Wednesday, June 14, 2006

New UM VC: Initial Priorities

A postgraduate enrollment of 50% by 2015. International post-graduate students increase of 10% per annum. Those were two of the priorities outlined by the new UM VC as reported by the Star.

The same article also reported that out of an estimated enrolment of 32,000 students, currently has 8,000 postgraduate students, of which 13% is made up of international students from 65 countries. So this means that, holding enrollment steady, the number of postgraduate students will have to increase by 8,000 to 16,000(more, if total enrolment increases, which it should). A 10 percent per annum increase in international students might sound like a lot but it's only about 80 students per annum, which over 10 years, works out to about 800 students and will increase the % of international students to 20% of the postgraduate population.

The ratio of postgraduate to undergraduate degrees makes sense for a research university. Here at Duke, we have roughly 8,000 undergrads and 8,000 graduate students / post docs. I'm not sure about the ratios at other universities but I'm guessing that most of the private universities in the top 50 US News and World Report ranking would have similar ratios. Obviously, you'd have a larger proportion of undergrads in state schools such as UCal Berkeley or UMichigan Ann Arbor.

The more relevant question is whether UM has the capacity to absorb such as change. I've blogged about the quality versus quantity debate here. The point which bears repeating here is that UM probably does not have the faculty (both quality as well as quantity) to absorb such as large increase in the number of postgraduate students.

Here is where the lack of a PhD experience on the part of the new VC might prove consequential. While having a PhD should not be a prerequisite to holding the VC position, it certainly is advantageous when a university is trying to expand its postgraduate numbers in such large numbers so quickly. You cannot emphatise to the same level with a fellow academic if you have not been in a situation where you've had to struggle to obtain resources to fund your projects. You cannot fully anticipate and understand the need for resources like books, journals, databases and online resources if you've not had to do extensive research yourself.

Of course, you can surround yourself with able and capable people who do have this kind of experience and can, therefore, advise you on such matters. And I hope this is what the new VC will do. Because she is going to need all the administrative and technical know how to obtain funding from different sources to train more PhDs to teach in UM and to attract talent to come teach and conduct research in UM.

It is still early days but we should all pay close attention to see if indeed, the lack of a PhD experience, is consequential for this VC in achieving some of her initial priorities.


Anonymous said...

actually, only the top schools in the US have such undergrad/postgrad ratio of 1:1. in most other universities around the world (including good ones like oxbridge (UK), toronto (Can), Melb (Aust), etc.), it averages out around 1:2 to 1:4.

the top private US schools prioritises the need for graduate research because they are able to and have the resources to keep a very small and selective group of students. furthermore, they are not "required" to absord large undergraduate numbers since they're usually research universities, not teaching universities.

IMO, while it is important to boost a university's research output, we should first focus in creating good graduates at undergrad level. improve lecturer selection, promotion, policies, etc.

again, all these seems to me like every other shortcut our public U's (especially UM) loves to take, which is to inflate the statistics without giving two hoots about the quality.

Anonymous said...

How can UM produced high quality PhD graduates. if many of their lecturers are in the standards of Wirakarnain and Koshe Pillai?

It would be a miracle if Wirakarnain gets his PhD at last, cos he is so busy supervising his College...

In order to get quality PhD graduates, it is important that the External Examiners must be experts of their fields from established and reputable universities and not from some local institutions. The publications of such refereees must be beyond doubts with papers in Class 1 or 2 International journals and not hashed from some cheap persidangans and conferences.
UM used to do with such practices before...(ASK LEARN FROM HISTORY)

Nick said...

Uh, Kian Ming, you might want to correct your first paragraph as a 10% increase of 8000 post grad students comes up to an increase of 800 students per annum, not 80, which is 1%. This will work up to a 8000(100%) student increase over ten years, not 800, which is 10%.

Anonymous said...

off topic:

in The Australian newspaper special focus on Malaysia:,20867,19383783-36181,00.html

Anonymous said...

Frankly, I doubt if our UM VC or any other VCs in our country knows what research is or how to do research!
So they are actually in no position to comment about research!
As long there are lecturers like koshy pillai and wirakarnain around I doubt our universities will achieve anything
The worst sin is people like BillBoard Hashim who can even look down on Universities like University Cardiff which has a lot of depts achieving ranking 5 and part of the Russel group of universities
What the ****!!!!

kayron said...

Anon Sat Jun 17,

Thanks to gov policy that VC should only do "management"..How to manage something you don't even know/understand?

Anonymous said...

You forgot something...
In this BOLIHLAND, everything is possible!
Just read Kit Siang blog..even the scrapped scenic bridge cost more to scrap then actually building it!
Rationally it doesnt make sense, but in this BOLIHLAND everything is possible!