Friday, November 25, 2005

Universiti Malaya: Old Issues Revisited

I was trawling through a fair bit of archived articles (actually researching for another post), when I found an article I filed which I thought should be revisited.

During the Dr Terence Gomez saga, when the University Malaya (UM) vice-chancellor "forced" the resignation of Dr Gomez by refusing to grant Dr Gomez unpaid leave to pursue a short-term assignment with the United Nations, there were many parties who spoke in support of Dr Gomez.

Surprisingly, one of the most vocal parties was the Universiti Malaya academic staff union (PKAUM). The following are excerpts from a news article in Malaysiakini, entitled "Academic staff speak out on issues ailing UM".
Speaking on behalf of the [PKAUM]... Rosli Mahat mentioned three specific issues which ail the nation's oldest university, namely inconsistencies in the promotion of academic personnel, tampering of students' grades and alleged misappropriation of funds in its residential housing development programme.
Promotion Irregularities
"In the instance of promotion exercise, through our own investigations we have discovered irregularities at many levels of the process. As employees of the university and members of the academia, we are extremely disappointed in this situation and wish to see it remedied immediately, not least to change the demoralising atmosphere felt (at work) at the moment."
This allegation is not new, nor is it unique. There have been many cases of such accusations for the past year. The Deputy Dean of the Law Faculty of Universiti Malaya, Assoc Prof Azmi Shahrom has, in a published article called for greater openness in the academics promotion process. What lends credibility to the allegations is that there is clearly no transparency in the promotion exercises at this point of time as the resumes of the relevant academics are not openly published.

Grades Tampering
"As academics, it is solely within our purview to decide the grades which students deserve. However, there have been instances in the UM where the final grades have been altered, without the knowledge of the lecturer concerned. Some of these
grades have even been 'boosted' by 15%. This is a serious problem in the institution at the moment."
Once again, this very serious allegation appears to have been public knowledge and there hasn't been any concrete denials of such practices by the authorities (not that I've heard of anyway). Dr Terence Gomez himself highlighted this issue in a separate interview with Malaysiakini, and I've blogged on it in my post "How to Lower Standards at Our Universities".

Misappropriation of Funds - Corruption?
"The budget for residential housing development is separate from that of the university, and is therefore not subject to audit and scrutiny. Therein lies the problem; we have valid concerns and evidence of discrepancies in the budget allocation process in this area, which can go undetected due to this difference in the administrative structure."
Despite having submitted letters of complaints highlighting the above grouses to the Minister of Higher Education, the vice-chancellor himself and even to the Anti-Corruption Agency, there has been no response from the relevant authorities throughout the past few years. Apparently, even a request to meet the honourable Kapten Datuk Professor Dr Hashim has not been entertained. If the UM staff academic union is unable to set an appointment to see their own vice-chancellor, I really wonder, who is able to.

Given the current controversy around the academic standards of University Malaya, I thought it will be useful to raise these issues again, as I've not seen any progressive or positive developments on the above. Instead, all that have happened to date is that Professor Rosli Mahat has been issued with a "show-cause" letter from the vice-chancellor for his support to Dr Terence Gomez during the Gomez controversy.

These are accusations not made by some poorly-informed disenchanted students, but from many respected academic staff of the university itself. I expect these accusations to warrant at the very least, an open investigation to determine their validity.

The Minister of Higher Education, Datuk Dr Shafie Salleh has openly requestedin parliament to "bagi saya chance" last month. I am certain, we would all like to know exactly what positive steps or measures he has taken to address the above allegations which were raised some 6 months ago. Only then, should we decide whether to "bagi [Datuk Dr Shafie] chance".


Anonymous said...

There are so many obvious wrong doings in UM, all at the expense of the taxpayers’ money. Does the current VC worry about them? Of course not. He had dealt with Syed Hussein Alatas before and he knows he is smart and cunning enough to survive, as long as he is politically correct and submits to Umnoputras' wishes.

He will continue to suppress the citizens of UM and cow them to submission. We can all blog till the cows come home and our Captain Dato' Prof VC will carry on as usual. That's the way we do things in Malaysia - ride through the minor hiccups, as people forget.

Anonymous said...

I read with consternation the recent development in Malaysian politics. To be sure, the problems are not new, but the juxtaposition of recent events highlights them more glaringly.

I refer to the letting go of UM professor Dr Gomez by the university vice-chancellor and the subsequent rehiring of him by the prime minister. I also refer to the ambiguity surrounding the 247 students studying at Crimea State Medical University in Ukraine.

The common thread between these two events is that there doesn't seem to be a strict protocol or a set of guidelines or standards for decisions made by the authority. The decisions are made on an ad-hoc basis and can just as easily be made null and void due to political exigencies. If there are rules, then they are not adhered to.

Only in a few instances will political expedience coincide with the people's interest. More often than not, the people are taken for a ride. How the government make its own decision is a proverbial black hole.

There is no transparency in granting scholarships or Approved Permits; housing projects are approved on restricted land; increasing toll charges with the duration of concession extended without consultation, the list goes on and on.

If bureaucrats have the power to arbitrarily grant and rescind favours, then this creates the perfect condition for graft, corruption and nepotism which will further lead to money politics and the degrading of standards.

If Pak Lah is serious about stamping out money politics and restoring the government's credibility, he must demand proper accountability from every branch of his government. If there is any impropriety, the head that is responsible must be reprimanded or replaced without partiality. And most of all, he must lead by setting an example himself.

In order to have accountability, there must first be transparency - who makes the decisions, and what are the rationales. If every decision they make are scrutinised, then all the bureaucrats will be more circumspect and less cavalier with the people's plights and rights.

Anonymous said...

In the globalize world, it's amazing that there still exist segregation, enjoying all kind of free subsidies, while their fellow brothers and sisters have to pay their own way.

It is sad for someone who is an academician has this kind of mentality. The nation cannot prosper with this archaic thought.

Be like me, never buy or even bother reading Malaysian newspaper. Who cares anyway? Each year more and more experts from Malaysia emigrating to other countries leaving morons behind. That's the fact.

To me, I think there is never an issue or question whatsoever to have good Malaysian students (bumis or non-bumis) in the UiTM or Utar or whatever. They should be admitted because they are good students and by being present there, they will serve to improve and increase the quality and standard of education in these institutions. World-class higher institution of learning takes many decades to become one.

Race is never an issue here. I think only these BN based politicians would like to "cooperate" from times to times to highlight the issue.

Wake up.

I pity PM Badawi, he is better off hiring some zookeepers for his administration.

Anonymous said...

Many Malaysians working in the Singapore regard the meritocracy and equality is on ideal level.

There are also those who experienced discrimination due to difference on nationality and race. Overall, Singapore has better image than our country.

Brain drain is inevitable when we have unequal or unfair treatment of a group of people regarded as different from the ruling group. It is tantamount to banishing them to second-class citizen, except that it was at acceptable level.

This preferential treatment inadvertently segregated the citizens although it started with noble notion of creating equality in terms of economic parity. Unfortunately, this system has since been abused.

When the mistreated felt that they "do not belong" to the country, loyalty becomes secondary importance.

There are also many factors contributing to brain drain not only unbalanced policy. As the standard of living in Malaysia is rising but our economic income is stagnant, this has forced many to venture overseas to find money.

There are also many who studied abroad refuse to return home as the condition of better job prospects, better life in foreign countries and earning power is more appealing than here.

On the first step to rectify this discrepancy is to eradicate corruption and the abused NEP. I believe the effect would be great.

The NEP has nurtured malay businessmen under the government umbrella - very different from the law of the forest that prevails in the actual business world. This has made them less viable in times of harsh economic conditions. Except for a few, the NEP has failed to cultivate malay businessmen in the acquisition of responsibilities, business skills and attitudes.

If the NEP fails or have not achieve its objectives after more than 20 years, it is not the people fault but the government.

Look at how only some have always benefited. Seems like there may be some who will hide behind the reasons of NEP to grow even wealthier while the real target people of NEP existence remains more-or-less status quo.

Summary: Affimative action is a negative sum in the end. In the end everyone loses.

There is nothing equal in Singapore but rather a carefully projected image of a decent society where harmony and equality are abundant to be seen everywhere.

Opinions are good but too much negative will only consume you. From now, lets change our attitude of whining but instead voice out a solution of your own.

Anonymous said...

Well, here is one for you if you think that economic grounds is the only reason for many to migrate.

I will be leaving this country within the next one year.

If you must know, currently I am earning a five figure salary, living in a luxury condo in the heart of KL, own another landed property in Bangsar and have two kids who are three and five respectively. I also have a maid, who for a mere RM400 a month, helps my wife to look after the home and kids.

Yes, I will be migrating to the land of the white-man soon. And guess what, I don't even have a job to go to yet in this white-man's land. But you know something? It doesn't matter to me as I know that with my skills, I can get a job there if I look in the right places.

They do not ask me if I am Muslim or a bumiputera before giving me a job. All they look at is my CV which speaks for itself. And I don't need to be connected to a 'Dato'.

I wouldn't even mind taking up a lower level job as long as I can look after my family and at the same time give my kids the option of a better and fairer future. There is no guarantee that my kids will become doctors or scientists. But merely knowing that they have a fair option is more then enough for my family to decide to take this giant step to uproot.

My lifestyle in this white-man's land will definitely be different. But just as I had strived for 10 years in Malaysia to create my wealth from nothing at all, what is there to stop me from doing it all over again? In fact with the same effort, I should be much better off.

To put it bluntly, I am prepared to take the risk of emigration at the age of 38 with my family 'on tow'. The question arises - why should a person in my capacity want to leave when I have all that a person can wish for?

should stop looking with malice at people like me who make a choice to migrate for the betterment of our family's future. He might want to do a proper study on how much Malaysia stands to lose from skilled people leaving this country simply because they have had enough of it.

Please crawl out of your tempurung and look around at the amount of money that is being wasted in this country to make the well-connected bumis rich. They have nothing to complain about as the government is prepared to give you anything even when in many cases you might not deserve it.

If you want to talk about fairness, then look at the titles that have been given to bumis who had not done much at all. The round-the-world sailor who had to be assisted by the Royal Malaysian Air Force with an expenditure of about a million ringgit and the swimmer whose feat is not accredited by organisations monitoring English Channel crossings.

What about the first Malaysians to make it up Mount Everest, where are their 'Dato' titles? Perhaps a title for the medical student who recently crossed the English channel in almost half the time of the former 'hero'?

I know of bumi students in Universiti Malaya. I know them well. You see, I didn't get the chance to do a proper science course locally and had to struggle to fund my overseas education by begging and borrowing.

You might also want to find out the real reason why the 128 students were not given medical seats in local universities even though they had very high scores. Are you saying that these students are inferior to the matriculation students?

Do you know the pains of studying in order to score excellent results in the STPM? Please, feel free to furnish me facts so that poor souls like me would be convinced that the policies of this country are just and fair.

If you have ever heard of the simple saying, "Give a man a fish, he eats for a day, teach him how to fish and he eats for a lifetime," you will realise that many non-bumis have learned how to fish but the government is still handing out fishes to the bumis. One day the fish will run out.

Anonymous said...

I read noneedname letter and immediately told my wife that it felt like I was looking into a mirror. You see, my family and I have, like noneedname and his family, decided to leave Malaysia.

Certainly, it is my belief that if I do not take my family out of this country, I will continue to subject my child, and her children after her, to the continuing injustice of this contract. I often thought the new administration under our new prime minister presents new hopes for fairer treatment.

just as the previous PM was an exciting breath of fresh air some 22 years ago but proved so putrid much later on, I feel I cannot subject my child and her children after her, to the same risk. That risk being that this PM too, may abandon fresh hopes for justice in exchange for immediate gains to himself, his family, his supporters and his race.

I had the chance of a quick brush with a young man, who represents the future of the ruling party.

He was trying to explain what went wrong in respect of the many who could not be given places to study medicine in local universities, despite scoring top marks. He thought it had something to do with the fact that the assessment procedures were totally academic, and as academic capabilities of students reached a plateau where many scored top marks, another dimension needed to be introduced, to further differentiate these talents.

This was necessary as there were simply not enough places for medicine in local universities as more and more scored top marks. I kept very quiet as he did his quick discourse.

I thought it was painfully obvious the shortage of places came about principally because there was a backdoor through which many entered and took up seats. While many more scored top marks in STPM than before, many continue to gain entry without having to.

If a bright, very well-educated, articulate young man espoused thoughts which totally ignored the fundamental injustice of our system, what future does our country hold?

If this is future prime minister material, then I really feel people like noneedname and I are doing the right thing by taking our children out. Bright people may not be just people. No matter how bright and well-educated our future leaders are, if they choose to continue to hold on to an obviously unjust system, we cannot subject our children's future to these leaders.

My father did not have the opportunity to leave. I now have to pay the price of starting anew - abandoning a secured and well-paid job - so that my child escapes the injustice.

Am I enjoying life here in KL? You bet. Like noneedname, my wife and I draw incomes for lifestyles too painful to sacrifice. Yet, if we choose to be concerned only with our own job security and comfortable lifestyles, our child may one day be faced with the decision I now face.

What if she does not have the same opportunity to leave for another country? I feel I must leave now, while the window remains open.

Anonymous said...

Many of my family and friends were top scorers in their respective classes and schools and many were from some of the best schools in the country. But when my eldest brother and his friends applied to local universities, almost none of them got their choice of courses.

When it came to my turn in the mid 1980s, I was already prepared to go overseas and did not even attempt to apply to local varsities. But many top scorers I knew not only did not get the courses of their choice, they were given courses that was beneath their intelligence.

A person capable of being a doctor was asked to go into agriculture. A person who wanted to do law was asked to study social science. A person who wanted to do economics was asked to do education.

In a number of cases I am personally aware of, those who also had appealed against not being given their choice of course were scolded by officers of the Education Ministry for ‘being ungrateful’.

This is the hidden story that has not been told supposedly due to our ‘social bargain’. There is no doubt in my mind there was near-fascist thinking within the Education Ministry for a number of years. My own personal guess is that it is still happening.

How is it possible that given the severe shortage of doctors in this country, only 779 places are available for medical studies in public universities? How is it possible that given the expansion of the number of hospitals in this country - both public and private - there has been not anything even near a corresponding increase in medical students intake?

My family and friends have almost all moved overseas and have not looked back since our school days. Many of us ended becoming IT engineers and doctors.

When we tell our growing children of the things we went through, they are aghast. As much as they suffer discrimination in our adopted countries, they are horrified when they discover the things that went on in Malaysian - and are still going on.

Anonymous said...

The foul play of meritocracy system only can fool the people in a confined environment but not in today's competitive globalization market place. The "blind" attitude has to be changed.

If you are not really selecting the best from the people, then your team can always remain the most as a mediocre one. The so called "among the blind nation, the one eyed man is the king" applies.

You just do not have the competitive edge in the global market. Meanwhile the good woods are flowing out of the country and let our competitors to use them against our advantage.

That explains why 80000 graduates are unemployed. Degree is simply a product of a rubber stamp work. When you do not have the materials, whatever name you have equates to zero.

It is a joke when the graduates are sent back for retraining of how to use a computer, how to speak English, how to learn good manners for interview. When could these people wake up!

The IT graduates are mediocre in their computer works; most of the government websites are poorly maintained such that PM Badawi at one time was so angry about it. The banking system; just a few months ago in the paper, a small branch manager of a bank in Masjid Tanah Melaka could siphon out RM16 millions from the depositors over a couple of year. The bank only knew that when a depositor could not withdraw his own money.

What a system and what a joke! That is the type of our accountants trained under default meritocracy system. There are countless similar examples.

If we still do not wake up and continue to waste our time and energy in this kind of unproductive prejudice i.e. default meritocracy system, we will be thrown out far behind others.

As time goes on, the difference will be exponential as we can see today we can't afford even to hire our own experts back if we want to.

Anonymous said...

In the 1980s, Dr Mahathir was asked for his comment on why large numbers of professional Chinese Malaysians emigrated, while Chinese Malaysian students in developed countries preferred to remain there instead of coming home to serve their country.

He replied matter-of-factly that if he were to open the doors of 'this country' wide, there would be more than enough qualified people to replace all those brains which had left.

But if the writer thinks the government may review its policy to facilitate the return of non-bumi Malaysian professionals from abroad in large numbers, think again.

The Malaysian government is not interested in the country - with its rich natural resources - reaching a developed nation status through the collective efforts of non-bumi brains.

In this scenario of prosperity, the bumis would be presumably left out. Mahathir had made it clear on many occasions that Malaysia could be as successful as Singapore, perhaps 100 times more so, as Malaysia has a lot of natural resources compared to Singapore - a barren little island.

But why should Malaysia embark on such a course if the bumis are left behind while others, presumably the non-bumis become prosperous?

The thinking of Umno leaders like Mahathir is that it is better for Malaysia to be backward and inefficient as long as the bumis benefit rather than for it to be prosperous and achieve a developed nation status, where others prosper but the bumis lag behind.

Umno leaders have always maintained that Malaysia is a Muslim country and non-bumis who are non-muslims should be thankful for what they are getting.

They are even prepared to discriminate in favour of Indonesian and other immigrants against non-bumis if such a move can accentuate Malaysia's ethnic bumi features.

That is why Umno continues to divide the races into bumis and non-bumis and reinforces the muslim/non-muslim divide.

The world may have changed through globalisation, to the extent that global pressure helped to end the racist apartheid regime in South Africa 10 years ago. But this did not make Umno give up its racist policies. On the contrary, there are indications that such racist policies are being reinforced.

Anonymous said...

Yes, it is a problem to Malaysia. The Big Brain Drain.

Sure, opportunities are plentiful, but not for everyone. Until and unless there is a level-playing field, many non-resident Malaysians will be reluctant to return.

Based on the recent intention of the government to attract Malaysian experts from abroad to return home, it is obvious there has been a brain drain, which has been detrimental to the economy of Malaysia.

I doubt very much if the government can succeed in reversing this trend if they do not remove the policies, which caused the emigration in the first place.

In short, we are a divided country living in harmony along racial and religious divides. Is this the multi-racial society we are proud to present to the world?

Immigration and emigration are part of the dynamics of an evolving society. People will continue to migrate from time to time. Look at the positive side of it all. Who knows I or my children might migrate to China! It's a nice place after all.

You have a larger issue in going to a foreign land for your children to find their place and identity. You choose to look to the future, so seize it and take responsibility.

Like any building, we are works in progress. Without the strong foundation of where we came from, there will always be questions as to where we are going.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately the prime minister of the last 22 years, Dr Mahathir, has mixed politics into every aspect of our civil life. The privatisation of public utilities and transport, the management of Proton, Petronas, Malaysian Airlines, banks and the Renong have all been influenced by Malaysian politics.

As a result we, the people in the last 22 years have inherited a rotten education system with more than 60 percent of ethnic Chinese in Chinese-type schools and a substantial number of malays in Sekolah Agama Rakyat or private Islamic-type schools.

A system where one group is taxed for the benefit of another group will only work if the tax payers feel that the tax beneficiaries are selected on the basis of economic need, nothing else. As a proud tax payer, I know that taxation is necessary for the maintenance of the social contract.

The poor in Malaysia must be served but I am sure all taxpayers feel that this should be done in a manner which is blind to age, ethnicity, gender and religion.

Our government is filled with people who do not fundamentally understand economics and the forces of free market and capitalism. They think they do, but they don't.

Many of them have grown rich under the NEP which they think has not hurt anyone and hence they think that free markets, market forces and open competition is something that can be tamed.

For those that come from a poor background, the situation seems almost impossible as their rich neighbours only seem to keep on being rich. This is because the rich are always fewer in number while the poor are many.

The Malaysian problem is that rich do become richer. And because of the political system, the players are the same.

Out of control - this is all I can say about any type of enforcement and the level of corruption in Malaysia. No idea what Pak Lah has done in his first year in office but judging from the ground, I guess nothing much.

There is still concentration of power in the prime minister's position, a practice inherited from Dr Mahathir.

There is still a lack of urgency and political will to tackle corruption. Many cases involving politicians are still pending while new cases do not seem to get the attention of the Anti-Corruption Agency for reasons best known to them.

The law enforcement which was once among the best of Southeast Asia is now reportedly the most corrupt government agency in Malaysia. The judiciary, once also respected in the region and the world is now not a respected place where Malaysians can find justice.

And just like his predecessor, he is not living up to his slogan. In fact as home minister, he is not such a nice guy after all.

Anonymous said...

Citizens of Malaysia, be you bumiputra (as long as not Umnoputra) or nonbumiputra, it’s time to wake up, the earlier the better, and realize that the mother of all problems in Malaysia is not caused by ordinary citizens but by Umnoputras, who have insatiable greed for power and money, and hence must divide this country by race and rule. It’s their insatiable greed that is ruining Malaysia, including our education system and universities. The struggle in Malaysia is not between bumiputras and nonbumiputras, but between Umnoputras and the rest, inclusive of bumiputras and nonbumiputras.

Yes, as long as we have political parties based on race (e.g., UMNO, MCA, MIC, etc.), don’t ever hope for equality of different ethnic groups because that’s the end of racial politics in Malaysia, especially UMNO. So the rich and powerful Umnoputras will ensure that the national policies will favour the Malays and they will exploit the national policies for themselves and their families to become filthy richer and richer.

Look around us and see what happened to the multimillion wetland project at the heartland of Umnoputra, Putrajaya? What about Invent Qjaya? What about MUST, a collaboration between Ehsan Foundation and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)? What about Proton? What about MAS? What about the money meant for the poorest of the poor? Who sucked off the money? Nonbumiputras or Umnoputras?

For those who plan to move away, pray go with all our blessings. Good luck. There is nothing to be sad about for this country does not even value you. Go and give your children a chance to breath true freedom and justice. Don’t ever thought of coming back for there is not much pleasant things to return to, even if the government invites you back.