Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Wawasan University vs Universiti Malaya

I wrote about Wawasan Open University College (OUC) a while back while commenting on political universities. Well, the Parti Rakyat Gerakan Malaysia (Gerakan) sponsored OUC will start enrolling students by September this year.

It is announced as Malaysia's first private but non-profit open distance learning institution for working adults who did not have the opportunity to pursue tertiary education. As reported by the Star on the 6th Jan,
The university college's vice-chancellor Datuk Prof Emeritus Gajaraj Dhanarajan said the university would provide opportunities for some nine million working adults who have had less than 11 years of schooling. “Homemakers who wish to improve themselves are also welcome,” he added.
Wawasan OUC will initially have three faculties – Science and Technology, Business and Administration and Foundation Studies – offering 11 degree programmes. The OUC is based at Homestead, a heritage building designed in 1919 and donated by the Yeap Chore Ee Charitable Trust and the Yeap Chor Ee Endowment Trust.

What's interesting is not so much the opening of this new university but in the subsequent comments by the current President of Gerakan, Datuk Seri Lim Keng Yaik. Apparently, he was responding to some unreported scepticism or criticism with regards to "open university" type degrees.
Many people who do not understand the concept of open universities have the misconception that they are offering second-class degrees, Gerakan president Datuk Seri Dr Lim Keng Yaik said. He said these people were sceptical how students could study without entering university.
He justified his argument by comparing itself to the Open University of the United Kingdom, which was apparently ranked 5th best in Great Britain. Datuk Seri Dr Lim went further to proclaim that Wawasan OUC will overtake Universiti Malaya in terms of quality within 5 short years!
“Give us five years to put Wawasan in front of Universiti Malaya (UM) which presumably is the country’s best university. That will be our benchmark,” he said.
Not surprisingly, Parliamentary Opposition Leader, Sdr Lim Kit Siang interpreted the above remark as a major slight (or even contempt?) on the premier university in Malaysia. In fact, I would go further as to argue that it's a major slight on all existing institutions of higher learning in Malaysia.
If a new University College can talk about besting the nation’s premier university, which had only recently celebrated its centennial, in a matter of five years in terms of quality and academic excellence, what does it say about University of Malaya?

If the best of the 17 public universities is held in such low esteem by the Barisan Nasional top movers and shakers, what does it say about the quality and standards of the other 16 public universities (with another one, the 18th university, already in the pipeline) and the tertiary education system in the country?
To be fair, I think Datuk Seri Dr Lim may have displayed a little youthful over-exuberence in his remarks and challenge.

Firstly, I'm unaware of the survey which has placed Open University as 5th in Great Britain. Both the surveys which I refer to (The Times and Guardian) for the ranking of universities in the United Kingdom do not place Open University. It's unplaced not so much because it is not a quality institution, but because comparing the Open University to other traditional universities is like comparing apples to oranges. To quote the Times Good University Guide:
The Open University, though Britains biggest university, with 75,000 students, could not be included because most of the measures used in our listing do not apply to it.
And rightly so. As stated by Wawasan OUC's vice-chancellor, it target the nation's 9 million working adults with less than 11 years of formal education as well as homemakers. With a major difference in entrance requirements as well as methods of instruction and delivery, it will be impossible to gauge the standards of the two universities sensibly.

Secondly, 5 years is an extremely short time to deliver the best of education quality. With all due respect to the academics and administrators at Wawasan OUC, but Datuk Seri Dr Lim may have just set an impossible bar for the university to meet to match itself against an institutions with some 30,000 students and faculties numbering hundreds.

But that is the problem with politicians attempt to join the fray in the setting up of universities and colleges. Political upmanship comes into play and the rightful objectives of the institutions are often bent towards meeting political objectives, instead of a complete 100% focus on delivering quality education irrespective of political, social, racial and economic backgrounds and opinions.

Maybe, Tun Dr Ling Liong Sik or Datuk Seri Ong Ka Ting will like to join the fray by rubbishing Datuk Seri Dr Lim's claims and declare Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman (UTAR) as the rightful No. 1 university in Malaysia in 3 years' time? :-)


Anonymous said...

I congratulate LKY and his Open University team for having such a bold target – to overtake UM in 5 (or maybe more) years to be the top ONE in Malaysia. Well done!

This target can be achieved because UM is definitely on the decline, exponentially as well. UM may have a lot of professors now (Do you know the darling wife of the current UM VC has just been promoted to a full professor after having relocted herself to UM for only a short time from another public university, where she served for a long time and was not a full professor? UM boleh, UM lebih senang, or nepotism in action?) but does UM have a good academic record?

In fact all our public universities are in deep shit in terms of academic performance. It will not take a privately funded university long to overtake all our public universities if its management is committed to consider quality and meritocracy as the guiding principle, irrespective of ethnic groups, and employ both Malaysians and nonMalaysians of high calibre as its staff. Promote a culture of excellence and do not sacrific quality for quantity. Do not set up a university with the aim of taking lots and lots of students and squeezing them to make money. There are many well trained Malaysians all over the world willing to help to build such a quality academic institution. Grow slowly but grow towards excellence!

So, I believe it is possible for a new university to overtake the existing public universities.

I sincerely hope that the Gerakan team does not make the mistakes of the MCA and MIC teams – setting up universities to cater for the masses and sacrificing quality, at the end of which we have lots of unemployable graduates!

clk said...

I'm graduated from the OpenU in the UK. In terms of the "top 5 ranking", LKY probably misused a Sept2003 report which states the OU was ranked top 5 in terms of teaching in the Sunday Times University Guide 2003.

The OU is usually not ranked in the traditional sense as it cannot be compared fairly/objectively on this basis. It prides itself as both a research university and a "learning" institution rather than "teaching". I use learning here because most students here learn without traditional lectures/ teaching as we know it. Learning is highly supported with books, tapes, notes, videos, net-conferencing and residentials. Students are assessed usually by coursework and exams.

Most students are working adults in their 20s to 50s with students as old as 70s as well.

By most standards, the OU in the UK is highly respectable amongst it peers and its students usually take pride with the fact that they have managed to balance working, family and studies all at the same time whilst receiving quality education while improving themselves at the same time.

Most students at OU are interested in the learning process rather than receiving a paper qualification at the end of the day.