Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Defending Malaysia's Twinning Programmes

One of the earliest articles which I have blogged about (and I must say, one of the reasons why I wanted to start this blog) have received the most pageviews here. My post on "World Class Universities(?)" posted on May, 2nd have also recently received some attention from the Sun, who highlighted the article in its dialogue on education with Tan Sri Yahaya Ibrahim, the pro-chancellor of Universiti Pendidikan Sultan Idris. He was also the founding president of the National Association of Private and Independent Educational Institutions Malaysia, and a past president of the Malaysian Association of Private Colleges and Universities. Thanks to "Ann Teoh" for pointing out the article to me.

Just a quick recap of my earlier post and what it's about:
One of the major peeves I have is when I see many private colleges advertising their twinning programmes as "world-class" and are partnered with the "top" universities in the various countries overseas, particularly in the United Kingdom (UK), the United States and Australia.

I get further upset when students with great potential i.e., some of the top students in SPM and STPM are "seduced" to enrol in some of the above courses which results a poorer education, making them less qualified for the employment market as they do not fulfil their best possible potential. These students who have paid so much more taking these twinning courses would have learnt more, and be better qualified for the job market if they had enrolled in some of the better local universities in Malaysia.
The very long post went on to review some of the top private institutions offering these twinning programmes in Malaysia, and their corresponding "twinned" university.

In the Sun dialogue, L. E. Teoh asked Tan Sri Yahaya to comment specifically to my blog post which "said most foreign universities we twin with are mediocre ones but are 'sold' to our Malaysian students as 'world class'."

The basic arguments used Tan Sri Yahaya in defending Malaysia's twinning programmes are:
  • that rankings are subjective
    There are two types of ranking, professional and institutionally. Professionally in certain areas, Oxford and Cambridge are the top, but certainly not in engineering. You don't go to Cambridge for engineering. I am more concerned about the professional one, focused on the judging the particular subject.
  • that these ranking studies do not refer to government publications
    The research seems rather unbalanced as it's based on a commercial publication without referring to the definitive Government source for UK Higher Education Quality - the UK Quality Assurance Agency

  • that ministry-approval and LAN-accredition better gauge of quality
    As long as the twinning degree is ministry-approved and LAN-accredited, the quality of the qualifications should be sound.
I'm not sure about you, but I find these arguments weak and often irrelevant.

Yes, there are indeed "professional" as opposed to "institutional" rankings. But I found his comment that "you don't go to Cambridge for 'Engineering'" amusing. While 'Engineering' isn't typically what Cambridge is famed for, it is still one of the top engineering schools in UK. Only Imperial College would probably have a stronger reputation for Engineering in the UK.

But even if Tan Sri Yahaya is correct that rankings also depends on the relevant "profession", I've taken the liberty to provide subject rankings of the twinned universities for the most popular courses such as computer science and business administration in my previous post, and they still do not reflect well on the universities (none falling within the top 40.

[A quick note to all critics of any rankings - I do believe that there's no such thing as a perfect rankings system. However, it's fair to say that the tables to differentiate between a university, say in the top 10, from one ranked 50th, and correspondingly, between 50th and those in the bottom 10th percentile.]

Tan Sri Yahaya argued that we should instead rely on the findings of both the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education in the UK, as well as the Lembaga Akreditasi Nasional (National Accredition Agency) (LAN) to determine if a course or university is of quality. Perhaps Tan Sri is trying to defend these twinning institutions too hard, as a former president of Malaysian Association of Private Colleges and Universities, for we all know that neither of the above agencies tell you which one is the top institutions - Cambridge will be rated similarly to Robert Gordon University. That way, practically all universities will be rated a "world-class university".

Tan Sri Yahaya also argued that the "traditional" top universities usually do not have "strategies involving twinning and other arrangements overseas". But that's exactly the point. These universities, due to their quality standards and enrolment requirements, would not find it profitable to venture overseas, as there may not be sufficient qualified students. Qualified students will find their way to the main campus anyway. Hence, by definition, it's the poorer ranked, and I dare say poorer quality universities will be the ones "expanding" overseas via twinning programmes.

Tan Sri Yahaya did add correctly that
[the] to students is to evaluate institutions on their own merits - examine their resources, ask questions about track records in employability and above all, ask about how the institution will prepare you for long term careers.

The final evaluators of the institution products are the employers in the industry. The institutions will thrive depending on how marketable their qualified students are.

I fully agree with the above. It is not the point of my argument to say that all students should not study at the local twinning programmes. My believe is institutions of different standards and quality is catered towards different groups of students. The top students should be aiming to enrol in the top 20-30 schools in the world, while the "average" students needs will be met by the "average" universities. What I'm unhappy about is due to unscrupulous marketing, mediocre programmes from average universities are marketed as "world-class" programmes, "seducing" top students who will consequently not achieve their full potential.

It is also absolutely true that the final evaluators of the institution products are the employers in the industry - and as an employer, I find most of the graduates from twinning programmes mediocre. In addition, I find that there are many high potential students from SPM who become "less attractive" because they enrolled into the wrong tertiary programmes with the wrong institutions. There are of course, exceptions to the rule (I've hired some of these exceptions as well), but I'd like to believe that these exceptions would have done well anywhere, and possibly even better at better colleges.

Just this week, I've received a letter seeking advice from a reader who has just graduated (or is graduating) from Coventry University with one of the local colleges, with a degree in Computer Science. He was definitely an above average student with 6As for his SPM. I feel extremely aggrieved that a student with great potential spent 3 years in tertiary education without achieving his full potential (or anywhere near it). And in all probabilities, many other top students are similarly led astray by the "world-class" advertising.

Another quick note, for those top students who, for one reason or another could not go pursue their education at a top university overseas and do not want to pursue the local university route, you might want to consider the University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus.

[The dialogue with Tan Sri Yahaya covered other issues such as the 3+0 programmes. I will address some of these other issues in a separate post]


Anonymous said...

I am really surprise for someone who graduated for Oxford is so narrow minded. I am not trying to defend twinning programme but I do not believe low ranking universities produce bad graduates. I am one of the earlier batch of twinning programme (1+2) in M'sia back in the earlier 90s and I hold a PhD degree.

My arguement is this, bad graduates are mainly due to individual personality. The qualities between an overseas graduates and local graduates got nothing to do with the quality of education they received. It is the experiences that they have been through and their exposure. That is why overseas graduates are more sought after compared to local grad. For arguement sack, despite the big debate about UM qualities, it still provide very good non-malay graduates. Reason: not because they received qualities education in UM. It is all because they are top students in the country. They have the right character in build .

Based on research, majority of people do not apply more than 20% of what they have learned academically in University. The university life is all about character building rather than the education itself.

I must say, I too disagreed with some twinning programme esp 3+0 where you don't have any overseas exposure and yet received a degree from a place you knew nothing about. But I don't share the view that twinning programmes are poor qualities. From my batch of twinning programme, there are a handful of PhDs.

Another fact for you. University of Nottingham is the very first UK university to introduce Twinning Programme in M'sia! So on your arguemeet that traditional top universities do not have "strategies involving twinning and other arrangements overseas" is totally baseless.

Anonymous said...


for argument sake...not "sack"

Golf Afflicted said...

Here's my quick 2-cent rebuttal to Anon above (who I must have struck a raw nerve :)).

By Anon's argument:

* Only difference between studying overseas vs locally is the "overseas" experience
* All universities are more or less the same, overseas vs locally
* All universities are more or less the same, whether MIT or Portsmouth
* Universities are 80% about "character building"
* Students will succeed or no-do-so-well due "individual personality"; quality of university has little to do with it.

So in conclusion:

* It doesn't matter where you go, as long as it's overseas
* As long as you have the right "personality", you'd be a top student
* And of course, all PhDs are a mark of equal intelligence and quality :)

I'll leave it to readers to be the judge.

Note that I did not say all grads from twinning programmes are "bad" graduates. I just said that they are likely to be weaker, and top students would have performed better at the top colleges.

An additional quick note to say that I'm not aware Nottingham had or have any twinning programmes in Malaysia (I could be wrong - but my research found no info on this). The Malaysia campus is not a twinning programme but a branch campus, operated by Nottingham itself, not by another college such as Inti.

Tony P :)
Narrow-minded Oxonian

clk said...

In the case of Nottingham U you have to be careful btw Nottingham Trent U and Nottingham U; the former has twinning while the latter does not have one other than its branch in MISC Building initially I believe.

As for the other arguments, you could also argue both sides and not be wrong. These are highly subjective matters because you can always find exceptions/facts that support all the opinions here. When we speak of things here, we're talkinga about things Generally rather than any single case. Becareful when you use the word "ALL"!

Buaya69 said...

That piece of paper only gets one into an interview. After that, it's their performance during the interview evaluation process. If a candidate is successful, then it's a futher 3 or 6 months probationary period before confirmation.

in conclusion, a tertiary education only prepares a person "that" much. I hire people based on their apptitude to deliver value.

however, you are right in one issue where brilliant students are wasted at non-challenging institutes of higher learning. I have seen this myself where the culture of mediocrity seeped into them after 3-4 years of "easy life". And upon graudation, they had a culture shock when bosses normal demands seems unreasonable. But having said that, I have seen many of these smart kids pick themselves up and lighted their fire again. Good for them.

Anonymous said...

Buaya69: While paper qualifications merely gets you to interviews, these days getting into interviews is rather hard. Especially if your aims are high.

Anonymous said...

Yes, it is a fact that The University of Nottingham had twinning programme with Prime College way back in the earlier 90s(and not Nottingham Trent University which was formerly Nottingham Polytechnique). The programme only lasted for 3 years or so, before the two institutions fall out. That is when The University of Nottingham decided to open a Campus in Malaysia.

Whether it is the first is debatable, as University of Leicester also having twinning programme with Sunway College about the same time. But 100% sure University of Nottingham did have twinning programme with local college before it open a branch campus in M'sia.

Anonymous said...

I was one of the students enrolled in prime college twinning programme in 1996 and graduated in 1999. There was actually many universities available back then and you get to provide your primary and secondary choices. I can't remember all the universities but some of the universities available are University of Nottingham, Universirty of Bristol, University of Birmingham and University of London. Based on your first year result in college you will be offered a place to continue your studies there. The higher ranking universities will have higher grade requirement.

I will have to say that the material being taught to us in college as a first year equivalent is actually of higher standard than the one being taught when I started by 2nd year in university especially for mathematics. The different is that the university there is obviously much better equipped and you get more hands on practical lessons. Back then prime college is still quite small with a small building in Old Klang Road lacking many facilities.

I wouldn't advise anyone to try the 2+1 twinning programme as I find that from experience you will need the first year there to adapts to the new environment. Not just the different in culture but also the differences in teaching methods. Also because of differences in teaching material, you might have to go for extra classes to learn up the materials not covered when you are studying in Malaysia.

Anonymous said...

I think Tony is right. Top students' potential will be better served if they attend top universities. You can't ignore the better facilities available there and the exposure overseas. Of course cost is often the factor that prevents some of our top students from going to these universities. I can't imagine multi-nationals companies or banks prefer to select candidates from some of these "lower league" universities than those from Oxbridge for interviews unless they intentionally are looking for lower calibre people.

Anonymous said...

I disagree that the employers should be the final evaluators of the "products" of the institutions.
Employers themselves are not perfect.
Surely there is a higher and more holistic goal to education than merely to "produce" graduates who are "marketable" in the job "market".
This kind of "market, market, market and sell, sell, sell" mentality will soon plunge our nation into a crisis of, not higher education, but, crisis of society. If we're not in that stage already.

Anonymous said...

to anonymous of prime: ever considered that perhaps your "higher standard in mathematics" was actually due to a flawed syllabus of an inexperienced education provider?

Anonymous said...

I'm from a not so famous university. I only have a Masters of Science degree, not a PhD.

But I agree with Tony on this.

I have before compared syllabus and exam questions of some high profile universities and low profile universities, the questions of the lower standard university are easier compared to those of the higher standard.

Lower standard university does not train someones brain to work harder and smarter.

We have to consider also the facitilies in the universities. Without good facitilies and equipments of the latest technology, how can a student excel to its greatest?

For example, my field electronics, a lot of the universities do not have equipment that can produce 0.13 micron transistor which Intel's current processing technology. They are going towards 90 nm technology. If you have no knowledge of the latest technology, do you think Intel will take you in?

Certainly agree with the arguement you don't need to be highly educated to make money. But, in critical field (e.g. medicine, electronics, biotechnology), good education and education from a good university makes a lot of difference.

Of course there are exceptional cases some does not even have proper education did excels (e.g. Einstein). But the fact is some people's brains are exceptionally better build. And he is smart, he joins the patent company where he was exposed to every latest technologies in the world.

Also not everyone hold a PhD means he is smart. At least someone proved he is not by attacking the person instead of the issue! That just proved who is more narrow minded!

Anonymous said...

The person above seems to blame his institution for not being able to join Intel. So you expect University to provide you with the lastest technology that is available. So u actually think that top universities will actually build a new fab facilities when there is new technology available. As for now, you actually think that all top universities have sub micron fab with class 10 clean room for all students to play with. And if you had have studied in this university, Intel will hire you. Oh and when there is sub nano technology, they will have class 1 clean room! Most universities use foundary for chip fabrication and don't need to have the facilities themselves.

This is the problem with people in Malaysia today. They think that University is meant to provide them with everything they need to know, period. And fail to understand the core purpose of higher education. First degree or even master (taught degree) is meant to provide you with the grounding to further advance yourself. If you fail to read journal and update yourself, that is your problem and not the failing of the University in providing education. I had been in a University in UK for 10 years both studying and also teaching. You always get two set of students. One group of student will do research and think, and another group will always said, 'Never teach before, I don't know' and never bother to find out either.

I do not totally agree that with state of the arts technology facilities will actually help students to excel. It will only spoils them and clouds their thinking. Great discovery does not always comes from good facilities and most often lack of it. Students will only start thinking when they are lack of something (for it equipment or facility of what ever sort). Only then they will crack their brain and try to work around it. Nothing will stop once excelling as there is a saying, 'there is a will, there is a way'. The problem is a lot of students don't have the will!


I agreed with you that not all PhDs are the same quality, but is all PhDs for Oxbridge and Ivy League Universities are better qualities than the rest? PhD is a specialise research area. Every university has its own speciality/ies. Once don't go the Oxbridge to do a PhD is Satelite Com but Surrey Uni and for Radio Astronomy, University of Manchester (in the UK), just for an example. I think someone did comment in previous blog that PhD from Manchester Uni is somewhat of low standard! But it doesn't surprise me. Very Malaysian mentality!

Anonymous said...

agree with above poster.
and some employers in malaysia expect fresh grads to straightaway be able to do their job on the first day without any training. why? to save cost. if they can't find grads who fulfill this requirement, they whine that it's the universities fault.

Anonymous said...

The above poster's comment is not true. I work for Intel and design microprocessors; when I first joined, I had zero knowledge of VLSI design. What I had was a willingness to learn and ability to learn fast. I'm currently hiring engineers, and I don't look for experience in 65 or 45nm design. Nobody has that, especially in Malaysia! What I look for (like what the managers who interviewed me looked for), is twofold:

1. Ability to learn quickly, understanding basic concepts (showed by interview questions and univ. grades)
2. Willingness to work hard

I would also like to comment on Tony's comment on bright students entering 'mediocre' universities. 6A's for SPM is nothing! I had 7A's for SPM, and joined a mediocre university (rejected by all the Ivy's). I believe that I learned something very important there: How to self-learn. Since the professors in my university weren't great, I learned to go to the library and self-study. This skill has helped me greatly in my career; when you are at the front of technology, there are no clear answers. YOU have to learn and piece together the pieces yourself. Like several other friends (who also graduated in mediocre universities), I graduated with a 4.0 GPA, in 3.5 years. And anyone who thinks this was easy because of the universitiy's lower standard should try it sometime :)

My comment is that I know are many bright students who entered mediocre universities, and are doing well in their careers. I agree with parent above that no matter what university you go to, YOU choose your own destiny.

Anonymous said...

to anonymous: Fri Dec 02, 09:15:15 AM
You're ignoring the fact that good money is being paid towards these institutions, money that should(must?) be spent towards upgrading and maintaining in-campus facilities.

But then again, we Malaysians don't have a culture of upgrading and maintaining things...

Anonymous said...

University of Nottingham, first, had its twinning program with Metropolitan College and it was discontinued. It was a TWINNING DEGREE.

PRIME College takes you to many of these, as Datin Kee put it in those days, Blue-chip universities in UK. This, in PRIME, was never a TWINNING DEGREE but students admitted based on their results.

Anonymous said...

I am sad to note that the history of private education in Malaysia has been ignored in Tony's argument. He is certainly right that world class universities do not normally establish twinning programs. Nowadays most overseas universities work with our private colleges through a credit transfer system and students are accepted into these universities depending on whether they have achieved the grades designated as prerequisites by these universities. Reputable univerties such as Lancaster university, UK and University of Otago, NZ,for example, do expect an average grade of B and above.
Today the Malaysian government has authorized the upgrading of several local private colleges to degree-conferring universities or university colleges, provided they have met specified conditions. Prior to the formation of these private colleges in Malaysia, many local students, particularly those of non-bumiputra origin, could not find a place in local universities and their parents could not afford to send them overseas for education. The private colleges, then working with overseas universities on twinning programmes, provide an affordable alternative in the area of tertiary education. Many of the graduates from these twinning programs are, I am sure, grateful that the government approved such an alternative. Back to the question of educational standards, I think Tony is rather narrow-minded. Let us take a look at the education system in the UK. Universities such as Cambridege and Oxford are leaders in world-class research. Plymouth has been successful as a vocationally-oriented university. De Montfort, which does not rank very high in university ranking, is well-known for its advanced marketing program. In other words, there are always reasons for choosing a particular university - financial resources, academic performance, locational preference, historical linkage and personal interests. Tony must realise that even if a person is offered a place by a reputable university, he or she may not be able to accept it due to the unavailability of financial support from parents or otherwise. Tony should realise that the courses at Nottingham University Malaysian Campus still costs more that what those of most private colleges/universities in the country. A Chinese professor once said, "If all mainland Chinese were to live the life of Americans, we will need to have seven globes." Certainly I agree that the teaching standards and facilities of the private colleges must be maintained at a suitable level, but they do not have to achieve Ivy League standards to be considered good enough. Even in the US, there possibly exist close to two thousand universities and colleges with each of them serving different educational purposes.

Anonymous said...

"You don't go to Cambridge for engineering"

Cambridge has the largest engineering department in Europe

Anonymous said...

I agree with the statement saying that not all the students from these low ranked UK's universities are bad but the problems I guess comes from most of these private collges in malaysia.
I studied in one of the twinning program in malaysia reputational college. One of the thing I found out that brings down the whole quality is the lecturers that the college hired.
These lecturers are cheap and do not have enough experience as well as are among the lower averages students when they studied are teaching in these private colleges.
As long as these lecturers are teaching, even top universities will end up in lower standards of students. I think it should have done something on the qualities of these college in hiring lecturers and not just by hiring cheap lecturers.