Monday, July 31, 2006

'A' Levels vs International Baccalaureate

Apologies for the long silence and thanks for Kian Ming for holding the fort :). A trip down to Singapore for a couple of days plus a weekend back in kampung with wife and kid sort of sucked up all the time there is. Spent almost the entire day today catching up with backlogged work. :)

Anyway, as usual, lots to blog about, lots to catch up on but just not enough time! :) I thought I'd start the ball rolling again with a non-controversial topic. I think the media both online and offline these days are filled with controversial issues. So we'd take a break from that :).

Many of us, myself included, would not have heard much about the "international baccalaureate" (IB) programme, specifically the IB Diploma Programme. Recently however, there has been more press given to the IB Diploma Programme as a good, or possibly better alternative to the 'A' Levels.

The IB Organisation (IBO) is a nonprofit educational foundation, motivated by its mission, focused on the student. Founded in 1968, we currently work with 1,874 schools in 124 countries to develop and offer three challenging programmes to over 481,000 students aged 3 to 19 years. As opposed to 'A' Levels, which is an export of the United Kingdom or SAT, of United States, the IB curriculum "represents the best from many different countries rather than the exported national system of any one. [The] challenging Diploma Programme assessment is recognized by the world's leading universities. [IBO] maintain [their] high standards by actively training and supporting teachers, and by authorizing and evaluating IB World Schools."

The IBO works with schools in 124 countries, headquartered in Geneva. They have offices / representatives in Bath, Beijing, Buenos Aires, Cardiff, Geneva, Mumbai, New York, Singapore, Sydney, Tokyo and Vancouver.

One of the leading global pre-university institution adopting the IB curriculum is the United World College (UWC), blogged here earlier. Ng Eng Han, a student at UWC-USA who has received his admission into Dartmouth College via early admission has also written a short piece on the IB diploma programme - what it's about and where it's offered. To find out more about the curriculum of the IB diploma programme, you may like to visit their official website.

More interestingly, and back to the comparison of 'A' Levels versus IB, it appears that the Universities and College Admission Service (UCAS) of the United Kingdom have recently endorse the IB diploma programme as being "academically superior" to the 'A' Levels programme.
A new points tariff announced by UCAS... made a relatively modest IB score of 35 points (out of a maximum of 45) equivalent to four and a half A grades at A-level.

An IB score of 38, the average achieved every year by more than 200 pupils at Sevenoaks, one of the first independent schools to adopt the exam, was deemed to be equivalent to five As at A-level. Oxford and Cambridge typically ask for 40 points, equivalent to five and a half A grades.

Even 30 IB points is judged equivalent to three and a half As at A-level, sufficient to secure entry to most academically selective universities.
The 'A' Levels, which has been criticised in recent years as falling significantly in standards will find this "as confirmation of how far A-levels have slipped from the 'gold standard'." And it may hasten the switch of many schools around the world from conducting 'A' Levels to the IB Diploma Programme.

Worried about the dropping standards of the UK 'A' Levels programme, Singapore which uses the 'A' Levels qualification as the de facto criteria for entry into the universities, has clearly set out to differentiate its own 'A' Levels programme, distinct from that in the UK. As mentioned here in the press release way back in 2002:
In Singapore, students offer the Singapore-Cambridge A-level examination which is a separate examination, conducted jointly by MOE and the University of Cambridge Local Examinations Syndicate (UCLES). The Singapore-Cambridge A-level has its own set of question papers. The setting, marking and grading of the examination scripts are subject to stringent quality control procedures and are closely monitored by UCLES and MOE to ensure that grades awarded reflect accurately the performance of students.

MOE has assumed greater control of the Singapore-Cambridge GCE A-level examination from 2002. Our A-level examination papers are based on syllabuses that are designed for Singapore's educational needs. MOE and UCLES are responsible for the setting of standards and the awarding of grades. This means that Singapore students offer a set of examination papers which meet A-level standards but are separate and different from those offered by students in the UK. The grading of our A-level examination, jointly undertaken by MOE and UCLES, is also a separate process from that of British A-levels.
The question however, is whether, the 'higher' and 'stricter' 'A'-Level standards in Singapore will penalise the students there as opposed to those who too 'A'-Levels based on the "declining" UK standards? Will UCAS differentiate the grades?

Anyway, given that the IB programme is offered only in a limited scale in Malaysia at this point of time, and not to mention, costing quite an arm and a leg, the question of which programme to take is probably moot even for students opting not to pursue STPM. Most Malaysians will still end up with 'A' Levels, South Australian Matriculation (SAM) and other matriculation examinations. However, this might just change in the near future.

For the moment, students pursuing other pre-university programmes including STPM need not be overly concerned. 'A'-Levels for example, is still well recognised around the world and as long as you do well in it, you can be certain of acceptance into the top universities of the world.

Thanks to LYL for the pointer. :)

Friday, July 28, 2006

PhD Scholarships for Local Universities

This is an overdue follow up from Tony's posting here. I've been emailing some of my non-bumi friends who are currently or have been sponsored to do their Masters / PhDs overseas by local universities and asking them to clarify the differences between SLAB, ASHES and ACTS. Here are some of my initial findings.

Firstly, all of them confirmed that the SLAB scheme is only open to bumiputeras. No surprise there. But one of my friends noted that funding for the SLAB scheme comes from JPA, which is more readily available compared to a university's internal funding resources. What this means is that lecturers who apply for the SLAB scheme, in all likelihood, will have to wait a shorter period of time before being sent overseas to do their PhDs. As long as the time discrepancy between those "SLAB"ers and non-"SLAB"ers is not too great, I don't really see this as a big problem.

Secondly, all of them (a small sample from 3 local universities) did not know about ASHES and / or ACTS. The official name of their scholarship is something like "Skim Hadiah Latihan Cuti Belajar". Their funding comes from the sending university and it includes tuition fees (as well as living expenses and salary), which Tony and I initially thought wasn't included. If, for all intents and purposes, the funding terms for SLABers and non-SLABers are the same, then why have the distinction? Are SLABers more likely to obtain approval for funding to go overseas than non-SLABers? I have a feeling that the answer to this question is in the affirmative.

Thirdly, there is some uncertainty in regards to the distribution of PhD funding among the different local universities. Some have the impression that some of the older and bigger universities (UM, USM and UKM) have more internal funding available courtesy of them being, well, older and bigger. Others have the impression that newer universities such as UNIMAS and UUM have more funding available because of their need to build up their faculties. These two views might not be mutually exclusive. Older and bigger universities might have more funding (in absolute terms) but also more lecturers to sponsor while newer universities might have more funding (in % terms) so the chances for a lecturer to be sponsored is greater in these universities. I guess that's one of the ways in which newer universities are able to attract potential PhD candidates who might otherwise have wanted to go to one of the older, more established universities.

While I welcome the 1.2RM billion allocation for PhD studies, I still have questions in regards to the distribution mechanism both between and within our local universities. How does the Ministry decide the amount a university should be allocated? How do universities decide on who gets sponsorship internally? Which departments and who within these departments should be sponsored? Maybe I need to send out more emails to get my answers.

Of course, I need to put in my usual gripe about how the local universities don't distinguish between the process to obtain US versus non-US PhDs. PhDs in the US usually take upwards of 5 years while those in the UK and Australia take upwards of only 3 years. The reason is that coursework is a required component in the US system while this is not so in the UK and Australia (although this is beginning to change for selected courses in selected universities). The PhD scholarships from the local universities are only for 3 years with a 6 month extension possible upon request. This makes life very difficult for those pursuing their PhDs in the US (which is why many lecturers opt to go to the UK and Australia instead) and they usually have to scrounge for alternative sources of funding for the remaining 1 1/2 to 2 years.

Finally, I also welcome the decision by the Ministry to have more joint post-grad programs (like the one recently established with Nottingham) because it is a way to expose our lecturers to the research environment in a reputable foreign institution of higher learning and at the same time, minimize the cost of doing so. Look for more of these partnerships to be signed in the future.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Asian Youth Fellowship applications open

Thanks Adriene, who's currently studying in Japan, for the heads up on the Asian Youth Fellowship, which is a scholarship that sends you to Japan for a 7 month intensive language course (in Japanese, of course) before you enter a Japanese university as a graduate student.

You can find the full details here. The closing date for applying for this scholarship is between Sept and Nov (varies by country). Check on the above website for the closing date for applications for Malaysians.

I highly recommend this scholarship to young (below 30), single people (scholarship doesn't cover spouses and / or children) who have not studied overseas before and is interested in immersing himself or herself in Japanese culture. My impression of this program is that it is very well organized and well structured and the bonding experience with your fellow grantees from all over Asia is pretty special. One might find the initial experience of being a 'gaijin' tough and lonely at first, but I'm sure the rewards are well worth the initial adjustment blues.

Good luck!

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Irish International University Again!

I wrote quite extensively a while back on the issue of "bogus universities" in our presence. Part I was on Datuk Abdul Azeez Abdul Rahim, UMNO Putera's chief who proudly paraded his Masters in Business Administration credentials, which was purchased from a bogus Preston university. Part II covered the use of honorific titles from dubious institutions even in the religious fraternity. And Part III spoke about our very own Ministry of Higher Education and Public Service Department's complicity in lending credibility to these dodgy institutions including a certain "Irish International University".

Well, for those interested, Idlan Zakaria did some updated extensive research about these institutions and posted her findings on his blog.

It appears that some of these institutions which has been "found out" continue to be offering a "degree" education in this country! And Irish International University (IIU) for example, continues to offer their dodgy degree programmes to students in this country, given the recent press article in Kosmo! on their graduation ceremony last month. This is despite the fact that the Irish Embassy has specifically highlighted to our authorities that there is no such university in Ireland!

The "university" even proudly proclaimed that due to the nature of their courses, one can complete its degree programme within a year, when a normal programme would have taken possibly 3 years.
...anda boleh menghabiskan kursus-kursus pengajian dalam tempoh masa lebih cepat daripada yang dijangka. Anda mungkin boleh menyelesaikan kursus yang memakan masa 3 tahun kepada hanya setahun.
And as pointed out by Idlan, claims by IIU to be accredited by a Quality Assurance Commission - United Kingdom (QAC-UK), are clearly attempts to mislead and dare I say it, defraud, potential students (victims)! There is no such regulatory body in the UK! The official agency for such matters in the UK is the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA).

IIU claims to have 40 campuses within UK itself, and another 40 campuses around the world. Does it? Hell, it even runs an Oxbridge College in London!

Oh, and it offered Honourary Doctorates as well to "outstanding individual for his or her contribution to mankind". And the unfortunate "victim" for the honour this time round went to one, Tan Sri Dato Lamin Haji Mohd Yunus, who was recently voted to the UN Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and a non-executive director for several listed companies on Bursa Malaysia, including Mycom Berhad and Golden Hope Plantations Berhad.

IIU tries hard to avoid being categorised as a "degree mill". It tries to legitimise itself by calling itself a "non-traditional legitimate university" (as opposed to universities sanctioned by an Act of Parliament). If I'm not wrong, the fact that it is even using the term "university" in its name is illegal in both the UK and Malaysia since only institutions sanctioned by the Act of Parliament may call itself such. If it is really such a "legitimate" institution, why bother with all the blatant and shameless attempts to mislead?

Why is it that after complaints by the public and the Irish Embassy, this bogus university is still allowed to operate and defraud students in this country? What is the Public Service Commission and Ministry of Higher Education doing?

And the best part of it is...? The convocation ceremony which was held at the KLCC Convention Centre, was officiated by a Deputy Minister from the Prime Minister's Department, on Datuk M Kayveas.

Enough said.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Ethnic Relations Course : An Alternative Proposal

Finally, I'm back in the US and I have decent internet access once again. I had a good time meeting family and friends (including some who read this blog) in the 1 month that I was back. It was a reminder to my wife and I that we do want to return home when I eventually finish my PhD (though we might take a few detours along the way).

So many issues to discuss but I think I'll start with one which is closer to home which is the latest fiasco on the Ethnic Relations course and textbook in UPM. Tony has blogged about it here and here and I want to chip in with an alternative proposal to a "textbook".

I disagree with the idea that there should be ONE textbook on the teaching of Ethnic Relations in Malaysia. The practice of historical revisionism has been discussed by Tony and many of our readers. The fact is, every writer / author would approach a certain subject, for example, the May 13th 1969 riots, with a certain bias or agenda in hand, sometimes consciously, often subconciously.

Even if the writers / authors try their level best not to have an agenda, the very process of research might tilt towards a certain perspective. There will be / has been writings on this incident viewed from different perspectives. If you're interviewing, for example, only Chinese KL-lites who lived through the incident, their accounts of the riots would be different from Malay KL-lites who went through the same experience.

Instead of relying on ONE textbook (which is a very typically Malaysian thing to do -study ONE book to pass your exams instead of reading from a variety of sources), I propose that a variety of writings / articles should be used instead.

I'm personally surprised that Prof Shamsul AB is the project director for this new subject given that he should know that there has been different academic perspectives offered on the subject of race relations. He himself has authored many books and articles on the notion of Muslim and Islamic identity and how this has been contested over the past decades.

Other Malaysian academics who have written on this subject from different perspectives include Colin Abraham, Francis Loh, Terrence Gomez, Sumit Mandal and Johan Saravanamuttu. It is interesting to note that Johan Saravanamuttu was asked initially by the Ministry of Higher Education to be the head of the technical committee for the subject but pulled out because the Ministry wanted to fast track this project while Johan wanted it to be piloted first.

The problem with this course and the other compulsary courses in our public universities (Malaysian Studies, Islamic Civilisation, Malaysian Citizenship and languages) reeks of brain-washing instead of encouraging critical thinking and healthy debate on thess matters.

The notion that there should be ONE textbook on the issue of the civil rights movement in the US for example would be laughable in any university of repute here in the States. Instead, students are exposed to a variety of readings and allowed to argue their own points of view (no matter how biased) based on the texts that they have read. Good grades are given to points well-argued and not on taking the "government's" or the "university's" position.

But maybe that's going too far in our public university's context. To think that we might actually consider teaching our students to think critically! How seditious a thought!

B. A. (Hons) Thuggery

The Ministry of Higher Education is having a real rough time. From raising optimism with recent developments such as the review of the University and University Colleges Act (UUCA), it has found itself stumbling first on the disgraceful "Ethnic Relations" course "guidebook" and subsequently by widely circulated videoclip on Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM) students fracas.

And guess what? All this thanks to the Internet. First we have Malaysiakini breaking the news on the "guidebook" and then, we have the fracas videoclip circulating like wildfire via And all attempts by the relevant parties to defend, explain away and cover up the relevant facts and incidents were torn to shreds like a single ply tissue paper. But lets get back to the topic, we aren't here to discuss the socio-political impact of the Internet in Malaysia. :)

Have you ever wondered how come so many of our "youths" in political organisations have a tendency to behave like thugs whenever there are parties who don't share their sentiments? There was the incident where Umno Youth-led mob of 400 men - calling themselves the Malaysian Peoples’ Action Front - stormed Kuala Lumpur’s Asia Hotel and went on a rampage in the bid to stop the Second Asia-Pacific Conference on East Timor, also known as Apcet II. The the culprits got away with barely a slap on the wrist.

Some of you might separately remember that another 200 or so UMNO Youth members demonstrated in front of the Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall (SCAH) in Kuala Lumpur over Suqiu’s 17-point "extremist" Election Appeal. On this occasion, the noisy, provocative demonstrators even threatened to burn down the SCAH.

Then, recently there was the case of another bunch of 50 thugs from the same organisation sent a threatening ultimatum to MCA member of Parliament, Loh Seng Kok for raising valid and seemingly straightforward questions in parliament (blogged here).

As P Ramakrishnan argued in his article in Aliran:
It is rather unfortunate – even regrettable – that the Kelana Jaya division was not ticked off by UMNO or the government for acting brashly. And because this was not done, these agitators get the impression that their deplorable conduct is endorsed and even encouraged by the leadership. The general public perceives this non-action by the government as not only condoning thuggery but also reflecting fear of taking disciplinary action against recalcitrant members whose support they need to remain in power.
Where did all these thugs pick up their skills? Now we know. There is no better place to train our thugs but at our premier institutions of higher learning.

Once again, we have Malaysiakini to thank for being first to publish the report on the controversial incident.
Students Progressive Front (SPF) member Wong Chai Yi claimed she was shoved so hard by members of the university student council, that she fell. She said the incident occurred on Monday when five members of her group set up a ‘help counter’ at 6.30pm at a hostel to provide information on their activities to new undergraduates and offer advice to those with problems.

Wong told malaysiakini that about 40 students - led by the council president - surrounded her group members and scolded them harshly for setting up the counter when the SPF is not a registered group.

“He told us to leave within 10 minutes, saying he did not want any trouble, but we refused to go. They surrounded us and removed our brochures, tables and chairs, and our belongings, to force us to leave... While doing so, they shouted at us and pushed us out of the way. A security guard witnessed this - instead of stopping them, he joined them in pushing us.”
The sequence of event which followed is best captured at Sdr Lim Kit Siang's blog (I just couldn't keep up with him! :)). First, there was just silence from the university and ministry authorities. Then there were the meek attempts to pass the buck and demonstrate "actions" taken. MageP's Lab also had a good account of the events before today.

That was followed by the most farcical of actions taken by the university authorities, led by the vice-chancellor of UPM itself, Prof Dr Nik Mustapha R Abdullah. He has clearly demonstrated that as long as the actions of thuggery is conducted by "pro-establishment" students to "protect" pro-establishment interests, the university authorities will do its best to protect and absolve these students of blame.

UPM’s student representative council president Abdul Manaf Ariffin, one of the leading culprits identified in the videoclip, and its treasurer Alex Yong shook hands at a hastily arranged press conference by the vice-chancellor providing the ‘evidence and reality of racial integration’ in UPM. Read the additional Malaysiakini report for the flip-flops and the pathetic attempts to dodge pertinent questions by the journalists by Prof Dr Nik Mustapha. Putting it simply:
“It is funny how the students who attacked us shook hands among themselves besides the attempt to blame the scuffles as a racial issue. The core of the matter is that the university is suppressing students from carrying out activities on campus,” said [Simon Ooi], a 22-year-old third-year student.
The good thing is before the farcical fiasco could go any further, Datuk Mustapa Mohamed, our Minister of Higher Education got the university to set up an "inquiry panel" as headlined by the Sun today. The committee will comprise of Ethics course lecturer Prof Dr Abdul Rahman Aroff, lecturers Prof Dr Kamariah Abu Bakar (Education), Associate Prof Dr Tai Shzee Yew (Economy), Dr Mohd Bakri Ishak (Law) and Dr S. Vijayaletchumy (Languages).

So the question now, as rightly asked by Sdr Lim, is whether the parties guilty of mob rule led by Abdul Manaf Ariffin will be awarded their first class honours degree in Thuggery with a light slap on the wrist, while the victims unjustly punished or otherwise. We will have to wait and see.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

2007/8 Oxbridge Undergraduate Admissions

Since I've just spoken at Experiences-KL, a fair promoting the top American universities, I thought that I might as well post a gentle reminder to students interested in Oxbridge admissions, being an alumni myself. :)

I've written three post previously about the application process and a little about my life there - "Oxford: Should I Apply?" Part I, II and III. And I suppose I'd just like to emphasize that you do not need to be geniuses to be enrolled into these universities.

Unlike the other universities in the United Kingdom, Oxbridge universities have a slightly different application process. In particular, they have an earlier closing date for applications, particularly for overseas students. Hence, if you are interested, it will be useful to pay attention to these dates.

For Malaysian candidates interested in pursuing your further education at Oxford University, the closing date for applications for admission in 2007/8, is 20 September in 2006. Interviews will be held on October 12 and 13 in Malaysia. Detailed information on how to apply is available here.

Similarly for Cambridge University, the closing date is also on the 20 September for students interested to be interviewed in Malaysia. Interviews are expected between 19-21 October. More information is available here as well as a specific word document with a fair bit of details.

Should you apply? My simple reply would be "Why Not?" - the worst case scenario is that you get rejected, and you aren't any worse off than if you didn't apply. Most students who would have "qualified" otherwise, "disqualified" themselves before even attempting the application. Remember, I'm not a straight As student myself. With a little bit of luck, I still managed to "wriggle" myself in - and what a difference it made. :)

So good luck guys! And remmeber to have fun!

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Girls Smarter Than Boys? (II)

I've written exactly a year ago on the matter of girls being smarter than boys. Then, it was noted that from 1995 to 2005, the number of women in public universities is 472,279 (59.2%) compared with men 326,024 (40.8%). But given some recent articles on the same matter recently, I thought it was worth a revisit. The ratio of girls to boys entering university is now so bad, that for every 7 girls, there are only 3 boys. What exactly is happening? Are men going extinct?

How are our politicians and academics reacting to this phenomenon?

MCA secretary-general Datuk Ong Ka Chuan had this piece of advice for the boys:
Study hard to achieve excellent results or you may end up cooking and washing clothes at home for your family.
Ouch. Like that's going to happen though. They are probably more likely to end up in the streets peddling pirated DVDs.

More recently, there was an interview with Professor Dr Mohamed Yusoff Ismail, the Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) on the same topic. Now, his views certainly deserve some brickbats and rotten tomatoes – but they are absolutely hilarious. Here are some of the funny bits.

On why are there more women in universities?
Women are more obedient by nature. They are more serious and less playful in school. Men, on the other hand, are more rebellious. Men suffer from the Oedipus complex — they rebel against authority... Men are also easily distracted by other activities such as racing, karaoke and smoking.
Err.. hmmm. And why do women perform academically better?
With our current education system, women are destined for academic excellence from the first day they start school. Women are just so much better at rote learning and memorisation.

Boys can’t be bothered. Our system does not encourage critical or analytical thinking, which boys are better at.
I nearly died reading that! What sort of caveman mentality is that? Also, something which many will find equally disagreeable,
Women also think better under pressure. Thus, as they are usually better prepared for exams, they just perform better. Men panic more when it comes to exams.
Huh?! And Professor Dr Mohamed Yusoff Ismail's sociological theory on our education system's bias toward women is equally mind-boggling.
...the demographic factor indicates an Amazonian orientation in society. In schools, this is reflected by the fact that most of the teachers and principals are women. Such an atmosphere is very conducive to younger women. They feel more secure.

Some women also tend to be more prejudiced against males — this is an Amazonian concept. As such, in the case of teachers, they tend to favour the female students. So the females are given more encouragement and tend to excel. Of course, the females are usually easier to handle.
What?! Here's some more juicy stuff:
Some highly-educated women actually find men a nuisance. Furthermore, did you know that in rural society, as men get older, they lose their importance and their control over the families? The women start making fun of them when they reach that age. I can’t say for sure, but I think in the Malay society, this happens to men when they reach the age of 60.
Amazing! Did he do an academic study of 200 Malaysian Malay male specimen aged 40 to 80, and a regressive analysis of the surveys conducted to determine that men lose it when they reach 60? Or is he just feeling a little too hen-pecked himself? Hey, if you read between the lines when he gets queried on whether women who are strong would find it harder to get married, that might just be the case!
If I were born again, I wouldn’t get married. I tell my sons not to get married. There are many problems that come with marriage. It is unfortunate that women who choose not to marry get so much more attention than men who do not marry.

And that ladies and gentlemen, is the Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia.

Footnote: In my most recent round of recruitment exercise, I interviewed 14 girls and hired 5 of them. The 3 guys who were shortlisted decided that the interview wasn't worth their time. Not only are there more girls in the universities today, they are performing academically better as well! If I was guilty of hiring disproportionately higher number of girls before with my recruitment methodology, then I think I deserve the death sentence in my most recent recruitment exercise.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Our Universities, Our Animal Farm

As Malaysians, we have always liked to think of ourselves as being among the better and more progressive societies. Yes, we have our glaring shortcomings but most of us wouldn't think that these shortcomings will put us with the worst of countries out there. However, it is events such as the disgraceful publication of a ethnic relations textbook as blogged here yesterday, which really makes you wonder - are we any different?

The blatant revisionist tendencies (and acts of passing off fiction as historical facts) by the writers and editors, Dr Zaid bin Ahmad and Prof Jayum Jawan, of Universiti Putra Malaysia has clearly brought forth the "world-class" quality of our institutions of higher learning.

After nearly 50 years of nation building, if we as Malaysians, and the individual respective communities which forms Malaysia are unable to accept the roles played by all parties, the mistakes made and lessons learnt from historical incident, and remain incorrigible with our culture of denial and blame - are we any better than the other countries which we love to criticise?

Are we any better than sections of the Japanese government and society which refuses to admit the gross acts committed against humanity in Korea, China and Southeast Asia by "glossing" over the World War in the historical textbooks? Are we possibly any better than those claim the Holocaust was but a figment of our imagination?

What is possibly worse, or at least equally terrible, is how an innocuous ethnic relations textbook can be converted into a tool for political indoctrination. Even the normally patient Dr Khoo Kay Kim, Professor Emeritus of History at Universiti Malaya was vocally upset with elements of the text. As reported in the excellent expose by Malaysiakini:
...the textbook said "the (BN) symbol of the scale shows that the BN is a party that emphasises equal and equitable rights between its component parties and, indirectly, presses for equal rights among all groups.

"BN gives emphasis to efforts at ensuring that all races are represented through the practice of power-sharing in order to guarantee peace, prosperity, harmony amongst all Malaysians regardless of ethnic affiliation. In line with that, BN emphasises national unity and ensures a system of governance for the whole populace."

Khoo expressed regret that such a subject had been rendered into an exercise in indoctrination rather than an objective analysis of the state of ethnic relations in the country.
If the above doesn't make our "world-class"-wannabe universities a Orwellian "Animal Farm", I'm not sure what does. How different are we from the political indoctrination exercises meted out by the communist regimes of Maoist China and Stalinist Russia? Are all Malaysians are equal, but some of us are just more equal than others?

In accordance to an earlier announcement back in January by the National Accredition Board, "the 600,000 students... must also pass the paper to qualify for certificates, diplomas or degrees." Hence anybody who attempts a different (but possibly more truthful) interpretation of the historical events will not obtain their degrees. So, altogether now, "Two legs good, four legs bad; two legs good, four legs bad..."

The joke is, Prof Datuk Dr Shamsul Amri Baharuddin of Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, the project director for the new subject claims that
...the thrust of the curriculum is to broaden the minds of Muslim students who are inward looking and of non-Muslims who have an unfounded fear of Islam, and eventually, mould Malaysians into “towering personalities”.

“The aim is to eliminate stereotyping or preconceived notions that the various races have of each other. The course will enable us to look at ourselves. This will help us address the reality of this country and how to connect with each other."
Given the fierce and angry backlash the "textbook" has unleashed to date, there have been some murmurs that the "textbook" isn't an "official" textbook, and that it was completed in a rush, and that it is still not in some late draft stages. These are not acceptable excuses at all. Such biased, historical fiction and hatred-inducing text should not have existed even in a draft of the rawest form if its intent had been to promote harmony and integration.

If the Government is sincere in recognising the mistakes made, it needs to not only drastically revise the offending text, but also punish the culprits responsible for being a disgrace to our Malaysian academia. Go on, demote the two editors responsible for the book - Dr Zaid bin Ahmad and Prof Jayum Jawan, or better still, give them the sack. Show that we are serious about academic excellence and not brown-nosing champions. I'm sure the majority of my readers will agree.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Ethnic Relations Course: Disgraceful! (I)

It was almost a year ago, which I lauded the move by our local universities to introduce a new course on "Ethnic Relations" to promote multi-racial integration at our institutions of higher learning. As part of the syllabus, historical milestone events such as the racial riots of May 13th, 1969 and the Kampung Medan "incident" of 2001 will be included to provide perspective to the racial relations and developments in the country.

Knowing the sensitivities surrounding the various issues, I had expected a watered down course which doesn't deal so much with the issues of the past, but to focus on the cultures of the various ethnic groups and promote greater friendliness and understanding. But never did I expect a textbook on ethnic relations which not only atttempts to distort the truth but promoted historical falsehoods as well. If the historical revisionism in our textbooks were bad - blogged here and here, then this is many times worse, for it redefines the essence of Malaysia.

So, what's the fuss? Thanks to an excellent report by Malaysiakini, the following are some of the contentious issues raised in the new textbook.
  • The textbook focussed solely on the role of ruling party Umno and the Independence of Malaya Party set up in 1946 and 1951, respectively which made it seem “as if there were no other parties and organisations in Malaysia participating in the political arena and the country’s nation-building.”

    As rightly pointed out by Professor Emeritus of History at Universiti Malaya, Khoo Kay Kim, this represents a grossly "selective representation of history".

  • In the case of the May 13, 1969 riots,
    ... the opposition party DAP was singled out as a Chinese-majority party that had ‘upset the Malays’ and contributed to the conflagration that occurred "...the DAP, which is made up mostly of Chinese, conducted a procession in Kuala Lumpur in which they insulted and uttered statements that upset the Malays."
    Once again, this is a factual concoction as "it was BN coalition member Gerakan and not DAP which had participated in the procession in Kuala Lumpur's Kampung Baru that triggered the 1969 riots."
  • With regards to the 2001 Kampung Medan fights between Indians and Malays, the Indians were blamed.
    "The Malay community in the said area had lost their patience with the anti-social attitude of groups of Indian youths and wanted to teach them a lesson..."
    The connotations behind the above statement clearly points to unsubstantiated allegations which borders on racism. I wonder if the text is meant to promote understanding or trigger fights within the classroom.
  • Similarly, the book referred to the call for a non-discriminatory affirmative action policy by the Malaysian Chinese Election Appeals Committee (Suqiu) in 2000 as ‘extremist’.
    "Such (extremist) demands should no longer exist, in order to defend the harmony that has so far been experienced and to preserve the relations and cooperation between the various races in Malaysia.".
    So if Suqiu, who submitted a peaceful memorandum to the Prime Minister of the day requesting for the rights of the community to be protected (rightly or wrongly) is regarded as "extremist", then there should be equal mention of a whole bunch of jokers and idiots from a certain youth wing of a political party who will every now and then decide to illegally storm private talks and seminars. Who are the "extremists"?
I'm upset (understatement). Especially since after reading back my earlier post on the subject, I had warned against this exact outcome.
An attempted politicisation and revisionism of the historical events will not only result in the objectives of teaching the ethnic relations subject not being met, it may actually cement the racial polarisation through perceived bias and injustice in our education and administration system.
Who are the guilty parties for coming up with some of the above nonsense? Well, clearly some half-baked academics from Universiti Putra Malaysia. The editors whose names are published on the cover of the textbook, are Dr Zaid bin Ahmad who is the Head of the Department of Government and Civilisation Studies, Faculty of Human Ecology, and Prof Jayum Jawan, who is a professor of Politics and Government. I think they are an absolute disgrace to the academia, their university and country.

However, historical revisionism and fictional concoction isn't the only thing that this new Ethnic Relations textbook is guilty of. But more on that in the next post.

Friday, July 14, 2006

UUCA: Optimism Unfounded?

There has been a flurry of discussions on the University and University Colleges Act 1971 (UUCA) recently in all our mainstream newspapers. Even yours truly was asked to give his 2 sens here. News and reports about the impending reforms of UUCA was coming out faster than this writer can blog :).

It all started when our Minister of Higher Education, Datuk Mustapa Mohamed, announced that the Government will be talking to political parties to get feedback for the review of the UUCA. "Among other things, the review is expected to address the students' freedom to join off-campus organisations."
"The only thing that we haven’t done is to have a consultation session with the political parties. We have already had sessions with students, NGOs, vice-chancellors and academics.

The general direction is towards some liberalisation. We are looking at some relaxation – as to which particular provisions of the Act, we haven’t decided yet... What I can assure you is that we will further improve the environment on campus."
So we are all slightly hopeful that some of the more "draconian" legislations within the UUCA may be reformed. However, 2 different articles I read over the last 2 days have probably brought me back down to earth.

For those interested in finding out more about UUCA and what all the fuss is about, the compulsory reading will be the interview which the Sun carried yesterday with Associate Professor Dr Azmi Sharom yesterday (and that's only Part I). When asked by Jacqueline Ann Surin on why he sounded "skeptical and cynical" about the exercise, Dr Azmi replied that he was "not hopeful that they're going to do anything of real value to the law".
(Sighs heavily) I think there's a sense that university students must be controlled. I mean, this is a throwback to the 70s, you know. But, frankly, Jacque, I don't know how politicians think anyway...

But, I know that there's a (pauses), you see, I think university students unfortunately are being used almost like a tool. 'Look! University students support the government!' Or 'Look! The university students support the opposition!'

They're used as a bargaining chip between the political parties, and they want to make sure, the government wants to make sure that this bargaining chip is in their pocket, I think. But, like I said, I don't know how their minds work. I wouldn't know.

So, I don't hold too much hope with the review of the UUCA.
Now, if Dr Azmi Sharom, who was also formerly the deputy dean of the Universiti Malaya Law Faculty, didn't feel the need to be optimistic about the proposed changes, you know, then maybe I was overly hopeful about it.

Today, however, after reading Sdr Lim Kit Siang's report on the briefing provided by the Deputy Higher Education Minister, it appears that we are back to square one.
I am convinced after the briefing that the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’s call for a “education revolution” to achieve world-class universities in Malaysia will join the lengthening queue of “cakap ta serupa bikin” of the present administration as there are no signs of any political will to amend the UUCA to free lecturers and students from the fetters strangling academic freedom and student idealism.

It will not only be most unfortunate but a calamity to the aspirations of achieving academic excellence and world-class university status if the amendments to the UUCA to be presented to the next meeting of Parliament leaves the repressive and draconian provisions curbing student activism and idealism, inhibiting freedom of speech and expression of university students and lecturers, basically untouched – despite the Ministry of Higher Education initiating a process of consultation. But this appears to be what is in store in the new batch of amendments to the UUCA which are presently in the works.
Sigh. So all these active discussions in the media with regards to students being given greater leeway in participating in off-campus activities and be subjected to reduced bureaucracy and regulations in the campus are all but hot air? Maybe.

Let us all continue to put up the case for some forms of liberalisation in the campus (after all, some is better than none) and hopefully the authorities will take them into consideration when amending the proposed legislation before submission for the parliamentary rubber stamp come August. More on UUCA soon. :)

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Civil Service Dump for Unemployed Graduates

So it has come to this. The local higher education system, both public and private, expanded its intake and "graduate" production capabilities at breakneck speed over the past 5-10 years. Over the last 5 years, the number of degree students enrolled in our tertiary institutions increased by 40.0% from 230,726 (2000) to 322,917 (2005). The corresponding impact of such explosive growth was the lowering of standards at our tertiary institutions as well as the entry criteria for enrolment. The ultimate impact - tens of thousands of unemployed (or unemployable) graduates.

To solve this issue, the Cabinet has instructed the Public Service Department (PSD) to sweep all these unemployed graduates under the carpet by employing them, and pretend that the source of the problems never existed.
The Public Services Department (PSD) and Public Services Commission have been urged to speed up the recruitment of graduates to fill some 30,000 vacancies in the civil service.

Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak said this would overcome the problem of unemployed graduates, which had reached the 60,000 mark. This was among the recommendations made at the special committee chaired by Najib yesterday to discuss the issue of unemployed graduates.
Hence, our civil service has officially become the dump for our unemployable graduates. And the message to our undergraduates appears to be "Don't worry, if you can't find jobs, the Government will provide for you." The irony of it is what our Deputy Prime Minister says next.
"If we can speed up recruitment, we can reduce the number of unemployed graduates, and also increase the efficiency of the civil service."
So we populate our civil service with graduates nobody wants and we expect the civil service to improve in efficiency? Gosh.

With our graduates pool expected to increase at an accelerated pace for the next 5 years when enrolment is expected to be at 428,000 by 2010, are we then going to have one of the largest civil service in the world on a per capita basis? After all, we already have in all likelihood, one of the largest cabinet in the world.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Experiences-KL 2006: Seminar Schedule

For those interested in attending the Experiences-KL 2006 American Universities Fair this coming Sunday (blogged here and here), you'd be pleased to know that the organisers have arranged a concurrent seminar session to brief students (and parents) on various useful topics and issues.

The venue for the seminars is room Luxor 2. It is located on the 11th floor of Sunway Pyramid Shopping Complex, just one floor above the Convention Center. There will be stairs from the main exhibition hall leading up to the 11th floor.

The schedule of topics and speakers for the seminar is as follows:

I'll be speaking at 1.30pm on the topic of "Choosing the Right Course".

I thought that the 4.30pm session on "The US College and University Admission Process" by Mr. Matthew Flaherty, the Director of International Recruitment, Office of International and Graduate Admissions, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University is an extremely useful addition to the programme as well. So see you guys there! :)

RM1.2bil Fund for PhD Studies

The Star reported that the Government is allocating RM1.2bil under the 9th Malaysia Plan for lecturers in public institutions of higher learning (IPTAs) to pursue doctorate (PhD) studies locally and abroad.
Higher Education parliamentary secretary Datuk Dr Adham Baba said the allocation was for 6,700 scholarships, of which 35% was to be done locally, 5% abroad and the rest under split programmes.

The Government targeted 60% of IPTA lecturers to be PhD holders by 2010, he said, adding that at present, only 30% out of the 19,615 lecturers had the qualification.
It is great news to hear that such a large amount of funds have been allocated to upgrading our academics in our public institutions.

However, there's the additional question which I'm sure Kian Ming will write about at some point in time, and this was discussed during our blog meet up a week or so ago, once he gets some decent internet access :).

I understand during our blog meet up (which I've yet to blog about :)), and a comment from one of our readers earlier that there are 3 schemes which academics can apply to for the purposes of obtaining funds to pursue their doctorates:
  1. Skim Latihan Akademik Bumiputera (SLAB)

    SLAB is exclusive scheme for bumiputeras only. This is the preferred choice by local universities and is commonly found advertised in local newspapers.

  2. Academic Staff Higher Education Scheme (ASHES)

    ASHES is for current lecturers who have given at least 3 years (teaching) service at university.

  3. Academic Staff Training Scheme (ASTS)

    ASTS is open for all. Anyone with good first degree CGPA (>3.00) is eligible. Applicants are not required to have contributed academically (e.g teaching) when applying for this scheme.
ASHES and ASTS are the routes available for a non-bumiputera interested in securing financial assitance and joining the local university as academic staff. It is understood that non- bumiputeras form only approximately 10% of ASTS receipients.

What is however, damning about the system is the injustice meted out to non-bumiputera receipients of the ASTS scheme, particularly for overseas programmes.

According to the reader who was also an ASTS receipient,
For overseas funding, a bumiputera recipient under ASTS receive full financial assistance (tuition fee, living costs, housing-family-book-thesis-winter allowances).

A non bumi will receive everything EXCEPT the tuition fee (this is the recent tweak of sponsorship agreement). Non bumi will have to seek funding elsewhere (which do not has any bonding).
All candidates are however bonded to the relevant academic institutions for the same period of time, irrespective of the amount sponsored. I am certain that others in the know will confirm the above as a matter of fact. The questions goes simply, and it goes beyond just a matter of blatant racial discrimination:-

Given that these non-bumiputera candidates will have to return to their respective Malaysian universities to contribute their knowledge, wisdom and expertise to the younger local Malaysians - who will include a large majority of bumiputera students, is the policy of disadvantaging non-bumiputeras here, a clear case of cutting of ones own nose to spite ones face?

By discouraging talented non-bumiputeras from pursuing further education at reputed institutions overseas, doesn't it then result in fewer qualified lecturers for the Malaysian public universities, which will then retard the local universities' abilities to provide quality education for our local undergraduates, who are largely (more than 65%) bumiputeras anyway?

What may be regarded as a discriminatory affirmative action policy to support the "weaker" majority ethnic group in the country is paradoxically and ironically, at the end of the day, resulting in the very objectives of the policy not being met. By denying the benefit to a few non-bumiputeras from further education, the higher education policy is in effect denying the delivery of better quality education to thousands of bumiputeras over the years. The impact cannot be insignificant.

Hence our politicians in parliament need to ask not just on how much is to be spent to upgrade our academics but also the rationale behind our self-defeating policies. And if you need further advice, don't hesitate to have a read of Kian Ming's earlier post on "How to Increase the % of PhDs" and "Less Than 30% of Public University Lecturers have PhDs".

You may also be interested in other reader comments on the impact of programmes such as SLAB, here and here.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Obsolete ICT Courses?

Interesting. Our Minister of Human Resources blames the large number of unemployed graduates in the country who took Information Communications Technology (ICT) courses in the local institutions on "outdated courses", as reported in the Star here.
They are jobless because what they had learnt has become obsolete.

Human Resources Minister Datuk Seri Dr Fong Chan Onn said the courses they studied were not the latest because the institutions had not kept up with changing technology and job market requirements.
Apparently what is in demand, are "graduates who took certified professional software development courses under the ministry’s Graduate Retraining Scheme".

Err... I'm not so sure. Personally, having hired probably more than a hundred "ICT professionals" over the past couple of years, my key criteria has never been the nice sounding certificate courses such as "Microsoft Certified Engineer" (MCE) or "Sun Java Developer Course" etc.

As a comparative example, I wouldn't hire a press officer because she knows how to use a word processor like Microsoft Word. I would hire her because she is extremely competent in the English language. It doesn't matter if the bulk of the text she had been studying was Shakespeare ("obsolete"). If she's good with the language and possess the necessary thinking skills, then I'll hire her even if she has never touched a computer in her life.

Similarly, I've a strong preference of hiring fresh graduates who have had their brains "exercised" in the universities. It doesn't matter if the "languages" they studied were "obsolete" like Pascal, "C", Fortran and not the latest hip programming languages like Java or .NET. Conversely, some of these candidates in possession of the supposedly valuable certificates may be exposed to Java or .NET, but are not good programmers.

Hence, I'm not sure who has been providing the "requests by the hundreds" to the Ministry of Human Resources for these certificate holders but I'll be extremely displeased if our local universities computer science programmes becomes a mere training ground to produce MCEs or Microsoft Certified System Engineers (MCSE) or Sun Certified Java Developers. My views on the cause of graduate unemployment has been written extensively on this blog e.g., here, here and here.

On another matter, according to the Minister, apparently many graduates "did not know how to get information on job vacancies advertised in the ministry’s electronic labour exchange." As such, Datuk Seri Dr Fong Chan Onn suggested that electronic kiosks would now be placed at places frequented by youths such as shopping complexes. You must be kidding me. Would you go to a shopping complex, visit a kiosk and shop for jobs?

I've written separately on the Electronic Labour Exchange proposed in the 9th Malaysia Plan here. Its time for the Ministry to get its priorities right.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

UUCA Impending Reforms

Hey, I'm quoted in the papers! :) New Straits Times journalist, Chow Kum Hor, requested for some quick words from me for his commentary piece on the impending reforms of the University and Unviversity Colleges Act 1971 (UUCA) and its out today.

Here's the gist of my comments in the article:
Self-proclaimed education commentator Tony Pua, who co-runs the popular Education in Malaysia blog, says given that students today are more interested in gadgets and fast cars, they will not turn into "monsters" just because the UUCA is reformed. Besides, there are already other laws to ensure law and order.

Pua, an Oxford graduate in philosophy, politics and economics, says Ivy League and Oxbridge universities all encourage students to organise, lead, participate and create activities, instead of stifling their pursuits and behaviour.

"In Oxford, anybody can join any club. There are silly ones like the Flat Earth Society or Association for Alien Studies. But this is where students are allowed to explore and debate and improve on their leadership and critical thinking," says Pua, 33, who is chief executive officer of a public-listed information technology company.

He says during his student days some of his friends also joined the Marxist Club in Britain. These people had no problem finding employment after graduation and did not end up as communists.

By easing the grip on student activities, Pua is confident that students can be weaned off their materialistic and pop interests and thrive in their creative and social pursuits.
The article also interviewed various other personalities such as former Universiti Malaya student leader-turned-politician Ahmad Shabery Cheek and Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia's Centre for Public and International Relations director Prof Dr Yang Farina. But my favourite quote in the article, which was in line with my personal views of the issue came from Deputy Higher Education Minister Datuk Ong Tee Keat.
"When the ministry talks about amending the Act, people often miss the wood for the trees. The media keeps focusing only on certain aspects of the liberalisation [i.e., student's joining political parties and activities]. The bigger picture is to make universities more competitive and turn them into centres for developing human capital."

The former MCA Youth head says giving leeway to join off-campus organisations will take students off the pinnacle of the education system into the "real world".

Ong is not saying it, but under the present setup, the university student affairs department — better known by its Bahasa Malaysia acronym HEP — places all student activities under a microscope.

The HEP has to give the nod to anything from project budgeting to external correspondence to the type of banners that student bodies are allowed to put up. In short, almost nothing goes on without the HEP’s knowledge or approval.
And according a current 2nd year student of Universiti Malaya, Janice Puah (no relations with this blogger), "the common complaints against the HEP include foot-dragging, red tape and that the department has too much discretionary power".
"Why should the HEP take weeks to give the go-ahead for a cultural project? We are responsible adults. We don’t need someone to look over our shoulders all the time."
Why indeed.

The topic of UUCA has been on my mind for the past year or so and I've somehow just not managed to write too much about it besides a short post here. Kian Ming has also previous wrote on its academic impact here. There's definitely more I'd like to write about (I just need to have a bit of time to construct my thoughts). But since Kum Hor has kindly taken some of my views into print, it's a good place to start.

I was disappointed that the Zahid Higher Education report, which was excellent in many aspects failed to cover the impact of the UUCA in greater detail. However, our Higher Education Minister is clearly taking a more reformist stance towards improving our higher education system, including seriously reviewing some of its sacred cows. But more on this in upcoming posts. :)

70% Jobless or Not?

In probably the last post on this issue for now, till we receive further clarification from the Ministry of Human Resources, I must say that The Sun wasn't "technically" wrong (as I claimed in the previous post on this issue) in reporting that "[s]ome 70% of public universities and institutes of higher learning graduates in the country are unemployed."

Thanks to a reader who posted the link to the Hansard (I wasn't aware that the online Hansard gets updated that fast!), I must say that it was indeed the Minister who provided the catastrophic statistic on our public institutions of higher learning.

The following is the transcript from the Hansard in which Datuk Abdul Rahman bin Bakar replied to Sdr Lim Kit Siang's query:
Tuan Lim Kit Siang [Ipoh Timur]: Tuan Yang di-Pertua, daripada jawapan Yang Berhormat Timbalan Menteri menunjukkan bahawa masalah siswazah yang menganggur lebih serius bila dibandingkan dengan IPTS dan sesetengah IPTA. Dan lebih serius lagi apabila dibandingkan dengan IPT luar negara dan sehingga sekarang kita boleh tengok dalam iklan-iklan IPTS-IPTS satu ciri penarikan ialah bahawa mereka menawarkan kursus-kursus supaya ada employable graduates, sehingga ini masalah bahawa kita ada universiti-universiti yang mengeluarkan unemployable graduates. Bukankah ini perlu satu perubahan yang institutional mengenai kualiti dalam universiti-universiti tempatan kita.

Datuk Abdul Rahman bin Bakar: Memang pihak kita menyedari bahawa pengangguran di kalangan IPTA dan IPTS berbeza. Sebagai contohnya, pengangguran di kalangan IPTA dalam lingkungan 70% di mana IPTS di dalam lingkungan 26% dan pengangguran daripada luar negara berkisar dalam 34%. Employable graduates ini memang suatu usaha yang telah dimulakan semenjak lama tetapi disusun kembali dengan harapan dan hasrat supaya graduan yang khususnya keluar dari IPTA memperoleh pekerjaan.

Dan yang jelas berlaku kini iaitu keluaran daripada IPTA kebanyakannya tidak dapat memenuhi peluang-peluang pekerjaan bukan berdasarkan kepada subjek ataupun kursus yang diperolehi sahaja tetapi ia juga berkaitan dengan soft skill seperti keterampilan, kebolehan, kewibawaan, penguasaan bahasa dan seumpamanya. Kementerian menyedari perkara ini sebab itulah kita menjalankan pelbagai skim latihan termasuk Skim Latihan Graduan dan keduanya kita juga memberikan pengesyoran serta pandangan-pandangan kepada Kementerian Pelajaran dan juga Kementerian Pengajian Tinggi supaya meletakkan kursus-kursus yang bersesuaian dan juga yang dituntut ataupun yang diminta oleh pasaran. Terima kasih.
So there you go - the Ministry of Human Resources has indeed claimed that about 70% of graduates from our public institutions of higher learning is unemployed. I seriously doubt that the statistic is correct - which led me to the clarification posted earlier that maybe Datuk Abdul Rahman bin Bakar was referring to 70% of the unemployed graduates registered with the Ministry were from public institutions of higher learning, while 26% were from private institutions. But then again, he has also added that the unemployment rate of foreign graduates was 34%. So it doesn't fully add up based on my "revised" inference.

But why have I spend 4 posts over this "simple" issue trying to figure out what our Deputy Minister has claimed? Shouldn't a representative from the Ministry of Higher Education stand up and challenge the statistics from their counterparts at the Ministry of Human Resources for giving such a damning picture of our public institutions of higher learning? After all, given that our country's unemployment rate is well below 10%, it would mean that it is way way easier to gain employment if one did not possess a tertiary education from public, private and overseas universities and colleges, than if one were to be a graduate.

Maybe our Deputy Minister of Human Resources should be referred to the Parliamentary Privileges Committee for misleading the Parliament via the new Standing Order 36(12)? ;-)

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Experiences-KL 2006

A gentle reminder that the Experiences-KL 2006 American Education Fair is to be held Sunday next week. So all you upper secondary students out there, drop by Sunway Pyramid Convention Centre to find out more about the top universities in the United States from the people who have been there!

I've also previously written about the fair here. See you there!

Friday, July 07, 2006

70% Jobless Clarification

OK, its safe to say that I believe the Sun got it wrong. As blogged here and here the last 2 days, I was extremely skeptical that as many as 70% of our public university graduates are unemployed.

I've just read another report on the same issue in the New Straits Times (NST) on the same day here, which essentially said the same thing:
Deputy Human Resources Minister Datuk Abdul Rahman Bakar... said the number of unemployed graduates from public institutions of higher learning stands around 70 per cent, and private institutions of higher learning around 26 per cent.
Image courtesy of AkalMuda.

However, if you read the actual physical copy of the NST (shown above), there is a little caption on the top right corner that said:
  • 70 per cent from public institutions of higher learning
  • 26 per cent from private institutions of higher learning
The above statements clearly means something different. It just means that of the 20,000 or so unemployed graduates registered with the Ministry of Human Resources, 70% graduated from public institutions, while another 26% graduated from private institutions.

This is obviously completely different from what the Sun claimed whereby "[s]ome 70% of public universities and institutes of higher learning graduates in the country are unemployed."

Given that the total number of tertiary students in the public institutions of higher learning constitutes approximately 53.4% of the total number of tertiary students in the country, a 70% contribution to the total number of unemployed graduates in the country is obviously disproportionately large.

Well, at least one riddle solved. :)

Thursday, July 06, 2006

More on Jobless 70%

The Sun who reported on the "70% jobless grads" report (blogged here), followed up with a commentary yesterday. Despite not questioning the logic behind a the silly statistic, it raised some good points which I will quote here:
Unfortunately, the response given by Abu Bakar-that his ministry has established a retraining scheme and is providing feedback to the Higher Education and Education ministries-appears to be tired and unimaginative, much like an attempt to mend a burst mains with Band Aid. You just know that it's doomed to fail.

So, instead of cramming school leavers into universities that spring up overnight, we could start by taking them into skills development centres that can mould them into well-trained, technically sound workers who will form the economic backbone of a dynamic developing nation.
I've been curious about all these millions of ringgit spent on "retraining schemes" for our unemployed graduates. I mean, what's the point? If 3-4 years of tertiary education can't make one employable, how much can the "retraining schemes" do? If these schemes were indeed that useful and successful, we might as well have them as part of our university courses! Alternatively, if these "retraining schemes" are teaching these unemployed new industrial skills, then possibly these students shouldn't have been accepted into universities in the first place.

Hence the suggesting by The Sun to slow down the "cramming" of school leavers into universities is a valid one. This is to me, the primary cause of jobless graduates in this country.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

70% Public University Graduates Jobless (!?)

Whoa! I think even the most cynical amongst us out there would have been shaken by such a staggering number of unemployed graduates. I mean how can more than half of our graduates be unemployed?

But that' the headline report from the Sun yesterday.
Some 70% of public universities and institutes of higher learning graduates in the country are unemployed. This is in contrast with 26% for private institutions of higher learning and 34% for foreign graduates.

Deputy Human Resources Minister Datuk Abdul Rahman Bakar revealed the figures yesterday in reply to a question from Opposition Leader Lim Kit Siang (DAP-Ipoh Timur).
While I'm not surprised that the number of unemployed is large, I believe that the statistics provided above either by Datuk Abdul Rahman Bakar, or reported by the Sun is misleading. I suspect that some incompetent statistician somewhere took the total number of unemployed gradautes in the country (who could have graduated in different years) and divided the number by the number of tertiary education students in a year to obtain the silly percentage.

If however, the "70%" statistic is indeed true (which I seriously doubt), then I think we might as well shut down half of our public universities.

What was more interesting however, is the additional breakdown of unemployed graduate numbers by universities provided by the Ministry. Note that the following breakdown refers only to the 20,217 who have registered themselves with the Ministry of Human Resources, and does not include those who haven't bothered with the Ministry.

It is most interesting to note that Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM) contributes by far the most number of unemployed graduates amongst all the universities in Malaysia. The number of unemployed produced (3,278) is more than double the next highest university, Universiti Utara Malaysia (UUM) (1,532). To put it into context, it is hence extremely laughable that UiTM as recently as a months ago, declared itself to be a "world class university" - see my blog post about it here. In its advertisement of self-aggrandisement, UiTM dared to ask:
... why are UiTM graduates highly sought after?

They are trained to fill the needs of industry both in the private and public sector, they have strength of character, and they have acquired mastery of the skills needed in today's competitive environment.

UiTM's graduates are accepted at the world level because of their ability ot communicate in English and their good communication skills.
Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary here, UiTM declared its graduates to be highly marketable and are in demand globally. Assuming an intake of 30,000 students per annum and the likelihood that the above number represents UiTM's contribution to the unemployed pool per annum, that's more than a 10% ratio of unemployability, a terrible figure even by Malaysian standards!

The next interesting nugget of information produced is the subjects which seem to be littered with unemployed graduates as compiled in the table below:

I can fully understand "Business Administration" or other management programmes as a degree course that many candidates opt for if they are not qualified for other subjects to study, and hence the high level of unemployability given the weaker pool of students. However, computer science as the highest contributor to the unemployed pool? Isn't that the next wave of growth overtaking the country whereby computer science graduates should be in high demand?

The answer as to why the Computer Science faculty seems to be contributing the highest number of unemployed graduates to the market place despite a clear shortage of skilled workers in the industry is fairly obvious. I've previously written about it here.
A survey conducted earlier has indicated that as many as 30% of the umemployed local graduates are computer science and information technology degree holders. These skills are in obvious demand in the country - it is not a mismatch. The clearcut issue in this case is that many of the local institutions of higher learning, both public and private have failed to offer a sufficiently rigourous education to produce the necessary quality in the workforce which the industry requires.
I'm not alone with this opinion. A friend and CEO of another sofware company listed on MESDAQ, was quoted similarly (blogged here).
Most importantly, as highlighted by Chris Chan, chief executive offer of The Media Shoppe in the same article:
... some local ICT graduates lacked fundamental technical skills and only had knowledge of basic software such as Microsoft Office (!)
The problem is largely either the poor ICT curriculum of many of our local universities/colleges that doesn't seem teach anything to our ICT students or these students shouldn't have been taking ICT courses in the first place.
Anyway, I'm glad that the Government has in recent times been a tad more liberal with releasing statistics. We hope however, that the statistics which are released can make a bit more sense and the replies made in Parliament to be a tad more "sensible". I mean "70% of local public university graduates unemployed" - that's almost a national emergency!

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Quick Rafiah Update

After being appointed as the vice-chancellor of Universiti Malaya 2 months back, through the Sunday Star Education segment, we have received a little bit of feedback as to what Datuk Rafiah Salim thinks needs to be done at Universiti Malaya.

This is on top of her earlier announced target of an increase in postgraduate enrollment of 50% by 2015 as blogged by Kian Ming here.
Universiti Malaya (UM) vice-chancellor Datuk Rafiah Salim has done an analysis of the institution’s strengths and weaknesses.

More than a month after taking up the post, Rafiah said that while UM is good in medical science, law and research, the number of international students and academics should be increased.

“However, there is a need to balance this with the development of our own human capital. In raising UM’s ranking, we must be careful not to compromise the national agenda,” said Rafiah.

She added that the university also needed to focus more on the study of Islamic commerce and increase international publications.
Nothing too juicy in the above statements, but it's an update nevertheless. So we continue to wait and see.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Scholarship Quotas 2006

I've wrote a few weeks ago that it has finally be made "transparent" by the Government that our JPA scholarships were quota based. 80% reserved for bumiputeras, while the remainder for the non-bumiputeras.

Based on the latest statistics provided by the Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister's Department, Datuk Abdul Rahman Suliman, the racial breakdown of receipients was more favourable to non-bumiputeras this year, comprising 23.8% of the receipients. In the past 5 years, it has been consistently limited to 20%.

The Deputy Minister has also provided a breakdown of the racial composition of scholarship receipients by subjects enrolled. It is summarised in the table below:

Non-bumiputeras actually form nearly 30% of the scholarship receipients for those pursuing science and technology degrees. For social sciences, non-bumiputeras also form more than a quarter of the receipients, although the overall number of scholarships for social science candidates form only a tiny 6.7% of all scholarships.

Does these new set of numbers represent a "break" from the past policy of a rigid 80:20 scholarship distribution ratio among ethnic groups? In the past, we know for a fact that there is a rigid formula in place. While non-bumiputeras have benefited a little more in the current year, I'm curious what is the criteria used for scholarship distribution.
[The Deputy Minister] said the criteria used in selecting the applicants was based on academic excellence (65 per cent), involvement in co-curriculum (10), socio-economy and background of families (10) and performance during the interview process (15).
However, I'm certain that ethnic grouping continues to play a role in the distribution of scholarships - hence, what's the new "improved" criterion?

I'll continue to argue for reforms in the JPA scholarship programme as proposed in my earlier Scholarships Quota post. We hope to hear more from the Public Servcie Department.