Monday, November 21, 2005

More Lively Discussions on Higher Education

Not a day goes by without University Malaya (UM) and the state of Malaysian higher education system hitting the headlines in the local print media in the recent weeks. While it's all mainly "talk" at the moment, I'm hoping that the intense scrutiny UM and the system is being subjected to at the moment, it'll actually bring about some positive changes to the benefit of Malaysians in time to come.

The Sunday Star published a letter from Wong Keat Wai, an alumni of Universiti Malaya, who has spent the past eight years in Singapore working in the research and devleopment sector. His experience, having "received further training from my superiors who graduated from the National University of Singapore (NUS)" helped him arrive at the conclusion that"the quality of Malaysian technical education is very low."

In Keat Wai's letter, he argued that the Malaysian universities are not allocated with sufficient funds to perform high calibre research and a lecturer's pay is too low to attract sufficient qualified candidates to the universities. But more importantly, he argued that:
Local universities are also not recruiting enough high-calibre PhD holders who are active in research. NUS only recruits PhD holders who are active in publishing research articles in prestigious international journals.

UM is no longer a government department but an independent corporate body. Such bodies are supposed to be very performance-oriented. Mindsets must change!

International university rankings are important because they reflect the general health of the education system, the competitiveness of the graduates it produces from a global perspective, the ability of the universities and the country to attract top talents from all over the world, the amount of national intellectual or science output and thus the competitiveness of the nation.
At the same time, Abdul Razak Ahmad of the New Straits Times wrote an extensive column on Sunday which was entitled "Wake-up call for the universities".

Abdul Razak cited the example of UM alumus, Ahmad Shabery Cheek, the UMNO member of parliament for Kemaman who "badly wants his daughter to take up a degree in law at his alma mater". Ahmad Shabery Cheek has a tough time convincing her.
"I am very fond of UM. But when my daughter asked me why she should study there when the ranking is poor, I found it difficult to reply...

Some administrators responded to the rankings by arguing that their universities are doing fine, it’s just that others are better. They seem to be in a state of denial."
He was not alone amongst the those interviewed. Tan Sri Murad Mohamad Noor, a former director-general of education who was in-charge of an yet unpublished report on the reforms required of our education system stated clearly that:
"We should be concerned, because universities abroad may judge our standards from this ranking. We should treat this as a wake-up call. The best answer to our critics is to improve ourselves, and to get back the confidence of the public, if indeed we have lost it."
It was also clear that not all academics share the UM vice-chancellors' obstinate myopic attempts to view the entire controversy as the "glass is half-full" i.e., let's ignore the negatives and just look at the bright side. As Professor Datuk Shamsul Amri Baharuddin of Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) rightly pointed out:
"If we use this logic, then if we drop to 250 next year, we can just say we’re still all right because we’re in the top 300."
Professor Shamsul further argued for greater accountability in academic expenditure of the universities as well as more openess to the public.
"A proper evaluation also means that when we ask for money from the Government to produce 10 PhD holders in a department, it is done with the understanding that we have to later explain to the Government whether we managed to do it. And of the 10 PhDs a department produces, the evaluation should be on whether they perform. Are they publishing? If so, where? Just locally, or in international journals?

The public should be given the opportunity to know the state of our public evaluation. It’s not difficult to do this, but it’s just not being done."
The responses from these parties who are either part of the government machinery, civil service and academia are encouraging. We would definitely need more to raise their voices so that the Prime Minister's administration takes note and plan the necessary actions to restore the state of our higher education system.

Interestingly enough, there is not another letter from an UM academic, Associate Professor Teoh Heng Teong who wrote in a letter to the Star Education segment defending the beleagured vice-chancellor.
...I was appalled when a learned member of parliament censured UM’s vice-chancellor for commenting, with reasons, that he was not worried about UM’s drop in ranking.

Have we not heard of “qualitative analysis”? The mere improvement in points is not sufficient proof of quality. After all, UM won 33 gold medals in the latest international exhibition for innovation and invention in Geneva.
Err... why should anyone with the right mind with the welfare of the Malaysian university students in the heart, not be "appalled" by the fact that the vice-chancellor was "not worried" about UM's dramatic drop in rankings?

"Qualitative analysis?" I've hesitated to make the comments on the "gold medals" won earlier despite it being prominently boasted in one of the UM's web pages as I was still in the process of gathering the necessary evidence. The vice-chancellor has often boasted that "UM won an unprecedented 33 medals of awards: 19 gold, 11 silver and 3 bronze" at the 33rd International Exhibition of Inventions, New Techniques & Products in Geneva in April this year. (Yes, for accuracy's sake, it's 33 medals in total, not 33 gold medals, but that's besides the point).

I'll post more on this item later. But suffice it for me to say that the above event is a "trade show" i.e., you pay money to set up a booth to promote your products to visitors. It is not in any way, an academic event. It is a commercial event which understandably seeks promote the products or "inventions" of the exhibitors. As part of the process, the organisers will award the bulk of the exhibitors various titles and medals to improve the "feel good" factor. In last year's contingent at the exhibition during the prize giving ceremony, the Malaysian "academics" occupied a third of the hall, Iranians occupied another third, and the balance were occupied my a hodgepodge of individual amateur inventors and private companies.

This is not something for Malaysians to be proud of. It's something for us to be very embarrassed about. To put it very bluntly, UM who paid to take part in the exhibition, essentially paid for the "gold medals". Someone should ask the vice-chancellor how much UM paid for taking part in the event? And besides bring home the "medals", did the UM team manage to conclude any commercial sales at the exhibition, which is a better measure of success than the quantity of "feel good" medals received.

Associate Professor Teoh Heng Teong, who is also the Director of the Sport Centre at the university, then argued that critics like ourselves here at this blog are not compassionate. We are not "understanding, tolerant and caring".
We pride ourselves on being understanding, tolerant and caring. If we were to read the comments published in some vernacular papers, we will know that we are far from achieving this.
Yes, we should be more understanding, tolerant and caring, particularly to inept and thick-skinned academics and university administrators.

He argued that we should be more concerned about our "unemployed graduates". Yes, indeed we should. But isn't the symtom of the malaise of our higher education system which has resulted in some many "unemployed graduates", represented by the unflattering rankings achieved by Universiti Malaya?

I am truly "appalled" at the demonstration of logic and critical thinking skills by some of the senior academics in our local universities. I am however, quite impressed with the art of flattery.


Anonymous said...

5% oversea students he say? They are doing it as a political test bed again. The news in Star entitled Bursaries to attract foreign students on Nov 21 2005 mentioned that is to 'strengthen' ties with foreign countries and they will give out scholarships to people to attend the university.

I would think this is a bad idea to begin with. Bringing in more student will only tilt the quality of the uni by one bit. They need to rehire new faculties who are actively writting and publishing. As far as I know, most of the people in there have already grown complacent. So changing the students wont make big difference. Changing the faculties will. Inherent this will lead to students to come over. If you have good students but poor teachers, that means the conducive enviroment will not be fostered.


Anonymous said...

I was told by a UM academic that because the VC took a huge contingent to Geneva, that blew the budget of the university and many other things (money for conferences, etc) are on KIV now due to that. Hearsay from my side. I don't work in UM so don't have any evidence.

Anonymous said...

Who the hell is this Assoc Prof Teoh Heng Teong? Director of Sports? If you ask me, he does not sound convicted in his writing, more likely paid to do it. The language and argument is poor, brief, hardly a teacher's standard much less a professor. Something is wrong here and I wonder, in all this fiasco, have the VC committed a crime in the face of criticism?

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Is the language diversity in our educational system a stumbling block to so-called 'national unity'?

Despite the insistence of this idea by the self-interested ruling elite, it is simply wrong.

And the common use of English did not stop Americans from fighting Britons in the War of Independence.

And let's not forget the American Civil War - both sides spoke English.

And to the contrary, we see Europeans of different mother tongues coming together in a democratic manner to forge a united continent in the form of the multilingual European Union with common standards of democracy, governance and human rights.

English-speaking people with different mother tongues are also now living peacefully in five different independent and sovereign countries namely the United States, New Zealand, Canada, Britain and Australia.

It is time for the Malaysian ruling elite and their ideologues to stop spreading the voodoo of that language diversity hampers national unity.

The root cause of national disunity is none other than the existence of race-based political parties like Umno, MIC and MCA, which perpetuate race-based affirmative action policies and which only benefit the upper class BNs and their sons, daughters and cronies.

Anonymous said...

My friends and I was having a round of 'teh tarik' yesterday. We were discussing something along the line of 'If I were a Malaysian non-bumi, I would ……….'.

The first completion to that was 'I would be very upset' The reasons being that if I were a Malaysian non-bumi, I would have been disadvantaged in many ways.

If my kids do well, there's no guarantee that they will get a government scholarship. If I am not a well-to-do non-bumi, it will be doubly hard. But you see local bumis with average scores getting into courses with government money and not studying hard.

And if I were a Malaysian non-bumi, it will be harder for me to achieve anything. My rights as a citizen are less valuable than my bumi counterpart.

We emphasized with our non-bumi counterparts on the hardships that they face. And many of my friends agree that what we have now is not conducive to promote a sense of unity. Our so-called unity is actually very superficial.

Since there are many non-bumis in Malaysia, this feeling must be quite widespread. The situation is actually quite fragile and others can easily take advantage of it to drive all of us apart.

I want to let our non-bumi Malaysian friends know that there are many bumis like me that can relate to the situation that they are facing now. We feel that the system and environment that we have now does not promote unity.

We also suspect that the current situation will, unfortunately, get worse if no action is taken now. Why? Because our kids in school hardly mix with each other. They will grow up with little understanding of their fellow Malaysians, and with the suspicions that exist, it will be worse.

The strong unseen resentment will only erode the greatness that we all want to achieve as Malaysians.

At that 'teh tarik' round, we all felt and agreed that we are all (our non-bumi friends included) in this country together and we must complement each other's strength to compete with the rest of the world. Regardless of your ancestor's homeland, we are all here and now in this land called Malaysia.

So how can we remedy the situation? Firstly, let's ask this - given the current situation, what can we do as individuals to change the situation? We should all be openly discussing the matter and try to help find a solution.

Since we all are in non-policy making positions, we should concentrate on what can we do as individuals in order to ensure that we can all feel like true Malaysians.

If you have kids, teach them about the cultures of other races. Tell them that this is the country they are going to inherit from us and in this land they will share with other Malaysians regardless of race.

If you work in the office, discuss unity openly so we can create as many groups of people possible that really want to forge a real Bangsa Malaysia. Let's also try to understand each other's culture more.

There will be extremists on both sides - forget about them and continue to move forward with your like-mind friends and colleagues. Hopefully, one day there will be enough momentum for a real Bangsa Malaysia to take off.

Let's focus on our common goal as Malaysians - that we want to move ahead in this competitive world, and in order to do that, we need everyone to go forward with the same vision.

And to those in decision-making positions - please have a re-look at the NEP's implementation. Help all Malaysians, regardless of race. Poor people come from all races. Let's work to help them. Stop the help to undeserving ones - regardless of race as well.

Implementing the above as policy will be an immense confidence-building gesture will also wake up our bumi brothers to the fact that they are on equal terms with other Malaysians in that only the deserving will get help.

Anonymous said...

"The Malay Dilemma" revealing the weaknesses of malays. But did they do something to amend their weaknesses using the correct way, like work harder, compete equally etc?

They did with the fastest way, implementing unfair policies. How many of you all will agree that the policies are not benefiting the malays?

From the economy to the education system and to the society, all policies were meant to "close" their mind and body.

In Pak Lah announce that NEP will stay, as long as the gap between the poor and the rich exists. In a free economy, this will always be the case. How can the gap be narrowed if they do not work hard?

Just ask any economists how an economy works.

Let's assume that they are trying to perform transferring wealth to the poor in this way, it would be better to practice socialism or communism, where everything belongs to the country and no personal assets are allowed.

After 35 years of NEP, how has it benefited the country as a whole?

No one benefited in the end except those in power.

The most important thing is that the malay goes back and tell his children and grandchildren that in Malaysia, all you need to do to survive is stretch out your hand and ask for handouts.

If you malays don't get it, then use force.

Many non-malays in this country share the same view. Give in to them. Why bother to fight? Can you win possibly? Give in, and eventually it is not the non-malays who will get hurt. It is hurt the malays themselves.

A friend of mine used to say that if you want to kill off someone, spoil him.

The non-malays are not afraid of the malays asking for handouts. They are worried that they don't and start to become hardworking like non-malays.

This plot begins to sound more like the X-files - the only way to fight the future is to collaborate with the alien invaders!

Anonymous said...

This despite the fact that the NEP has resulted in corruption of endemic proportions, cronyism, guinea-pig experiments, mismanagement, the squandering the ill-gotten wealth, and above all, a self-denial syndrome regarding this massive wastage of public funds.

I really do not know what yardstick is being used to gauge and say that the bumis have only achieved some 19 percent capital equity ownership as opposed to the 30 percent target set by the NEP.

With all the Umno owned entities plus licences and permits dished out generously, this should have surpassed the 30 percent long ago. What happened?

I would say that many of them want to get only the money, they did not want to do the hard work and learn the ropes of the business. I think this is the real problem.

But instead, meritocracy is blamed and that after all these years of affirmative policies, the bumis have not been given the proper support to succeed and excel.

If the government is sincere in helping the bumis, it has to stop corruption. There also has to be a change in mindset and attitude towards positioning with pride and ability.

The problem with Umno politics is that no one dares to think the unthinkable. They talk, but in some matters they will never walk the talk.

Anonymous said...

From time immemorial, people move from place to place for one reason or another. After the formation of nations, the mobility of educated and highly skilled professionals affects nations. Brain drain means large numbers of these people emigrate to another nation.

The government should form a special commission on the movement of educated and highly skilled people to study and monitor their staying, leaving from and returning to the country. A country that has more talents is certainly better than the one without.

For decades, we have broached the subject of brain drain within and outside parliament. Large numbers of educated and highly skilled people leave this country to live and work in another one where pay and conditions are better.

In the beginning, some ministers and civil servants boomed out big words, saying that those who left were not loyal to the country and that their departure was good riddance.

Now, there are some people saying one thing and meaning another in government departments and universities. They mouth meritocracy and talents and yet they are mediocre, feudal and bloody-minded. They talk nine words at once, but they undermine highly skilled people. Hence, it is not surprising that returning scientists experience the delay in immigration clearance.

However, the crux of the matter is finding the factors that determine the mobility of highly skilled people, whether brain drain or the other way.

Because the government imposes racial quota in education and government departments, therefore Singapore and other countries take fortune at the tide. For years, there has been brain drain to our neighbour.

Clearly, there has always been movement of highly skilled people in and out of a country. If there is brain drain from a particular country, it can scarcely develop. On the other hand, if it can keep its talents and successfully attract its skilled citizens to return as well as foreign talents to come, it will prosper.

Anonymous said...

I have always seen Mahathir as a personification of all that is evil? An overkill description but then if you put down the damage he has done to democracy than you would understand.

He suppressed press freedom, emasculated the judiciary, abhorred free speech, detained his opponents under the ISA, and made the entire police force and judges to his pet poodle.

The country lost billions of ringgit under him. Never forget how he humiliated Anwar. His own Umno ministers feared him and never dared question his opinions and views.
Print and electronic media never had one critical word about him.

He was made into a demi-God. He was a virtual dictator.

Now he talks with his second tongue because he is despised by his party. He is actually a nobody that even the Proton management ignores him. He deserves even a more severe ignominious treatment and an exit to hell.

Looks like we are pouring too much adulation on Mahathir for the Twin Tower, MSC, highway etc. Any PM worth his salt would have done them as Malaysia had to progress with the rest of the world. With the money we had in the coffers, it was possible to implement all these programs.

But look at his colossal failures - tangible and non-tangible. He dismantled all democratic institutions and the rule of law! He lost billions in countless business ventures and megalomaniac dreams.

If he had been a good PM as some claim him to be, then the present PM would have had no difficulty taking over the reins.

Today Pak Lah is running hither and because Mahathir did not lay a strong democratic foundation for its continuation. The transition would have been smooth had Mahathir been a "good" PM.

Remember Mahathir was No 1, No 2 and No 3 in the old government. There was a vacuum left after him. Thus, Pah Lah's current predicament!

National car: Did you know that we are subsidizing a corporation's immature venture overseas? Did you know that Proton costs dirt cheap in London? How is it ever possible that our Malaysia living standards can increase when we are subsidizing Proton, and indirectly, the British?

MSC: A good idea, but lacks implementation. Our International Advisory Panel said so, and surprisingly, what was done and what was the result? They are still saying we lack the manpower and most of the knowledge workers here! Why?

Highways: If we didn't use the money on the white elephants in mega projects, perhaps we will be driving toll-free roads today?

Ketuanan Melayu and Islamization will go hand in hand and surely this cannot be a good ingredient into to take - "the nation to great heights in terms of achievement and prosperity, well respected and a choice destination for business, education, holidays and immigration".

Mahathir was telling half the truth when he said he tried for 22 years but failed to change the malays crutch-dependent mindset.

The truth is the malays mindset is firmly rooted to NEP, and he is correct on that score. But did he change the malays mindset during his term? He shed his crocodile tears, yes; but changing the mindset of malays, no.

He should in fact be credited or more appropriately discredited for making the malays formed their present crutch-dependent mindset. He used his book "The Malay Dilemma" for political advancement.

During Mahathir regime, NEP has gone perverted. Malay millionaires and billionaires were created through monopoly and state funds.

NEP should have ended after it has run its course in 1990, but Mahathir did not end the NEP. He did not bother to end NEP just because NEP protected his political interests. He left it as a baggage for Pak Lah.

Pak Lah claimed to do the right thing, to be PM for all communities. He cannot deliver because he cannot be what he said he wanted to be if the NEP hangs over his head. What was worst was his son-in-law had supported the position of that keris welding imbecile.

Was this a plan to make Pak Lah look weak? I wonder.

Mahathir could have changed the malays mindset had he wanted to, by being fair to non-malays in ending the NEP during his regime. He did not.

He created enough problems for the country. Today per capita GDP of Malaysians is only one-sixth of that of Singaporeans.

When the oil and gas run dry in this Malaysia in two decades, our Malaysia per capita GDP will at best be better than Burma, although some of the government companies CEOs might still travel around in helicopters.

Mahathir should of course continue to voice his views, since Malaysians have freedom of speech, but nothing said about freedom after the speech!

Authoritarian government carries a huge risk if the goals and objectives for the country and her ordinary people are not achieved. Ordinary people will suffer for many generations to come as a result of failures and losses e.g. Indonesia, Laos and many African countries.

Anonymous said...

Teoh Heng Teong is a very egoistic associate professor. He is shallow no doubt but would like to appear as a Mr Know ALL professor of sports science. He can't even managed the health of his family members, especially his son who is grotesquely obese.