Tuesday, September 05, 2006

TheStar-ACMS Conference: Impressions

The full report on the recently concluded TheStar-ACMS Conference on Globalising Higher Education in Malaysia can be found here. This post summarizes my main impressions of that conference. But before I go into the details, I should make a disclosure here for the purposes of transparency.

I was a fellow at the Asian Center for Media Studies (ACMS) in the early part of 2004, just before I left for Duke. I wrote a series of articles examining and analysing the 2004 elections for the Star as part of my undertaking as a fellow. I also have good relations with Datuk Ng Poh Tip, the executive director of ACMS, and Dr. Lee Kam Hing, a well-respected academic (formerly of the UM) and one of the brains behind the setting up of ACMS. Having said that, I will try to be objective in this post regarding the aforementioned conference.

Firstly, I think that such a conference was both timely and necessary. Some of our more cynical readers might think that this kind of conference was a lot of hot air (and a way for ACMS and the Star to make some money on the side) but one has to understand that the process of change usually occurs slowly in Malaysia. By bringing together different academics from internationally reknowned institutions such as Harvard and the University of Sydney, local politicians and policy makers (such as our DPM and Higher Education Minister as well as our VCs) can once again be reminded of how far behind we are in terms of higher education and what needs to be done to rectify the current situation.

I think that while we have shed off our colonial shackles for almost 50 years, we are (or at least some of us) still more inclined to listen to a 'white man' from Harvard or Cambridge, than a fellow Malaysian who is as knowledgable and articulate on these issues. That being said, it was nice to see our very own Prof. Azmi Sharom as one of the panelists and Prof. Wang Gungwu giving the keynote.

Secondly, it was also a way for the strengths and weaknesses of our local universities to be analysed and publicly debated in a setting that is relatively 'safe'. There are many ways of making the weaknesses of our local universities known. This blog and other forums out there is but one method. Policy makers in Malaysia don't necessarily respond well with complaints and criticisms being shoved down their throat. But if these criticisms are pointed out in a non-threatening and analytical way, such as is the case in these conferences, it is more likely that our policy makers would be inspired to take action. Of course, we also need push factors like members of the public making hay at the appropriate times (e.g. when the former UM VC pasted billboards all over town proclaiming the 'achievements' of UM).

We need conferences like these to be part of the deliberative process of change and understanding. However, the downside of such conferences is that too much is done to avoid politically sensitive issues such as some of the causes of why our local universities are not performing up to standard - recruitment and promotion policies, research incentives, the role of UUCA and Akujanji, and so on.

This not wanting to tread on toes mentality is just not restricted criticism directed at the public universities. I would have liked to see a session on the future of private higher institutions of learning in Malaysia (and not the marketing overseas session that they had). Will these institutions continue to be money making degree churning institutions or will they have genuine research activities? This question is particularly relevant to those full fledged private universities such as Monash and Nottingham who have set up shop here in Malaysia or who have licenses to issue their own degrees such as LimKokWing.

I certainly would have liked to attend this conference. I've not met or heard Wang Gangwu before so that would have been a treat. It would also have been interesting to see the interactions between the different panelists. And it would have been a good opportunity for me to catch up with some old friends and perhaps make new acquaintances. My feeling is that this won't be the last conference on higher education that ACMS-The Star will organize. Maybe next time.

The full program details and presentations can be found here.


Anonymous said...

'recruitment and promotion policies, research incentives, the role of UUCA and Akujanji, and so on'...

Many lay-people can say what the problems are with our universities.

The point is, will the government change its policy? The new budget is out and yet more money pumped in for generally a priviledged and spoilt subset of the whole nation.

All this bla bla bla from Harvard and what not is just cakap sajelaa...

Anonymous said...

Besides the other speakers, Prof. Quinn Mills is as motivating as usual and if you asked him, you can also get to hear some nice and some scandalous stories re Harvard.. and..also lots went for his signature on his books.

I was hoping they talk in more detail re the MyBrain15 where they intend to produce 100,000 Ph.D by 2020 but nothing substantial was disclosed.

It was an interesting Conference tho' where you see who's who presently providing the Acadamic Leadership in the country.

..good post KM

Anonymous said...

Dear KM,
There is no need to import all the renowned academics from all the blue chip universities to tell us how to be world class universities.

Judging from the bloggers comments in here and from the man on the street...everyone knows what went wrong with our universities

It is just a waste of time and money just to know from "others" what went wrong with our universities.If it is the way for STAR and ACMS to get the extra money, then."...speechless...."

The only problems is the "people" there have no guts to point the fingers directly to the universities and tell them wat went wrong. Everybody out there is just being "polite" and following the "protocol" and "etiquette" of civilness and good manners.

The fact that UM VC was there is a mockery!Does she think by attending such events she is like taking the "magic pill"and solve the whole problems of world class in our universities?

Is she "blind" or "deaf" not to comprehend the whole thing? Or is she just a "puppet" for the politicians?

It is still Talk..talk talk but not the WALK!

But best of all I respect UITM...They decided to declare their university as world class and with all the political blessings. No need to attend such conferences or waiting for rankings from THES or watever...

One thing I learned in life you cannot undo in a few years what evolution has done in millions of years.

And you cannot make sense out of nonsense!


Anonymous said...

Now I see why Tony P advertise for everyone here to attend the conference.....$$$$$$$$
Oooopsss! Sorry!

Anonymous said...

We don't need a conference to teach the whole nation's VCs how to become a world class university - A conference is for different purposes!!! However, if the party concerned does not know how to recruit good VCs in order to make our public universities world class, we do need the service of some head-hunting companies!

Casper said...

I think before we go to a conference and list down 500 actions items, we need to get the basic right, and that would be the first step towards building a world class institution.

First thing first is the quality of the students and lecturer. Keep and attract (not all Malaysian genius works for RM only) the geniueses, publishing world class paper, and we are in the right step to building a world class uni.

As for whether our policy maker listen, I guess it doesn't really matter here as they are required to have other considerations (e.g. making a non Malay UM's VC... you got to be joking, even if the politician really want to do that, their grassroot would scream).

Anonymous said...

ellie says ( wrote sept.06 : 09:19:04 am :)

hey..this is still much cheaper than spending loads RM to send people to visit at least 17 countries (ranging from China to Egypt) talking to at least 78 Universities & Institutions (source: the 2006 MOHE Committee Report) to gather info on "..International Benchmarking And Best Practices Study.." covering places ranging from Dept. of Education & Skills ( UK ) to State Secretariat for Education & Research ( Switzerland ) to Canada Education Centre Network ( Canada ) to of course Harvard (USA)

Anonymous said...