Thursday, September 14, 2006

Budget 2007 (III): Quantity vs Quality

This is the third instalment of my analysis of the Budget recently announced by the Prime Minister recently. The first covered the outline of the Budget relating to the education sector, whilst the second was an assessment of the impact of the allocation on the respective ethnic groups in the country. This third of five instalments will cover Malaysia's persistent emphasis on quantity at the expense of quality in the education sector.

It has been announced in the Prime Minister's budget speech that The Government will establish Universiti Darul Iman Malaysia in Terengganu and Universiti Darul Naim in Kelantan, as well as upgrade Akademi Tentera Malaysia (Military Academy of Malaysia) into Universiti Pertahanan Nasional Malaysia (National Defence University of Malaysia).

Very simply, that brings the total number of public universities and university colleges to 19. As it stands, we also have a total of 22 private universities and university colleges to date. This number hasn't yet included the new colleges which will be granted university college status this year. This means that the nation has at least 41 university and university colleges not including tens of institutions offering degree programmes in partnership with foreign universities serving a population of 26.4 million. That works out to a ratio of approximately 644,000 to each university.

On the other hand, our neighbour with significantly higher standards in education measured by all indicators except for that produced by the Selangor Menteri Besar, possesses only 3 universities in total serving the population of 4 million. This works out to a ratio of 1.33 million per university.

As earlier highlighted in this blog, that essentially means that we have more than double the number of universities relative to Singapore.

With only 3 universities, Singapore has 2 universities in the Top 50 and Top 200 of the THES and Shanghai Jiaotung University global rankings table respectively. Singapore Management University (SMU), being relatively new, is understandably omitted from the rankings. On the other hand, Malaysia which has more than 40 universities, has none in the top 150 and the top 500 of the respective rankings table (See post on "Latest Global University Rankings").

If this does not represent a clear emphasis for quantity over quality, I'm not sure what other evidence can be used to demonstrate otherwise.

In addition, it is of greater importance for countries like Malaysia to utilise its limited resources to fully exploit the potentials of its younger generation in order to significantly raise productivity and innovation in the future. As it stands because of the number of institutions the Government will have to support, the already precious and limited funds are distributed across way too many institutions.

Although the Singapore education budget is in absolute terms, smaller than that in Malaysia – S$6.16 billion (RM14.2b), it spends S$1.24 billion (RM2.86b) on its 3 universities. National University of Singapore (NUS) itself receives some S$700.7 million (RM1.65b) from the Government. Comparatively, Malaysia's premier university, Universiti Malaya (UM) receives support of only [RM will provide exact figure later] million from the Malaysian Government. It is not surprising then that NUS can pride itself to be a true world-class university, attracting the top students and academics of the world and produces some of the globally recognised top class analysis and research globally. UM on the other hand, had to rely on paying to take part in dog and pony trade shows to collect meaningless coloured medals.

The fact that the government has only allocated RM195 million to “upgrade and improve the facilities” of the existing 16 or so universities and university colleges, averaging only RM12.2 million per institution, indicates how our funds our being stretched unnecessarily by the quantity of institutions.

As a result, the only possible outcome from the policy which emphasized on quantity at the expense of quality, is the production of many (note: not all) local graduates who are not sufficiently equipped with communication, critical thinking and analytical skills. It is hence unsurprising that the Government has to make itself the dump for the unemployable graduates.

While admittedly, the quantity policy is one which is difficult to reverse, it is important for the Government to demonstrate its political will to reverse the trend, even if its baby steps, to show that it is recognising that its policy has resulted in creating degree factories producing many substandard products.


Anonymous said...

Tony said, "to show that it is recognising that its policy has resulted in creating degree factories producing many substandard products".

To show something, you must begin to realise that something. The incessant increase in the number of universities and colleges cannot give any one at all the impression that our government is anywhere near that realisation. I also noticed the curious acronym for the proposed university in Terengganu - Universiti DIM. Goodness.

Anonymous said...

..Tony's well thought analytical post above could only infer a possible conclusion that because the country is declining academically, then it is not going to be able to advance much in the corporate world on a global basis.

Yet there is a heroic proposal in the recent budget that the country’s central bank would provide one billion RM for the EXIM Bank to extend loans to entrepreneurs investing abroad.

It’s strange that the authorities would want to talk about promoting loads RM investments abroad when they can’t even develop & promote properly and more generously the academic std. and quality of universities locally.

The fact that the premier local university is not ranked internationally, obviously the country cannot boast of any good business provide good quality professional training to the local executives.

It's a big daydream then to talk about how prosperous and great an economy the country wants to grow into..

Anonymous said...

The truth is Malaysian government has never been any good at making anything quality. Think about it, went it comes to GLCs, there are many with not really a single one being of world-class standards. In attracting FDI, everything is also quantity not really quality. Buidling infrastructure. Lets take our highways and our pride and joy - NS highway - have you looked at it lately, its pretty crappy already with 33 years more to go in its concession. Lets take buildings - now many government and government-linked buildings are really well-maintained. If you look around Putrajaya office including the PM office, a keen eye will tell you there are already things breaking down and shoddy work showing up. Same thing with KLCC.

Malaysian government idea of making quality is to create quantity with the luck that quality will come out of it somehow and claim it as their own. Sheer luck anything great comes out of it. That is the Malaysian government way of making quality.

The only people that has a track record of quality is the private sector particularly non-bumiputera institutions and individuals. If there is hope to be quality in education, it lies there not in public ones...

Anonymous said...

Comparing Malaysia to Singapore is like comparing apples and oranges.

Singapore's mission is to have institutions of higher learning that produces competent graduates for the industry.

Malaysia's mission is to produce enough graduates to fulfill its social responsibility to the people. I believe that is why more universities are being built in Terenganu and Kelantan.

Because of this, it is impossible to reverse the trend. It is political suicide for any politician to convince the rakyat saying: "we have limited resources, only a select few can pursue a degree."

Instead, a possibility would be to say: "Two universities (i.e. UM & USM) will obtain 5 times more in funds compared to all other universities (on a per student basis). Number of available sits elsewhere are still available and would not increase. These two would be the best and university entrance is by PURE merit. Competition for better students and prestige between the two universities would help improve quality".

With better resources and motivation, the other ingredient sorely lacking is leadership.

Anonymous said...

My advice is ...
" No point flogging a dead horse"

Meaning no matter how or what we try, it comes to no point as our government is bent on its mission and would not listen to us..
They more reasons to listen to the rakyat and how they fare at the ballot boxes...intellectuals like us are just a few irritating flies on the buffalo's hide..

Anonymous said...

On Singapore, Singapore currently have four universities - including UniSIM. In addition to that, next year, that number would be five universities (UNSW Asia).

Secondly, in Singapore, the goals is vastly different and may not be appropriate for Malaysia - the local universities there have a goal to be elite universities, not universities educating the average undergraduate.

No developed country ever depended solely on elite universities - take Singapore, for example - most graduates are *not* from local universities.

Golf Afflicted said...

Hey Rajan,

UniSIM is like Open University Malaysia which focuses on working adults. I've not included such universities in the calculation for they serve a different purpose. We will also soon have Universiti Wawasan.

I've also not taken into consideration branch campuses of foreign universities. Malaysia have 3 at this point of time and there are more to come.

Hence, irrespective of inclusion or exclusion of the above universities, the argument stands.

I am certain that the Singaporeans will disagree with you that the NUS/NTU or SMU are not targeted at the "average" undergraduates. Targeting the average undergrads is not mutually exclusive to creating elite universities. The proportionate number of undergrads to the population is not significantly different between the two countries.

And I would completely disagree with you that most graduates in Singapore are *not* from the local universities. Most *absolutely* are.

Tony P