Whoa... I'm away overseas for a business trip for just over a week, and suddenly the number of visits increased dramatically :) As I've just found out, it's all due to Jeff Ooi highlighting my blog on "World Class Universities?" on his blog Screenshots. A quick thank you to Jeff :)
Jeff is currently running a series of blog articles on "Higher Education in Crisis", partly in conjunction with the Parliamentary Opposition Leader, Lim Kit Siang's first Roundtable Series with the same theme. The blog covers various articles, opinions and letters from various stakeholders in our education system. Read especially the blog on "World Class Unversities: What characteristics must they have?", a commentary on Prof Sharom Ahmad's definition.
I will be making my personal comments on some of the issues discussed in due time :)
I thought the article below here might be of interest to your readers here. Extracted from "P H I L O S O P H Y P A T H W A Y S
http://www.shef.ac.uk/~ptpdlp/newsletter/" Issue number 104 1st June 2005
'COMPETITION IN ACADEMIA' BY MAUSHUMI GUHA
Academic progress depends on competition, for competition requires people to be productive and therefore, active. Mediocrity, which is bred by laziness and which breeds more mediocrity, is against competition and productivity. Many academic institutions and laboratories are making very little progress because they have given in to mediocrity and shunned competition.
I do not believe that people are born either mediocre or bright. I believe that mediocrity is the work of a certain kind of education and a certain kind of upbringing. Everyone is born with potential to achieve something or the other. That potential must be reared and encouraged. Competition is a natural way to groom people with potential.
So, the only way academic institutions and laboratories can produce good work is by making their members compete and the only way they can make their members compete is by asking them to showcase their work in front of their peers. This is the whole idea behind peer review. Co-operation or collaboration is not something that can be forced upon people as a principle. Co-operation or collaboration can occur only between people who are willing to compete.
Competition is another name for openness and honesty. When one competes, one is open about one's skills and knowledge-base. People who are unwilling to compete usually look for a safe and secluded corner created possibly by a magnanimous mentor, discouraging others from asking questions or sharing information. On the other hand, if one is open about one's skills and knowledge-base and willing to enter into competition with equals, one is more honest, more sharing and in general more welcoming towards one's peers. It is this sort of competitive openness that leads to cooperative and collaborative moves.
In this connection, here are a few important points that come to mind:
1. In order to have genuine progress, people in academics should come forward and showcase their work in whatever manner they deem fit and on a regular basis.
2. For any academic organization or laboratory to function there has to be a careful balance between a centralized system of working and a federal system of working.
3. Every organization must have some active members who work not on a unilateral but on a communicative basis. Communication is always a two-way relation so an academic administrator or lab-in-charge must make sure that everyone is communicating with everyone else. If one member works overtly, sharing information and results, while another keeps mum, sharing nothing till the end, the active member will refuse to collaborate fearing lack of cooperation from the other side. This will affect the work and overall atmosphere of the institution or lab.
4. Competition requires communication. Communication breeds transparency and builds trust. Competition is thus the key to progress.
5. The kind of competition being upheld here is healthy. It is not the kind that requires one to have dark circles under one's eyes or to sacrifice family life, entertainment and going out with friends! Everybody wants to work. But the work must not spill over and occupy the time that rightfully belongs to friends, families or just to oneself. Such a work culture is like a good habit. It comes from practice. And such good habits define optimal living.
6. The trick lies here: when everyone realizes that everyone has something to contribute, there will be healthy competition, greater co-operation and much more happiness in the working environment of an academic institution or a Lab.
(c) Maushumi Guha 2005
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