Thursday, February 15, 2007

Research Centres in the UM

This post is inspired by one of the comments in Tony's post regarding the recognition of degrees from Beijing and Tsinghua universities by Malaysian authorities. The comment was:

"The 'Institute of China Studies' just outside the UM is just an almost empty building for years! I passed the building everyday to work and see almost no cars or inhabitants inside!There are many such CENTRES sitting in the campus doing nothing...just a FORM but no substance"

My impression of many of these centers is that they were set up for political rather than academic reasons. For example, the Institute of China studies was set up for the following reason and this was obtained from its website:

"The setting up of the Institute of China Studies (ICS) was proposed by the present Prime Minister of Malaysia Dato’ Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi after his visit to China as the Deputy Prime Minister in September 2003. The Ministry of Higher Education of Malaysia then directed the University of Malaya to prepare a proposal, leading to the establishment of the ICS on 5 December 2003."

In scrolling through the 32 research centers at the UN which can be found here,
I noticed a center call the 'National Antarctic Research Centre (Antarctica)' and that it was established sometime in 2002. I also recalled Dr. Mahathir visiting Antartica before he retired and segments of his own handheld video was made into a National Geographic documentary. When exactly did he visit Antartica? You guess it, 2002.

The following is a 'quick and dirty' way of assesing whether these research centers are 'active' or not. I checked through all 32 research centers on the UM website and tried to locate weblinks for each of these centers. While having its own website is not necessarily a good prediction of research work, it does give an indication about how serious this center is in promoting itself and the work which it is doing.

The UM research center website only produced 3 weblinks to 3 research centers out of 32 (Centre for Biotechnology in Agriculture Research (CeBAR), Centre for Civilisational Dialogue, Institute of China Studies) and the link to the Center for Civilisational Dialogue doesn't work.

For an additional check to see if there are websites for these individual centers which might not be listed in the page I was looking at, I googled these individual centers. I found 4 more centers which had their individual websites - the Clinical Investigation Centre, the Centre for Nanotechnology, Precision and Advanced Materials, the Centre for Research in Applied Electronics and the Centre for Xenobiotic Studies (SUCXes).

In regards to the content / quality of the research highlighted by these websites, I leave it to the better judgement of the experts in these areas.

I also found websites which were under construction for 6 of these centers, all under the Center of Research in the Faculty of Engineering:

The Centre for Emerging Biomedical Technology (CoEBET), the Centre for Energy Sciences, Centre for Innovative Construction Technology (CICT), the Centre for Signal & Image Processing, the Centre for Separation Science and Technology (CSST), and the Centre for Transport Research (CTR).

Which means that out of 32 research centers, only 6 have their own websites which are up and running. In fact, the Institute of China Studies, by its website at least, seems to be the one center which actually does produce some research. It has a bunch of visiting scholars there and the two guys running the show (Dr. Hou Kok Chung and Dr. Yeoh Kok Kheng) have a list of related publications out or in the process of being published.

This just goes to show that we are very good at launching many of these centers with great fanfare (usually with a big name politician or two) but not so good at doing the follow up work which is to conduct ACTUAL RESEARCH! Which reminds me, when exactly is Jeffrey Sachs going to come to Malaysia to take up his position as the first Royal Ungku Aziz chair in Poverty Studies?

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

I had the opportunity to visit and work with some of the people at the Antartic Research Center around 2005. At that time there were only I think 3 people working there doing interesting climate/weather studies in the polar region. During my interaction with the people there, one complaint that I heard was that many students did not want to work with the center simply because the stuff done there eg. physics, fluid dynamics etc. was too difficult. That remark came back to mind after reading the "Jaguh Kampung and Boring Students" blog entry earlier this week.

So for one particular center at least, even if it were started by political will, there is good academic work being done. The staff actually go to Antartica regularly to conduct research. I wonder how long the center's going to last though.

Anonymous said...

Once again, they are just wasting taxpayers' money. They think that as long as there is a look, people will impress. They completely forgotten that this is the 21st century, and everything is based on results, thanks partly to the increasing competition from globalisation. Sadly however, our leaders are still living under the coconut shell and have no idea how the vast the world look like.

Some examples will be like sending out Malaysian astronaut to space. Which part in the project is truly "Malaysia"? How could they cite that instance as "a quantum leap" in local aerospace industry? How about the SMART tunnel, completing in few months' time? Which part of the technology involved is "Malaysian"? Why are they so happy about the completion of the project and it is being aired on Discovery Channel?

Just because they have the money to spend? Those are OUR money!

PS: Glad to hear that TP is setting up the centre.

Anonymous said...

What is even more exciting about UM, is that, it has a FACULTY of Science, which has TWO INSTITUTES under its care Biology and Maths, while the other divisions are referred to as DEPARTMENTS!

Now, tell me in which University in the world we have INSTITUTES and DEPARTMENTS coexisting?

UM is really fantastic! I wonder what the VC, Deans and senate have to say about such arrangements?

Leslie said...

The anon comment on 2/15/2007 09:49:00 PM is a tad unfair.

Most universities with a history to speak off (not set up over the past 5 years, for example), have layers of bureaucracy, institutional inertia and all other quirks to contend with as they grow (and accrete).

Of the US institutions I am familiar with:
1. The computer science department at Purdue is within the college of science, not engineering per most other places;
2. At Stanford, there are different Physics and Applied Physics departments within the School of Humanities and Sciences, plus two independent High Energy Physics Labs (Hansen and Ginzton), plus a separate contract from the US Department of Energy to administer the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center.

There are at times good reasons (fore-thought or devised after the fact) for such arrangements---Purdue is said to be the first university to establish the CS department, in 1962, when the field had a more "sciency" than engineering feel to it; the Stanford labs are set up separate from the "traditional" academic departments to encourage interdisciplinary research (e.g., to include electrical and mechanical engineering in the mix).

The key, brought up by Kian Ming, is whether good work comes out of these seemingly extraneous set-ups. (Or in more ambitious places, better-than-good work, i.e., whether one obtains results that would not have arise had the more "sensible" arrangement prevails.)

Anonymous said...

This shows that a particular racial group is clearly inept at management or does not understand the basic principles of management and good governance. Self enrichment seems to be the rule of the day in Malaysia.

Anonymous said...

"the link to the Center for Civilisational Dialogue doesn't work". Why am I not surprised? Since when are we able to conduct civilised dialogue in this country? Dialogues, starting from primary schools level, can only fall into either of the two categories - if you are not a balls-carrier in what you say, then you are branded "non-constructive" (putting it mildly). Substance of a conversation has long since became irrelevant in our society.

Looking on the bright side, we do have on record 32 centres in UM! (ok, so I am desperate, sue me) Just wondering; if the THES ranks unis according to number of centres set up on a per capita basis, rather than useless and incomprehensible indicators like research papers (that excites no one in our unis and the Establishment, anyway), wonder where we would stand in the rankings.

If we can persuade THES to rank on this basis, it would be good for us as I believe our expertise at setting up government agencies, Commissions and Centres are second to none - on that score, we are matchless, and deserve some recognition.

Happy New Year to all readers, and to Tony and KM and their families. Regardless of whether you are celebrating CNY, enjoy the holidays, all, and please drive carefully. Every death on the road, be it of a pillion rider on a motorbike or a passenger in a chauffeured BMW, is a senseless loss of life and a trigger of agony for so many loved ones left behind.

Anonymous said...

I am not Malaysian and I was thinking to pursuit my PhD in Malaya University, but now I am hesitating to do that.

Anonymous said...

Good! Dont waste your time at the local unis!
Go to Australia, USA, Singapore or China!

Ah Peng said...

'Anonymous said...
I am not Malaysian and I was thinking to pursuit my PhD in Malaya University, but now I am hesitating to do that.

2/25/2007 03:24:00 AM'

Dear Anon above,

I suggest that you go pay a visit to the university or email them so that they will be able to answer all your queries. I believe that the university will be able to assist you.

no harm trying.

Ah Peng said...

'Anonymous said...
I am not Malaysian and I was thinking to pursuit my PhD in Malaya University, but now I am hesitating to do that.

2/25/2007 03:24:00 AM'

Dear Anon above,

I suggest that you go pay a visit to the university or email them so that they will be able to answer all your queries. I believe that the university will be able to assist you.

no harm trying.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for all people above that responded to my comment. I am an international student and I was thinking to pursue my PhD in a Malaya University. But I hesitated when I saw tony blog and now I am thinking to go to New Zealand. The university that I chose there is not among the top 500 universities in Asia but it's business graduate school is very good. I want your advice because I like Malaysia but also I want good education too.

Anonymous said...

Go to NZ...its much better than any university in Malaysia!

Your NZ degree will be well recognized!

Anonymous said...

UM IS AN EXTINCT DINOSOUR!

NO HOPE!