Monday, January 16, 2006

UPM: Top 80 By 2010

The year has started with many loud and bold proclamations in our press. You would have followed the boast of some self-endorsed multibillionaire who promised to donate some RM1 billion to the National Cancer Fund (MAKNA), of which I'm also a donor.

Then, I also read in the New Straits Times that Universiti Putra Malaysia seeks to become a top 80 university in the world in 5 years' time. The newly Universiti Putra Malaysia Vice-Chancellor, Prof Dr Nik Mustapha Raja Abdullah, after the controversial resignation of the previous vice-chancellor, wants world ranking for the institution.
His dream is for UPM to be among the top 80 universities in the world and top 20 in Asia. Nik Mustapha said these were attainable using the institution’s eight-point plan that began in 2000 and ends in 2010.
The new vice-chancellor went on to boast that "62 per cent of our 2,400 academic staff have doctoral degrees. Seventy-five per cent of our graduates gained employment upon completing their studies."

I'm really not sure if the above numbers are anything to be proud of. Maybe Kian Ming will have a better idea - as he's more of an academic than I am :-). However, if only 75% of UPM graduates "gained employment" upon completing their studies, that actually means that UPM is contributing some 3,000 graduates annually to the unemployment pool!

I would suggest that the new vice-chancellor set more realistic targets to be achieved within the next 5 years instead of one which is meant to please his political master. We have already seen how the vice-chancellor of Malaysia's premier university fall flat on his face in the rankings debacle at the end of last year, so we really do not need another "leading" university in the country to perform another stunt like that.

More interestingly, he announced in the Star that "I will continue with the policies of my predecessor Prof Datuk Dr Mohd Zohadie Bardaie." This however, begs quite a few questions. If the policies of the predecessor is worthy of continuation, why did the Minister of Higher Education, Datuk Dr Shafie Salleh choose to have him "removed"? In addition, would a continuation of the previous vice-chancellor's policies help UPM achieve a top 80 ranking in the world university's league?

UPM is celebrating it's 75th anniversary this year, and it appears that the vice-chancellor is taking a leaf of the book of his peer, Datuk Kapten Professor Dr Hashim Yaakob, who launched in a grand scale Universiti Malaya's centennial celebrations last year.

The new vice-chancellor plans to build a new clock tower, estimated to cost RM1mil, will be built on the campus, near the administrative building.
“We hope to have the ground breaking ceremony during the official launch... Tiles will be sold to the public. Students will pay RM75 for each tile to be placed on the clock tower while staff members and alumni will pay RM175 and corporate sponsors RM1,075.”
I am brimming with confidence about the new leadership in UPM already.

Prof Dr Nik Mustapha Raja Abdullah's contract runs out at the end of 2008, a year or so before 2010. Maybe if UPM doesn't achieve the remarkable Top 80 rankings, the blame can be placed squarely on the next vice-chancellor.


Collin Michael Nunis said...

Its very obvious that the reasons are political. I personally believed that Zohadie was good but then again, the Ministry of Higher Education does whatever it can to ensure that the Government is smiling always.

But then again, why the waste of funds now?! RM 1 mil can help do more things... How educational is a clocktower?

Well, its only fair that they have a goal to achieve globally but I don't think that the factors given will constitute for a top 80 ranking. Whats the point of having PhDs when an estimated 3000 people are still jobless?!

However skeptical we may be on this, we wish UPM the best and lets hope they will start a winning streak, thus putting UM to shame.

Anonymous said...

collin_nunis: A nice environment facilitates education - look at top schools in the US and UK, they aren't dominated with bleak, featureless industrial buildings.

However, there are better ways to spend that RM1mil if the student environment needs to be changed. For one, better room and board - most of a student's private time would be spent there. A little further outside a room is the lavatory and showers - very, very Malaysian there.

If the clock tower does look pretty, which I doubt, it would be a general waste because it's besides generally bleak, unkempt eye sores. Especially the residential colleges - all of KL's newest high-rise slums [a.k.a government-built flats] look better than the newer residential halls in our public unis.

Kian Ming said...

I'll just comment on one of the new VC's remarks. While 62% of academic staff having PhDs is a decent number for a university in a developing country, it is still miles behind any decent foreign university. Like I've said before, any academic in the top 500 univerisities in the US will have a PhD - that's 100% for the top 500. It's probably the same in the top schools in the UK, Canada and Australia. Hopefully, in his 8 point plan, the new VC has something in there about raising this % to something close to 100%. But the % of academics with PhDs is not the only significant figure for a university like UPM (or any other local university for that matter). The numbers can easily by boosted internally by giving out PhDs to prospective students and then hiring them back again. I would also want to examine the % of academics with PhDs that have come from non-Malaysian institutions. If close to 100% of these academics have PhDs from local institutions, I would think twice before according a world class status to these institutions.

XXX said...

Hm... seems like UM has some competition, with UPM and Wawasan Open University all peldging to improve themselves. Im wondering how come Billboard Hashim has yet to issue anything in defense.

However, we should all be realistic. 5 years is too short a timeframe to achieve much, especially in bolehland. Personally I doubt any Malaysian university would be in the top 100 ranking on the THES by that time... maybe not even in the top 200... :D

Dr Mohd Zohadie Bardaie is actually a very qualified man. I wonder how come he is still staying there to teach, as he could (or probably had) easily receive job offers from abroad, considering he did his PhD at Cornell.

Anonymous said...

Yes, our local universities do not have 100% of academic staff with phd. HOwever, we need to be considerate and give them a timeline to achieve the 100% mark.

75% UPM graduates gained employment UPON completing their studies doesn't mean that UPM is contributing thousands of unemployed graduates annually. The market is competitive and we need to allow time (again) for ALL students to be hired. Hope you understand the meaning of "upon completing studies" here. The problem with unemployment is not the only problem of the university and students. We have many other factors such as the economy factor and of course employers themselves.

We want local uni to be realistic but we ourselves have never done so except complaining all the time.

I don't believe the education system is ever going to change because everyone: the government, the oppositions, the schools, the parents and the public have their own agenda.

Howsy said...

I can't believe that UPM is robbing students' money to build white elephants. Aren't the 'LRT Station' (K10 to Eng. Faculty), the 'Titanic' (security control) and the 'hanging bridge' sufficient enough already?

Anonymous said...

At the end of the day, the politicians and the connected people benefits from this. The students? Gain nothing!

Anonymous said...

While I feel that structure and symbols are meaningful at times (measured against the context), I dont really the importance of having a clock tower in the university.

What UPM has to do with a clock tower?

UPM already has its own unique symbol with its mark on every piece of scrolls issued to the graduates.

It's another form over substance.

Go and have a look at NUS business school website. They have some the best database and computing power in Asia Pacific region.

Spend your budget wisely to improve your students' quality.
Make them marketable!

It's not that we are not being inconsiderate to our UPM, but we feel we need to voice up..

There is this expectation gap between what UPM really is, and what UPM aspires to be!

Spend your budget wisely, and dont burden the students (by asking them for donation).

A Malaysian taxpayer

Anonymous said...

A world class Uni does not need a clock tower. Period.

Anonymous said...

This is a typical mindset of our civil servants: do or build something that invovles a big sum of money. Somewhere along the line, money can be shared.

I hope when the RM 1-million tower is completed later, it looks like a RM million structure and not a half-done structure or a RM400,000 structure.

Excellent target, vision, and mission, the new VC has. Just pray hard that he does not step on the foot of a minister and he remains till the end of his term.

Aim high, shoot straight - soar like an eagle and not end up like a turkey. Try to solve the internal Malay politics first. Good luck!

Anonymous said...

One million Ringgit clock tower ???

What One million ??

Does a clock tower cost that much ??

Smell something !!

ACA must act be proactive from the start!

God saves UPM!

Note : It must be a irony to learn that many primary schools in East and West Malaysia are not even equipped with basic amenities like electricity...

and this UPM wants to build a clock tower..

for what ??

Chen Chow said...

In terms of the 75% of UPM graduates being hired, I would say that we would need to know what is the actual definition of being hired, and when they are being hired. Scenario below would show differently, although they could all be interprated as 75% of graduates being hired.

a) 75% of UPM graduates being hired before they even graduate/ upon graduation.
b) 75% of UPM graduates being hired within 3/6/12 months of graduation (Each of those 3/6/12 months would show their quality)
c) Do those who continue for graduate studies (Master/PhD) counted as part of the 25%?
d) What is the sample size of their evaluation? Most universities release this statistics of percentage graduates hired, based on a survey, and often the participation rate of survey is like 20%, 30%, 50%, 70% etc...and the higher percentage of participation rate would show more accuracy. And an often quoted issue is that those who are unemployed would often choose not to answer the survey by university.

That's my two cents.