Thursday, August 31, 2006

Way to go, Tok Pa!

Too often, we blog about our negative impressions of our Malaysian education system and too often, we can get disillusioned at the lack of progress. The recent announcement by the Higer Education Minister, Mustapa Mohamed, who asked "public universities to recruit more non-bumiputra lecturers, attract the best brains, and develop a vibrant academic environment" is definite encouragement for those of us who want to see genuine change in our local universities.

Before we all go negative on Tok Pa and make comments like 'action speaks louder than words', let us look at the tone and language which he used in the Star report.

Firstly, he acknowledged that there was more that could be done to attract non-bumi lecturers.

"I want more non-bumiputras to be recruited as lecturers. The Government has acknowledged there is a need for more non-bumiputras in certain sectors of the civil service. I personally believe more can be done to attract them," he said in an interview.

Secondly, he spoke of personal actions taken by himself towards this goal.

"I hope more non-bumiputras will come into the universities as we need everyone to be involved. I have asked the vice-chancellors to look into hiring more non-bumiputra academia."

Thirdly, he acknowledged that there is a tremendous imbalance in the upper management level of local universities.

"The minister acknowledged that the percentage of non-bumiputras, especially in promotional posts, was low. In Universiti Malaya there is only one non-bumiputra dean among 20. In many of the other universities, there is none."

This is actually a pretty brave step for Tok Pa to take since it might and probably will incur the wrath of some of the top management of our local universities who are keen to preserve the status quo.

So KUDOS to Tok Pa for coming out to make these statements.

Now, for some points of clarification and discussion.

Firstly, I think there's something to be said in regards to representation. Issues of quality aside, even if all things are equal, it is a poor reflection of the composition of the university when there is only one non-bumiputra dean among 20 in the UM, arguably the most high profile local university. What kind of signal does this send to students, faculty members and the larger public? How well can our local universities reflect the "face" of our country, given this composition?

Secondly, and more importantly, the system that is biased against non-bumis inevitably forces out many good non-bumi lecturers and academics from the local universities. Furthermore, it is certainly not a good advertisement for young academics returning from overseas and wanting to join the local academia. I would also argue that this system possibly demotivates SOME non-bumi academics resulting in underperformance - if you're not going to get promoted to a full professor regardless of output, then why work so hard?

So by making this kind of stand and taking actions to correct previous policy, Tok Pa is paving the way for:

(1) A more representative upper management
(2) Encourage good quality academics (esp.non-bumis) to stay within the system
(3) Motivate academics (esp.non-bumis) to perform better
(4) Encourage non-bumi academics (esp. from overseas) to join the system

I'm not sure if it's Tok Pa's proactive stance that is responsible but I recently received an email from a professor at a local university. He told me that in a recent promotional exercise, he and 4 other non bumi colleagues were promoted to full professor positions (out of 18, which is almost one third). And the encouraging thing is that he's only 37 and one of his non-bumi colleagues is only 42. He also mentioned that a young, 39 year old, bumiputra lecturer from the engineering school was also promoted to a full professor.

So it seems that the VC is making the right moves by recognizing young, prodigious talent. The VC of this university has a reputation as a more liberal VC in terms of university policies, including the promotion policies. I'm not sure if the recent promotions is just a continuation of the VC's liberal tendencies or if he used Tok Pa's instructions to promote a greater share of non-bumi academics. I'm hoping that it's a trend that will be followed in our other local universities.

Hopefully, the academia in our local universities will see Tok Pa's move as a positive one, heading in the direction of improving the quality and renown of our local universities and not interpret it as an action of 'home turf invasion'. Time will tell. In the meantime, I congratulate Tok Pa and wish him well!


Anonymous said...

Let's see if this one last long or the promotional is just a show of support for Tok Pa rhetoric and then quickly forgotten. I remain optimistic.

Anonymous said...

The higher Education minister's words are encouraging but the question is whether can he carry out the reforms within the current social/political context. Therefore, I am optimistically cautious whether it would just be "tahi-tahi ayam" or NATO (no action, talk only).

It would be a big step forward if the local universities can even retain non-bumiputera brains, let alone attract best brains. Correct me, if I am wrong...there are more Malaysians or ex-Malaysians (non-bumi) holding dean/director positions in NUS, NTU and SMU (S'pore universities) than in all local public M'sia universities. It is also a contributing factor why S'pore universities are ranked in Top 100 in the world but not M'sia universities.

Anonymous said...

Hard to believe that this is the same fellow who is satisfied with UPM’s investigation on the latest student fiasco?

Anonymous said...

I am very suspicious if Tok Pa's
statement will be executed...there is too much resistance from certain group in the campus. If it is executed the major players in the campus will be threathened and they are not going to take this sitting down..
To add to the problems, the percentage of bumi lecturers in almost all faculties are already too high to create a significant resistance to this idea.
Frankly I think this is just another sendiwara or wayang kulit!

Anonymous said...

Yes, i agree that Tok Pa will definitely face resistances from various level - UMNO Supp and uni level. Whether he can go against the current, it is still too early to see. I just hope that he won't be another "10 minutes football player" that backed down from all his pledges due to resistances. We are monitoring you, Tok Pa, and we hope for the best for the nation.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Politicians cannot be trusted especially the Bolehland jokers like Tok Pa. I take his words as hypocritic lip service. Mark my words, nothing is going to change in Malaysian public universities forever. Why would any sane non-Bumi take up an exclusively Malay post to be puppeteered?

Call me a cynic but Malaysian education is going to the dogs. Period.

Anonymous said...



Anonymous said...

The problem is, Tok Pa himself is an UMNO politician. IMHO, a politician is not a suitable candidate to lead the nation education as there is simply too much political influence. An academic is a better choice I reckon.

Anonymous said...

All this politicians talk nuts. They said one thing but in actual fact it's the reverse.

As an example inland revenue advetise for 200 accountants and there are more than 50 applicant from non bumi but at the end less than 10 get it.

More and more opportunities for non bumi is being taken back. Its becoming from bad to worse.

Anonymous said...

It's all hot air. Look at the recent appointment (1st September 2006) to Deans and Heads at UM. Perhaps there are no non bumi academics of calibre.

Anonymous said...

Dear Academic observer,
You forget one very essential criteria to become Deans or Heads,that is, you must be able to carry the twin spherical structures dangling in the special container between the thighs, polish them till they glistened like the big round moon in the darkest night!
That is the only way to hold the coveted posts of power. So that after you hold those coveted posts, those under you have to the same exercises to you and curry your favours.
So we develop a triangle of "spherical carriers" in the university

Anonymous said...

WHY MCA dont do anything about it?

Yen yen is bz buying expensive mercedes at such peanuts?

All politicians same...MCA OR UMNO OR MIC.
Its our fault putting the jokers there.

Next time when you vote put your "X' in the correct place!!!

Anonymous said...

Its OK to employ non bumi lecturers...good for competition. But pls choose the proper non bumi lecturer. Dont end up like that non bumi lecturer in ISB, UM who knows next to nothing but claim to know everything...kuchi pillai something like that..

Anonymous said...

2 things I asked my daughter to list what she likes at Wharton which she thinks are good for students. She's just 19 and she can tell me :

1. hire the very best lecturers

(she also has frequent one-to-one discussions over lunch some times with her lecturers where she is guided on her studies, presentation, thesis etc. )

2. have small class sizes

( she says it's very effective as the lecturer knows the students by names and class interaction
is stimulating and there are many opportunities for questions and discussions among students with lecturer )

For a young gal I think her comments are very sensible and she enjoys the whole learning process as a student

Happy Parent

Anonymous said...

We can only wait & see. If the right people are heading any research at all then within 3 to 5 years we will see some fruit. But if the wrong people are there, then it is another step backwards. Hopefully there will also be talented researchers. It will be a pity if this is just another white elephant.

Anonymous said...

Right people who can do research do not receive the research money or have gone to other countries..

Trouble is the wrong people receives grant but cannot do research.
Dont worry, the country will sink further n further deeper
More white elephants waiting

Malaysia famous for scenic bridge or the bridge that leads to no where..

Anonymous said...

1)the uni must hire the best lecturers,full stop.putting a race quota will not help our uni.
2)in fact forget about nationality too.just take the best,as long as they are on the same scale as our local academics
2)having said that,can someone do a study on the number of non bumis applying for a post at our is easy to scream racial bias but if there are not enough applications what can the minister do.