Sunday, September 23, 2007

Full Scholarship to Wesleyan University, Connecticut

Read this in the Star today in regards to a full 4 year scholarship to one of the top private liberal arts colleges in the US. I highly recommend those who are interested in receiving a liberal arts education to apply for this scholarship. It's sponsored by the Freeman Foundation, a foundation that has done a lot of work in East Asia in the arena of education. Details are below.

WESLEYAN University in Connecticut, United States, is once again calling for applications for its Freeman Asian Scholars Programme.

Each year, two Malaysian students will receive a scholarship to study at the university.

The scholarship, worth some US$35,000 (RM120,000) per year, will cover tuition and student fees for a four-year undergraduate programme at Wesleyan.

Applicants must be Malaysian citizens and should have their SPM results by the time of application. Students in programmes such as A-Levels, STPM, Canadian Pre-University and South Australian Matriculation or are in an American-style secondary school are eligible to apply.

Selection will be based on academic records and extra-curricular merits.

Applicants must take the SAT and the TOEFL.

A written application must be submitted by Jan 1.

Shortlisted candidates will be interviewed in Kuala Lumpur in February or March.

Students who qualify for the 2008 intake can get application forms from the American Home Assurance Company (03-2058 5399) or Macee (03-2166 8878).

For more details about the scholarship, click here.
For a description of Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut, click here.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

OXCEL Revisited

One of the proprietors of OXCEL has written to me requesting that "[I] take down the fake certificate and other postings or we shall have to take the neccessary actions both in Malaysia and England."

He further added that "[the] blog should focus on reporting the truth instead of 'khabar angin'. A true reporter is able to support their claims with Facts. Your facts/ source is seriously faulty, which then brings down your creditability. I would have expected a University of Oxford graduate to be thorough and analytical in their research, thoughts and opinions."

I am taking the initiative to give him the benefit of the doubt with regards to the certificate, and will be removing the image of the alleged certificate from my earlier post here. However, for the moment, I'll be leaving the earlier posts as is on the site.

I have also offered twice since I first blogged on this issue for him to provide a formal reply to the site for the readers. This offer has not been taken up. However in his email to me, he did insist that "OXCEL is a legal entity in the UK unlike the other 'dubious institutions' that you have reported on. OXCEL also does not award degrees."

Readers are given every opportunity to evaluate the story and make their own conclusions. And if I'm proven wrong, I'll be more than happy to apologise.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Evaluating the Higher Education Action Plan (Part 1)

Two blueprints which outline how the Ministry of Higher Education (MOHE) aims to transform the state of higher education in Malaysia was launched in early September. These two blueprints are: the National Higher Education Strategic Plan and National Higher Education Action Plan 2007-2010. I think many of our readers have been asking us to comment on these blueprints but because of various commitments both Tony and I haven't gotten down to going through these two documents in detail. I finally had some time today and I decided that I would go through these blueprints and share some of my thoughts on some of the strengths and weaknesses of the blueprints. This first post is mostly about my general impressions of the Action Plan.

Firstly, I'm quite certain that both documents were not written by civil servants within the MOHE but was probably sub-contracted to an outside consulting firm (the likes of BCG, McKinsey or Ethos Consulting). When one compares the Zahid Commission report with these two documents, especially the Action Plan, this immediately becomes clear. The Action Plan in particular, are chock full of slides that seem vaguely familiar to me, in terms of their formats. (I was a management consultant in a former life)

If I am correct, and I'm 90% sure that I am, it points to the sad state of our civil service that such an important document needs to be subcontracted to an outside consulting firm, at taxpayer's expense, to be completed. (There has been a growing trend within the various ministries to rely more and more on outside consultants for these types of blueprints). Other than the cost to the taxpayers, which might range anywhere from 500,000RM to 3 million RM, depending on the consultant used, I think that the two documents, in particular the Action Plan, has benefited having an outside consultant's input.

For one, instead of just having a blueprint (like the Ministry of Education's National Education Blueprint), the MOHE decided on having a Strategic Plan as well as an Action Plan. Having the additional Action Plan (which is where most of the press attention has been focused on) is useful because it gives an actionable timeline which the MOHE can be made accountable to and it makes clear some of the deliverables of the Strategic Plan (such as the Apex universities, MyBrain15, Academic Audit, Graduate Training Scheme and Lifelong Learning). Under the section on critical agendas, there are clear action plans which the MOHE has oversight over and needs to follow so as to implement these deliverables.

Having an outsider's perspective also means that the MOHE is not tied down to outmoded ways of thinking that may be symptomatic of many civil servants. Some of the language used in the Action Plan is definitely 'uncivil service like' especially in the section on the selection of the VC position, which I will discuss in further detail in a subsequent post. Most of the consultant who would have drafted / crafted this Action Plan would be young, idealistic and mostly overseas educated and would not have some of the political inhibitions which a civil servant or even a politician within the BN would have.

Of course, Malaysia is well known for having the ability to come up with great blueprints but fail in the implementation stage. While the Action Plan draws up concrete steps which the MOHE needs to take, it is still up to the MOHE to implement these stages efficiently and transparently.

My second observation about these two plans is that there is a great deal of the Zahid Commission Report on Higher Education which has been included in the content of these two plans. I think that this is a good step since it brings about some continuity and also reinforces certain positive philosophies and ideas over time. It is not like the situation in the MOE where the National Education Blueprint produced under Musa Muhammed was thrown out when a new Minister of Education, in this case Hishamuddin Tun Hussein, took over as the Minister and commissioned his own new National Education Blueprint. Tok Pah took the wise step of not throwing out the findings of the Zahid Commission, which was commissioned under the previous Minister for Higher Education, Shafie Salleh.

Improving higher education in Malaysia not only entails a mindset change within the leadership of the public universities in Malaysia but also a mindset change within the civil service in the MOHE. The fact that we have a consistent message being promoted within the MOHE, from the Zahid Commission to the time period under Tok Pa, helps, in my opinion, to spur on this mindset change within the MOHE.

Of course there are specific criticisms in regards to the Strategic and Action Plan which I have and will go into in subsequent posts, but I'm generally quite positive in regards to the substance of the Action Plan. Indeed, I see positive changes being brought about slowly within the MOHE and also in other initiatives that have to do with higher education being promoted and implemented by other ministries, most notably in MOSTI such as the QB3 Malaysia Program, blogged about here. (which I hope will be a positive and sustainable program, despite the insensitive remarks on the part of JJ while he was speaking to a group of Malaysian students there).

I'll talk about proposed changes to the governance structure in public universities in my next post.

P.S. You can read both plans here.

Monday, September 17, 2007

B. A. (Hons) Thuggery (II)

Well, remember about a year back when I wrote on degree and masters programmes offered by some of our local universities on Thuggery? Well, it appears that the course is being taught seriously, at least at Universiti Putra Malaysia.

As reported in Malaysiakini and widely circulated via emails, first-year UPM student Yee Yang Yang has to consider legal action to get back his laptop which was seized by the campus security on Friday night. In addition to his laptop, the security officers also carted away Yee’s mobile phone, MP3 player and 10 other items valued at RM6,000 during a spot check of his hostel room. Documents were also confiscated.
"They (security officials) wanted me to give them the password for my phone and laptop so that they could check the contents," he told reporters outside the campus security's office this afternoon.

"I refused. I want them to return my things and to apologise to me publicly because they did not follow proper procedures when they took away my belongings.
Can you believe that this university has a "special task unit" under the almighty Student Affairs Unit, which is a "big-brother-like" student-monitoring outfit, forming part of the campus security? See the video on his attempts to retrieve his belongings from the "security officers" here.

Even his attempts to lodge a police report over the matter has been refused, clearly demonstrating the bias of the police force over the matter - especially when successive Inspector General of Police have promised that all reports will be duly received and acknowledged.

And it is most unfortunate that UPM has been designated as one of Malaysia's four premier universities, a "Research University" by the Minister of Higher Education. To use the description of the Parliamentary Opposition Leader, Sdr Lim Kit Siang, UPM will probably be more aptly termed as a "Mat Rempit University".

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

OXCEL Certificate

I wrote about the educational awards offered by the "Oxford Centre for Leadership" (OXCEL) a few weeks back here and here. For those with a keen eye, you will see that the text within the sites have been modified accordingly to be less misleading, for example, in its (non) association with Oxford University. OXCEL runs its programmes in Malaysia here.

But I'm curious. OXCEL has recently conducted a convocation ceremony at the Oxford University itself on the 3rd of September 2007, specifically at the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies. (Oxford colleges and institutes rent out their premises for use by private organisations to raise funds.) And I've been made aware that the following is the alleged copy of certificates issued to the "graduates" from OXCEL.

[UPDATED 21/9/2007: I have removed the alleged certificate for the owners of OXCEL has written to state that the copy in my possession is a forged document. I have however, requested for a original copy to be posted online, but this request has been rejected for apparent fear that further forgeries will be made.]

Friday, September 07, 2007

Non-Malay Deputy VC appointed

Read this in the Star today. UM has appointed a non-Malay to the position of deputy VC (development). It was reported that 'the Higher Education Ministry has approved the creation of a new deputy vice-chancellor's (V-C) post in Universiti Malaya that will help link its research development with infrastructure development.' I was pleasantly surprised to it was a non-Malay who was appointed to this position since I had always assumed that all the deputy VCs in the public universities were 'reserved' for Malays.

This is not to say that I think that a person should be appointed to a certain administrative post just because he or she is of a certain race. I would support the candidacy of any and all qualified candidates regardless of race. But we have seen how certain Malaysian academics have left our shores and have become VCs in other universities in Asia most notably Prof Wang Gangwu who was the VC of the Hong Kong University from 1986 to 1995. The fact that many of these academics (mostly non-Malays) who have been passed up time and time again for promotion opportunities probably encouraged them to relocate to other universities in other countries in the region or further abroad.

Prof Dr Khaw Lake Tee certainly seems qualified. It was reported that 'Prof Khaw earned her first-class honours in Law from UM, a master’s degree from Monash University, Australia and a PhD from the London School of Economics and Political Science', a pretty impressive CV.

It was also reported that 'Other universities to follow suit in making such an appointment are Universiti Kebangasaan Malaysia, Universiti Putra Malaysia, Universiti Sains Malaysia and Universiti Teknologi Mara.'

I think this is an encouraging move in so far as it seems to indicate a greater willingness on the part of the MOHE to level the playing field, as it were, by promoting a more meritocratic approach towards promotion opportunities in our public university.

But I'm still waiting for the day when we get to see a well established and well qualified non-Malay academic take up the position of the VC of a Malaysian public university.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Mock Interviews

How many times have you mumbled , shook your legs, and chewed bubble gum while talking to others, without realizing it?

In a university interview, communicating effectively can be your ticket to see the world, learn under world-renowned faculties, and get a prestigious degree. Descartes Education and Counseling Center will be conducting a one-on-one mock interview with you, then take a video of your progress, and finally replay it to help you rectify any problems during your mock interview, for FREE.

Interviewers representing world-renowned universities will give you insight to what a good interview entails, and will advise you against more than just mumbling, shaking your legs, or chewing your favorite bubble gum during interviews!

On the same day, Descartes Education and Counseling Center (DECC) will be having an official launching. Be sure to learn more about DECC and don't forget to check out the future plans/events of the center.


  • Ms. Chook Yuh Yng

    Yuh Yng holds a Masters in Engineering from Trinity Hall, Cambridge. She currently heads the Sales Department of, the very successful online recruitment website.

  • Dr. Ong Shien Jin – Interviewer, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

    Shien Jin graduated from MIT with a degree in Mathematics and went on to complete a PhD in Computer Science in Harvard University. As an educational counselor for MIT, he conducts interviews for MIT applicants in Malaysia

  • Mr. Bakthiar Talhah – Interviewer, Princeton University

    As Regional Director for PFC Energy and Director of the Asian Downstream Practice, Mr. Talhah has vast experience in the field of global energy and investment opportunities. Mr. Talhah holds an Engineering degree from Princeton University.
Sunday 9th of September 2007
Time: 1 pm to 4 pm
Descartes Education and Counseling Center
55-1 Jalan SS21/1A,
Damansara Utama,
47400 Petaling Jaya.
Those interested in registering for the mock interviews can send an e-mail to descartes.ecc(at) with a brief description of their own background and the DECC team will get back to you as soon as possible.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Sachs came, Sachs spoke, Sachs left

Sorry for the long delay since the last post. Term just started for my last week and I was getting back into the swing of things back in school. For regular readers of this blog, you would know that I have been keeping track of Jeffrey Sachs appointment as the first chair of the Royal Ungku Aziz Chair of Poverty Studies at the UM. This was first announced in November, 2006 and you can read my posts about this issue here and here. He finally came to Malaysia in the middle of August, a couple of weeks back. I've been critical of UM's decision to award this chair to Professor Sachs namely because I don't think it is cost effective and I don't really think that Prof Sachs can do justice in terms of academic contribution to his post. Instead of criticizing MOHE and UM again, I think I'll take a swipe at Prof Sachs this time.

Ever since his appointment was announced, I've been keeping track periodically for news feeds regarding Prof Sachs as well as trying to see if there were any changes to his bio, primarily to see if the press here in the US or other Western countries would pick up on his appointment as well as to see if he would indicate on his bio in Columbia's Earth Institute website, where he's the director, that he had taken up this post in Malaysia.

Like I've said before, it's not common for a professor to hold more than 1 chair in more than one university at a single point in time, primarily because this requires a professor to share his or her time between more than one university. Most universities prefer not to have this kind of arrangement since they want to have 'exclusive claim', if you will to a professor's time and name. Most professors also do not want to have more than one appointment since this means that they have to do work (teaching, admin duties, faculty meetings etc...) for more than one university which leaves them with less time to do their real research. Even academic superstars such as Paul Krugman, teach or are associated with one university at a single point in time. (Krugman recently moved from MIT to Princeton)

There are some professors who can negotiate for special arrangements with their universities but many of them do so for personal reasons. For example, I have a professor here at Duke who spends one semester at England and one semester in at Duke because he's English and his family is back home in England and his research agenda requires him to spend part of in Europe. But I also imagine that part of this arrangement also requires him to be paid less by both institutions, probably splitting his salary 50/50 or thereabouts.

So here's my first beef with Prof Sachs. I think that UM is paying him tons of money to take up this chair but gets little in return. In one of my previous post, I estimated that it probably costs the UM / MOHE somewhere in the range of RM2 to 3 million annually to recruit Prof Sachs to his post. And this appointment is for 2 years. But he is not required to do any teaching or any advising, as far as I know. I'm not sure how much research he can do given that he probably spends less than two weeks in a year in Malaysia! If he was appointed in November last year and he came to Malaysia for one to one and a half weeks in August, this is pretty good money for 2 weeks worth of 'work'. (more like rehashed lectures and platitudes) If he knows that he cannot dedicate a sufficient amount of time and effort towards some sort of academic contribution as the Chair of Poverty Studies at UM, why take it in the first place? It surely can't be only because of money since by all accounts, Prof Sachs is already a wealthy man.

The job description of the Chair and the Centre of Poverty Studies seems like quite a handful. It can be found at this link.

The objectives of the Chair and the Centre are to:

- Serve as a focal point for academic work, research, consultancy and technical assistance in the fields of poverty and development for the academic community, the public, policy makers and the international community;
- Develop new approaches and methodologies in the study of poverty;
- Improve the understanding of life in the rural areas and amongst poverty groups;
- Help increase accessibility to information pertaining to rural communities and poverty groups;
- Disseminate information through the creation of databases, publications, seminars,
conferences, workshops, the internet and the media;
- Contribute towards capacity building in the rural areas especially amongst the poor;
- Encourage the incorporation of local and indigenous knowledge in the development process.

This doesn't seem like something which a Chair can accomplish by spending 2 months in the country, not to mention 2 weeks.

Of course, it could be that Prof Sachs has taken a salary cut from Columbia because of his appointment at the UM. It could be that Prof Sachs is not costing UM RM2 to 3 million ringgit a year (or even half of that). It could be that his appointment beings only in 2007 and not in 2006 as originally announced and so he's only beginning to ramp up his participation and responsibilities as the Chair of Poverty Studies at the UM. I hope that this is the case.

But as far as I know, Prof Sachs is back in the US and will only return to Malaysia sometime in January next year to look at the poverty rate among orang aslis or to do some work regarding poverty in Kelantan, I'm not sure which.

My second beef with Prof Sachs is that if he's been appointed to this Chair, why hasn't he updated his CV at Columbia to indicate this appointment? He obviously updates this now and then since there are some details there in regards to some of this activities in 2007.

As important, why hasn't he made any announcement here in the US with regards to this appointment? It was made big news in Malaysia but the US press was ignorant of this appointment. If UM was hoping that this appointment would give more name recognition to UM here in the US or in other developed nations, I think they have to be somewhat disappointed at the lack of publicity in the media outside Malaysia. I've been keeping track of news feeds from google news over the past year periodically checking on new on Jeffrey Sachs but have found no mention of this appointment in any news feeds outside Malaysian papers.

(Just for fun, why don't our readers google these to see what kind of hits they find: Jeffrey Sachs Chair Poverty Studies, Jeffrey Sachs Universiti Malaya)

Of course, it could be overreaction on my part since Prof Sachs might be just waiting for his appointment details to be confirmed before putting up these details on his website.

But of course, there could be other reasons as to why Prof Sachs might not want to make to big of a deal in regards to this appointment within the US and also within Columbia.

There will certainly be some criticism of his association with the UM as well as with the Malaysian government. Columbia students and faculty, more so than students and faculty in other US universities, are more familiar with the internal politics in Malaysia and are likely to be critical of the lack of democracy within Malaysia. Columbia is a university known to be associated with political dissidents. Many of the student activists from Tian An Men landed up in Columbia. Anwar Ibrahim has been a frequent visitor to Columbia before his arrest and after his release. His last visit to Columbia was probably in January 2006. The UM is also the place which terminated the contract of Dr. Chandra Muzaffar, probably one of Malaysia's best known academics (together with Prof Jomo).

This is pure speculation on my part but Prof Sachs is probably smart enough to know that his appointment to the UM would draw some some attention within Columbia University from faculty as well as students which explains why he's been relatively quiet about this appointment here in the US.

My last beef with Prof Sachs is related to this point. He's smart enough to know that his appointment it not purely an 'academic' one. He's smart enough to know that he's at such a high level of prominence that he won't be able to spend much time doing the 'real' research and administrative duties which a Chair must assume. Hence, the 'deal' must have been something like this - we give you a generous financial package, you don't need to do much real research, just come to Malaysia and tell us good things about ourselves.

While it is true that Malaysia has done a lot to reduce poverty and probably has one of the best poverty reduction rates among developed countries (better than most African and Asian countries but not as good as Korea, Singapore or Taiwan all of which were as poor as some African countries 50 years ago but are now all richer than Malaysia), Prof Sachs seems to have ignored the other problems in Malaysia such as government corruption, urban poverty, poverty among the orang Aslis and in east Malaysia (which is maybe why he wants to do some work in this area), the rising level of income inequality, distortions within the Malaysian economy as a result of government policies and so forth.

(For a list of newspaper reports covering his speeches, see here, here and here)

Does Prof Sachs feel comfortable in his role as an unofficial spokesperson for the Malaysian government and the Malaysian government's policies? This seems to be stepping out of the bounds of what a respected academic should do.

I'm sure that this is not the last I'll be blogging about this issue. I stand to be corrected on many of these points when and where more details are known (such as Prof Sachs arrangement with Columbia, the terms and conditions of his UM appointment, the amount of time and the kind of research he'll be doing in Malaysia etc...) But as things stand, I have to say that I'm quite disappointed with Prof Sachs for taking up this appointment as Chair of Poverty Studies at the UM and the manner in which he has not made this appointment known within Columbia and the US academic community.