Wednesday, November 02, 2005

UM Vice Chancellor: Foot in Mouth Disease

Both Kian Ming and myself have kept ourselves busy in the last couple of days to blog on the crisis our higher education institutions are suffering from, epitomised by Universiti Malaya's dramatic fall, down the world rankings table. What we are trying to do is not to let the issues rest, so that our government leaders will take the necessary actions to remedy the situation. Even if it's not going to be a complete overhaul, any remedial steps taken to rectify the situation will be an invaluable step.

We were just exchanging emails a few days back discussing the various angles which we can blog about for this issue. We were a tad concerned if we can put sufficient spotlight on the state of our public universities in angles interesting enough to keep readers going. But I suppose, we were definitely unduly concerned, for the current vice chancellor of Universiti Malaya (UM) has the affinity to stick his foot in the mouth.

First, he had the immediate response of "I'm not worried", and subsequent to that, after he probably had some time to "digest" the numbers, he held a press conference to claim that UM "has improved" despite the fall in rankings using some warped logic to hoodwink the public, and possibly his "superiors".

Now, to our horror, we have found out from the Star report on the same press conference held on Monday, he expressed "great happiness" that UM was placed among the top 100 universities in three out of five categories and "its improved marks are achievements to be proud of".

One of the first Malay proverbs which I have learnt to use in primary school was "muka tembok", and this is probably one of the most apt adjectives to describe the UM vice-chancellor, Prof Datuk Dr Hashim Yaacob.

Here are some additional quotes for you, and you can decide for yourself if I am being to harsh in my judgement.
Prof Hashim said that “at first glance,” it looked like UM had done badly in this year's ranking but a more thorough study would show that its performance had improved.

The vice-chancellor noted that there were more than 30,000 universities worldwide and UM still managed to be in the top 200. “I want to share my happiness with you that although there are so many universities in the world, we are number 169,” he said, citing other top universities which had dropped by many notches.

Prof Hashim said that while he did not dispute the methodology used for the survey, not all the criteria used were of importance to, or in the interest of, UM. Two examples are the marks given to the percentage of international faculty as well as international students of the university.
As I've demonstrated in my earlier post, the "thorough study" Prof Datuk Dr Hashim did does not show that its "performance improved".

The VC himself have probably lowered further the bar of mediocrity by now saying that "UM still managed to be in the top 200". He might as well have argued that we are still in the top 1,000 universities out of 30,000 in the world! The entire spotlight he has brought unto himself as a result of the rankings debacle, is entirely due to himself. Had he not trumpeted his "achievements" of being 89th in the world that loudly in the past year, the backlash might not have been that fast and furious.

After all, in another reputable rankings table compiled by the Shanghai JiaoTong University (SJTU), UM was not even present in the top 500! And yet, this has received little mention because it has never been highlighted widely. Can the VC answer why UM is not in the top 500 universities of the world consistently since the SJTU rankings were published some 3-4 years ago?

I agree with Prof Datuk Dr Hashim that criteria such as international students may not be that relevant for Malaysian universities, however, it only works out to 5% of the overall score - so it really doesn't explain the dismal performance of the university.

On top of that, I am certain that he knows, if not before, then now, that the reason for UM's "fantastic" performance in the previous year was due to the international students and faculty score for UM which were errorneously compiled by the Times Higher Education Supplement (THES). The fact that he chose to specifically deny knowledge of the error in public reflects the vice-chancellor's intellectual dishonesty and his intent to mislead the public and his superiors. He stated outright that "...he could not explain why UM had dropped so much in the overall rankings when it seemed to have improved in some areas."

While the VC is probably not the smartest academic in town, I would not give him so much credit to be that stupid not to be able to read simple comparative numbers. Make no mistake about it, I believe that the VC is fighting for his academic life and he knows it. He's just hoping that no one else has the sense or the ability to expose his untruths, and the crisis will just blow over with everyone no longer making references to the debacle.

For the moment, we'll just keep writing, particularly on more expected outbreaks of foot in mouth disease from the VC. For those who has been following this blog for a while will note that this was not the first time the VC has been infected. The level of interest on this issue has been fantastic, and we've been receiving record pageviews on this issue, despite having raised them during the weekend and over the public holidays when traffic is typically much lower. Let's all do our little bits to help change our institutions of higher learning for the better.


Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

From the start, THES system of ranking was suspect. I do not seriously think they actually did a detailed analysis of 30,000 universities to come up with the ranking. Its a industry-fluff-mag and hence the indicators they use are superficial and depends on simple fluff mag reporting. Such a system of ranking can only lead to, as you point out previously, serious consideration for the top ranks only. Those below certain rank like 50 might as well be 1,000 place.

The UM VC is an anachronism - a leftover of Dr.M era - a way that we all know cannot continue or we would not all be cheering for AAB last election and now dissapointed that things are moving too slowly. This UM VC more than even Dr. M condemns our youth to mediocrity and taking away opportunities from the deserving. Frankly at this point, just about any idiot could do better than him at his job. He is a liability to the UM and to himself. Like Samy, Rafidah and this guy has to go.

Anonymous said...

Unless the present UM VC who has not got the slightest clue as to the reasons for UM's downfall is given the boot and replaced by someone more academically inclined, UM's days as a premier university in this region are numbered. Just look at the importance he gives to his academic qualifications; he writes his name starting with his navy title of Captain, followed by the Datok and last of all the Professor title. He gives the tiniest significance to the academic title. The reasons he gives for the downfall are all crap.

Dear PM, please replace him as soon as possible and stop the rot.

Howsy said...

Perhaps the straight As student in its Medical Faculty should tell the admin and VC that they are suffering from Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Read more about the disorder here:

Pak Lah calls for more R&D in cancer research. Yes, besides the ‘cancers’ in his cabinet, other disorders like this and the Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) as shown by our beloved Jerai MP recently should not be neglected.

I urge all brainy straight As doctors out there to help care for the deteriorating conditions of our officials and MPs.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if this little piece f sh*t will still say "I want to share my happiness with you that although there are so many universities in the world, we are number 1069" in the next 5 years?

Anonymous said...

"I want to share my happiness with you that although there are so many universities in the world, we are number 1069" in the next 5 years?

Sends chill down my spine indeed. Is analogous to saying look I didnt get the last in class so I am ok compared to those who did worse than me YAYYYY.