Thursday, May 29, 2008

From SPM to Public Uni?

Read this report in the Star a few days ago. About 30,000 SPM and equivalent holders were accepted into the public university system. My question is this - How can we really be sure that a majority of these students are ready to enter university without any pre university foundation (such as STPM or matriculation)?

The 30,000 figure represents about 10% of the total student population in our public universities. Since there have been previous students who have been admitted with just an SPM certificate, the total number of such students might be as high as 20% of the public university system.

While the Higher Education Minister, Khaled Nordin, had emphasized that these students were chosen purely on merit, I have to take his statement with a bit of salt given Malaysia's poor record in choosing students purely based on 'merit', however it is defined.

Is there any reason why these students would be better qualified to go straight from SPM to a public university compared to those who choose to do their STPM or the matriculation program? 30,000 is not a small number. Surely not all of them can be regarded as top scorers i.e. scoring 9As and above. Surely many of the top scorers end up doing STPM and matriculation instead of choosing to apply to go straight into a public university.

If out of a cohort of about 300,000 students who take SPM and about 10% of that cohort goes straight to a public university, wouldn't that strike someone as worrying?

It would be interesting to track these SPM entries to see over a period of time whether they perform better or worse than those who enter with an STPM or matriculation certificate.

My sense is that this number is way too high and that many of these students could have done well with at least one year of a foundation or pre-university course.

I can't help but feel that this is another factor in contributing to the massive decline in the standards of our public universities.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Teachers' Pay

I put up a short post on the Ministry of Education's reply to my question with regards to raising teachers pay and pay-scale here (in my PPE blog).

So for those interested in the reply, you can visit the other site. ;-)

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Vice-Chancellor Selection

Finally I had my question on the status of the Universiti Malaya vice-chancellor and the Ministry's selection process answered today in writing by the Ministry of Higher Education.

My question to the Minister was
...bagaimana kedudukan kontrak Naib Canselor Universiti Malaya. Adakah seorang Naib Canselor baru akan dilantik, dan apakah cara pemilihan yang akan digunakan untuk mengenal pasti seorang akademik yang bertaraf "world class" untuk memulihkan mutu pengajian tinggi di Malaysia.
We have already received news blogged here earlier via the media that the UM vice-chancellor's contract has been extended by 6 months to 7th November 2008. Hence, the focus was on the Ministry's reply towards and its ability to shed light on its selection mechanism.
Cara pemilihan Naib Canselor yang dilaksanakan oleh Kementerian ialah membentuk satu Jawatankuasa Semakan/Carian bagi menilai prestasi Naib Canselor berdasarkan petunjuk prestasi utama (KPI) yang ditetapkan.

Sekiranya Jawatankuasa berpuas hati dengan prestasi Naib Canselor sedia ada, maka Jawatankuasa akan mengesyorkan kepada YB Menteri supaya perkhidmatan Naib Canselor sedia ada disambung.

Sekiranya Jawatankuasa tidak berpuas hati, maka proses carian calon-calon yang berkelayakan akan dibuat. Calon-calon tersebut kemudiannya akan ditemuduga dan dinilai berdasarkan kriteria-kriteria tertentu separti nilai dan sikap yang positif, pencapaian akademik, kepimpinan dan pengurusan, pengiktirafan di peringkat tempatan dan antarabangsa, artikulasi visi dan misi, kemahiran komunikasi dan jauga keperibadian yang unggul. Calon-calon yang berjaya akan disyorkan kepada YB Menteri untuk pertimbangan dan persetujuan.
I don't know about you, but I thought it was an answer that was as good as a "no answer".

In other words, the Minister was saying, if the evaluation committee is happy with the vice-chancellor's performance, his or her contract will be renewed, and if not, then a new candidate will be sought according to certain (but unspecified) criteria.

What type of answer is that? Are we more "enlightened" thanks to the highly informative answer given by the Minister?

What criteria is used to evaluate the vice-chancellor? How will the search/evaluation committee be set up? What are the criteria for VC selection? How are the candidates nominated and shortlisted? Will there be worldwide invitation for application? And I could go on and on, especially on how all of the answers to the above questions will priortise on the need for a 'world class' vice-chancellor as the first step towards stopping the continued deterioration of our higher education system.

The reply given by the Minister clearly showed two things.
  1. Firstly, he is not serious about the Parliamentary question and answer session for not having given an answer which shed any light on the issues raised.

  2. Secondly and more importantly, the new Minister of Higher Education, Datuk Khaled Nordin is not serious at all about reforms to our higher education system to narrow the quality gap of between our universities with that of those overseas, and clearly do not have the political will to achieve the goal of a world class university.
Having been following these issues relating to the quality of higher education in Malaysia closely for the past 3 years over 3 different Higher Education Ministers, I'd like to express my complete disappointment with the total lack of progress made by the Ministry in reversing the decline of our local universities.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Will We See UUCA Reforms?

The University and University Colleges Act (1971), and its much awaited amendments is one of the few questions which has been asked frequently by parliamentarians in the current sitting. Off my head, I remember reading the standard answers received by Sdri Fong Po Kuan of Batu Gajah as well as Nurul Izzah Anwar of Lembah Pantai.

The question by BATU GAJAH was to asking the Minister of Higher Education
...mengapakah pindaan kepada Akta Universiti dan Kolej Universiti masih enggan dibentangkan di Parlimen untuk memberi kelonggaran kepaad para pelajar Universiti melibatkan diri di dalam politik.
The reply by the Minister was
...deraf kajian cadangan pindaan Akta Universiti dan Kolej Unviersiti 1971 (AUKU) telah memasuki fasa akhir. Kementerian menjangkakan akan membentangkan deraf tersebut di Mesyarat Parlimen yang akan datang.
Memandangkan AUKU 1971 adalah suatu Akta yang amat sensitif sifatnya dan mendapat perhatian semua pihak sama ada parti politik, pelajar, pensyarah, ibubapa atau masyarakat amnya, maka proses pindaan AUKU sudah pasti akan mengambil masa yang agak lama. Maka adalah tidak tepat jika dikatakan Kementerian enggan membentangkan pindaan AUKU di Parlimen.

Pindaan AUKU mesti diperhalusi dengan mengambil kira setiap sudut penilaian dan kependingan 'stakeholders'. Kementerian tidak mahu nanti apabila AUKU dipinda akan timbul ketidakpuasan hati ibubapa yang pada hemat Kementerian lebih mengharapkan anak mereka menimba ilmu dan tidak terlibat dengan parti politik atau sebagainya yang boleh mengakibatkan kegagalan dalam pengajian universiti.
While reforms to the AUKU (UUCA) has been mooted since 2 years ago, the progress of the proposed amendments has been painstakingly slow. There has been requests in the Parliment to first review what the Ministry plans to change before tabling the amended bill, but this has been rejected by the Minister on the basis that consultation has already been conducted.

It is also obvious from the tone of the answer above that political participation will remain a no-go for students, and likely academics. The funny bit however, is with the excuse that it's the parents who are objecting to their participation as it may cause the students to fail their studies.

The excuse is however, almost laughable because:
  1. Just because there are parents objecting to certain activities in school does not mean that they should be forcibly outlawed (we are not talking about immoral activities here)

  2. If these students will fail in their studies, it doesn't take political activities to do so, it can very well be anything else from sports, to lepaking, to boy-girl relationships etc.
As Dr Azmi Sharom mentioned in his earlier articles, allowing for political participation isn't going to create a huge demand for such events in schools. Malaysian students today are apathetic enough as it is without the need for laws to make them so.

What increased freedom will create however is a more aware set of students who will understand better what is happening in their society and country, increasing their civic mindedness and ultimately being more attached to the idea of making Malaysia a better place for everyone.

Well, the next parliamentary session starts at the end of June, so we wouldn't have to wait too long to hear what the Higher Education Minister have got to say ;-)

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Coventry University

Below is a paid video advertorial of Coventry University in the United Kingdom. Many of the local universities also offer twinning programmes with this university. Please note that this advertisement is not an endorsement of the university by the authors, but serves as a tool for you to make your own judgement.

For a guide to how the university rates in relation to other UK universities, please visit either the Times Good University Guide or the Guardian Education Guide 2009

Good luck!

Intel International Science and Engineering Fair

The Malaysian contingent at the Intel ISEF 2008

The Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (Intel ISEF), the world’s largest science competition for students in grades 9-12, was held last week in Atlanta , Georgia in the USA . Intel provides awards totalling US$4 million in scholarships and prizes. This year, 10 Malaysian students are attending, presenting six projects.

The projects are:
  • Using salt water as an alternative electrical energy supply;
  • Research into the medical benefits of the common plant kadok;
  • Potential of the plant “Neolamarkcia cadamba” to treat gout;
  • A “Betternet” system designed to improve security standards on the Internet);
  • System to communicate the deaf and mute community without using sign language; and
  • A hybrid electromagnetic drum brake system (HEDBS), an improved, cheaper and more environmentally friendly car braking system.
There is also an Intel ISEF Malaysia Facebook group open to all new and past Malaysian contestants, MOE or MARA officers accompanying the competitors and their friends and family.

Intel ISEF has a YouTube video providing an overview of the event and highlights from last year’s show. There is also an official Intel ISEF blog.

The Malaysian student team did very well at Intel ISEF this year. Four out of the 10 Malaysian students have won awards - one was for an individual award and the other was from three students that worked on one project together.

The awards are as follows:

Student name: Syed Mohd Esmat Hussaini Syed Mohd Ridzuan
High School: Mara Junior Science College, Taiping
Project: Hybrid Electromagnetic Drum Brake System

Project details:

The Hybrid Electromagnetic Drum Brake System (HYBRID EDBS) is the product of detailed studies in various scientific fields such as electromagnetism and mechanical engineering. This system is developed based on the conventional Hydraulic Drum Brake System (HDBS) to improve the operation of the present drum brake system. The main purpose is to increase performance of terms of effectiveness, sensitivity, consistency, simplicity, lightweightedness, cost effectiveness and environmental friendliness.

Tests on its effectiveness and sensitivity were conducted and results showed that the HYBRID EDBS was more effective as it reduced the initial speed of the same car by approximately 36.4% compared to the conventional HDBS, the speed of which was reduced by only 28.3%. The HYBRID EDBS costs 27.5% less than the HDBS and is much lighter by 46.7%. The HYBRID Electromagnetic Drum Brake System can be applied in other fields of transportation, machinery and automotion. These positive features make it the true breakthrough brake system of the future.

Award won:
National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance /The Lemelson Foundation
Scholarship Award of $1,000

Prizes are awarded for creativity, technological innovation and commercial promise. The National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance will award prizes in 11 different categories, which recognize innovation and invention that addresses critical basic human needs. An additional six prizes will be awarded to one project in each of the following areas: Engineering, Chemistry, Microbiology, Medicine & Health and Computer Science.


Student names:
  • Syahrina Hafiza Ahmad Salim
  • Nur Farawahidah Mohd Yusof
  • Fadhlina Abdul Bashir
High School: Tunku Kurshiah College , Seremban
Project: Kadok (Piper sarmentosum) as an anti-ulcerogenic agent

Project details:

Our research is exploring the hidden potential of our common plant, kadok that can be used for preventing and healing stomach ulcer, a major and common disease worldwide. By conducting scientific investigations, the chemical constituents from the root of the plant are proven to be used for that purposes.

Award won:

Team projects – presented by Science News
Third Award of $1,000

(Intel will present Best of Category Winners with a $5,000 award and an Intel® Centrino™ Duo Mobile technology-based notebook computer. Additionally, a $1,000 grant will be given to their school and the Intel ISEF Affiliated Fair they represent).

Congratulations to all the students above!! Keep it up! ;-)

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Co-curricular Points

For Malaysian students applying for local universities entry, 10% of the consideration comes from the fairly new "co-curricular points" system. And from what I understand, the point allocation system is fairly opaque and many don't really know how it gets awarded. There is even suspicion that the marks are tweaked by the Ministry of Education to give unfair advantage to certain particular groups.

Hence I asked the following question to the Education Minister to clarify the mechanism by which these points get awarded -
(a) cara pengiraan mata aktiviti ko-kurikulum bagi pelajar-pelajar untuk tujuan permohonan universiti awan; dan

(b) siapakah yang menentukan mata aktiviti ini dan apapkah langkah yang diambil Kementerian untuk menjamin proses tersebut adil dan saksama.
The replies were as follows:
(a) Kementerian Pelajaran Malaysia (KPM) telah menetapkan markah yang diberikan kepada penglibatan murid sekolah dan pelajar Matrikulasi dalam kokurikulum untuk tujan permohonan ke universiti awam meliputi tiga bidang, iaitu Pasukan Badan Beruniform, Persatuan/Kelab dan Sukan/Permainan. Pemberian markah adalah berdasarkan kehadiran (50%), penglibatan (20%), pencapaian (20%) dan jawatan yang disandang (10%).

Untuk makluman Ahli Yang Berhormat, markah bonus pula diberikan bagi penglibatan murid sekolah dalam kegiatan kokurikulum yang dianjurkan oleh pihak luar sekolah. Markah bonus juga diberikan bersarkan sesuatu jawatan kepimpinan yang disandang oleh murid dan jawatan tersebut bertujuan membantu pengurusan dan pentadbiran sekolah. Jawatan tersebut merangkumi;

i. Jawatan peringkat sekolah seperti Pengawas, Pengawas Perpustakaan, Imam dan sebagainya;

ii. Jawatan peringkat rumah seperti Ketua Rumah, Ketua Bilik/Asrama dan sebagainya; dan

iii. Jawatan peringkat kelas seperty Ketua Kelas dan sebagainya.

(b) Bagi menentukan markah kokurikulum tersebut, KPM juga telah mengeluarkan Buku Panduan Penilaian Kokurikulum Sekolah Menengah pada tahun 2007. Oleh itu, pemberian markah adalah berasaskan panduan yang telah digariskan dan digunapakai di semua sekolah menengah. Panduan ini telah disediakan oleh Jawatankuasa/Panel yang dianggotai oleh pengawai-pegawai di peringkat sekolah, PPD/PPG, JPN dan KPM.

Bagi pelajar Matrikulasi pula, penentuan markah kokurikulum adalah berdasarkan aktiviti yang diceburi pelajar dengan mengemukakan sijil-sijil yang diiktiraf dan disahkan oleh pengarah Kolej Matrikulasi berkenaan. Proses ini dilaksanakan secara telus oleh Jawatankuasa Penilaian 10% Markah Kokurikulum yang dipengerusikan oleh Pengarah Kolej Matrikulasi yang berkenaan.
Well, there's slightly more clarity here with the answers, but it probably doesn't do much to help us assess if the above process is fair and transparent, as claimed.

So for those who have more information with regards to the above, feel free to update us here. In addition, I'm looking at asking an additional question for the Ministry to provide statistics on the average and median grades received via STPM vs Matriculation, and also by race.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Why Rafiah should stay

Tempinis has written this very well argued post on why Rafiah should stay on as the VC of UM. I've reproduced it below for the benefit of our readers and see what they have to say.

Kian Ming has a post in Education Malaysia re-iterating their (Tony and Kian Ming’s) position that Rafiah Salim should be removed as the VC of University of Malaya. I believe that this is a such a wrong and populist position that I feel compelled to reply.

First, Rafiah Salim has been reported to be implementing many sensible moves in improving the university. These steps include (a) making annual publications in two peer-reviewed journals a key performance index for lecturers; (b) consulting external dons in matters of promotion; and (c) the signing of student exchange agreements. Rome was not build overnight. Tony Pua is being completely unfair to blame Rafiah Salim for the continued decline of University of Malaya’s ranking. Rather than taking a knee-jerk reaction (e.g. recruiting graduate students from the Middle East to improve the foreign student ration), Rafiah Salim seems to have the courage and wisdom of taking the bull by the horns in the unheadline grabbing task of trying to promote a research culture in the university.

Second, Khaled “Save Sufiah Yusof” Nordin’s move of extending Rafiah Salim’s contract by only six months puts her and the university in an invidious position. This effectively creates a ‘lame duck’ Vice Chancellor. Matters are on hold. Nothing will get done. See story below from the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Third, Kian Ming’s gripe against Rafiah Salim’s qualifications is again unfair. It is true that she does not (save for an Honorary PhD) have a PhD. But you have to consider what discipline she is in and what generation she is from. Rafiah Salim is a lawyer and many lawyers in her generation even in Oxbridge do not have PhDs. In fact, in many US Law Schools where law is a postgraduate degree - PhDs are not a pre-requisite for faculty members. I am sure Kian Ming will agree with me that a PhD is not evidence of leadership abilities. I have met enough dumb people with PhDs to last me a life time. While a PhD is an absolute must for new faculty hires especially in science and the social sciences, Rafiah Salim should not be faulted for not having a PhD. As the Vice Chancellor she is an administrator whose most important quality is leadership ability. Thus far, I think she has shown remarkable leadership abilities. Also, Kian Ming’s comparison with the Harvard President is totally unwarranted. University of Malaya is not Harvard and will never be Harvard. To benchmark University of Malaya to Harvard is just so wrongheaded I do not even know where to begin.

Fourth, universities are not corporations. Universities are mysterious organisations where sensitivity to culture matters. You can’t just come in and fire all the deadwood. The Vice Chancellor will face an open revolt and won’t last very long. See the story below on the ill-fated Oxford Vice Chancellor, John Hood, who tried to institute changes too abruptly. Needless to say, he didn’t last too long. I believe that Rafiah Salim being an insider of University of Malaya is the best person for the job currently.

Fifth, superstar professors may not work out in the long run. This is related to the culture point. A superstar professor might not stay with the university for long. See the story on NUS Business School’s Chris Earley who left after only 2 years as Dean. There is also a problem of ‘fit’. I don’t believe University of Malaya is ready for a superstar foreign Vice-Chancellor yet. Such an individual would probably leave the university in frustration after a while. We need someone like Rafiah Salim to raise the standard of the university to a respectable level before anyone abroad who is remotely decent would take the job. Also, witness the appointment of Dr. Tan Hock Lim by the Vice Chancellor of UKM, Sharifah Hapsah. Dr. Tan Hock Lim is no doubt a superstar but his appointment has created such ill-will and jealousy in and outside UKM that Sharifah Hapsah is now subject to (in my opinion, wholly unjustifable) attacks by Harakah. Change needs to be handled sensitively and incrementally in universities.

For all these reasons, I believe that Tony and Kian Ming are completely wrong when they argue for the removal of Rafiah Salim as the Vice Chancellor. This is a move which is populist and ultimately misconceived. I expect our politicians like Tony to be bigger than this. I do not see a better person in the horizon. The only argument that remains for the removal of Rafiah Salim is that she ‘censured’ Azmi Sharom for something he wrote. Now I have the greatest respect for Azmi Sharom’s writings, but there is always two sides to a story. What exactly was said to Azmi? Even if Malaysiakini’s version is to be believed, I do not think this is such a major transgression that merits as a ground of removal. The overwhelming evidence demonstrates that Rafiah Salim is doing a good job. And that is why she should stay for at least 3 more years.

Monday, May 19, 2008

UM VC to be replaced after 6 months?

The writing is on the wall, I think. Although it was reported that the contract of the current UM VC, Rafiah Salim, will be extended by 6 months, it appears likely that she will be replaced after that as the new Minister for Higher Education, Khalid Nordin, has indicated that a search committee will be set up soon to look for a new VC.

I agree with Tony's earlier post on this issue. While Rafiah has been a better VC than her predecessor (Hashim "Billboard" Yaacob), she also has stumbled many times. Tony has listed some of her shortcomings. I have also been very critical of the appointment of Jeffrey Sachs as the first Professor of the Ungku Aziz Chair of Poverty Studies because I saw this as a high profile appointment which was wasteful and produced little returns from a reputational or research standpoint.

Of course, there are others who would disagree with us and I think that some of them have some good points including tempinis, a regular commentator on this blog.

Hopefully, the new search committee will take heed of Tony's advice on this matter which he has written extensively on in the past.

In case anyone is interested, please compare the academic CV of the first Harvard woman president, Drew Gilpin Faust, and that of Rafiah Salim. I know it's an unfair comparison but it's worthwhile to point out that Rafiah served as Dean and Deputy Dean of the law faculty at UM, one of the most prominent faculties in the university with just a Masters degree and that her own UM VC website does not give her CV.

Perdana Leadership Foundation 2008 Essay Writing Competition

I've always thought that essay writing as a form of expression among the younger generation is a good way of training oneself not just in the art of writing but also in developing coherent thoughts and arguments. Nowadays, not only can you write and submit an essay to a newspaper but also to essay writing competitions! This student, Genevieve Keizha Leon, wrote her way to a grand prize of two tickets to Dublin, Ireland in the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award for Young Malaysians 2008 essay writing competition. And you can also win a Chevy Aveo in the latest installment of the Perdana Leadership Foundation 2008 Writing Essay Competition. Details can be found here. Good luck!

JPA scholarships not a right

It is not often that I would agree with the JPA in regard to its policies. But I have to agree with the recent statement by PSD Director-General Tan Sri Ismail Adam in a recent Star report. According to the DG, JPA scholarships are a privilege rather than a right and more and more competition should be expected as more and more students are taking 12 or more SPM subjects.

According to the figures given by the JPA, the number of overseas scholarships offered by the JPA has increased from 748 in 2000 to an estimated 2000 in 2008. The overall number of JPA scholarships have also increased from 4511 in 2000 to 12,000 in 2008 (including local scholarships).

I have already expressed my view that the overseas JPA scholarships give us too poor a return on investment. 2000 JPA overseas scholarships at a conservative 200,000RM a scholarship will cost us 400RM million per year. And I would guess that less than 5% of these students come back to work for the government proper (not including Petronas and the other GLCs).

In contrast, you could fund 5 local scholarships for every one overseas scholarship and these students are much more likely to stay and work in Malaysia compared to those with overseas scholarships.

I think there should be a scaling back of expectations which says that if you score 10A1s or more for your SPM, you should be guaranteed an overseas scholarship to do whatever course you want to do. It doesn't make financial sense. From a comparative perspective, it is also unprecedented. No where else in a developing country would you expect this kind of guarantee. Even in Singapore, there is no guarantee that if you score 4As and above in your A levels, you must be given an overseas scholarship by the Singapore government.

There are ample local scholarships which a student with good results can apply to including the JPA local scholarships which it guarantees will be given to students with 9As or more for their SPM as well as private colleges.

This is not to say that the process of awarding the JPA scholarships cannot be improved. While I don't agree with MIC secretary-general Datuk Dr S. Subramaniam, who is also the Human Resources Minister, that students scoring 10A1s or more in their SPM should be given a JPA overseas scholarship, I do agree with him that the process should be made more transparent including releasing information in regard to the quality of the students who receive these scholarships (as well as how many of them return back to Malaysia to work and where they work). This way, JPA can clear at least some doubts about how the scholarships are awarded. (BTW, I don't think that all JPA scholars score 13A1s and above as asserted by the JPA Director)

Some of our readers have brought up the issue of grade inflation and students being pressured to take additional SPM subjects. I think this issue should be examined as well including putting an upper limit as to how many SPM subjects a student can take.

In the meantime, we should try to contain our expectations about getting these scholarships just because we managed to score 10A1s or more in our SPM.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Overseas Graduates Paid More?

The following is a press statement from with regards to a study conducted which showed that graduates of overseas universities fair better than local grads in salary scale. I must say, the results didn't come as too much of a surprise, although I'd be keen to obtain the methodology and sample data for further analysis.

But before you read on, please bear in mind that these studies provide the "generalised" results i.e., there are always exceptions. You will find plenty of local graduates who are extremely competent and who may be making a lot of money in wages in contrast to some of the overseas graduates. However, as a whole, that may not be the case.

(Just to also point out that while was I an employer, more than 80% of my employees were hired as fresh graduates, of whom, the overwhelming majority of them were local graduates. While it was tough picking out quality graduates, they were certainly there if you look hard enough.)

Kian Ming has also written his views on the often heated subject of "local vs foreign graduates" here.

Here's the press release from Jobstreet:
In a 2008 study of more than 100,000 members in Malaysia who hold a Bachelors degree and are currently working in the country, has observed that graduates from overseas universities on average earn about 12 percent more than local graduates.

The salary gap is most apparent among those with up to five years of work experience.

Overseas graduates are earning a significant 20 percent more than their local counterparts. Even after 10 years or more of work experience, the gap is still more than 10 percent.

In terms of job specialization, the biggest salary gap between overseas and local graduates is in business-related fields such as management, economics, finance and marketing where overseas graduates earn about 15 percent more than local graduates.

In the engineering and IT/Computer fields, salaries are about 11 percent higher for overseas graduates.

In a similar study among 20,000 members in Singapore, it was observed that there is no significant difference between the salaries of graduates from local Singaporean universities and overseas universities even after 5 or 10 years of work experience.

In conclusion, a Malaysian who graduates from a local Malaysian university earns on average a lower salary than those who graduate from an overseas university. There were no significant difference in salaries that exists among graduates in Singapore.
The final conclusion is equally unsurprising, but its a new angle to look at for it certainly demonstrates the disparity between our local versus Singapore's universities.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

HOPE Program

Saw this interesting website after a Star article highlighted it. It's called HOPE and it stands for Higher Opportunities for Private Education. It is an organization that is set up by 9 private colleges with the intention of giving an opportunity for those who cannot get into a public university a place in one of these private colleges at around the same cost as a public university.

I think the idea behind HOPE is a good one which is to give students who otherwise could not afford to attend college or university an opportunity to obtain a degree. While many of our readers might not fall into this category, I'm sure that there are many students from lower middle class backgrounds who have been rejected in their application to attend a public university and then found themselves unable to afford to attend a private college or university.

While the cost of a private college education has decreased with the establishment of 3+0 and 2+1 degrees, I'm sure that the cost is still out of the reach of some Malaysians.

Which is why I think HOPE is a timely idea. Most of the colleges behind this initiative are relatively established in Malaysia. They include Nilai, Inti, LimKokWing, Stamford and SEGI.

My only question regarding HOPE is this - what is their selection mechanism such that they can ensure that a relatively high proportion of students who apply to the HOPE program are those which the program is trying to target?

For example, what is to stop a middle class student who was intending to attend a private college from applying to HOPE to take advantage of the lower fees?

I think some internal controls include the salary of a student's household and the occupation of a student's father and mother (which is required in the application form)

According to the application form, the dates for this program is from the 1st of June to the 31st of July, 2008. I hope that some of our readers who fit into this category of students will consider applying for this program.

The only thing I don't like about HOPE is that they asked Ong Tee Keat to be their patron. I really don't see the need to involve a political figure in such a program but I guess that's how things work in Malaysia (or rather how people THINK things should work).

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

2nd hand books for sale

Doing a plug for a friend who's coming to the US for grad school and want to sell some books. Please go to this blog to see what's for sale. It's a pretty good selection of books.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

JPA rejects 10A1 student

A student who scored 10A1s in the SPM exam was rejected for a JPA scholarship. To add insult to injury, she was also rejected for the matriculation program.

It is not unprecedented for a student with 10A1s to get rejected by JPA. I have a friend who obtained 11A1s and one A2 and was was rejected by the JPA as well. We are not sure if Kamine Devi was a straight A1 student or whether she had some A2s and B3s along with her 10A1s.

Neither is the option of studying medicine out of her reach, yet. She still can do her STPM and get into medicine via that route (although this too is challenging since she needs to score straight As in her STPM).

But what I am peeved by is the fact that she was rejected for the matriculation program. I won't go into the weaknesses of that program - which many have criticized as a back door creation for weaker Bumiputera students to get into our public universities - except to say that only 10% of the places in these programs are given to non-Bumis. I can understand, somewhat, if she was rejected by JPA because she didn't get straight A1s or that there might have been other students who had more straight A1s. But what I cannot understand is the fact that she got rejected by the matriculation program as well!

It's not as if top SPM scorers are making a beeline for the matriculation program or that non Bumis are inundating the matriculation program with their applications. What is the basis for her rejection from this program? That she scored TOO MANY A1s?

The matriculation program has come under some level of criticism. You can read letters in Malaysiakini to get a flavor of what these criticisms are - here, here and here.

I wish Kamine Devi all the best in her dream to become a doctor. I hope that these rejections will not demoralize her.

Two Interesting Letters on National Schools

Saw these two letters in Mkini today. I'll reproduce them below for your perusal. Both are referring to the trend for national schools to become more and more mono-racial. Both letters raise relevant points.

First letter can be found here.

Tahun Satu sekolah ini tiada pelajar Cina
Alias Mohd Yusof | Feb 5, 08 3:13pm

Semasa hadir pada sesi taklimat untuk kemasukan anak saya ke tahun satu di Sekolah Kebangsaan Taman Sri Pulai, Daerah Kulai, Johor baru-baru ini, setiap ibubapa telah diedarkan senarai nama murid tahun satu.

Saya perhatikan, dari sejumlah lebih kurang 300 nama murid tahun satu itu, tidak ada seorang pun dari kalangan murid keturunan Cina. Ini sungguh menghairankan saya, walaupun bagi setengah orang fenomena ini mungkin tidak begitu penting. Malah tidak ada siapa pun yang saya lihat mempersoalkan perkara ini.

Kepada saya, ia suatu yang amat merisaukan dan mengganggu fikiran saya. Perkara tidak ada murid keturunan Cina yang masuk ke sekolah ini pada tahun 2008 ini membuatkan saya tertanya-tanya. Mungkin ia tidak menjadi pelik kalau penduduk yang tinggal di kawasan sekolah ini tidak ada kaum Cina.

Yang jelasnya lebih 20 peratus penduduk di kawasan ini adalah dari kalangan kaum Cina. Kenapa agaknya kaum Cina tidak berminat untuk masuk ke sekolah kebangsaan?

Kalau nak dikatakan sekolah jenis kebangsaan Cina lebih baik prestasinya berbanding sekolah kebangsaan sebagai alasan mereka tidak berminat hendak menghantar anak ke sekolah kebangsaan, telahpun diketahui umum Sekolah Kebangsaan Taman Sri Pulai ini adalah sekolah yang terbaik dari segi pencapaian akademiknya di Daerah Kulai ini.

Kalau sekolah kebangsaan yang terbaik pun mereka tidak berselera hendak menghantar anak-anak mereka, apalagi dengan sekolah kebangsaan yang lain-lain itu.

Padahal sekolah jenis kebangsaan Cina yang paling dekat dengan Taman Sri Pulai ini terletak tidak kurang dari enam kilometer jauhnya, tapi mereka masih sanggup hantar anak-anak ke sana berbanding sekolah kebangsaan yang hanya terletak di depan rumah mereka sahaja.

Tidakkah kita sedar kesan dari pengasingan sekolah mengikut kaum ini sangat besar kepada keutuhan perpaduan masyarakat majmuk negara kita ini. Perpaduan seharusnya dipupuk dari peringkat kanak-kanak lagi. Melentur buluh biarlah dari rebung, saya tidak nampak semangat perpaduan dapat dipupuk melalui ucapan dan slogan sahaja.

Perpaduan harus dihayati dalam kehidupan sebenar, pada semua peringkat dan mesti bermula dari peringkat kanak-kanak lagi. Mungkin kepada orang politik, apa yang mereka maksudkan perpaduan itu bila

tidak ada pergaduhan antara kaum dan ada persefahaman dalam pembahagian tender projek kerajaan antara parti-parti komponen.

Oleh itu saya tidak hairan kalau orang politik tidak risau langsung dengan isu tidak ada murid Cina di Sekolah Kebangsaan Taman Sri Pulai ini, kerana memang tidak ada berlaku pergaduhan kaum pun di situ.

Kalau orang politik benar-benar faham maksud perpaduan, tentulah kes yang saya timbulkan di sini (tidak adanya murid Cina di tahun satu di Sekolah Kebangsaan Taman Sri Pulai) sudah menjadi isu yang sangat besar dan penting kepada mereka.

Kalau sekali pun kaum Cina terpaksa menghantar anak-anak mereka ke sekolah jenis kebangsaan Cina kerana hendakkan anak-anak mereka dapat belajar tulisan dan bahasa Cina ataupun atas-atas sebab lain, takkanlah tidak ada jalan penyelesaiannya selain daripada mengasingkan sekolah anak-anak mereka.

Nampaknya mereka sanggup mengorbankan perkara yang lebih penting iaitu perpaduan yang sebenar daripada mencari penyelesaian masalah yang rasanya tidaklah begitu sukar untuk diatasi.

Seperti yang biasa saya sebutkan, kita boleh memberi perlindungan dan memulihara harimau untuk mengelakkan dari pupus tapi janganlah sehingga sampai binatang ganas ini boleh mengancam haiwan ternakan dan nyawa manusia sendiri.

Realitinya, haiwan ternakan kita itulah yang lebih penting untuk menentukan survival kehidupan manusia. Bahasa dan tulisan ibunda kita memang patut dipertahan dan dipelihara tetapi janganlah sampai kita mengorbankan perkara yang lebih penting iaitu perpaduan tulen. Kerana perpaduan tulenlah yang lebih utama dalam menentukan survival bangsa kita.

Saya rasa masih ada jalan untuk anak-anak kita belajar bahasa dan tulisan ibunda mereka di satu sekolah yang sama, itupun kalau kita betul-betul mahu melihat perpaduan yang tulen di kalangan rakyat berbilang kaum.

The second letter can be found here.

Sekolah kebangsaan milik semua kaum
David Kumaran | Feb 27, 08 4:57pm

Berdasarkan surat dari Alias Mohd Yusof, saya pasti beliau adalah seorang yang benar-benar memahami maksud perpadaun dan benar-benar mahukan perpaduan antara kaum di negara kita, kekal dan dieratkan lagi.

Soalan yang beliau bangkitkan sangat logik, iaitu, mengapakah ahli-ahli politik tidak peduli apabila statistik sekolah menunjukkan tiada seoarang pun murid darjah 1 yang terdiri dari kaum Cina pada sessi 2008 di Sekolah Kebangsaan Taman Sri Pulai, Daerah Kulai, Johor.

Bukan sahaja di sekolah tersebut, malah di mana-mana sekolah kebangsaan pun, bilangan kaum bukan Melayu yang masuk ke darjah 1 semakin berkurangan.

Saya sendiri pun pernah berjumpa sekolah-sekolah sedemikian. Jadi, apakah punca yang menyebabkan ibubapa bukan Melayu tidak menghantar anak mereka ke sekolah kebangsaan.

Saya mempunyai tiga orang anak yang belajar di sekolah kebangsaan. Sejak anak pertama saya mula pergi ke sekolah (sekarang dia di Tingkatan 2), saya memerhatikan banyak perubahan yang berlaku dalam masa tujuh tahun yang lepas. Contohnya, semasa anak saya itu di darjah 4, dia dipaksa oleh seorang guru supaya memakai tudung (bukannya skaf) untuk pertandingan 'oral speaking'.

Yang peliknya, syarat ini tidak diletakkan pada masa pemilihan murid atau semasa latihan. Hanya beberapa hari sebelum pertandingan bermula, barulah syarat ini dikenakan ke atas murid bukan Melayu.

Satu lagi contoh, anak ketiga saya dan murid bukan Islam di darjah 2 tahun ini, diletakkan dalam satu kelas bersama murid beragama Islam semasa mata pelajaran agama Islam. Ia sudah lama berlaku tanpa pengetahuan saya atau ibubapa murid bukan Islam yang lain.

Saya hanya dapat tahu perkara ini apabila saya pergi melawat anak saya pada suatu hari. Apabila saya membawa hal ini kepada guru besar, alasannya ialah guru kelas moral cuti bersalin dan tiada guru gantian walaupun sudah dipohon kepada Jabatan Pendidikan. Tetapi saya tidak setuju dan akhirnya pihak sekolah bersetuju untuk memindahkan semua murid bukan Islam ke kelas lain ketika kelas Islam.

Dan baru-baru ini pula (berlaku tahun ini), kedua-dua anak saya memberitahu saya bahawa dua guru Melayu meminta kesemua murid Islam dalam kelas supaya bangun dan membaca doa sebelum memulakan pelajaran Sains atau BM (walaupun murid bukan-Islam tidak perlu membaca doa tersebut). Kedua-dua anak saya tadi belajar di sekolah yang berlainan.

Hal-hal sebegini tidak berlaku pada masa dahulu dan hanya sejak beberapa tahun kebelakangan ini, banyak unsur keagamaan dibawa masuk ke sekolah tanpa mengambilkira sensitiviti murid bukan Islam. Jadi, apakah ibubapa bukan Melayu akan buat? Terpaksalah mereka hantar anak-anak mereka ke sekolah jenis kebangsaan Cina atau Tamil.

Pada pendapat saya, unsur-unsur keagamaan tidak harus dibawa masuk ke sekolah kebangsaan kerana ia adalah sekolah milik semua kaum tanpa mengira agama atau bangsa. Kelas agama Islam boleh dibenarkan tetapi tindakan menempatkan murid bukan Islam dalam kelas yang sama, adalah sesuatu yang menyinggung perasaan kaum lain. Memaksa murid bukan Islam supaya memakai tudung pulak, lagi tidak harus dibenarkan sama sekali di mana-man sekolah pun.

What do you guys think?

HSBC Local Scholarhips

Just saw this while I was surfing the HSBC Malaysia site. The terms are pretty generous. Deadline is June 30th for the Masters level scholarship and Jule 10th for the undergrad level scholarships. More details can be located here.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Harvard Project for Asian and International Relations 2008

The Harvard Project for Asian and International Relations (HPAIR) is pleased to present its 2008 Academic Conference and Business Conference. They are now accepting applications from university students and young professionals around the world. Confirmed speakers for the Business Conference include the Prime Minister of Malaysia, Datuk Seri Abdullah bin Haji Ahmad Badawi, and the Deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia, Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak.

The HPAIR Academic Conference is an annual international conference that brings together top students from elite universities across the world to engage in high-level discourse on economic, political, humanistic, cultural, and social issues affecting Asia and the world.

The HPAIR Business Conference is an annual event in which hundreds of international undergraduate and MBA students and young professionals worldwide come together to interact and learn about the most dynamic areas of Asian business from the most prominent industry leaders. Our conference seeks to provide a comprehensive analysis of the current economic trends in Asia and create a forum for discussion of new developments in the region.

The conference approaches its goal holistically and features rigorous academic workshops and lectures led by renowned professors, scholars, government officials, and private sector practitioners from all over the world. Additionally, the conference features opportunities for student paper presentations, interactive activities, field trips, and social & networking events (including the famous annual "International Night" cultural extravaganza as well as the elaborate gala dinner closing ceremony).

Notable past speakers at HPAIR conferences include: Kim Dae-jung (Former President, Republic of South Korea), S. R. Nathan (President, Singapore), Kim Young-Sam (President, Republic of South Korea), Ban Ki-moon (Secretary General of the UN), Fred Hu (Managing Director, Goldman Sachs Asia), Victor Fung (Chairman, Li & Fung Group), Tu Wei-Ming (Professor of Confucian Philosophy, Harvard University), Richard Cooper (Professor of Economics, Harvard University), and Jeffrey Sachs (Professor of Economics, Columbia University).

Details about the HPAIR 2008 Business Conference are as follows:
Theme: Emerging into Focus: Asia Incorporated
Venue: JW Marriott Hotel, Kuala Lumpur
Date: August 14 – 17, 2008
Click to learn more about the HPAIR Business Conference, or visit join the facebook group.

Details about the HPAIR 2008 Academic Conference are as follows:
Theme: Beyond Borders: Asia on the World Stage
Venue: Hilton Hotel, Kuala Lumpur
Date: August 21 – 24, 2008
Plenary Sessions:
Higher Education in Asia
ASEAN as an Economic and Geopolitical Region

The application system is currently open. Applications from students will be accepted at For more information on HPAIR, please visit Questions may be directed to

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.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Calling all US students and alumni

For our readers who are current US students and alumni of US universities, please think about volunteering your services to help out in organizing this years Discover US Education Fair. I think the name has been changed to USA for students. For more details, please go here. I think this is a fantastic initiative and thanks to people like Chen Chow, it is gaining momentum from year to year. If I was coming back this summer, I'd definitely sign up. Maybe next year. The date for this year's fair is June 14th, 2008.

Too much CSI?

Thanks for Kean Jin for highlighting this letter in Malaysiakini. The letter was written by a student of forensics science who after taking this course in a local public university found that he or she couldn't join the Forensics Department in the Police Force or the Malaysia Chemistry Department.

The English translation of the letter can be found here.
These students, upon graduating, found out that they needed to join the police force before they could be forensics scientists in the police department. But many of them wore glasses and because of this, did not fulfill the eyesight criterion to be a police officer.

These graduates complained that in their opinion, it is not necessary to have good eyesight nor is it necessary to go through training as a police officer to be a forensic scientist.

Furthermore, they also found out that their training as forensic scientists were not sufficient to get them jobs in the Malaysia Chemistry Department (Jabatan Kimia Malaysia).

I have a couple of take away points from this letter.

Firstly, there seems to be a miscommunication between the university authorities who are offering these courses and the potential employers for these graduates (the police and the JKM). Given that there are a limited number of potential employers for the skills of these graduates, it seems clear to me that the university authorities (the department heads, for example) should have had better communication channels with these potential employers as well as with their students.

If this had been the case, they could have tailored their courses better so that these graduates would be more employable or have told potential students of the requirements of the potential employers.

Secondly, if you want to take a more specialized course, it makes sense that you should do some research in advance (asking seniors, checking employer websites) to make sure that you have the criteria to be employed. Forensics science is not accounting and finance or economics which are more generic courses and which allow its graduates a greater amount of flexibility when it comes to employment opportunities.

Thirdly, while I applaud the desire of these students to serve the country by trying to help solve crimes and reduce crime rates, they probably should not have been too influenced by the unrealistic portrayal of forensic scientists in TV shows such as CSI and its many spin offs.

I hope that this example doesn't dissuade our readers from taking 'alternative' career paths which I'm a keen advocate of. But it does show the need for us to do our due diligence before taking up a particular course.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Scholarships for 9As SPM students

Read this in the Star today. JPA announced today that all SPM students who have scored 9As and above would be given scholarships to do their Form 6 and matriculation studies. The Chief Secretary to the Government also said that these students would also be sponsored for their undergraduate degree at a local university and if they managed to get a place in an Ivy league university or its equivalent, they would also be sponsored.

In principle, I think that this is a good move since it will solve the problem of having different criteria for different people when it comes to giving out JPA scholarships. I also think that it's a good move to channel potential JPA scholars to do their studies locally, since I think that this is much more cost effective, especially given JPA's poor track record at retaining foreign JPA scholars.

I'm not sure how effective this policy will be from the perspective of attracting 9A students to take the STPM exams since studying Form 6 is not prohibitively expensive in the first place and from what I know, neither is matriculation. I won't be surprised if most of the students who score 9As and above for their SPM and are in the matriculation stream already receive scholarships in some form or fashion.

Although studying in local public unis are also not very expensive (compared to studying in private unis / colleges or going overseas) and students can easily take out PTPN loans, these scholarships can definitely help those who come from less privileged backgrounds where even a few thousand RM would go a long way in helping alleviate the financial burden on them and their families.

This doesn't change my mind in regard to the need to abolish undergraduate scholarships to go overseas, even (or especially) if students get into Ivy league schools (or their equivalent).

But I think that channeling scholarships and funds in a race blind manner at the Form 6 / matriculation and local public uni levels is to be commended.

Thursday, May 01, 2008


I recently wrote a to "Unwanted Citizen", a blogger, asking him to clarify the difference between SLAB and SLAI after a comment posted in this post said that we shouldn't complain so much about the unfairness of SLAB since there was a program called SLAI that is opened to all Malaysians and not just Bumiputeras. You can read "Unwanted Citizen"'s response here.

Apply to the US, says John

A letter to Malaysiakini by a friend of mine, John Lee Ming Keong, who's currently a freshman at Dartmouth, encouraging students to apply to study in the US. I'll reproduce it below. You can read more of his insights at his very well written blog.

Sponsored higher education - think America
John Lee | Apr 30, 08 4:08pm

I note with disappointment the recent controversy here regarding the disbursement of government scholarships and placement in university courses. I believe the policy solutions to these problems are clear enough - any discrimination in university admissions or scholarships ought to be on the basis of income and access to educational opportunities, not race.

The bumiputra may be severely disadvantaged - Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak claimed in 1997 that only 5% of public university students would be Malays if the quota system were to be completely repealed - but this only strengthens the case for discriminating on the basis of actual disadvantages, rather than race, when clearly many bumiputera are not wanting for any opportunities economically or educationally.

However, barring a sudden turnaround in government policy or a wholesale change in the composition of the federal government, it is crucial that individual students be aware of other opportunities available to them should the public purse be unable or unwilling to assist them in their education. Private scholarships are a common form of assistance which many rely on to study, either at local private colleges or in foreign universities.

In spite of this, not many know about private scholarships offered by universities in the United States. Eight American universities, including half of the Ivy League (Harvard, Yale, Princeton and Dartmouth) will fund the education of any applicant who is admitted, inclusive of tuition, living expenses, etc. Although they require a separate financial aid application, they will not consider ability to pay when making admissions decisions, meaning applicants will be evaluated purely on scholastic merit. All admitted students who choose to attend receive financial aid, mostly scholarships, in proportion to their ability to pay the fees.

Furthermore, many other American universities also offer financial aid to students. However, because they generally do not have the large endowments of other institutions, financial need is a factor in admission, meaning poorer applicants must make up for their inability to pay in academic accomplishments. In spite of this, once the student is admitted, many of these institutions commit to funding their education as much as possible.

I write about this because I have noticed that most students do not even consider the US when deciding where to attend university. Although there are disadvantages with the US system - most universities only offer four-year programmess, and American law degrees are not recognised locally - there is no reason to automatically exclude it from contention. If anything, American universities offer much more affordable educations because of their extensive financial aid programmes for the needy.

There are two main barriers to a good education. The first is intellectual and academic - if you cannot make the cut, you will never get into Harvard or Cambridge. The second is financial - how on earth can you pay for Harvard or Cambridge? Many Malaysians are not wanting for brains, but desperately need financial assistance for their higher education. As someone currently benefiting from financial aid at an American university, I believe this is an opportunity which too many bright Malaysians are passing up. Even if you do not think you can get into Harvard, there is no point in not trying - most universities will even waive the application fees if you can demonstrate financial need - and there are so many other lesser-known but equally great institutions eager to help qualified and talented students obtain a higher education.

I strongly urge all parents, students and educational counselors to re-examine the US university system and the opportunities it offers for bright but economically disadvantaged students. Malaysia has no deficit of intellect, but it is squandering its most promising minds through unequal disbursement of scholarships and placement in university courses. Until we rectify this policy problem, individual Malaysians must find our own way, and one route which is often overlooked is that which lies across the Pacific in the US.

For the past three years, concerned students and alumni have helped organise an annual education fair meant to highlight the educational opportunities available in the US. This year, the fair - USA For Students - is being sponsored by the American Embassy in Kuala Lumpur, and will be held this June.

Even if you are unable to attend the fair, the Internet offers many more ways to gather information. Recom, an online forum set up by students, is devoted entirely to educational problems many Malaysians face, from scholarship interviews to applying for placement in local or foreign programmes. Individual university websites also provide a wealth of information on how to apply for financial assistance.

It is not enough for us to rely on the government to spoonfeed us, either in money or education - we must be proactive and learn to help ourselves, if the government is unable to. Malaysia needs all the talent it can get, and we owe it not just to ourselves as individuals, but to ourselves as a nation, to get the best education we can, and to make the most out of ourselves so we can serve our country.