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 ;-)