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.