Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Talk on Oxbridge

Hey guys,

The first Descartes talk was held last Sunday, with Nathaniel Tan giving us his take on his experience at Harvard University. We attracted a small crowd, with Dr Goh Cheng Teik, the interviewer in Malaysia for undergraduate admission into the college making a surprise appearance. ;)

This coming Saturday, we'll be holding a talk, this time on two universities across the Atlantic in the United Kingdom, Oxford and Cambridge. The details are as follows:
Topic: Life & Experiences @ Oxford & Cambridge Universities
Date: 31st March (Sat)
Time: 4.00 pm
Venue: DECC, 55-1 Jalan SS21/1A, Damasara Utama (Uptown), 47400 Petaling Jaya
Allen Ng

Allen was the president of the Cambridge University Malaysia Society in 2001. He is currently work as a practising Economist with Bank Negara Malaysia (BNM), having completed his degree in Economics on the BNM Scholarship. Prior to that, he completed his 'A' Levels with Taylors College.

Allen originates from Ipoh and is contemplating crossing the bridge with a MPhil degree in Economics from Oxford University.

Tony Pua (that's me)

Tony graduated from Oxford University with a degree in Philosophy, Politics & Economics in 1991 with a scholarship from MTC Foundation. Prior to that, he had his secondary education at Raffles Institution and Raffles Junior College in Singapore under the ASEAN Scholarship.

He worked in a multinational consulting company for almost 2 years before venturing out to set up his own company in 1997. He listed the company in the Singapore Exchange in 2001 before divesting his stake in the company in early 2007 to focus solely on socio-political community work.

Read also my earlier write ups on application and my personal experiences at Oxford.
We hope to attract a bigger crowd to establish the Descartes series of talks. Future talks currently being planned include the ASEAN Scholarship, application to top US universities, workshop on writing university application essays, picking the right courses etc.

A token fee of RM10 is collected to help defray the cost of the running DECC.

So please help spread the message around to interested parties. You can also reach me at tonypua(at) ;) See you!

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

TAR College Not Recognised

A few weeks ago, both Kian Ming and I wrote on the issue that the Malaysian government does not recognise degrees granted by the top universities in China - Peking and Tsinghua University. Currently, they don't even recognised these universities' degrees in Chinese studies. This is despite the fact that our Malaysian government recognises medical degrees from Uganda, Burma, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Iraq.

However, I just found out late last week, that even diplomas and degrees from our very own local Tunku Abdul Rahman College (TARC) which has been established for many years, and accepted widely by the Malaysian private sector, is not recognised by Jabatan Perkhidmatan Awan (JPA). Hence any TARC graduate seeking employment with the civil service will be rejected outright.

Network Engineer, Soo Pak Leong who graduated from TARC in 2003 has been applying to join the Royal Malaysian Police Force (PDRM) for the past 3 consecutive years, but has failed to be even shortlisted for an interview. Soo is now past the 25 year old limit for new PDRM recruits, and his dreams to be a police officer has effectively ended.

To fulfil his dreams of joining the force, Soo even downgraded his entry level to that of an Inspector, instead of a Cadet Assistant Superintendent (ASP) in his final application in the hope of achieving his ambitions.

Subsequently, he only found out from unofficial sources within the police force, much to his horror, that applications from TARC graduates are not accepted by the Government service.

Clarifications from the JPA (as above) confirmed that his academic qualification is "yet" to be recognised by the Government. Over the past seven months, Soo has written to all the MCA leaders and parliamentarians, the Education Ministries as well as the Prime Minister himself. He received no answers as to why his qualification cannot be recognised. YB Wee Ka Siong, MCA Youth Education bureau chief could only reply that this wasn't the first instance, and they will "pursue the issue further".

Hence this matter raises a few serious questions:
  • Firstly and obviously, what are the reasons that the Government, after so many years, is still adamant in not granting recognition of diplomas conferred by TARC, especially since TARC was set up by Barisan Nasional's very own key coalition partner, MCA. Given that many other local institutions of more dubious standing has been granted recognition, there's absolutely no reason why TARC should not be granted immediate recognition for Government employment.

  • Secondly, it raises the question as to whether the Government is indeed serious about its talk to raise the number of non-Malays in the Malaysian civil service, given that a large proportion of its students are of non-Malay origins. In fact, only last week, the leaders of PDRM have openly called for more non-Malays to join the force.

  • Thirdly, if indeed the Government has no intention of granting recognition to TARC, then it is critical for TARC administrators to make this information known to all potential students, so as to not mislead them in their future careers. While the private sector is happy to accept many of its graduates, those keen on the civil service should instead apply to other recognised colleges.
It pains me to say this, but the whole episode of the Government not granting recognition to degrees from Chinese top universities, and certificates conferred by TARC which was set up by the MCA, with the government's blessings, hints strongly at systematic disrimination by the civil service, and by implication, our top government leaders to marginalise the Chinese education community.

I hope that the Government will take immediate actions to rectify the above wrongs and demonstrate that the above is all but an exception to the rule that the Government has no intent on marginalising Malaysians of non-Malay descent.

Monday, March 26, 2007

UK vs US: A Different Perspective

I wrote a while back on the general perception of United Kingdom vs United States universities. It attracted a fair bit of interest and a lot of comments. Tilia Wong, who's studying at San Jose State University, with a prior stint at a Australian university, wrote in to express her differing views from my post(s). She has kindly permitted me to reproduce her letter here, and share her views with our readers. ;)

"I was reading your blog titled United Kingdom vs. United States dated the 24th of April 2006 and I feel rather compelled to write to you about it. I started looking for blog posts on this topic after my father had a conversation with some of his friends where they passed some rather derogatory remarks concerning the American education system. At this point, I should state that I am a junior at San Jose State University studying civil engineering.

In your blog post, you wrote that you thought a UK degree was more specialised and a US one is more generalised. Well, I have not studied in the UK, but I did do one year of civil engineering in Australia whose system, I understand, is very similar to the British one. I studied in Australia for year and then I found that I did not enjoy life there and decided to transfer to the United States. I redid many of the same courses and therefore I think that I am fully equipped to make a comparison of the two.

The subjects taken during the course of the degree are highly similar. However, when you compare the content of the subject, the American degree is actually more in depth than the Australian one. I will compare the first year subjects since I did them in both countries and therefore can make a fairer assesment. In Australia, I did two semesters of math which was a mix of calculus, matrices and so on. In America, I did 3 semesters of calculus, one of differential equations and another of linear algebra. In Australia, I did one semester of Engineering Mechanics which consisted of statics and dynamics. In America, the subjects were split up with one semester dedicated to each. The American semester is about 16 weeks long and the Australian semester has about 13 weeks worth of lecture. Please feel free to draw your own conclusions from these figures.

Your blog post also stated that one does not have to decide which specialisation until the second year in America. Basically, the system does not FORCE you to declare a major until you feel like it. However, if you do not have a clear major in mind from the very beginning and follow a strict program, you will not graduate in four years. It is no different from going to the UK, declaring one major and then switching to another. In the US, you just call the first major undeclared and you are free to take a myriad of subjects to figure out what you want to do. However, if you do so, most of the courses will not go towards your degree and some people take seven years to graduate. Its not as if you are free to bum around, take 2 years of art history courses and then decide to major in accounting later. You will pay the price if you do that.

You stated that your friend Kian Ming "did it right" by doing undergrad in UK and postgrad in the US. I do not think there is any "right" way of doing it. Some people have very good memories and can cram for final exams that are worth 70% of your grade. Others, prefer doing research, working on projects, and accumulating knowledge slowly over the semester. Both systems have their merits and to say that doing undergrad in UK is the right way is somewhat derogatory.

Personally, I felt stifled and cooped up in Australia. Coming to America has exposes you to new technology, a level of diversity that is incomparable, and an opportunity to learn things you would normally never even dream of reading about. I am a civil engineer but the American general education system has taught me political science, public speaking techniques, writing techniques, art history, yoga, salsa, and kinesiology to name a few. On top of that, I do believe that I have a strong grounding in civil engineering.

If American universities provided such a poor and shallow education on the specific major since it is not as in depth, then how does America beat so many nations on every level? Because of America's good postgraduate programs? The majority does not do postgraduate studies.

Now that I have spoken my piece on American universities, I would like to comment on university rankings.

I do have to make the observation that you tend to focus on and place great weight on top ranking universities. I do agree that attending a top ranking university carries with it great prestige and an enhanced university experience. However, your blog is probably read by a lot of people and statistically speaking, most of them should be average both in academic results and financial might. If your aim is to advise people on the best course to take, a lot of the paths you have suggested are out of the question for 95% of the population.

I realise that you have placed a note at the bottom of most of your posts that you realise that national rankings may be inaccurate. However, I would like to cite you an example using my university demonstrating exactly how irrelevant university rankings can be. San Jose State University is not highly ranked on the overall national scale. However, it is ranked 10th in the nation for undergraduate engineering and 5th for industrial and computer engineering. It is only ranked 41st of the universities in the West for the overall ranking. It is not fair to judge a university graduate's degree based on the national overall ranking alone. Perhaps it would be more beneficial to the public if you would educate them by pointing out the potential for large disparities between the national ranking and the specific course ranking.

Another example of national overall university rankings having very little to do with the calibre of the student (at least in the United States) is this. San Jose State University is surrounded by high ranking, ivy league powerhouses. Stanford, and Santa Clara Unversity are less than twenty minutes drive away. In a 5 hour driving radius, you can find USC, UCLA, and UC Berkeley just to name a few. All of these are higher ranked than San Jose State University. However, San Jose State supplies the highest number of graduates in the world to Silicon Valley with companies like Intel, Yahoo, Google, Ebay, Cisco and so on. Why are these companies choosing lower ranked university graduates over the ivy league ones if national ranking really tells a person so much about how good their graduate is? It cannot be from the lack of applications from other unversity graduates. A recent survey stated that Silicon Valley pays out the highest median income in the United States. Yet a university ranked 41st in the West is trouncing other universities in terms of employment in Silicon Valley.

Well, these are my opinions on the American education system and university rankings. I hope that you will give them some thought."

Saturday, March 24, 2007

National vs Vernacular Schools

Hey, I have my first article published in The Sun yesterday, entitled "Schools Debate Not a Zero Sum Game". It was originally rejected by another local daily. I've written various posts on national versus vernacular schools before, particularly from the perspective of where I should send my daugther for school in the coming years. However, this article attempts a balanced look at the important question of how the Government should be treating vernacular schools.

The recently launched National Education Blueprint 2006 by Education Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein focuses purely on “strengthening the national schools”, with vernacular schools representing just a statistic in Malaysia's education landscape. Vernacular schools are often neglected or treated with suspicion due to their ethnically Chinese or Tamil nature. There are widespread fears that the strengthening or even the presence of vernacular schools in Malaysia is antithetical to achieving national unity.

Chinese and Tamil educationists on the other hand, fear the strengthening of national schools will erode the future character and viability of vernacular schools. For many of them, every facet of the existing vernacular education must be protected at all cost. Otherwise, they fear detractors will pounce on any signs of weakness to destroy vernacular education in this country.

As a result, parties on both sides of the equation treat the issue of national versus vernacular schools as a zero sum game -- one party's gain is the other's loss. However, such views are certainly flawed and works against the interest of a multi-racial and multi-cultural country like Malaysia. They are bred through mistrust and hardened by years of negative experiences.

Even the Education Minister has admitted in an exclusive interview with Nanyang Siangpau that “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 multi-culturalism is an added advantage and a strength for the country.” In fact, treating vernacular schools as obstacles to national unity is akin to the fallacious argument that national unity can only be achieved through cultural assimilation.

Hence, the only way to break this self-perpetuating cycle of combativeness and mutual distrust is, well, to build trust. It is important for the government and its officials to gain the confidence of the guardians of vernacular education. They must fully believe in its rhetoric that “multiculturalism is an added advantage and a strength for this country”, and take concrete steps to demonstrate its sincerity to the people.

To a large extent, the Chinese and Tamil educationists cannot be blamed for their fear of marginalisation. The government's disbursement of RM1.4 million to 248 Chinese primary schools, or a meagre RM6,000 per school as hyped by Deputy Education Minister Datuk Hon Choon Kim in the vernacular press, pales in comparison to the RM709 million allocated to building 15 new Mara Junior Science Colleges (MRSMs), and more for upgrades and repairs of existing MRSMs.

In addition, despite the consistent claim by the government that it will build more vernacular schools in accordance to the needs of the people, the number of Chinese primary schools have declined from 1,333 in 1957 to 1,288 today while enrolment has more than doubled from 310,000 to 636,000. At the same time, the number of Tamil primary schools has been reduced from 526 in 2001 to 523 in 2006 despite a 12.7% increase in enrolment from 88,810 in 2001 to 100,142 in 2006.

Vernacular school educationists are also, understandably, unconvinced by the “national unity” argument because the government has taken steps to build and expand MRSM secondary schools which are almost exclusive domains of ethnic Malays. Pre-university matriculation colleges which limit the intake of non-bumiputeras to 10% are also set up as an alternative to national two-year STPM programmes.

At the same time, it is important for vernacular schools to play up its Malaysian character to improve its perception amongst government officials and Malaysians in general. Instead of taking an overly defensive stance of protecting “mother tongue education”, it should perhaps focus greater on its nation building contributions and Malaysian character.

For instance, it should share its expertise in helping national schools get their stuttering mother tongue language programmes off the ground. This is an education policy which has been delayed by some two years already. By introducing such programmes in national schools, it will ensure that students will be able to preserve their cultural identity in multi-cultural environment. Strengthening national schools should hence not be seen as a threat to the survival of vernacular schools, but instead be treated as complementary to the very cause pursued by the latter.

Overall, the Chinese vernacular schools have for example, provided consistently high teaching and academic standards which has led to better educated Malaysians. It is for this reason, that many parents of all ethnic groups are increasingly attracted to these schools despite their typically overcrowded and under-equipped nature. Recently, at a Malay wedding, I was surprised to find out from a Malay parent who sends her daughter to a Chinese primary school in Ampang that the school had approximately 20% non-Chinese students in its most recent intake. Surely, there can be no better endorsement of vernacular education than its multi-racial character, which contributes immensely to our nation building process.

The emphasis of mother-tongue education in vernacular schools should not colour our judgement of their national unity contributions. Instead, its contribution to society should be judged by the quality of students, their patriotism to the country and in turn, their future contributions back to Malaysian society.

Hence, it is critical for the government to have faith in its own rhetoric, that not only does vernacular education contribute to the richness of the Malaysian education system, it weaves the very fabric of our diverse multi-cultural identity. The government must take the first step to win back the trust of the vernacular education community by giving priority to their development via coherent and well-funded programmes, instead of handing out piecemeal breadcrumbs. As a matter of fact, continued neglect of the vernacular education system may ironically sow the seeds of national disunity, the very outcome which our government has been seeking to avoid.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

First Descartes Talk

Yes, we are finally getting the Descartes Education Counselling Centre programmes underway! We are kicking off our activities with our first guest speaker, Nathaniel Tan to discuss about his life and experiences at Harvard University this coming Sunday morning.

Details are as follows:

Date: 25 March 2006 (Sun)
Time: 10.30 am
Venue: DECC, 55-1 Jalan SS21/1A, Damansara Utama, 47400 Petaling Jaya

About the speaker:

Nathaniel graduated from Harvard University in 2004 with a Bachelor of Arts degree specialising in “Peace & Conflict Studies”. Prior to that he completed his education at SRK Damansara Utama, SM Sri Cempaka for SPM as well as Sunway College for his 'A' Levels.

He has since been active in various non-governmental organisations and participated in various international activities. Some of the more offbeat places he had spent time at includes Dili in East Timor, Freetown in Sierra Leone with the UN-GOSL SCSL and Banda Aceh in Indonesia with JRS Indonesia.

A token RM10 fee will be collected to defray the cost of holding the event. DECC is a not-for-profit higher education counselling centre.

For those who are in town, and are interested in helping out at DECC, please drop by as well, as we can then have a short meeting to see how we can move forward. Anybody who requires any further information, please feel free to email me @ tonypua(at) ;)

Alternative 'paths'

I'm heading to Boston this weekend for an academic conference so I thought I'd have one last post before heading off for a weekend of intellectual discussion and just enjoying the city of Boston with my wife (hopefully more of the latter and less of the former). I read this interesting profile of Malaysians in the Star who opted to take alternative career paths instead of focusing on getting all those A's for their SPM.

There's King Wei, who opened her own seafood restaurant in Bukit Tambun, Penang, instead of going to university after scoring 10A1s for her SPM.

There's Jack Tang who only 4As (out of 9) for his SPM and "worked in a cybercafe for 10 months, studied information technology (IT) and networking on his own and started I Venture Circulation (IVC), a web-hosting company that has grown into a large business with offices in the United States, Singapore and China...and became a millionare at 23"

There's Huey Ying, who scored 7As out of 9 for her SPM and "studied finance and accounting in Kolej Tunku Abdul Rahman and Portsmouth University, Britain. She started her career in financial advising in September 2004, and finally bought a BMW recently."

There's Aida Nurlin Hanif who also scored 7As out of 9 for her SPM and "went on to study actuarial science in Universiti Teknologi Mara and was inspired by her sister Nor Akmar to get involved in business. Waking up early to meet clients before class started, Aida was committed back then to closing five-digit transactions of unit trusts every day. Today, the sisters are both millionaires."

There's Nicol David, who scored 7As for her SPM at the same time as she was climbing the squash rankings (and later became the first Asian woman to win the squash World Championships).

There's Aaron Gill, also a 7A scorer for his SPM, started his own company selling computer speakers after graduating from the Multimedia University with a degree in engineering.

Indeed, one could easily put our own Tony Pua in this category (though he is probably older than all of these young 'kids') since he started his own company after working for Accenture for a couple of years and taking his company public in the Singapore before finally selling off his share of Cyber Village earlier this year.

I think this article reminds me of two things:

Firstly, that we should be encouraged to take alternative academic paths. I, like Tony, commended Tiara for her efforts to promote alternative thoughts on higher education and where to go to study overseas. I highly recommend her blog to our readers especially those who want to explore different educational exepriences. Not all of us should dream of going to Harvard, Yale, Cambridge or Oxford (even though there's nothing wrong with going to these schools). Sometimes, Durham University (UK), Reed College (US), Multimedia University (Malaysia), NTU (Singapore) might be better options or more suitable for one's individual needs.

Secondly, that we should be encouraged to take alternative career paths. Not all of us should think about being a partner in a law firm or an accountancy firm by 35 or become a millionaire before we're 30 (even though there's nothing wrong with acheiving this). Sometimes, it might be more worthwile to pursue our dreams of opening up a restaurant or being a travel writer, a musician, a marine biologist, a social worker, and the list goes on.

Finally, if we're fortunate enough to be successful (financial or otherwise) in our endeavors, don't forget to give back to society!

PhD scholarships University of Sheffield

Got this from a friend who's doing his PhD in Geography in Sheffield. It's rare that a UK university is this generous (with fees and stipend) for non-UK/EU students. I'd encourage those who are thinking of doing a PhD in these related fields to look into this scholarship. Details below:


For September 2007

Applications are invited from suitably qualified candidates wishing to study in one or more of the following areas:
· Society, space and power
· Postcolonial studies and the global South
· Urban and regional studies
· Spatial policy analysis and governance
· Property market analysis and housing studies
· Planning, theory and practice
· Comparative European studies in planning and regional governance

The Department is England’s highest-rated Planning Department (5a in the last RAE; 23/24 in the Teaching Quality Assessment) and fosters a lively research culture in its postgraduate Research School.

For more information about the Department visit:

University of Sheffield Studentships

There is also the opportunity for UK, EU and international candidates to apply for
University Studentships which offer tuition fees at the UK/EU rate, a maintenance
grant of between £6,300-£12,300 per annum, and a Research Training Support Grant.

This scheme will offer both one-year and three-year maintenance awards to new
postgraduate students.

Further details can be found at:

Applications for admission should be made before 30 March and applications for the Studentships should be made to the Department by 2 May 2007

University of Sheffield Fee Scholarships

A limited number of University Fee Scholarships are also available which cover
UK/EU tuition fees or part international tuition fees.


Further information

For an informal discussion about research interests and topics, contact Dr. Margo
Huxley ( Tel: 0114 222 6929).
For general information about application procedures, contact Keely Robinson
( Tel: 0114 222 6180)

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

4 Malaysians accepted by MIT

At the risk of sounding like an elitist, I was recently informed by Andrew Loh that 4 Malaysians got into MIT for the next academic year, fall of 2007 or Class of 2011. Congrats to Sugasini (BNM scholar), the humble Ashley, the kiasu Tung Shen who's already frantically downloading his courses for the fall semester (are you sure you didn't study in Singapore?) and Wei Jian, the Math genius who's currently studying in Singapore. I'm sure you guys will have a great time at MIT figuring out how to put firetrucks on top of buildings! But seriously, it is indeed rare for 4 Malaysians to get into MIT in one year. Hopefully, these fellas won't have set the bar too high for other Malaysians to get into MIT in the future!

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Monbukagakusho Scholarship

The Monbukagakusho:MEXT (Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, Japan) offers scholarship to Malaysian students who wish to study at Japanese universities as research students under the Japanese Government (Monbukagakusho:MEXT) Scholarship Program for the academic year 2008.

The fields of study include:
  • Humanities and Social Sciences:

    Literature, History, Aesthetics, Laws, Politics, Economics, Commerce, Pedagogy, Psychology, Sociology, Music, Fine Arts, Business Administration & etc.

  • Natural Sciences:

    Pure science, Engineering (Biomedical Eng, Civil Eng, Environmental Eng & etc.), Agriculture, Fisheries, Pharmacology, Medicine, Dentistry, Home Economics & etc.
The tenure of scholarship is 5 years except for Medicine and Dentistry 7 years as from April 2008 inclusive of 1-year intensive Japanese language Course. The grantee who has graduated and been admitted into the master’s course of a graduate school during the term of scholarship could have his/her term of scholarship extended as a result of selection. Scholarship term will be extended for two years at the maximum, and no extension shall be made beyond this period.

For more information, check out the scholarship details here. Good luck! ;)

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Stifling Students at the LSE and Cambridge

I gravitate between feeling amused and frustrated when I see the Malaysian Students Department (MSD) overseas going out of their way to stifle Malaysia students abroad. Its latest attempt was to try to forcefully dissuade Malaysian student organizations at the LSE and Cambridge to pull out from organizing (or co-organizing) talks held by former Deputy PM Anwar Ibrahim.

You won't find this reported in any of the Malaysian newspapers. I was alerted about this by a fellow blogger and special assistant to Anwar, Nik Nazmi. You can read the full details here. I somehow fail to understand what the MSD in the UK hopes to achieve by 'pressuring' these student organizations. Will it make it less likely that any students who already intended to attend Anwar's talk would suddenlydecide not to go at the MSD's insistence? I think better of LSE and Cambridge students (hopefully, I'm not proven wrong). Will it make it more likely that the talks by Anwar will be cancelled? Not likely if he's been invited by the university and not the Malaysian student organizations situated in these universities.

The mentality underlying this sort of action also requires questioning. Does the MSD somehow hope to 'shield' our poor, influential and weak minded Malaysian students in the UK from falling under the 'evil spell' of opposition politicians and thoughts of wanting a more democratic and open Malaysia? Should the MSD also ban Malaysian students and student organizations from attending talks by other current and former dissidents such as Nelson Mandela or Jose Ramos Horta?

This kind of action taken by the MSD comes across as futile, silly and immature. The cynic in me says that they should not be overly worried about Malaysian students abroad getting 'influenced' by opposition sentiments. Because, the system can always 'co-opt' these individuals when they return to Malaysia.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Recognition of Beijing and Tsinghua degrees

Tony blogged about the recognition of degrees from Beijing and Tsinghua universities on the part of the Malaysian authorities earlier and I thought that this issue had already been resolved. After Chan Kong Choy (who has a degree in Chinese studies from the UM, if I'm not mistaken) stepped to intervene, I thought that the process of recognizing degrees in Chinese studies from Beijing and Tsinghua universities would have been completed by now. Apparently not, according to a recent column by Lee Ban Chen in Malaysiakini.

Pengiktirafan ijazah Universiti Peking dan Universiti Tsinghua
Lee Ban Chen
Mar 14, 07 2:19pm

Sikap teragak-agak kerajaan kita dalam mengiktiraf ijazah Jurusan Bahasa dan Sastera Tionghua dari Universiti Peking dan Universiti Tsinghua – dua Universiti yang tersohor bagi negara China, umpama Universiti Oxford dan Universiti Cambrigde bagi UK – telah menimbulkan tandatanya tentang kebijakan kerajaan kita dalam menangani perkara ini.

Malah, beberapa orang penulis dalam media tempatan secara sinis mengatakan ijazah yang mendapat pengiktirafan seluruh dunia itu, tidak memerlukan pengiktirafan negara kita, kerana nilainya tidak akan terjejas sedikitpun jika negara kita tidak mengiktirafnya, kerana dalam bidang terbabit, berbanding dengan China, negara kita seperti melukut di tepi gantang.

Sikap teragak-agak kerajaan kita ini mencerminkan dasar diskriminasi bahasa kerajaan kita dan telah mengakibatkan sikap berat sebelah dalam pengiktirafan ijazah-ijazah dari universiti dari China, juga Taiwan dan Hongkong selama ini.

Pada 9 Mac 2007, akhbar Oriental Daily telah melaporkan Encik Cao Kok Hing, Ketua Rombongan Perwakilan bagi Biro Kerjasama dan Pertukaran Pendidikan Negara China amat terperanjat dan tidak memahami kenapa kerajaan Malaysia masih teragak-agak untuk mengiktiraf ijazah Jurusan Bahasa (dan Sastera) Cina Universiti Peking dan Universiti Tsinghua.

Tanya beliau: “Jika Jurusan Bahasa (dan Sastera) Cina dari negeri asalnya juga tidak diiktiraf, maka ijazah dari negeri manakah yang berkelayakan untuk diiktiraf?”

Tambah Cao lagi: “Saya tidak pernah dengar ada mana-mana negeri dalam dunia yang keberatan untuk mengiktiraf ijazah dari Universiti Peking dan Universiti Tsinghua, khasnya Jurusan Bahasa (dan Sastera) Cinanya.”

Belajar di luar negeri

Hingga sekarang, katanya, China telah menandatangani Persetujuan Saling Pengiktirafan Ijazah Pendidikan dengan 28 negara, termasuk negara-negara besar dari Eropah seperti Perancis, Jerman dan United Kingdom (UK), dan akan menandatangani persetujuan yang sama dengan negara-negara Asia dalam masa terdekat, dan draf persetujuan terbabit telahpun diserahkan kepada pihak Malaysia.

Menurut beliau, perkembangan institusi pengajian tinggi di China amat pesat – daripada jumlah enrolmen 1.08 juta pelajar pada tahun 1998, meningkat sehingga 5.40 juta pada tahun 2006 – dan permintaan tempat kosong mencecah angka 10 juta. Oleh itu, ramai daripada mereka yang mampu, akan melanjutkan pengajian ke luar negeri.

Pada tahun lalu, seramai 160,000 pelajar dari China telah melanjutkan pengajian di luar negeri, termasuk 12,000 yang datang ke Malaysia. Dan mengikut statistik negara kita, 1,700 pelajar kita telah melanjutkan pengajian ke China pada tahun yang sama.

Jika menjadikan Malaysia sebagai pusat pengajian tinggi di rantau ini merupakan dasar tegas negara kita, dan Persetujuan Saling Pengiktirafan Ijazah Pendidikan Malaysia-China sedang diproseskan, maka sikap teragak-agak dalam mengiktiraf ijazah Jurusan Bahasa (dan Sastera) Cina dari Universiti Peking dan Universiti Tsinghua, mungkin memberi persepsi atau gambaran negatif seolah-olah negara kita tidak berminat untuk menandatangani persetujuan terbabit.

Dasar pengiktirafan ijazah yang bukan berasaskan penilaian pencapaian akademi ijazah terbabit, tetapi berasaskan dasar diskriminasi bahasa, juga berlaku terhadap Sijil Peperiksaan Bersama Sekolah Menengah Cina Swasta yang diselenggarakan oleh Dong Jiao Zong di negara kita.

Sijil tersebut telahpun diiktiraf oleh ratusan universiti di China, Taiwan, Singapura, Jepun, India, Indonesia dan universiti di Amerika Syarikat, Kanada, Australia, British, Perancis, Jerman, Rusia, sebagai kelayakan kemasukan ke universiti mereka, dan beribu-ribu pemegang sijil tersebut telahpun lulus dalam pengajian mereka dan dianugerahkan ijazah sarjana muda, sarjana dan PhD.

Namun hingga sekarang, tiada mana-mana Institusi Pengajian Tinggi Awam (IPTA) di negara kita yang bersedia untuk menilai dan mengiktiraf Sijil Peperiksaan Bersama Sekolah Menengah Cina Swasta yang telah teruji pencapaian akademinya serta kecemerlangan prestasi pemegang sijil terbabit yang melanjutkan pengajian ke universisti di seluruh dunia.

Dasar-dasar diskriminasi

Di samping itu, banyak lagi dasar-dasar bahasa yang bersifat diskriminasi masih terus diamalkan dalam IPTA negara kita, antara lain:

- Tanpa kelulusan subjek Bahasa Melayu dalam SPM, pemegang ijazah PhD sekalipun, tidak dibenarkan berkhidmat di IPTA negeri kita.

- Persatuan Bahasa Cina tidak dibenarkan berdaftar di setengah IPTA kita dengan alasan kononnya ianya merupakan badan bersifat satu kaum, sungguhpun bahasa Cina sekarang telah merupakan lingua franca antarabangsa seperti yang diakui Menteri Pelajaran Hishammuddin baru-baru ini.

- Tulisan Bahasa Cina, Bahasa Tamil dan bahasa kaum minoriti yang lain, tidak dibenarkan dalam kampus IPTA, hospital, Parlimen, dan institusi-institusi kerajaan yang lain yang berfungsi “rasmi” , kerana selain daripada bahasa Melayu, bahasa-bahasa lain bukan bahasa rasmi negara kita.

Dalam Jurusan Bahasa Cina di Universiti Malaya umpamanya, tesis bagi ijazah sarjana dan PhD tidak dibenarkan ditulis dalam bahasa Cina. Contohnya, seorang calon PhD yang membuat kajian tentang pemikiran konfusianisme melalui bahasa Cina (moden dan klasik), hanya dibenarkan menulis tesisnya dalam bahasa Melayu atau bahasa Inggeris, tetapi dilarang menulis dalam bahasa Cina! Kepelikannya umpama seseorang yang membuat kajian Melayu tidak dibenarkan menulis tesisnya dalam bahasa Melayu!

Kepelikan dan ketidak-munasabahan kesemua perkara tersebut berpunca daripada dasar bahasa kita yang hanya mengakui bahasa Melayu/kebangsaan sebagai bahasa rasmi yang tunggal.

Kita memang memerlukan bahasa kebangsaan sebagai lingua fanca antara kaum, namun ini tidak bermakna kaum-kaum minoriti yang lain, tidak berhak untuk menggunakan bahasa masing-masing secara bebas mengikut keperluan, secara rasmi atau tidak rasmi, di samping penggunaan bahasa kebangsaan.

Can any of our readers who are in the know clarify if what Lee Ban Chen wrote is indeed accurate? Have the relevant authorities - probably the MOHE, in this case - failed to act to recognize these degrees from Beijing and Tsinghua or is it just a case of the bureaucracy being inefficient?

One last point - in his column, Lee Ban Chen stated that it was not possible to for a Malaysian to teach in an IPTA if he or she does not have a pass in BM at the SPM level. Is this a fact? If this is the case, it means that if I wanted to, I can't teach in a public uni in Malaysia because I didn't take SPM. My guess is that even if this is official policy, its implementation is probably not strictly enforced given the large number of foreign lecturers.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Southern Cross University

I've written a little earlier on "Dubious PhD Faculty Members" in KDU Management Development Centre. However, while I did not claim that graduates from Southern Cross University in Australia are dubious, I did mention that "I have yet include faculty members whose PhDs and DBAs originates from a little known college in Australia, Southern Cross University, whose Graduate College of Management specialises in "distance education programmes".

Dr Andy Woo has written to me to correct my impression of the University. Below is his mail to me published in full. ;)
I enjoyed reading your blog on Education in Malaysia, especially on the issues of Colleges having Senior Academic Staff, Facilitators and Lecturers with dubious Doctorates.

I wish to correct and clarify one item in your blog with regards to Southern Cross University (SCU) as mentioned by you. South Cross University, Lizmore, NSW, Australia is an Australian Public University governed by the laws of Australia . Southern Cross University is an Australian Government university that is recognised by governments and professional bodies throughout the world. It is NOT a dubious degree mills university. Please go to their website - for a complete history of SCU.

It is to my knowledge that the personalities that were mentioned in your blog that claimed to have a “Doctorate” from Southern Cross University did not get their “Doctorates” from Southern Cross University but a “Doctor of Management” from an association/institution call International Management Centres Association (IMCA). I have personally viewed that “Doctor of Management” Certificate and it is quite unfortunate that “Southern Cross University” was mentioned in it. However, for some reasons or other, all those who received such a “Doctor of Management” degree claimed that that “Doctorate” degree is from the Southern Cross University and not a word is mentioned about IMCA.

To the best of my knowledge, Southern Cross University does not have such a degree called “Doctor of Management” and neither those personalities who claimed to have a “Doctor of Management” from Southern Cross University are listed in its list of DBA Graduates. Please refer here.

For your information, I have done my studies and research conscientiously and am a proud DBA Graduate of the Graduate College of Management of the Southern Cross University. It really irks me to see the way Southern Cross University’s being associated with those Degree Mills and having its name being tarnished in this way.

Please publish the above information for the sake of good order and the benefit of everyone. Thank you very much.

Best regards

Readers do feel free to visit the links provided by Andy for more details.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Much ado about 6000RM per school

Saw this summary in the Star pointing out that the major Chinese dailies gave coverage to the fact that RM1.4 million was disbursed to 248 Chinese schools for refurbishment projects last year. This works out to roughly 6000RM per school per year which probably can refurbish one or two toilets. Didn't Pak Lah's secondary school in Penang get an RM20 million disbursement for a facelift sometime last year?

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Of Meritocracy & Top Universities...

There were small snippets of news in the last week with regards to higher education in Malaysia. Firstly, the Ministry of Higher Education announced that it will only "hire the best" for the 20 Malaysian public universities. And secondly, the Minister, Datuk Mustapa Mohamed also announced separately that 1,800 overseas Public Service Department scholarships, 300 more than the previous years, will only be made available to students who obtained places in "renown foreign universities".

Both pieces of news are not new. In fact, I've blogged on the latter here.

While I certainly welcome both "announcements", what appears sorely lacking in the news reports are the details of its implementation. As highlighted many times on this blog, the success or failure of our 'noble' policies lies pretty much in their implementation (or lack of).

In trying to "hire the best" for the local public universities - how will the Ministry or the local university administration approach the delicate issues as to how the "best" is decided?

For example, I'm personally aware of an extremely experienced returning academic overseas who was offered a position by a senior academic at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM). However, the offer was apparently vetoed without any reasons given by the "higher ups" (whoever they may be). One man's loss is certainly another's gain, for he is now working in Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (ISEAS) of National University of Singapore (NUS).

Will underperforming deans of local faculties be keen to hire talented academics who might threaten his or her position in the university for example? This is without even taking into consideration the politics of pay and research funds, or for that matter, the issues of racial discrimination in the universities.

Similarly with regards to the scholarship application to "renown foreign universities" - which exactly are these universities? Wouldn't the current crop of students seeking these scholarships require the relevant information in order to prepare the applications to the 'right' universities? How big is the pool of "renown" universities and who decides on this pool? Is Iowa State University included? Or is it restricted to purely the Top 100 in any of the popular global university ranking tables?

Tok Pa, it's good to hear that you are (or at least appear to be) doing the right things - at the very least, it's good for press write ups. However, with no accompanying details to the relevant policies, the announcements are really as good as idle chatter. We certainly hope to hear more (hopefully positive) details on the proposed policies.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Teaching Integrity

I thought this little bit of news is quite amusing.

As reported in the New Straits Times, the Integrity Seminar organised by the Ministry of Education together with the Malaysian Institute of Integrity, was attended by some 440 teachers from all the schools in the city and Putrajaya.

These were some of the responses from the teachers:
"Integrity is a life-long process. I don’t know how we are going to learn about it and teach it in five hours.

"Virtues are not picked up in school, but at home from the family," said a primary school English teacher, who wished to remain anonymous.

"I don’t know how my headmaster will implement this in my school," said the sole representative from his school.

Another primary school Bahasa Malaysia teacher, who did not want to be identified, said the seminar was pointless and ineffective.

"No one is even paying attention to the lectures. I don’t know what seminars like these will do for the country."
I think both the Ministry of Education as well as the Malaysian Institute of Integrity needs to be going back to the drawing board, or we'll just be wasting both the teachers' valuable time as well as our public funds.

Friday, March 02, 2007

MSRMs beacons of progressive education?

Read this interesting column by Dr. Azly Rahman in I'll reproduce below and then add my own comments after that.

Let’s de-segregate our schools

“School is not preparation for life, but school is life,” wrote American pragmatist philosopher John Dewey.

We need to begin a national project of desegregating schools. I propose that all schools and educational institutions now catering to one particular race - be they Malay, Chinese, Tamil, Kadazan or Iban - must be integrated systematically and reorganised along the principles of multi-cultural education.

We must create a new breed of bumiputera - the neo-bumiputera class.

I do not see any other way we can become a truly multi-cultural nation and create an egalitarian society based on the way we currently organise our educational institutions. We may have a grand design that will take to the year 3000, but without a conscious effort to educate students to become critical, creative, ethical and futuristic radical human beings, we will drown in the wave of globalisation.

We may have a hardware worth RM23 billion and a software plan in hand, but without a mind-ware powerful enough to help develop governors of a future republic of virtue and social justice, our schools will continue to be better camps for totalitarianism.

However, as the great Brazilian educator Paulo Freire might say, there is a philosophy of hope, we can all explore.

I want to share the beauty of an effective philosophy of education that ought to now be experimented at a different level - true to our nation's commitment to create a Bangsa Malaysia.

It is a system that has benefitted many and produced excellent individuals that are now the movers and shakers of our economy. We have great professors, politicians, scientists, lawyers, corporate figures, surgeons, entertainment gurus, and even rocket scientists from a system that has helped the poorest of the poor ‘bumiputeras’. I am talking about the Maktab Rendah Sains Mara (MRSM) system.

I believe that education is not all about following blindly but making changes and creating alternate realities. I believe that we must put the best resources we have into creating a new breed of Malaysian who will destroy the barriers of race and class.

Education at all levels must be desegregated and all forms of protectionist policies and strategies of racial containment must be abolished. If we failing to do, we will see increasing erosion of race relations. I believe, too, that education is about extending a helping hand to those less fortunate.

Progressive education

The MRSM of the 1970s especially was a good experiment in human capital revolution and social engineering. It had great dedicated teachers - Malays, Chinese, Indians, Americans - who served selflessly. May God bless them.

Not only was I a child of the MRSM ‘experiment’ and a ‘product’ of the New Economic Policy (NEP), but I went on to teach in the college for several years, consulted for it when I went on to teach in university, and wrote papers on it. Twelve years ago, I even went on write a Ph D proposal for Stanford University on MRSM and I still keep in touch with friends from the college. It is a good system that worked in the early years but lost its essence decades later.

MRSM taught its early students how to think critically and creatively, not to kowtow to leaders who abuse power and who are corrupt to the core. The philosophy was to create leaders, not followers. It was meant to transform the nation into an ethical polity, not destroy it beyond repair.

Because it is such a good system of education, because my interest is in the colour-blind profession of education, because education knows no discrimination based on colour, creed, or racial origin, and because the NEP and MRSM, in their hidden curriculum taught me about humanism more than racism, I think I have a better perspective now.

I believe the early MRSM philosophy can and should be used to educate the nation toward economic advancement and racial tolerance. MRSM should promote radical multi-culturalism, and produce great thinkers and doers and movers and shakers of all who call Malaysia their home and motherland. It should create leaders who are ethical, life-long learners, lovers of wisdom, and who will work for the poor of all races. After all, the government that funded MRSM is one for all races.

Not an elitist enterprise

We can no longer have segregated schools if we are to survive as a nation. This is the reality I have learned as I explore further the meaning of education. Looking at poverty and economic development in America, especially in New York city (Harlem, the Bronx, etc,) has taught me what is possible, humane, and socially just for children of all races.

Our children and grandchildren must be taught that education is not an elitist enterprise that only serves the rich and the privileged. The children of all races, especially from families of the abject poor must be taken out of their dehumanising condition, given the privileges of the bumiputera, educated by the best and brightest teachers who do not hold any prejudices, and groomed to become the ‘new bumiputera’ who will be committed to establish a new republic of virtue and social justice.

Imagine children of the poor of the newly arrived immigrants of different ethnic groups and faith, coming together in a system that teaches them what a living democracy means and about religious tolerance and peaceful solutions. Dare we create this new breed of bumiputera, with the mind of a 5th century BC Athenian?

I believe Islam and all religions do not approve educational apartheid. We need to ride the wave so that we may not be drowned in a tsunami of our economic contradictions. Therefore, let the successes of MRSM be replicated to help children of all races succeed.

In the early 1970s, MRSM had great teachers of all races who taught many what humanism means. In a similar vein, we must work together to gradually but surely dismantle schools and educational institutions that perpetuate the hegemony of one race over others.

Let us think of declaring educational segregation as unconstitutional. The US Supreme Court ruling of Brown versus Board of Education taught Americans what humanism in education means.

Dare we create a new Malaysian social order?

Let me ask a few clarification question.

First of all, Dr. Rahman was talking about the MSRM's in its early days. My impression of MARA nowadays seems to be quite different from what Dr. Rahman was talking about. Perhaps things have changed dramatically since when Dr. Rahman went to school there. But could any of our readers out there who was in a MARA system in the 70s and 80s tell us about how it was like back then? Was MARA multiracial? Was was the ethnic breakdown among the students there? Were the schools as progressive as Dr. Rahman described them to be?

I noticed this portion in his column in regards to the MSRMs:

It is a system that has benefitted many and produced excellent individuals that are now the movers and shakers of our economy. We have great professors, politicians, scientists, lawyers, corporate figures, surgeons, entertainment gurus, and even rocket scientists from a system that has helped the poorest of the poor ‘bumiputeras’.

I wonder what he means by the poorest of the poor 'bumiputeras' (in inverted comas)? If MSRMs are supposed to show the way in terms of desegretation, why then did they only benefit one segment of society back in Dr. Rahman's day? This puzzles me.

Secondly, Dr. Rahman seems to allude to but did not come out to say that the standards of the MSRM today are not the same as they were back in his day. If this is the case, what can possibly account for this fall in standards? What lessons can we learn from this if we are to implement a system of desegregated learning that is similar to the MSRM (now and back in the day)?

The MSRM's comprise a part of Malaysia's education system which I'm very unfamiliar with. I know that they are full time residential colleges and as far as I know, these schools comprise largely of Malay students (perhaps as high as 90%). I know they comprise of students from the secondary school up to pre-university levels. And that's about it.

I got to know a few MARA scholars when I was studying in the UK. They did their A levels in MARA because it guaranteed them funding to go overseas after A levels. They were the few non-Malays who were in the MARA system then (this was the mid 90s). They told me that there was little mixing between the races in their MARA campus (this was in Cheras) and that the academic standards of their Malay counterparts, on the whole, were lower than theirs. My suspicion is that the top notch Malay students have already been sent overseas for pre-university or absorbed into other non-Mara type programs / colleges. My friends complained that the lecturers / teachers could not teach properly and the facilities in their school were inadequate (their makeshift hostel was built on a parking lot). Their experience didn't really inspire confidence in my in regards to the standards of education in the MSRMs.

Perhaps some of our readers who are more familiar with the MARA school system can enlighten us?