Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Foreign Universities taking us for a ride?

A little belated but a reader alerted me to this rather bitter letter published in Malaysiakini complaining about how a foreign university set up in Malaysia is milking the Malaysian system for all its worth. I'll reproduce the letter below and then comment it.

Foreign universities giving it to us real good
Disgruntled Former Staff | Apr 14, 08 4:29pm

The general public is not aware that a certain Australian university which has a campus here has little interest in developing the nation's intellectual capital. Over the last year, it's hidden agenda is to steal Malaysia's wealth and brain power, contributing very little to the nation while delegating distinguished locals to insignificant supporting roles while harvesting their intellectual work for the benefit of Australia.

The current Malaysian government unwittingly abets in this activity by opening opportunities to these foreigners that are denied in any self-respecting nation, including South Africa. Malaysia has thus become the laughing stock among academics in the know, from Melbourne to Johannesburg.

Consider the following: An Australian with limited experience and a spotty academic record has been appointed vice-chancellor and president of this university, bypassing many distinguished local academics with far better academic calibre and experience within this university's Malaysian campus. He is given a five-year contract, rather than the customary three years. Why?

Because he has promised the Australians that he will harvest Malaysian money, in the millions, in addition to the hefty 16% tuition fees that Australians already take (steal?) in the form of royalties. This additional money (billions) comes from Malaysia's vast research funds. Malaysia is dumb enough to give these so-called foreign professors access to these funds - just look at Mosti's website of experts - it is infested with the names of foreigners who are supposed to tap international research funds for the benefit of Malaysia. Instead, they sit there and ‘collaborate’ with locals - meaning that they insist on locals doing all the work while they publish jointly, and get a harvest of these funds meant to develop local academicians and researchers. Why are foreigners allowed to access these funds meant for Malaysians, paid for with Malaysian tax money? (Example 1 of ‘Malaysia Bodoh’).

In his maiden lecture, the VC mentioned above called for his university’s academics to work ‘collaboratively’ with Australian academics and also pushes for ‘linkages with local universities’. Why? Because he sees this as a means to access local government research funds, funds from private companies and international funds that may be available to distinguished local universities and then share the loot with Australia and get due credit. Of course, the Australian university couldn't care less as long as a fat stream of money flows into its cash-strapped coffers. To a question of when Australia is going to send money due to international publications by local academics (in Australian universities, a set amount of money is provided when the staff publishes in approved international journals), this man refused to pursue the matter. He must be asked to issue a public statement on this money owed to the Malaysian campus and a deadline of when the money will be forthcoming.

To stop this rot, the Malaysian government should immediately revamp its policy on foreign professors at branch campuses - these professors should be required to bring in research money from international research funds (as should befit a ‘professor’) and only play mentoring roles to locals. Mosti should never allow these foreigners of foreign branch campuses to register in their database; they must only be able to collaborate with special permission. In such collaborations, top-level journal publications must be mandatory - otherwise, they get away with dismal work that can easily be accomplished by anyone. In short, not addressing this situation leads to theft of local research funds to foreign shores in the name of ‘education’.

The foreign VC in question has pressured long-serving locals to resign as a result of them bringing attention to his dubious policies. He insists on rewriting original Australian policies that promote openness and transparency to obscure the facts and hide these dastardly deeds. Malaysia has no laws to address this (Eg. 2 of Malaysia Bodoh). Again, the Australian university doesn't care as long as money keeps flowing. As long as its financial interests are protected, to hell with its ‘equal employment opportunities’ policy - which is only for Australia.

All Western nations (US, UK, Australia) have strong policies on employment, insisting that foreigners are hired only when qualified locals are not available. Foreign universities in Malaysia freely hire foreigners who barely meet the grade (from the perspective of academic credentials and work experience) while better qualified locals are neglected, or made to play relatively minor leadership roles (Malaysia obediently issues work permits, Example 3 of ‘Malaysia Bodoh’).

Again, these foreigners care little about quality of teaching; textbooks are late in many cases across all the schools and often teaching material from Australia is not well-planned. As such, there is no benefit of giving these foreign, professional beggars these top posts. Thanks to our stupidity, rather than their cleverness.

First of all, this creates a healthy outflow of funds to foreign lands. Secondly, it helps them enact more of their own rules and regulations to increase this flow of money to Australia and wherever else. Thirdly, it forces locals to keep their mouth shut or get lost - in their own country. Since this VC took over, a growing stream of resignations from locals has taken place. The salaries and fringe benefits paid to these foreigners goes into millions! This is the kind of money US, UK and Australia save by only giving visas to foreigners who can deliver value. We should do the same by insisting these holders of top leadership posts and senior professorial positions bring in research money from sources abroad.

All of this is the result of the polices of the former PM. The result is an abortion of human capital development, not to mention the outflow of government and taxpayers’ funds.

We hope that the new Selangor government can initiate full investigations into these activities and track where all this research money goes to. Given that this university enjoys access to government-funded scholars, government-based research funds (formerly Irpa, now eScience, etc) as well as money from privately-funded students (whose parents are taxpayers), this foreign university must report in a true and transparent manner all its sources of funds and the subsequent use of these funds (including who gets both internal and external research funds and how these funds are allocated).

First of all, this letter is written by a 'Former Disgruntled Worker' so obviously he or she (I suspect that the person is a 'he') has an axe to grind which warns me to read the contents of the letter with a pinch of salt. The letter writer is obviously not trying to write an objective assessment of this foreign university.

Secondly, it should not be surprising to many that one of the main reasons why these foreign universities set up shop in Malaysia is to earn revenue from the local market. Why else would a university like Nottingham and Sunway set up shop in a place like Malaysia if not to take advantage of the fact that they can derive revenue from such a move? With shrinking subsidies and funding from their respective governments and a restriction on the number of foreigners which they can accept to their home campuses, these universities have done the next best thing, which is to expand to overseas markets and increase their revenue base.

Local students benefit because they can obtain a Nottingham or Monash degree without incurring the cost of studying overseas and these colleges benefit by being able to earn revenue from the local market.

In addition, the academic standards set in the branches of these foreign universities are not noticeably lower than their home campuses. The proportion of PhD holders in the Malaysian campuses of these universities are much higher than other private colleges and university colleges (although probably lower than their home campuses). While the courses available might be slightly less than their home campuses, I'm quite sure that the teaching standards and syllabi won't differ by much.

And of course, these universities also provide employment to Malaysians either in the academic / research fields or in other fields associated with the activities of these universities.

Thirdly, I want to address the issue of foreign academics in these universities 'milking' the system by obtaining MOSTI funds via doing research with local academics. I think there is some validity in that criticism in that a case can be made that the MOSTI funds (through IRPA and other grants) should be reserved for Malaysians only since Malaysian taxpayers are funding these grants and their purpose should be to boost the research capacity of local academics.

For example, many scholarships and grants in the US, which is a pretty liberal place when it comes to funding research, is only open to US citizens or green card holders including the prestigious National Science Foundation scholarships and grants.

But what I found surprising was the fact that the letter writer accused the foreign academics of piggy backing on the efforts of local academics. If this is the case, why should the local academics want to collaborate with these foreigners in the first place unless they had something to offer to the project in question? Put it this way, if I were asked to collaborate with a foreign academic who could not bring anything to the table and needed my help to obtain funds for the project, I would definitely not agree to such a collaboration.

In academic circles, the practice of more senior people piggy backing on the efforts of their more junior counterparts is a common practice. But usually, these senior academics bring something to the table - funding, past experience and knowledge on the subject matter, credibility when it comes to publishing and so on. If local academics allow their foreign counterparts to piggy back on their efforts with the knowledge that they bring nothing to the table, then I would put the blame squarely on the shoulders of the local academics for letting this happen.

Do I think that the branches of foreign universities in Malaysia are perfect? From from it. I think there are many loopholes which they exploit which they would not be able to do in their home campuses. But I think this is a process of capacity building. Just like how private colleges and university colleges are being pressured to introduce research activities into their campuses, the branches of foreign universities will have to do the same, if they are not doing this already. In fact, I see the potential of a healthy competition existing between our local public universities and the Malaysian branches of these foreign universities in terms of research.

In fact, I think that the branches of these foreign universities provides more rigorous academic training, teaching and standards compared to other private colleges and universities as well as some of our public universities.


Anonymous said...

I agree fully with the letter and how Aussie unis are abusing their rights here in Malaysia. One private college in Pusat Damansara and an Australian uni had creamed off thousands of Ringgit and still have the tenacity to ask for more just like a trawling a bait but not allowing the fish to take it. The guy who is in charge of that college is still revered and appears in media every Sunday without authorities looking into the matter as the authorities too are either taking a blind eye or those involved have resigned so absolved all responsibility for the case in hand.

More investigations of abuse in power has to be done and it is truely a multimillion dollar industry that goes into the pockets of a few. To say that intellectual capital is lost to foreign academics who are lazy and filled with avarice is an understatement. When Harvard medical school took blood samples from a province in China whom they were going to pay the donors for it and didn't do so, provides evidence that this does take place between institutions of higher learning from developed countries to developing ones. Also, lots of PhD candidates in the UK only have lots of complaints as insufficient or non existent supervision is placed on the candidature of course the excuse by the university is that the student is suppose to be independent. Heck with this approach it is better to be Bill Gates or Warren Buffet and supervise what you do yourself than to be told by some not all stuffy intellectuals who are contented in making people suffer.

Finally, if you haven't taught at these foreign campuses don't comment that the local academia are at fault without evidence to substatiate that they have not been victimised.

Charis Quay said...

Kian Ming, more later, but just a quick note for now to say that this was raised in RPK's blog Malaysia Today as well and there were some contributions/comments from presently serving staff who disagree with some of the points raised by this person. I did a quick search but could not find the link. (It's one of the problems with MT...only things form the last two days show up.) I'll try digging again later or perhaps one of the other readers can... Bon soir (or apr├Ęs-midi over there in NC)!

Anonymous said...

KM, Have you really visited these foreign universities before making your comments using your binoculars far from a foreign land?

Go and see the infrastructures,their syllabus... Are their standards really equivalent to their parent universities in their home countries..
I bet you will be I see it only their degrees are the same in terms of papers used and words printed....

I have known a number of students and parents who have their children attending these foreign universities on the issues above

Why dont KM when you are back in Malaysia next time pay an official visit to these universities on our behalf? You will be doing us a great favour....

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

KM said,"I'm quite sure that the teaching standards and syllabi won't differ by much". Really!!! On what basis did you arrive at that conclusion? You are quite sure, you said.

Are their best lecturers sent to Malaysia or any of their foreign campuses? Or are the research/library facilities in their Malaysian campuses anywhere near the quality of the ones at home base? With respect, KM, I think you are just pulling these accolades from the top of your head.

While gaining a twinning degree is better than having no degree at all, of course, it is quite something else to say that the standard here is equal to the original in Ozzie land.

It is caveat emptor (let the buyer beware) in capitalist societies, but you are doing a disservice to parents and students, and quite uncalled for at that, to vouch for the quality of these outpost campuses in a blog that has otherwise gained some reputation for objectivity.

Fikri said...

I believe that comparisons made between the 'home' campuses and the foreign branches of these universities have to be done with several things in mind.

In their home nations, these universities are publicly-funded institutions. The foreign branches, however, are private endeavours with mainly non-governmental companies (ie companies whose existence leans more towards making money rather than educating people). Hence, the Sunway group (and local interests) owns a certain percentage of the Malaysian branch of Monash University (so KM is wrong in the sense it is Monash that set up their foreign branch here, rather than Sunway. Sunway, of course, is a Malaysian entity :) ).

This is important, because if you want to start comparing facilities, classrooms and studios between the different branches, in the fight between the government of Australia and the Sunway group...Sunway loses. A fairer comparison would be a Malaysian public university against an Australian public university. If a big library is what you actually want, then a public university like UiTM might be a better choice.

As for the syllabi, the initial degrees were transferred almost directly from Australia, in terms of subjects, credits, assignments and exams. I say almost directly, because there's no real point studying about aboriginal discrimination in Australia when Malaysia themselves discriminate against our own orang asli, for example. Hence, minor changes were made to begin with, to make it more relevant to Malaysian students. Over time, newer subjects and topics are introduced to continue this evolution. Thus, it's not a matter of the standards being higher or lower in Australia, it's just that the posts have been moved slightly. But make no difference about it, it is still tough as hell (with especial regards to the citation system. Takes some getting used to).

In terms of the local academics who make up the staff of these foreign branches, these are people who live and breathe what they teach. I can only speak from my three-year stint at Monash Malaysia, but I've had very problems with my teachers there. They don't hire any Ali, Ah Leong and Arumugam to teach the future generation. There are indeed a few foreigners here and there (including the PVC), but they stand out like a sore thumb in the cafeteria. I can't speak fully for people from the other faculties, but the staff of the School of Arts and Science are certainly not the type to lie down for the white folks, and I doubt whether the majority of the rest of the university would do either.

If anything, the problem come from the students. Most are Malaysian (with a smattering of Indonesians, Russians and Koreans, amongst others), but more importantly, most are incredibly timid. I put this down to a confidence issue, which can be partly traced to the memorise-and-regurgitate routine of Malaysian education, and over time, confidence can be improved, but the students must also play their role. For the most part, "Any other questions?" by the end of lectures would usually be greeted with silence. The quality of a university (any university) depends as much on the quality of the students that comes in as it does on its own programme. It amazes me how many people just don't get this, and fall into the trap of tarring all the universities with the same brush.

Bear in mind that I use Monash extensively as an example, given that I myself studied there. Despite what I have mentioned, it is not perfect. The fees are insanely expensive, and as someone who graduated from the Sunway College campus of Monash University (when we shared half a building with them), I do not get much benefit as the new students do with the new campus, which far more impressively designed and incredibly well-equipped. But these are the investments of the previous generation, as my tuiton fees goes towards building the new campus, and the students who previously enroll into the initial, smaller campuses of these universities know the score (unless you're the sort who just sign up without taking the campus tour).

I don't know much about the letter posted itself (it is only one side of an issue, and I'm doing my own research on this). Rather, my comment is to remind people of the factors to consider before simply running down the respective universities just because they know someone who's children can't handle the course.

Granted, Monash was actually invited by the Malaysian government to set up such an operation. However, unlike many other universities, Monash (and Nottingham, as it turns out) has a vision from the start to have a permanent presence in Malaysia, rather than to merely conduct twinning programmes with colleges housed in cramped government office buildings (I'm looking at you, HELP. No doubt the programmes are good, but I'm not aware of HELP planning to move on and out to a specifically-built campus. If anyone knows otherwise, please let me know).

And Anonymous (5/08/2008 06:57:00 AM), I am not sure what exactly you're trying to say. Perhaps some English lessons would help :)

Anonymous said...


HELP is going to move to a permanent new campus in subang 2, near the subang airport terminal, by 2011.

Fikri said...

Thank God. I feel uncomfortable being underground for long periods when I do go to HELP.

Though it would be pretty useful as a bunker if we ever get bombed by someone :)

Anonymous said...

HELP is an excellent university. They got high calibre academic staff and first class teaching facilities.

xenobiologista said...
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xenobiologista said...

I don't think it's entirely reasonable to say that "these professors should be required to bring in research money from international research funds (as should befit a ‘professor’)".

Of course if they're simply siphoning these funds back to Australia, that's embezzlement, but the writer doesn't give any clear description as to how this is happening. AS LONG AS the funding is used for research or training being carried out locally, I don't think the citizenship of the the professors to whom the funds are disbursed should be an issue.

Anonymous said...

Whine, whine, bitch, bitch. Any wonder why Bodohland = sewer and Bodohlanders = crap?

Anonymous said...

Finish your studies and demonstrate you can contribute intellectually first before you open your mouth, dumbass.