Monday, January 14, 2008

Saudi University Appoints Singaporean President

This blogger has been preaching that Malaysian universities, to achieve any form of "greatness" has to first start by recognising that we need world-class leaders (as opposed to jaguh kampungs labelled as "world-class").

I've called not only for local vice-chancellor position to be "opened" up to competition from non-bumiputeras, but also to widen our search for talent globally. Only then, can our academia take their blinkers off, increase competitiveness and see the chasm separating our local institutions from top-notch colleges.

Well, Saudi Arabia's brand new university has already taken such a step. The King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (Kaust) has appointed its first President, and gasps, Mr Shih Choon Fong, who is currently the President of National University of Singapore. As reported by The Chronicle (news on Higher Education):
Mr. Shih, who received his Ph.D. from Harvard University and is a former professor of engineering at Brown University, has also led a research group for the General Electric Company and has served as a consultant for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. He is the author of almost 150 scholarly publications, making him among the world’s most highly cited engineering researchers, according to the Institute for Scientific Information, and he has received numerous awards.
As far as I'm aware, Mr Shih is certainly not an Arab, neither is he a Muslim and he probably doesn't speak much Arabic, if at all. However, Saudi Arabia, a country which Malaysia often seeks to emulate in many ways, has boldly taken the step that for the university to have a chance of reaching greatness, besides spending billions in funds, you need world-class leadership.

And Mr Shih certainly started on the right note, emphasizing strictly on "outstanding ability.
“This community will be international, encompassing people from all faiths, from all over the world,” he said. “This openness to talented individuals of outstanding ability will be the hallmark of this new university and the best guarantee it offers for achieving its remarkable goals.”
And certainly the Saudi authorities accepts, unlike our local Malaysian counterparts, that we have much to learn the world's top universities, some of which are just right across the border.
Kaust hopes that Mr. Shih can replicate in Saudi Arabia his experience in Singapore, where he was able to transform the National University into one of the world’s top 50 universities by building global networks for the university and links between academe and industry. His support for commercially lucrative research and his work with the Singaporean government on economic development will be helpful in accomplishing one of the new university’s stated goals of helping to diversify the Saudi economy away from dependence on oil revenue, as well as creating new jobs for the 30 percent of Saudi young people who are currently unemployed.
Hence the million dollar question is whether the Ministry of Higher Education in Malaysia can summon the necessary political courage to do the same for the local higher education system or will it choose to ignore international academic leadership which can bring real positive changes in place of a parochial race and nationality pride.

Or will it choose to establish another new university with much fanfare, a la Malaysia University of Science & Technology (MUST), and burn away another RM100 million?

Thanks to Ron for the heads up ;-)


Anonymous said...

I wonder why our infamous Bill Board Hashim Yaacob is not invited to become the VC of the Saudi University?

He is so talented in prancing around on the DTC stage with his Silat, Wayang Kulit?

He can even transform the whole barren desert in Arabia to become Disneyland and FunFair putting his very much larger than size, giant posters of him ?

Malaysian Government should protest!! hehehe

Anonymous said...

recently the change of MMU President also indicate that TM as a GLC cant take non bumi as its President also...I wonder why the current vice president 1 Prof Chuah cant be better than Prof Zaharin....

Anonymous said...

There is power struggle in MMU. In fact Prof Chuah has already resigned, following the ex-president. The new MMU president also restructured the whole top management.

Anonymous said...

Prof Chuah has resigned? is it true? where do you get the information?

Anonymous said...

It is true. Ask any MMU staff. New president just re-shuffle the whole power game. =)

Anonymous said...

Everywhere politics....maaaaaa!

Anonymous said...

The 1st VC Prof HT Chuah and 2nd VC Assoc. Prof SL Tan have been resigned :( The new FOE (Engineering) Dean will be Assoc. Prof SW Lee.

I see the changed is more towards political needs, rather than the educational requirements :(

sooner or later, MMU will just like another IPTA :(

The Student.

Anonymous said...

I think Ghauth and Chuah after 10 years in power, the change is a healthy move, one cant be in power for so long...just hope that the new leaders can give same momentum as the last 10 years when ghauth in position..

Another interesting issue is I wonder there do Ghauth and Chuah go after they resign?

Anonymous said...

They go to Old Folks Home laa!

Anonymous said...

Malaysia will only have a chance of change at the coming general election. Make it visible, rather than talking craps here. Remember that action speaks louder than words.

Anonymous said...

go old folks home? impossible right?they are just 40 or 50 something only...still can contribute in teaching and research..I heard they are going to other private universities..

Anonymous said...

maybe UM should have tried to get this guy, he certainly sounds better than any malaysian v.c, but of course the saudis probably paid him a bomb.

Anonymous said...

Left Foot Laughing said...

"of course the saudis probably paid him a bomb."
If he is good ,and SG allows him to go, what do you think of his successor?

If Saudi is paying him a bomb (no pun intended), what did you think NUS paid him? Should we be protesting paying Sachs then?

Should we try to headhunt Singaporeans for our own Universities VCs? But that so goes against our BIG BROTHER Malaysian pride!

Points to ponder for our own Universities.

A Malaysian Pte Uni staff said...

Don't even have to talk about their VC ler.

I visited the NUS with some of my colleagues. We visit the NUS admissions to try to spy and learn things. I tell you, we were nothing short of impressed.

Even their admin officers are so professional and intellectual! They know the education conditions in Malaysian, basically ASEAN, USA, Europe, China, Japan! And they know the economies too! And they can give you a detail analysis of your stength by speaking to you and telling you of jobs even outside SG!

Try asking our University reps about jobs and economies, you probably get some bulls****. I am sorry but I am one of them.

I have become very embarassed. Here I am a Master degree from a good Malaysian University, and I cannot even comapre to a Singaoprean NUS admin who only has an NUS Bachelor degree! I vowed to work hard, but then, our media all so wrapped up in Bumiputra bagus, we can hardly understand the world!

Anonymous said...

to left foot laughing, theres a difference between this guy and sachs. sachs is an academic celebrity, hes the sort of person that someone who watches mtv would know, although he is a brilliant academic hes mainly famous for his non academic work, like appearing on ur tv for example, furthermore um didnt actually get the guy, they only got him for maximum a month as hes primamry appointment is still at columbia. the shin choong fong guy is not an academic celebrity and he actually has a full time appointment at kaust. if we could get sachs on a full time appointment i dont think there would be this big a fuss on his thing with um.

Anonymous said...

In my opinion, it is the funding that is most important. VC is secondary.
In the case of the National Univ of Singapore, credit for NUS's success should go to the Singaporean govt for pumping in a lot of money into its universities. Nanyang Tech Univ is also another upcoming success because of substantial funding.
Prof Shih was just a regular prof at Brown before returning to Singapore. I think his publication and citation only increased rapidly while working in Singapore. Obviously he has a lot more research money in Singapore than at Brown.
With a $20 billion endowment for KAUST, that is huge. Using a rule-of-thumb of using only 10% of annual income from that endowment means a guaranteed budget of at least $2 billion annually. That is a lot of money. With that much money, even a mediocre VC can do wonders. With so much money, I wonder why KAUST could not find a stronger candidate from the US or UK. They could pay Jeffrey Sachs full time, for instance. Probably not many people would want to work in Saudi Arabia.

Anonymous said...

lol, how many strong candidates are there in the uk? apart from oxbridge, lse and imperial i dont think there are other great institutions there, the us of course is entirely a different matter. as for funding u can have all funding u want, if u gave um the funding that nus has i am pretty sure it wont make much of a difference. p.s a brilliant academic is not necessarily a good administrator, i think shin's success in handling nus makes him a better candidate than most, as the search for the kaust president was conducted on a global scale. isnt it suprising how our wonderful malaysian muslim academics werent even given a cursory glance to head the islamic worlds richest educational institution.

Anonymous said...

It is a joke that you fellas want to be a VC. Here you can't even be a District Officer ( DO ).

Anonymous said...

Anon of 1/23/2008 03:49:00 PM:
How did you know they did a global search?
Shih already knew the people there because he was a member of the advisory council of KAUST.

Anonymous said...

On funding, the budget of NUS is about S$1 B with over S$0.9 B from the govt annually.
NUS has an asset of over S$3 B and it does not even need to touch that money because the govt fully funds the university annually.
How much does UM get from the Malaysian govt?

Anonymous said...

thats for the search
and on funding
um sends its academics to dog and pony shows and other assorted useless vanity parades. give it more money and u will get more of the same,
no funding without accountability

Anonymous said...

Non of our Malaysian "political" professors would dare to take up the offer even if KAUST were to offer it to them, they know their own standard.

Anonymous said...

hi all

i dont know what to say but this man better than us and uk prof

he can and will get what we want from him but waht make me go crazy

UM its was 1 of the best know look at it

any way i try to enorlled it i send email i even called them

but they say we still working on it than thay say why u dont come here to register what why i travel from saudi to do this wow

Anonymous said...

This man best out many people from around the world (U.S. UK, France, China, Japan and so on...) so I do not know what's the big deal behind all of it. Good for him too. The Saudi must of paid much money for him not like it'll do them any good because we all know Arabs are fat and lazy and don't care about studying and educating themselves especially when they are spoon-fed money from their parents.

NewChap said...

Prof Chuah had taken up the offer to become the next president of UTAR if I am not mistaken.

Anonymous said...

The salary of ordinary engineering lecturer at KAUST is USD139K per year. It's much better than US Universities for PhD Engineering Graduate with 3 years experience. Do you thing our government can pay that? Senior AP at IPTA only USD32K per year. Please don't talk much if we are not capable to do that.

Anonymous said...

"isnt it suprising how our wonderful malaysian muslim academics werent even given a cursory glance to head the islamic worlds richest educational institution."

not surprising, since they also didn't care about any nonmuslim malaysian academics, or for that matter any nonmuslim chinese, nonmuslim indian, nonmuslim german, nonmuslim american, nonmuslim australian etc etc academics to lead one of the world's top 5 richest institutions