiency would be one of the subjects in which ALL teachers are tested for in teacher training school, not just those who are supposed to be teaching Science and Math in English. For these teachers, shouldn't the bar have been set much higher? Shouldn't they have been better trained to begin with?

It probably has to do with the hurried nature in which this policy was implemented. The then political masters (under Dr. M) wanted to push through this policy in a hurry without first putting in the measures (such as adequate teacher training) to ensure that there was sufficient qualified personnel to teach both of these classes in English. Now, 4 years into this new policy, it's time to play catch up after complaints from all sides:

The teaching of the two subjects in English was introduced in Year One, Form One and Lower Six in 2003. Since then, many parents have voiced concerns over the quality of teaching, including in the media. Their children, they said, were unable to follow the lessons properly as the teachers were less than proficient in English.

I guess this is better than doing nothing about the whole situation and letting those kids who have poor teachers suffer. But again, this shows the seriousness of trying to implement a policy without putting in place the necessary infrastructure to support these policies.

I wonder if the Ministry will place public the % of teachers who have to go through an English 'refresher' course after failing this exam?

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Calling all benefactors

I picked this up in a recent issue of my campus' newspaper, The Chronicle. It reported that the estate of the late Tan Sri Khoo Teck Puat (of Standard&Chartered fame) donated $80 million to the Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School that will be matched by the Singapore government. Which reminded me of the fact that such benefactors are totally absent in Malaysia, at least to my knowledge.

It is a common practice for wealthy individuals here in the US to fund endowed 'chairs' or to donate generously to the building of a new facility, often to have their name attached to that facility. In the Malaysian context, almost all of these endowed 'chairs' have been funded by the government or government linked companies such as the Tun Razak Chair in Ohio University or the recently announced Ungku Aziz chair.

Why haven't any of the wealthy individuals in Malaysian, many of whom obtained the bulk of their wealth through government contracts or licenses, come forward to fund endowed chairs or other worthy causes in our public or private universities? Why haven't the like of Vincent Tan, Ananda Krishnan, Halim Saad, Tajuddin Ramli, Lim Goh Tong, Francis Yeoh and others stepped forward?

Perhaps some of them have donated to education causes, some of which have been publicized, others which have not. I remember Ananda Krishnan making a RM20 million donation to UTAR a few years back. The late Yap Chor Ee (founder of Ban Hin Lee Bank) has donated a building as well as cash to GERAKAN's Wawasan Education Fund for the establishment of the Wawasan Open University. If anyone remembers if any other tycoons have made significant contributions towards educational causes, please let us know.

I can think of some reasons why this has not happened. Firstly, as a developing country, many wealthy benefactors have not inculcated the habit of making financial contributions especially at the higher education level.

Secondly, many of them do not see value in making contributions to public universities because they were not, by and large, alumnis of public universities. (There are exceptions, I remember my uncle telling my that Tajudin Ramli graduated from UM) One of Duke's major benefactors is the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation because Melinda Gates was a graduate of Duke. Many wealthy benefactors to US universities are also graduates of those universities.

Thirdly, many of these wealthy benefactors probably don't want to be associated with any of the public universities because of their relatively low international prestige. Remember that naming privileges or endowment privileges are in part 'branding' exercises. Many people want to see their names attached to a Harvard or Yale 'chair'. I'm guessing that less people want to see their names attached to a UM or USM 'chair' or a business school because of the potential of seeing that 'name' devalued.

Fourthly, there is almost no 'marketing' efforts done on the part of university administrators to reach out to these potential benefactors to ask them to contribute to these universities. There are no incentives for VCs or other university administrators to do so. Funding of professors and other faculty comes directly from the government. There is little competition in terms of the salary of a professor because it is standardized across all the public universities (more or less).

So while many of these wealthy tycoons should be gently 'reminded' of their 'duty' to contribute back to the country, including the area of higher education, the current infrasructure and organization of our public universities also have to take some blame.

Who will be the first Malaysian 'Khoo Teck Puat' to step up? Incidentally, he was a Malaysian before he became a Singaporean.

National Education Blueprint is out

Finally, the National Education Blueprint 2006 to 2010 out online on the MOE website. You can download it in two parts here. It's only in Malay and it takes a long time to download because of the size of the files (5.5MB each, approximately). For some reactions, read here and here. I'm sure there will be a full report in this weekend's Star education section. In the meantime, Tony and I will go through the report and share our own reactions in the coming weeks.

National Education Blueprint - Initial Impressions

Connection to Blogger has been pathetic recently, making regular posts a pain for both of us at the moment. At the same time, we can't migrate to the “new” Blogger yet due to the size of the blog, to enjoy purportedly better functions and features. So bear with us this two weeks. ;)

The new National Education Blueprint is finally released to the public after a few days' delay with much fanfare. Expectedly, the local media hyped up the event as well as its contents over the past couple of days. You can also download the Bahasa Malaysia version of the blueprint on the Ministry of Education website here. However, the promised “blog” to encourage feedback from concerned readers is still non-existent.

Due to a busy week, I've only managed a cursory glance of the Blueprint and isn't yet ready to make substantive comments on it. However, there has been some significant comments made by others in the press already.

The key surprise, of which significance is yet to be determined, is the finding by Parliamentary Opposition Leader, Sdr Lim Kit Siang was the ditching of the term “Bangsa Malaysia” as enshrined in our Vision 2020, to some vague and convoluted concept term “Negara Bangsa”. This concept of building “Negara Bangsa” is identified as the First Strategic Thrust of the National Education Blueprint. Hence the obvious question for our Government is, have we decided to do away with the all important and unifying concept of “Bangsa Malaysia”?

The other Strategic Thrusts identified by the Ministry of Education are:

  • Developing Human Capital
  • Strengthening the National Schools
  • Narrowing Rural-Urban Education Gaps
  • Strengthening the Teaching Profession
  • Raising the Standards of Excellence in Schools
Hence, on first take, it appears to me that while the Thrusts identified are definitely agreeable, there has been a severe lack of identification and discussion on the current problems and issues facing our national education system today.

The Thrusts identified above aren't revolutionary “new concepts”. These are concepts which have been in place for the longest time in our education policies. They have merely been refreshed and jazzed up to be more contemporary and professional looking in nature. Hence, it is obvious that repacking as well as a better presentation of the Ministry's objectives and thrusts alone, aren't going to significantly resuscitate our flagging education system.

Without specific policies in place to eradicate the problems and weaknesses in our current education system, the implementation of “new” policies and concepts will not be effective. As discussed often in this blog, there has been a worry trend towards turning national schools into religious institutions by many education officials and school administrators. There is also the concern of opaque quota and racially discriminatory policies which disadvantages minority races. What about the issue of overcrowded vernacular schools? Parents and concerned citizens alike are worried about the substantial deterioration of standards of our examinations, which runs in clear conflict with the objective of raising the standards of excellence in schools.

Without reading the Blueprint in detail, I've failed to find policies in the Blueprint which specifically resolves the above issues which will only serve to negate whatever positive contributions by the new blueprint. I'm clearly not alone in holding these views. Datuk Denison Jayasooria of Yayasan Strategik Sosial has commented that while the policies might have been fine-tuned, it's the same officials who have failed us in the past, who will be carrying out the new policies, hence placing major doubts on the success of the new blueprint.

[He] hoped there would be new faces to implement the targets set from the ground level, otherwise there would be a bottleneck of archaic-thinking people” who are not able to change how things are executed.
The Secretary-General of the National Union of Teaching Profession (NUTP) shared the same views.
"The blueprint will only be successful if there is unity. It will remain a blueprint if the Education Ministry is not willing to accept feedback and criticism."
And given that the Ministry have failed to address some of the key problems and issues with our national education system with any conviction or resolve in the Blueprint, it is unsurprising that I have grave reservations with regards to its likely success.

Footnote: The Blueprint however, contains a whole load of facts and figures pretty much unavailable previously, which is probably a statistical nirvana for number junkies like myself ;).

Thursday, January 18, 2007

QB3 Malaysia Programme

Top Malaysian bioscience graduate students and postdoctoral scientists will have a chance to study in the San Francisco Bay Area as part of a new program aimed at boosting Asia's ability to find treatments for some of the world's most devastating diseases.

The $6.7 million program is funded by the non-profit Malaysia Biotechnology Corporation, which reports to the Malaysian government. Over the next five years, it will allow up to 30 Malaysian graduate students and postdocs to gain valuable technical skills in the laboratories of the California Institute for Quantitative Biomedical Research, or QB3, a cooperative effort that integrates the scientific expertise of UCSF, UC Berkeley and UC Santa Cruz with private industry to benefit human health.

Taking these skills back home, the participants can strengthen the technical ability of Malaysian biomedical research. The hope is that the increasingly sophisticated Malaysian workforce and the economies of the region will allow the country to take on development of drugs for tropical diseases that have been neglected by the Western pharmaceutical industry.

"Malaysia is a developing country that wishes to develop a biotechnology industry," said Reg Kelly, PhD, director of QB3. "Their vision is to build that industry around diseases that are not being addressed by Western biotechnology and pharmaceutical firms. QB3 wants to help them."

Kelly serves as principal investigator on the new project. Neglected diseases include malaria, African sleeping sickness, schistosomiasis, Chagas' disease and tuberculosis. These diseases disable or kill hundreds of millions of people in the developing world every year. In addition, the program aims to prepare young scientists to help Malaysia develop new diagnostics or treatments for important emerging viruses like Dengue, or the new and lethal Nipah and EV71 viruses.

The new program also supports visits by senior Malaysian scientists for three to 12 months to gain sophisticated laboratory training; brief, intensive training courses in biotechnology for Malaysian administrators; and an option for students and more senior Malaysian scientists to participate in UCSF's Center for Bioentrepreneurship to learn the skills needed to help move laboratory discoveries into commercialization.

Hence the programme is now seeking outstanding Malaysian scientists who wish advanced training in the strategies needed to develop novel drugs and diagnostics for neglected and emerging diseases. After training in California the successful candidates are expected to return to Malaysia to become faculty at the new National Institute for Pharmaceuticals and Nutraceuticals.

The program is designed for three categories of Malaysian candidates:
  1. Students who have completed graduate training (PhD or MD) and wish further post-doctoral experience.

  2. Students who have started their thesis work in Malaysia, or elsewhere and have institutional approval to complete their thesis work in QB3 as part of this program.

  3. Students who are currently completing their undergraduate or Master's degree and wish to do their research at QB3 as part of this program. Such students will enroll and obtain their PhD degrees from Universiti Sains Malaysia.
Applicants can download the application forms from www.qb3.org. The application should include a cover letter, curriculum vitae, contact details for three letters of reference and
a 1-2 page statement of research interests and future career goals.

Completed application materials should be submitted electronically as a single document in PDF format by February 15, 2007. Decisions on acceptance will be made by March 31, 2007. All applicants should indicate which of the qb3 faculty listed on the website would be acceptable to them as mentors and why. Submit applications electronically to: qb3-Malaysia Program Assistant - malaysia@ucsf.edu.

For more information on the programme, check out the QB3 Website. Thanks to LPF for the heads up. ;)

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Politicising Education

It is unfortunate that in this country, the marginalised community will only receive aid come the time for elections.

It was announced in the Star yesterday that "in the run up to the Batu Talam by-election in Pahang, the Education Ministry has approved a RM180,000 allocation to the sole Chinese primary school in the constituency.
A state executive councillor, who chose not to be named, confirmed the matter, reported Nanyang Siang Pau. He said the school authorities submitted their request to Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Tun Hussein during the Education Minister’s visit to the constituency on Saturday.

Hishammuddin, who is Umno Youth chief, gave an immediate approval for the allocation.
Even with the "immediate approval" of the allocation, you can be assured that the disbursement of the funds are going to take forever. For example, during the head 1999 elections which UMNO required its coalition partners to help the party secure parliamentary majority for the first time ever, the Chinese community was promised relocation of certain vernacular schools. However, till today, schools which was designated for relocation such as SRJK(C) Pulai is only "planned" to be completed before 2010.

But the bigger question then is, isn't the Government abusing its control over the Ministry of Education, using tax payers funds to finance UMNO's election campaigns? Aren't there laws against such irresponsible and unfair practices?

Similarly, in the last by-election at Pengkalan Pasir, Kelantan, the people was promised a university in the state, subject to UMNO victory. The university was hence subsequently incorporated in the 9th Malaysia Plan. This was despite the fact that Malaysia has consistently failed to raise the quality of our existing local public universities.

Are these ad-hoc election and by-election education expenditure and modus operandi part of the yet-to-be announced National Education Blueprint 2006-2010?

Joint Japan/World Bank Graduate Scholarship Regular Program

Thanks to Weng Fong Lim for this headsup. You can view the details for this scholarship here and download the application form here.

The Joint Japan/ World Bank Graduate Scholarship Program (JJ/WBGSP), is in its 20th year. The Program awards scholarships to individuals from World Bank member countries to undertake graduate studies at universities renowned for their development research and teaching. In its Regular Program, the JJ/WBGSP has awarded scholarships to 2,613 scholars chosen from a total of nearly 53,000 applicants.

The Regular Program is open to the universities all over the world. Scholars awarded scholarships receive their training and graduated degree from more than 150 Universities in more than 30 countries. Scholars study in well-known Universities in the World Bank member countries, except their own country. The Regular Program creates high level of competition among applicants, where thousands apply and compete for a limited number of scholarships.

The Regular Program guarantees diversity of host institutions as well as an increasing number of fields of studies such as economics, education, public health, environment, agriculture, women studies, child care, etc. Graduates of the Regular Program are highly positioned in their countries, some are already ministers while others are highly involved in policy making processes.

The JJ/WBGSP Secretariat initiated discussions with partner universities about cost-sharing arrangements. The goal is to reduce tuition expenses and, hence, increase the number of JJ/WBGSP scholarships. Host universities, by entering into such arrangements, recognize and appreciate the contribution of the Government of Japan to the JJ/WBGSP.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Sciences vs Humanities

Ah... a theme close to my heart, and certainly something of a surprise that I've not blogged about this earlier in the past 20 months since this blog was initiated!

The Star over the weekend, published a few articles, here and here with regards to the choice of Science versus Arts stream for students moving on to Form Four. As highlighted by Tiara, an enthusiastic proponent of the Humanities, the articles were a tad disappointing in that they conceded, or at least hinted at the superiority of the Sciences over the Arts. (Trust Tiara to be quick to the draw in responding to the reports ;))

Reading the articles, it's fairly clear that there is a strong societal bias towards the Science stream, practically indicating that students taking the humanities courses are of weaker intelligence.

A principal in Petaling Jaya highlighted that generally, "good students prefer to do Science as they find it more challenging compared to Arts." Another principal, Mary Wong, argued that (horrors!) "doing Science forces you to be more analytical and diligent."

To put it bluntly, that is such a load of rubbish.

Firstly to put things into perspective, I was a mixed Arts and Science student for my 'O' Levels i.e., I took Geography and English Literature, complemented by (pure) Physics and Chemistry, as well as both Mathematics subjects. For my 'A' Levels, I ditched Geography for History, and took on Economics and Mathematics. I did reasonably well for most of the subjects, with no distinct superiority of Arts or Science over one another (I'm not a straight 'A's student), with the exception of Mathematics, which I consistently aced. Hence I'd like to think that I have the necessary perspective to "comment" on this "which-is-better?-science-or-arts" debate.

There is no such thing as Sciences being more "analytical" than Humanities. They are all subjects which can (severely) test the human mind, and it's analytical levels are in fact only limited by the teachers, the teaching methodology as well as the students themselves.

In fact, contrarians such as Tiara might even argue that the Arts are clearly more analytical for the answers aren't carved in stone like the sciences whereby E=MC2. And because there are no concrete answers, students of Arts subjects are required to be more analytical to argue, substantiate and flesh out their case.

There is also a clear misconception that the Arts subjects are all about memorising facts.
Nesa Sivanesan, whose son completed his PMR recently, advised him to go into the Science stream. “I felt it was the path of least resistance as he fared better in subjects such as Mathematics, Science and languages. He hates History because he doesn’t like memorising dates.
My 'A' Levels history tutor, Mrs Sng would have flipped on such flippant remarks on her pet subject. History, contrary to popular perception, isn't so much about dates but about analysis of events. History, for example, is less about when Melaka is conquered, but more about why it has fallen and whether it was inevitable.

Again, it is possible to argue that Science and Mathematical subjects have their fair share of memory work, with all the biological terms, chemical names, physics and mathematical formulas.

In addition, a student who excels in Sciences may fare terribly in the Arts, and obviously vice versa. Hence, streaming should never be a matter of the superiority of the sciences over the arts, but instead be a question about the individual's aptitude.

The parental, school and peer pressure for top students to enrol into science courses despite a preference and aptitude in excelling in Arts subjects will only find misery when confronted with test tubes and dissected frogs. And such misery would certainly be detrimental towards the student achieving his or her own potentials. It is unfortunately not helped by the fact that poorly performing students are automatically 'relegated' to Arts courses, giving the wrong impression that such courses are only suitable for weaker students.

In fact, I would argue that all students, in which ever streams should have compulsory subjects from other streams to shape more rounded individuals for the subjects would test a persons different faculties. In Singapore, even my school mates in a Pure Science stream taking Physics, Chemistry and Biology would have to take English Literature as one of the compulsory subjects. On the other hand, all Arts students will have to take a "combined science" paper to have a better understanding of the sciences.

I would certainly encourage the Ministry of Education or the relevant schools to offer the "in-between" streams where students get a good mix of the pure sciences as well as the Arts subjects. I for one, who would not have survived biology (I will probably throw up or faint, if I ever had to dissect a living being), benefited immensely from such a stream for it enabled me to be an all-rounded adult e.g., an Arts cum Social Science degree graduate managing a company specialising in computers and information technology.

The only argument which I find plausible, in choosing Science over Humanities, with the exception of aptitude and ambition, is that if one has strong interest in both, but is yet undecided on which stream to choose. In such a case, it is definitely easier for a science student to pick up an Arts subject in tertiary education, instead of say, an Arts student taking up Physics for his degree.

Other than that, take the stream or subjects which your heart tells you to. This advice comes from someone who has graduated in Philosophy and Politics, and yet has no problems gaining employment and achieving a little success for himself.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Where's the Blueprint?

After Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein announced on the 24th December that the National Education Blueprint 2006-2010 would be released yesterday, 12th January, with great fanfare, the day went and passed without so much of a whimper from the Ministry. Where's the promised blueprint which was continually hyped by the Minister of Education over the past 2 weeks or so?

The Minister claimed that the blueprint would be posted on the website, a blog or something similar will be set up to invite public feedback on the 12th. Nothing happened besides several additional interviews with the local newspapers.

Is this another case of a poor delivery system? I'm certain we'll see it one of these days, but when? That's the question.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Cambridge PhD scholarship

Great scholarship opportunity to do a PhD at Cambridge for the social science or humanities!

Got this from the Malaysia Students Department in the UK.

The Tunku Abdul Rahman PhD Scholarship

The College invites applications for the 2006/07 Tunku Abdul Rahman Scholarship. This is open to academically outstanding Malaysian candidates wishing to pursue PhD research at Cambridge University.

2003 marked the one-hundredth anniversary of the birth of the great twentieth century statesman, Y.T.M. Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj, who led Malaysia to independence in 1957. To commemorate his achievements, the Prime Minister and Government of Malaysia founded the Tunku Abdul Rahman Centenary Fund at St Catharine's College, where Tunku received his undergraduate degree, his Honorary Doctorate in Law, and an Honorary Fellowship.

Each year the Fund provides one three-year scholarship to enable a Malaysian citizen to undertake PhD study at Cambridge University in one of the following subjects:
Archaeology, Classics, Divinity, Economics, English, Geography, History, History and Philosophy of Science, History of Art, Law, Modern and Medieval Languages, Music, Oriental Studies, Philosophy, Social Anthropology, Social and Political Sciences.
Preference shall be given to candidates with research of relevance to Southeast and/or East Asia. Tunku Scholars will normally be associated with the University’s East Asia Institute. The Scholarship provides full fees and maintenance for the three years of the PhD course. The value of any studentship awarded will be reduced appropriately to take account of any payment from other sources.

Please note that the Appointments Committee cannot make an award to a candidate unless he or she has been accepted for a PhD programme by the relevant Degree Committee of one of the Faculties of the University. Candidates should thus submit their PhD application to the Board of Graduate Studies at the earliest possible moment.

To apply, please send to the address below a copy of your PhD application, including your undergraduate transcript, your PhD proposal, letter of offer of admission to the University of Cambridge, and any other documents you regard as relevant. Please ask your referees to prepare copies of your references in sealed envelopes to be also included in your application. Incomplete applications will not be considered. The Committee will select a shortlist of up to five applicants by mid-April, inviting them for interview in May, either in person or over the web. All communication will be by email.

Applications must be received by 15th March 2007 and are to be sent to:
The Graduate Tutors' Assistant, Tunku Fund Scholarship, St Catharine's College, Cambridge CB2 1RL, United Kingdom.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

More 'A's, More Knowledgeable?

There are more than 23,000 students who scored straight 'A's in the Penilaian Menengah Rendah (PMR) examination, and this number seems to be growing every year. That's more than 5% of students who scored straight 'A's without yet taking into account those who scored 6 or 7 'A's.

The question posed by Syed Nazri in his News Straits Times (NST) column is simple – “Are our children getting smarter or is it plainly that the examination standards are lower?

I have no doubt that our children today are academically more knowledgeable than our generation and the generation before us. However, 23,000 straight 'A's students? That leaves us with pretty much no doubt that the examinations have been dumbdown in order to enable a higher passing rate amongst students.

My argument is 2-fold for the standards of the local examinations to be raised significaintly.

Firstly, this dumbdown process of our examinations must stop and be reversed immediately. One might be keen to blame our universities for the lower standard of graduates they seem to be producing. However, to a large extent, the universities have to cope with whatever input they received from the secondary schools. It is difficult for local unviersities to maintain or even introduce "high" standards, if the students who enrolled are unable to cope with the more rigourous syllabus and subject matters.

Secondly, even if the argument that our students have indeed grown significantly smarter over time, it is even more relevant for our Ministry of Education and examinations syndicate to raise the standards in order to challenge the students further. Only then will we be fully 'exploiting' the talents within our young Malaysians, raising the bar for Malaysia's future development.

By giving smarter students dumbed down examinations will serve no purpose in strengthening their intellectual prowess, but will instead, be a clear insult to their intelligence.

Let's see what the National Education Blueprint 2005-2010 to be released tomorrow will say about this subject.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Progressive JPA loan policy

I thought this is rather progressive of the JPA / PSD as reported in the Star a few days back.

Students in foreign universities will be eligible to apply for Public Service Department (PSD) loans once they complete the first semester of their studies.
Previously, those studying in institutions of higher learning in Indonesia and some other countries could apply for the PSD loans before they entered the universities.
“Now, they can apply for these loans based on the achievements of their first semester examinations at the foreign universities,” said PSD corporate communications head Hasniah Rashid.


“Those studying medicine, dentistry and pharmacy can be exempted from repaying their loans if they agree to be contractually bound to serve the Government for 10 years.”

I think it's good that the JPA is becoming more flexible in how it disburses its funds. I learnt from a few of my friends who are JPA scholars that it's possible to be on a special loan instead of a full JPA scholarship and if your results are decent enough, a certain portion of that 'loan' is waived.

My ongoing grouse with the JPA / PSD is that they have very, very poor post graduation planning. Most JPA scholars hope that their files will be conveniently 'lost' when they return to Malaysia after they graduate and 'report' to be assigned a job in the public sector. After a year of their files being 'lost', they go on to find work themselves, mostly in the private sector, which defeats the purpose, in some ways, of giving them the JPA scholarship in the first place. And don't even get me started on the non-existent crackdown on those who 'default' on their scholarships and don't pay back their bonds!

I think that Petronas, Telekom and Tenaga does a slightly better job in this, in that they at least have jobs in their respective companies for their scholars. But still, I've heard complaints from scholars in these organizations that the training and human resource management element is almost non-existent (with perhaps the exception of Petronas). There's no equivalent of a 'management trainee program', as far as I know, where scholars are rotated between different departments so that they can learn about the different departments and then choose which department they most want to work in.

Giving money away, in the form of scholarships or loans, is in some way, the easy part. The harder part and the greater challenge is to utilize the beneficiaries of these scholarships and loans so that the public service, and the nation as a whole, can benefit from their service.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Free Speech has its limits ... even at the LSE

I've always been proud of the fact that I graduated from the London School of Economics. I had a great experience in my undergraduate years there (1995-1998) intellectually, interacting with the wonderfully bright and diverse student body, making some good friends and enjoying the city of London. I admired the energy of the school and the fact that they were attracting the bets faculty in social science there, in the UK anyways. But tonight, I have to say that I'm less proud of my LSE degree and here's why.

Earlier today, I blogged about the advice given to prospective Asian PhD students by Erik Ringmar, an ex-LSE lecturer who's now a professor in National Chiao Tung University in Taiwan. Upon reading his blog further, I began to realize why he had left LSE to go teach in Taiwan.

To cut a long story short, he gave a speech in early 2006 to an incoming undergraduate 'class' and also wrote certain things in his newly started blog that were interpreted as being 'defamatory' to his employer i.e. LSE. He was reprimanded by the head of his department, George Philip as well as the director (equivalent to the VC or president) of the school, Sir Howard Davies, former head of the FSA in the UK because of his actions and was subsequently forced to resign (or at the very least, was put in a position that made it very difficult for him to stay at LSE) his tenured position at LSE.

You can read the contents of his Open Day speech here. Find anything controversial? If you do, please let me know which part. Apparently the part which the LSE authorities found offensive was the following:

The LSE is often referred to as an ‘elite’ institution. What does that mean? In a way the elitism follows from what I just said. The School is lucky enough to be able to pick the very best scholars and the very best students. Then we put the two together in the same place and make the scholars teach the students.

This is a great idea, of course, but also one that in practice may be difficult to realise. After all, the greatness of a scholar is measured in terms of output — that is, research. It is more than anything the number of books and articles written that matters to academic promotions. If you want a high-flying academic career you have to publish.

This means that the first-class teachers usually will have their minds elsewhere than on undergraduate teaching. They might be away on conferences, and even if they are not absent in body, they may be absent in mind. This is too bad of course. In fact it could indeed be that students have more opportunities for interaction with faculty members at lesser institutions — like the London Metropolitan University, say — where research is less heavily emphasised. I don’t know.

What I do know is that the in-class student experience often differs very little between the LSE and a place such as the London Metropolitan University. This may surprise you but it something students tell me. Instinctively I rebel against this conclusion, but I have come to believe that the students who make this point are correct.

Think about it! The kinds of courses taught at undergraduate level are pretty much the same everywhere you go. The courses use the same kinds of reading lists, with the same kinds of books, set the same kinds of exam questions … The lecturers too are not that different from each other. This is easily explained. Often after all we went to the same universities.

I have a friend at the London Metropolitan University who I did my PhD with. He is a very charismatic person. I cannot really, hand on my heart, say that I know that I’m a better lecturer than him. Most likely we say more or less the same things in our lectures. And he is funnier.

He goes on to say that LSE is a great place to be in because of the diverse and intelligent student body:

Let me suggest to you why transferring down would be a mistake. What makes the LSE unique not only in Britain but in the world as a whole — and into a vastly different kind of institution than all of its local competitors — is the quality of its student body. We are able to recruit some of the smartest, most interesting, intelligent, rich, successful and all-round attractive people on the planet. That is, we are able to attract people just like you!

Nothing wrong in this, right?

Not according to the LSE authorities. You can read about the aftermath here. Suffice to say, he hasn't asked to given another Open Day speech.

Erik received tremendous support from the student body and I'm sure that the LSE authorities, namely George Philip (Head of the Government Department), and Howard Davies (director), are ruing their decision to put pressure on Erik Ringmar.

I expected something like this to happen at UM. Indeed, it did happen at UM with regards to our friend, Azmi Sharom, which we've blogged about here and here.

What I did not expect was something like this from my alma mater, the LSE, a place which was full with leftist 'radicals' in the sixties, a place with a great tradition of intellectual inquiry and scholarship, a place of 'refuge' as Erik Ringmar pointed out in his speech.

I am deeply disappointed with the actions of the LSE administrators. I will shortly write the the following people at the LSE expressing my disappointed at their actions.

Sir Howard Davies
First Floor, Columbia House
Houghton Street
London WC2A 2AE

Professor George Philip
Department of Government
Houghton Street
London WC2A 2AE

In addition, I will also write to the Office of Alumni Relations to express my disappointment at the curbing of free speech on the part of Erik Ringmar.

Office of Development and Alumni Relations, U708
Houghton Street

I'd encourage all LSE alumnus to do the same and all those who agree with me that Erik Ringmar was unjustly treated.

You can email Erik Ringmar to express your support here: erik@ringmar.net

I still have a high regard for LSE as an academic institution but certainly, in my eyes, it has lost some of its lustre in light of this incident.

Thoughts from an ex-LSE lecturer (Part I)

I couldn't resist blogging about this since it concerns one of my alma maters, the London School of Economics (LSE). I was alerted to this blog by an ex-LSE lecturer (Thanks Alain Chong for the headsup) and he has the following advice for prospective Asian PhDs and undergraduates who are thinking of applying to study at LSE and more generally in the UK.

Here's some of his pointers for prospective Asian students who are thinking of applying to LSE, Oxford or Cambridge to do their PhDs:

- English universities really aren’t all that good. Far inferior than the best American universities and certainly not much better than universities in Scandinavia, Germany or France.
- Don’t forget, PhD programs in UK universities, in contrast to American, have no course component. All you get for your tuition fee — some 12,000 pounds per year — are a few chats with your supervisor. When you factor in the cost of living in a city such as London, this is likely to be about as much as your family’s entire annual income.
- Add the lousy weather, the lousy food and it all becomes very unattractive indeed. Yes, and I forgot the barely concealed racism against anyone with an East Asian accent. They’ll take your money, but they won’t take you seriously.
- If you go ahead with your UK PhD, what you’ll soon realize is that you’ll be far better off doing your research back in your home country. You’ll save money that way and you’ll be closer to your primary sources. Before long you’ll find yourself sending 12,000 pounds off to the UK every year and getting absolutely nothing in return — no library access, not even an absent-minded supervisor. Before long the absurdity of the situation will be hard to ignore.
- The only thing you’ll get in the end is the alledged prestige of a UK degree. Yes, this is still worth something today but only since universities and employers in East Asia are slow to catch up on the serious trouble that UK academia is in. The Singaporean authorities have. They are not encouraging students to travel to the UK for a PhD anymore. Other Asian countries will soon draw the same conclusion.
- Let’s assume that the prestige of UK universities has a half-life of about 50 years. If that’s true, your PhD won’t be worth nearly as much by the time you are ready to go on the job market, and it’ll be worth even less some decades into your career.

Who is this blogger?

Erik Ringmar, 林艾克, is professor at the National Chiao Tung University, Hsinchu, Taiwan. He grew up in Sundsvall, a big industrial town in northern Sweden, and in Mellanfjärden where his father was a sheep farmer. He received a PhD from Yale University in the United States in 1993, and a Fil.Dr from the University of Uppsala in 1998. Between 1995 and 2006 he taught in the Government Department at the London School of Economics.

While I broadly agree with his advice, which is to go to a US institution to do your PhD if you can get into a good school, I'd like to make a couple of corrections to some of his points.

Firstly, the course component requirements in UK universities differs according to field. Erik, whom I think was did his PhD in political science at Yale (I think Jim Scott was one of his advisers), is probably right to say that for fields such as political science, sociology and most certainly the humanities, there is little or no course component in UK universities (Although this might change in the near future as more UK universities try mimic their US counterparts). This is certainly not true for a field like economics. As far as I know, you have to do one year of pretty rigorous coursework and obtain a pretty high passing mark before you can proceed to the PhD stage, that is if you want to. If you don't, you can leave the institution with just a Masters. This is the way it works in LSE and Cambridge for economics, at least when I was there in 1998/1999. One year of coursework is still not as rigorous as the 2 years (minimum) of coursework which you have to take in most fields (social sciences and humanities) in US universities.

Secondly, the weather in London or the UK generally might be bad but it's not as if Boston (where Harvard and MIT are) is all warm and nice during the winter months. You'll get your fair share of bad weather (a combination of snow, hurricanes, tornadoes, flooding, hail, etc...) in most parts of the US outside of California. In sunny California, you just have to worry about the earthquakes, which are fairly rare or so I'm told.

Thirdly, it is possible that you'll encounter racism in most countries where you're not the majority race. I found London to be an amazingly cosmopolitan place and I didn't remember any racial slurs being directed against me nor was I discriminated in any way. Although I was called a 'chink' by two English lasses while I was in Cambridge doing my Masters. Here at Duke, I've been spared of any racial incidents so far, thankfully.

Fourthly, I think he underestimates how much you can benefit from being in an institutional setting in a UK university. He recommends that potential PhD students stay at home instead, where they are closer to primary sources. This is probably true for those who need access to primary sources (sociologists, anthropologists, political scientists, historians etc...) but he doesn't point out that in many East Asian countries, the library facilities are far from good. Indeed, you might not be able to access certain journals because your university doesn't subscribe to them or that many books which you require somehow mysteriously 'disappears' from circulation. By being in a place like London, you can have access to the LSE library, which is one of the best social science libraries in the UK, as well as the British Library which has rare and previous documents found nowhere else in the world. (I don't get this comment about the lack of library access. I would have thought that all PhD students can access the library of the institution where they are studying at)

I think that Erik is being too harsh to the UK universities. I would still recommend prospective Malaysian students to go abroad to do their PhDs. And if the Malaysian government is willing to spend the money, a good UK university is not a bad choice. But do try to get into a good US university first. Failing that, then go to a UK university.

A more promising US-Msia collaboration?

After the fiasco that was (and perhaps still is) the Malaysian University of Science and Technology (MUST) that Tony blogged about here, I was a more than a little sceptical when I got news of this new collaboration between California Institute for Quantitative Biomedical Research (QB3) and the Malaysian Biotechnology Corporation. But perhaps this partnership has more potential for fruition than MUST because it has more realitistic ambitions.

You can get details of the QB3-Malaysia Postgraduate and Postdoctoral Training Program here. The intro to that website goes like this:

The term neglected diseases refers to all human diseases in which there is little or no commercial interest. Western pharmaceutical and diagnostic companies believe that they cannot recover an income from those diseases commensurate with the development costs. In practice, neglected diseases predominantly affect the populations in the developing world. We foresee that diseases neglected by the west can become commercially viable targets for emerging economies like Malaysia, if they can deploy a less expensive but technically sophisticated work force to do development at a cost that moves many diseases out of the neglected category.

With this vision in mind, the Malaysian Biotechnology Corporation has entered into a partnership with the California Institute for Quantitative Biomedical Research (QB3) to start an exciting new training program to train outstanding Malaysian researchers who will both help developing nations and create biotechnology jobs for Malaysians.

This makes good sense to me. It's an area of biotechnology which Malaysia and Malaysians would have an interest in. No point competing with the 'big boys' where there is plenty of funding and interesting floating around e.g. AIDS antiviral drugs or cancer research.

The 'Purpose' section reads something like this:

Our purpose is to train scientists who eventually will conduct research in Malaysia and be leaders in the field of developing drugs and/or diagnostics for neglected diseases. During the course of the program, the trainees will conduct research projects with QB3 faculty and participate in courses, seminars and symposia at UCSF. A common criticism of sending Malaysians abroad for access to sophisticated and cutting-edge training is that they cannot return to an intellectual environment equivalent to the one they left. This program is fundamentally different. All the students in this program go to the same institution, QB3, where they will form networks with each other as well as QB3 scientists. After training, all the students will return as staff to the same institution, the new National Institute for Pharmaceuticals and Nutraceuticals. In this way the trainees should be able to take back home with them the culture they have been exposed to. That culture, QB3, emphasizes awareness of the problems of the developing world and at the same time the need to solve those problems through entrepreneurship and commercialization, rather than relying exclusively on philanthropy.

So, this program hopes to eliminate brain drain by sending the trainees back home to Malaysia where the onus will be on the newly created National Institute for Pharmaceuticals and Nutraceuticals (located in USM, Penang) to make use of their talents.

So who is eligible for this program? The program is open both to those who want to pursue a PhD or do postdoctoral training in biological sciences or other related fields. This training will take place in UCSF (University of California at San Francisco). While this school may not be a household name in Malaysia, it is one of the top schools in the US in the field of biological sciences.

US News and World Report in 2002, the last time it surveyed doctoral programs in the biological sciences, ranked UCSF fifth best overall. In that survey, UCSF ranked first in neurosciences, third in biochemistry and cell biology programs, sixth in molecular biology and ninth in microbiology

I think there are several reasons why this partnership has a much better chance of success compared to MUST.

1) The training takes place in the US, specifically in UCSF, one of the top biological sciences schools in the US instead of in Malaysia, which, as far as I know, was the intention of MUST.

2) The trainees return to an existing instutional setup in Malaysia after their training has been completed. Even though the National Institute for Pharmaceuticals and Nutraceuticals is a new set-up, it is located within USM and is likely to draw upon the resources of existing faculty there, unlike MUST, which had to start more or less on its own without much institutional support or infrastructure.

3) Its ambitions are relatively modest. While it is not stated how many students the program will accept, I'm sure that not more than 5 students per year will be accepted. In fact, in the early going, I'm guessing that only 1 or 2 students will be able to make the cut and get into this program.

I have have some caveats:

1) How much did the Malaysian Biotechnology Coporation have to 'pay' to QB3 to establish this program, I wonder? My gut instinct tells me that this is nothing close to the proposed RM500 million 'donation' to the University of Cambridge. My less cynical side tells me that some faculty in UCSF got to know a few promising students and faculty members from USM and wanted to encourage promising Malaysian researchers to train at UCSF. The involvement of the Malaysian Biotechnology Corporation is mostly in funding the National Institute for Pharmaceuticals and Nutraceuticals. I'm guessing that UCSF might even be picking up the tab for training the PhD and postdoc students.

2) The first few Malaysians who enter this program will have be impressive because if they are not up to par, you can be sure that UCSF will be less willing to take on future trainees.

3) The National Institute for Pharmaceuticals and Nutraceuticals must be run like a research institution and not a place where non-research academics or academic wanabees are placed for political reasons and for reasons of gaining prestige.

Watch this space for future developments in regards to this program.

Monday, January 08, 2007

National Education Blueprint in Progress?

Nanyang Siang Pau reports that there is still a shortage of 1,700 Chinese-language teachers in Chinese vernacular schools. This is despite the Ministry of Education having sent some 900 qualified Chinese-language teachers.

If there is such a severe shortage of these teachers at the start of the current academic year, dare I even speculate on the implementation of the Chinese mother tongue programme for the national schools? This commendable programme was meant to commence in the previous academic year, but we have yet to hear any announcement if it has actually started.

If the implementation of the National Education Blueprint to be released this week, which is meant for 2006 to 2010 is already in progress, then it certainly doesn't bode well for Malaysian students.

Whats more, the New Straits Times reported that schools are making compulsory unnecessary completion of irrelevant forms by parents on their income and background.
The form has the Education Ministry logo and the general heading “Student Information Form”, and requires parents to submit the documents to “help the school manage student affairs.” Those who have neither a pay slip nor a J-form must “provide an Income Declaration Form verified by the employer, Commissioner of Oaths, a Justice of the Peace, a village head” or other community head.

Other details asked are the parents’ employer’s name, the address, their income tax number, basic monthly pay and other information relating to the child’s transportation to school.

The Education Ministry usually asks for such details only if parents are applying for various funds or schemes, such as the text book loan scheme. But parents who complained to the New Straits Times today said they had not applied for anything.

Some parents even complained that the forms are “more difficult than a form applying for a mortgage”.

Is this the Ministry's new examination system for parents under the National Education Blueprint?

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Ministry of Education Blog?

Wah... As the Minister of Education, Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein cranks up the publicity machine to promote his 5-year National Education Blueprint, I must say that it's getting a little more interesting. He said that the ministry would “set up an email address and a website or blog for the public to provide feedback” on the blueprint.

In addition, the blueprint which was meant for commencement a year ago in 2006, is not cast in stone and is expected to change based on the feedback received.
"It won’t just stop after it is launched. It is an ongoing plan and can be adjusted and fine-tuned according to the needs. I welcome input from all stakeholders," he said.
Although normally, I would actually expect consultation with the relevant stakeholders first, prior to developing an entire blueprint, but in this case, I'm happy to give the Minister the benefit of the doubt. I will certainly provide the necessary input and feedback both at this website and at the Ministry’s official channels.

What is curious however, is if the expected on-going feedback process is taken seriously, wouldn't the implementation of the blueprint be further hampered and delayed without even taking into consideration the lethargic delivery system? Will it be a 2-year (or even 3-year) delay before the delivery of the blueprint which is meant to take Malaysia to the year 2010?

Let's see, let's see.

Public Lecture by US Historian

Saw this on the Star yesterday. Anyone wants to go there and report the proceedings?

PETALING JAYA: A world-renowned historian and academic from the United States will give a public lecture on The Changing Competitive Context for Research Universities on Jan 12.

The lecture will be delivered by chancellor of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Prof Dr John V. Lombardi.

Prof Lombardi is a professor of history and specialist on Latin America.

He is the author of seven books focused primarily on Venezuela.

In addition to history, he has taught and written extensively on education (its philosophy, governance, business), international business, computer literacy and software evaluation.

Dr Lombardi will speak on what he believes to be the ideals of learning and research in higher educational institutions.

The lecture is organised by the International Institute of Public Policy (Inpuma), Universiti Malaya, in collaboration with The Star and the Asian Centre for Media Studies as well as the Public Affairs Section of the US Embassy in Kuala Lumpur.

The talk will be held at 3pm at Nikko Hotel, Kuala Lumpur.

A total of 100 passes at RM15 each are available from Inpuma.

For details, call 03-2617 3038/9.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

The Singapore Scholarship

Want to find out more about the Singapore Scholarship being offered by Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs? Well, check out current scholar, one of five from Malaysia, Ching Kuan Thye's write up on the scholarship at TinKosong.com.
A candidate from Malaysia will have to have completed STPM, A-Levels or UEC to be eligible for this scholarship. The scholarship will cover full tuition fees for successful applicants’ studies in the National University of Singapore (NUS), Nanyang Technological University (NTU) or Singapore Management University (SMU), while an allowance of about S$6000 will be provided for each academic year. There is no bond attached to this scholarship and all scholars are expected to return to their respective countries after graduation to contribute to the economy.
The last bit is probably the best thing to come out of it. Most students, even non-scholarship holders who graduated from NUS or NTU are required to work in Singapore for at least 3 years in exchange for "subsidised fees". The idea is obviously to seek to retain talents in the country. This scholarship however, seeks to have the scholars return to their home countries as part of "assistance to developing countries".

Application for Malaysians will be open in March 2007 after the respective results for the 'A'-Levels and Sijil Tinggi Persekolahan Malaysia (STPM) are released. It's interesting to note that Matriculation candidates are not qualified. ;)

Other frequently asked questions are available here.

Good luck!

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Hishammuddin Makes A Point

Our often maligned Minister of Education, Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein makes a point this new year, staging a well-planned media strategy to hype up the upcoming announcement on the new blueprint for Malaysia's education system next week.

He says that the "presence of different types of schools is a unique feature of the country, which gives it a comparative advantage."
In making this point in an exclusive interview with Nanyang Siang Pau, he said the Government would continue to preserve and protect this aspect of the education system through the National Education Blueprint.

“People should not regard the various types of schools in the country as a hurdle to be cleared. After all, this is not a zero-sum game because multiculturalism is an added advantage and a strength for the country.”

Hishammuddin also noted that the existing situation in the country reflected the freedom allowed for the development of vernacular schools as well as other types of schools.
Like what he stated a couple of days before that, and blogged by Kian Ming, that's excellent to hear.

Then the problem I have with the current Government is that, they have made practically no provisions in the 9th Malaysia Plan to "preserve", "protect" or even promote multiculturism in our education system, which has been rightly described as "an added advantage and a strength for the country."

As highlighted in an earlier post, there has been no provisions for any new Chinese or Tamil vernacular primary schools in this country, despite its obvious demands and needs of the various communities (see statistics here). Despite the vociferous protest from all parties, all the Government relented to was the set up of a new Vision school, as well as relocating an existing primary school (which was promised in the 1999 elections). And the time frame in which this will be done is still absolutely unclear.

This is not the first time our Minister of Education has spoken "rationally". I've heard him say exactly the same rational thoughts to an Oxbridge forum almost exactly a year ago. Unfortunately, because the interview was given to a Chinese vernacular press, was the message tailored accordingly to be pleasing to the ear? I for one, hope sincerely that he walks the talk and I wait (with unabated breath, no less) to be pleasantly surprised.

I'll plough through the "new" blueprint once I get my hand on it. Not sure if any comments raised will be futile though - for I did the same with the Zahid Higher Education Report, and it got ditch practically within 6 months after its release!