Sunday, September 17, 2006

Another One Slips Thru'

There's been a spate of letters to the Star this month by quite a few talented Malaysians, especially academics who were expressing their unhappiness over the local higher education administration system. And I've not written much about our local talents in foreign soils, except in passing, since one of the most popular posts - A Very Frightened Malaysian Abroad.

Sylvia, a PhD student at highly rated Australian National University (ANU) wrote about how Australia is an attractive destination for Malaysia's talented emigrants, and how it is a "home away from home" without the discriminating factors (I disagree on this, but that's not relevant here). Joanna, a Malaysian student in Melbourne, wrote earlier that many of her non-bumiputera peers are already set in becoming permanent residents at the land Down Under. And of course, Dr Chris Anthony, who writes to the Star every other week, called on the need to restructure our university academic and administration system to fully tap yhe vast potential of all Malaysians. This was in response to our higher education minister's call to recruit more non-bumiputeras in the academia.

But the letter that really caught my eye was by an anonymous writer (I'm sure it won't take much for the Minister of Higher Education to reach him, if Tok Pa so wanted to), "Malaysian Oxford Don" (MOD), who looks likely to give up on Malaysia for a country and an education system which sufficiently appreciate his talents.

MOD received his Masters from Imperial College and is currently pursuing a PhD at Oxford University. Some of the colleges were so impressed that he was engaged first as a tutor at Magdalen College, and subsequently with a more substantial lectureship with Brasenose College. He has even been requested to assist with admission interviews for the college, and needless to say, his supervisor was surprised that he was unable to secure scholarships from Malaysia to pursue his doctoral education.

Now, he has been offered the "Highly Skilled Migrant" programme by the British Home Office. MOD has his heart in Malaysia because his family is still here. However, it looks like due to our country's inability to retain its own brains, we will soon lose him to a developed country which valued his services and talents more than we do.

And how did that happen? MOD joined our local academia for a couple of months only to find that his opportunity in being granted a postgraduate scholarship limited, and was disturbed by the unequal opportunities presented to Malaysian academics based on one's ethnic group.

The government may harp on the much needed brain gain programme as much as they like. Last year, our Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak related that "Malaysia needs to put in place a sustainable brain gain programme to attract skilled talents to meet ashortage of about 30,000 to 40,000 researchers, scientists and engineers in 2010." However, if the country continues to persist with discrimatory policies and unequal opportunities, particularly in the academia, then the country will never be able to meet its objectives.

I've written earlier that the irony of denying or limiting scholarships to non-bumiputeras in the academia only serves in the long term to inhibit the growth and progress of bumiputeras in our local universities.
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.
If the Ministry of Higher Education is reading this post, then I'd like to call upon the Minister himself to get in touch with MOD, particularly in one of his frequent trips to the United Kingdom and demonstrate how important MOD is to the country. For that matter, why not offer a PhD scholarship to MOD retrospectively, given that he has obviously proven his worth in one of the top schools in the world (and I don't mean rank 169th). MOD's contribution to the local academia could and should not be underestimated.


Anonymous said...

I infer that the brain gain programme mentioned is meant for foreigners with particular religious affiliation rather than the non-bumis in Malaysia. Otherwise why would the Government keep overlooking the many talents of her local citizens and allow them to contribute to other foreign countries instead (just look at the Star Global Malaysian site and you will see many academics around the world, and I am certain the profiles are just the tip of the iceberg).

Anonymous said...

and the meek shalt inherit the earth...

Anonymous said...

wah Tony, featured in Malaysiakini lor. Cool...

Anonymous said...

I salute those who have migrated,for their courage to do so.It proves the point that if you are good,you are in demand and if not in Malaysia others would accept you.
I hated those who shout and scream of unfairness,corruption,racist etc but yet have no guts to move out.Maybe they are making so much noise because they are not good enough to go elsewhere and nobody wants them.So pathetic isn't?

Benkaiser said...

Pathetic? I think you really posses a shallow mind and extremely self-centred because I think you are too comfortable typing the riduculous comment. Completely out of touch with the REAL COMMON PEOPLE. Get yourself to the ground, goto Sentul, DBKL flats, longhouses, the flats of Bukit Bintang, Kepong and Pudu. Do you those people have the means to migrate? All they want is thier offsprings to receive decent education, get into university and then out of thier tiny cribs for a better life. But can they? No, because they are perceived as under par by people like you and add in thier skin colour, more blockades to a better life. They can't speak proper english like you because they have to fend for thier family at an early age by becoming dvd peddlers, dish washers, market runners and all those so called lousy jobs for the lousy people. People like you would then label them as Ah Bengs and Ah Lians who knows no nothing but Andy Lau and Twins. Do they have a choice? Yes they do! but within a limited scope of choice they can pick! which is to survive. What can they do? Beg you for money so they can go Uni because they only scored 3 As and all Bs? No one likes to be looked down upon, no one wants to make a fuss but they just simply don't have a choice. What can they do? beg BN to give them a fair go? or again seeking your support so they can migrate??

OPEN YOUR EYES! Damm! people like you pisses me off who knows no hardship! Nonsense!

Don't hide behind your anonymous identity and reveal yourself! and show us that we are pathetic! show us!

*Pardon me, I know am emotional over it because I have been through all these!

Anonymous said...

MOD claimed to be such a high flyer, I am just wondering why he was not awarded an ORS or even employed as Research Associate by Oxford. Just a thought.

Background info...
"ORS: Overseas Research Student"
The UK government dish out around 2,000 ORS awards for overseas student to pursue PhD each year. Out of these 2,000 awards, half of it is shared between Cambridge and Oxford while the other half is shared by the rest of UK Uni. So university other than oxbridge will receive a hand full of award each year normally but Oxford should receive around 500 each year!

Research Associate (RA):
UK universities also employ RA to do research while registered as PhD candidate. 10 years ago, it is near impossible task for overseas to be employed as RA but since the Labour government is in power, this has changed. Nowadays, quite a lot of overseas are employed as RA to pursue their PhD in UK universities.

Anonymous said...

How will 'MOD' conduct research in Malaysia, when the term 'research' is so foreign in Malaysia?

We all talk about wanting these PhD (and to a certain extent, masters) students to come home and help stop 'brain drain'. But honestly, do you really think by them *JUST* coming home that 'brain drain' will stop happening?

Think about it.

What are these PhD people supposed to do when they get home?
Do we even have the facilities to accomodate their research?
Do we even have the money to provide grants for research?
Or *MOST IMPORTANTLY* will this grant money be siphoned off to the you-know-whos as usual?

You see, getting them back is not as easy as just providing them with money to study overseas for their Phd and eliminating the whole race-based system of education. There's more to it than that. For these students to come back, stop brain drain and effectively increase 'brain gain' (or whatever our honorable DPM calls it) it'll just take more than scholarships, appealing to the patriotic side of these students and basing the education system on a meritocracy system. Granted these things will help, i'm not denying it, but that's just one TINY side of the issue. Change has to start within every nook and cranny of Malaysian society to facilitate 'brain gain'.

What if someone acquires their PhD in malaysia, realize that research facilities and grants in Australia are better - and they go there to their research instead? Has anyone actually considered that happening? Isn't that brain drain within the system?

Brain drain begins on our own shores. Our environment facilitates brain drain. These overseas grads are justified in staying overseas. After all, even if they do come back and relegate themselves to crappy pay, what are they going to do with such a crappy research-disinclined environment?

Anonymous said...

it's 'ludicrous' to the person who spelt it wrongly.

Anonymous said...

I actually do not believe that there is no money for research in Malaysia. There is money and if you look around, some of the labs have got fantastic facilities. The pay of a lecturer relative to standard of living is not bad too (the allowance in public universities effectively doubles the income).
The question though, lies in the racial politics when it comes to human resource. As is discussed in the previous blog 'Just like Harvard?', what use of facilities when there is no idea or passion to use them effectively?
Honestly, if I return home, I would be rather optimistic about the chances of building a strong research unit. There are smart, disciplined people around and I have certainly met quite a number in foreign unis. I would also find it more fulfiling developing something small into something more established in the world, rather than joining the bandwagon in an already established lab. Furthermore, Malaysia has her own unique resources, so there is much potential in harnessing local strengths to gain global competitiveness. You need some money to start up, but overhead costs are much lower than in more developed countries.
However, this is wishful thinking since the racial/religious factor and not meritocracy is practised in Malaysia, both on and off work.

Anonymous said...

IMO, you people are all off the mark. Malaysian education system is not there for education. It's used as a political play field to score points. For the purpose, it does wonderfully and well within expectation.

Anonymous said...

yeah several msian phd students brought this issue up when the Minister of higher edu. was here couple of weeks go (in melbourne). they were askin why their papers are not being published, instead the newspapers chose to publish 'hotter' news eg, siti n datuk k, mawi..etc.

and i was reli surprised to see so many msians tat nite. victoria alone has 6000 msian students.. n i'm sure a number are making up their mind to stay here.

Anonymous said...

MOD exaggerated his "achievements". I'm also a Malaysian from Oxford and about to complete a PhD (they call it a DPhil in Oxford but MOD didn't even mention that).

You don't need to be a genius to help with interviews for undergraduate admissions. I was offered the chance to do it back in the first year of my DPhil.

When MOD said he was appointed as a lecturer, he meant he was hired to teach undergraduates on a one-to-one (sometimes two-to-one) basis... not teaching in a lecture hall as one might have expected. Lots of DPhil students here do some form of regular undergraduate teaching to help supplement their income. Quite a few get hired on a one-year type basis like MOD to do the dirty work that the professors don't want to do because of their heavy research duties. Plus teaching undergraduate engineering at Oxford isn't exactly rocket science if you've done a Masters and am doing a PhD in it.