Thursday, November 17, 2005

More Brickbats for Universiti Malaya

Yesterday, the Sun, who has been exemplary in the past week in highlighting the issues pertaining to the crisis faced by Universiti Malaya (UM), used for the first time in the print media, the word “idiotic” to describe the actions of UM administrators to date. Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad wrote that
[t]he handling of the universities in dealing with this drop in rankings especially UM's administration can at best be described as confused, if not downright idiotic.
The Star also headlined an article “It’s no cause for jubilation”, quoting Deputy Minister of Higher Education, Fu Ah Kiow.

And in a most tactful and diplomatically damning comment on Universiti Malaya to date, Azmi Shahrom wrote on “How To Judge a Good University” in today’s copy of the Sun. What makes his assessment particularly meaningful, is that he is actually an Associate Professor and the Deputy Dean of the Law Faculty in Universiti Malaya.

Read the complete article in the Sun, for you won’t find another well-written commentary on university education which is able to make analogous comparisons to “sex” and “powerful kissing lips”! More seriously, he argued that:
Instead of strutting around like a bunch of peacocks, a sober examination of the ranking system and how it can help us improve should have been done. Now that UM is at 169, the same thing should be done instead of hthe hopelessly silly PR exercises of spin doctoring which has the appearance of the self same peacock waving its moulted feathers in desperation.
There has also been a few but noticeable criticisms with regards to this entire Universiti Malaya rankings crisis debate. They have argued that by focusing on the “rankings table”, we are missing the woods for the trees as if we were to take care of providing quality education, the rankings table will sort itself out. I agree.

However, the reason why the rankings table is so “important” in the discussions at this stage is that it provides a focus for the academics and education authorities to focus their attention on the state of higher education in Malaysia. The effect of the severe drop in rankings of UM have galvanised the public, the media and hopefully at the end of the day, the education and university authorities to take the necessary steps (even if they are baby steps for a start) towards reversing the decline in our university quality and reputation.

Without the initial debate on the rankings table, and the position of Malaysian universities in them, there would never have seen some of the discussions with regards to the setting up of “search committees” for university vice-chancellors, the public calls to improve the state of our universities, the set up of a parliamentary committee on education etc., as highlighted in my earlier post here. At some point down the road, the debate on the actual rankings table should cease to take prominence while the actual steps needed to transform our higher education system takes precedence.

The shift in debate is already taking place. Nik Nazmi commented on his Sun piece that:
But it is futile to dwell too much on the ranking issue, without seeing it in perspective: it's a symptom of deeper problems plaguing Malaysian higher education.

The major problems that we can see include the absence of genuine meritocracy; the lack of academic and political freedom in campuses; the prevalence of unemployment for many graduates; the poor command of English and a lack of focus in the direction of our education policy.
And today, Azmi Shahrom followed up with the extremely constructive piece of some of the critical actions that need to be taken to ensure the quality of our universities and their graduates are raised. Some of his criticisms, comments and suggestions include:

1. Transparency in Promotion
... make sure that good academics join and stay... make sure the working environment is conducive to research and those who are able to do good work are promoted. Good work here meaning publishable research by respected publishers and journals (not lifestyle magazines) and sound teaching; not administrative duties and brown nosing. This can be done quite simply by ensuring that the promotion process is open and transparent, for example by publishing the CVs of all successful candidates.
2. Foreign Faculty and Student Intake
Artificially enticing foreign students and lecturers will simply not work and in the long run will be disastrous for the institution. Artificial means would include lowering the standards so as to take in any Tom, Dick and Harry to study or work here; begging foreign universities to have student exchange programmes with us; or by paying huge amounts of money just to have foreign professors lend their name to our staff lists with little or no actual responsibility.
3. Quality of Graduates
The hard fact of the matter is that, by and large, our graduates do not have the sort of qualities that would make overseas employers want them, or do our graduates have the qualitites to go out beyond the coconut shell to offer their services to the world.

This is because Malaysian public universities treat students like children. Their freedom of speech is curtailed. Their freedom of assembly is controlled. Their freedom to vote is interfered with. Without such freedoms, students can't grow. ... they won't have the confidence, the chutzpah to grab the world by the throat and scream their arrival.
Coming from the Deputy Dean of the Law Faculty of University Malaya - who's clearly no buddy of the vice-chancellor, there's really nothing more I need to add. Go read his piece. And I hope those at the Ministry of Higher Education read it too.


Anonymous said...

y aren't the other media papers reporting about the higher education crisis Malaysia is currently facing?

is this a multi-pronged defense by the politically-backed UM VC to keep mum on the crisis UM is facing?

clk said...

Maybe the other media head got their head buried under the sand and do not wish to ruffle more feathers.

It's time that we admit our failures and correct them rather than live in a dream world thinking we still "boleh" when in actual fact we need to fix and overhaul our entire system.

Admission is the first step!

clk said...

"This is because Malaysian public universities treat students like children."

In reality some or majority of our students want to be treated like children from school. Notes are dished out, pointers and tips are given etc. Most of the academically strong students are still going for exam results rather than knowledge gathering and learning. Emphasis hence is centred on teaching rather than learning. Those mediocre and marginal ones are just passing thru as if the university owes them a living so that the lecturers and VCs need not explain the high failure rates.

The root cause is deeply entrenched in our entire education system.

Anonymous said...

I would have to agree with the above poster. As a final year student in our very own prestigious UM, its appaling what students do during lectures. Want to know what goes on during a typical lecture? The lecturer will show a slide and give his explanation. All the while the students will be busy copying the slide. No one listens to the lecturer. No one asks questions. No one answers questions if the lecturers ask any.

Where are we going with this education system? The middle ages is my best guess.

Anyway I wish to write some comments on the lack of facilities in certain faculties and the lack of profesionalism amongst many of the lecturers, but as I am in the midst of my exams they will have to come later.

Anonymous said...

as a UM student myself, i am glad that finally some one of his(Nik Nazmi ) position could speak the truth and not tamed by the VC or other political influence. We certainly need more people like him , some one who is sober, with great courage and "speak the truth spirit". I truly respect him as an academicians, and wish that he would be an role model for all other local academicians and intellectuals.

Anonymous said...

I would say that no newspaper or organizations dare to say anything regarding the educational crisis Firstly, they dont want to get into any trouble, big one. Even those academicians wouldnt open their mouth and voice out their dissatisfaction due to the troubles that could be right behind their doors, awaiting them. In this case, i salute the vice dean of UM Law faculty in his boldness in issuing his voice, loud and clear.
Secondly, most of the newspapers are under control of government entities or political parties. Who dares to say anything that will broke his own bowl? Malaysia's journalism freedom index is one of the lowest in the world!
After few weeks, we finally see some people "awaken" from their long silence. Perhaps due to the pressure of bloggers and Uncle Kit, but yet the more important figure has remained silence.
Until now, we have seen that our Deputy Higher Education Minister has said something, but what about the rest, especially our PM, whose alma matter is the institution currently under fire? Indeed, it's weird when he just want UM to find out the reasons of the dropings in THES ranking. Wouldnt he be worried?
The whole education system in Malaysia is near the edge of self-destruction due to over self-protecting programs. When the leaders are shouting out that we have to remain competitive in the ever-changing global village, they should reanalyse the whole situations, especially the effectiveness of the policies undergoing. Try not to be selfish at a moment and assess the problems carefully. They are already emerging, slowly.
Finally, my word to those political leaders, "Please open your eyes and look at it carefully."

Anonymous said...

thank you for highlighting the azmi shahrom piece, and bravo to the Sun for publishing views such as these. I remember they were the only ones who followed up even a little on the Ayah Pin story after it was practically washed out of the other media after the (unofficial) attack and (official) demolition of the compound.

Anonymous said...

As a former UM student who graduated 16 years ago, I am saddened by the rankings debacle. But even more saddened by the fact that Chinese and Indian students are viewed as foreigners by anybody. It doesn't matter who these people are, the mere fact that such a misconception exists is a poor reflection on our society and the perception of our national identity by the world at large.

I agree with the view that the best students succeed despite the education system, and not because of it. Such has been the case of many, and it will continue to be the case as long as fundamental changes to do not take place.

At the end of the day those who struggle despite the odds and manage to make something of themselves without having everything handed to them are better and stronger because they have worked for their success.

This extremely fundamental idea of working for everything will hold anyone in good stead wherever they are in the world. Take heart then!