Thursday, October 19, 2006

RM500m for Cambridge?

Oh dear. Let me just say that this news which was highlighted by a reader here is yet to be substantiated. However, the source is none other than our former deputy prime minister, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim. It appears that our generous Government is ready to make a donation of RM500m to Cambridge University in the United Kingdom (UK).
Kerajaan telah bersetuju untuk memperuntukkan lebih setengah bilion ringgit kapada Universiti Cambridge. Petronas dan Khazanah Nasional masing-masing telah menyerahkan 190 juta ringgit sementara bakinya akan dikumpul dari sumbangan bank-bank asing yang berpengkalan di Malaysia.
If this "little" piece of news is indeed true, than sure, our Government has gone a "little" bonkers in its desperate attempt to raise the standards of the Malaysian universities. I believe that I've blogged here some time earlier this year that our Minister of Higher Education, Datuk Mustapa Mohamed has announced upcoming potential collaboration between our leading universities with Cambridge to prove that our universities, despite their miserly global rankings, has the pulling power. We have waited with unabated breath for subsequent announcements on the hints provided.

Again I emphasize, if this "little" nugget of information is true, then this Government is clearly at a lost of how to dramatically improve the standards of our local varsities and finds itself needing to buy itself, at outrageous prices, the opportunity to collaborate with some of the top universities of the world. The relevant question then is, where is the money going to?

Giving grants to top foreign universities is not an unheard of practice. The leading centre of education in this region, Singapore has often given generous grants to foreign universities. However, they were given on the basis that the funds are utilised to set up branch campuses in Singapore, and the institution itself is committed to spending at the the equivalent amount in the investment.

Are we expecting Cambridge to be setting up a branch campus or college in Malaysia? I certainly do not think so.

In the most recent budget, the higher education sector received an allocation of RM10.4 billion in terms of operational and development expenditure, of which approximately RM2 billion is for development expenditure. By "donating" the sum of RM500m or RM0.5 billion, that works out to a significant 4.8% of the overall budget or a shocking estimate of 25% of this year's development expenditure! The annual grant to Universiti Malaya works out to just above RM300 million (2004). The funds may be coming from Petronas or Khazanah, or even foreign banks, but surely, there must be much more productive ways of improving the local higher education sector with RM500 million!

There are obviously plenty of questions spinning around in my head - including what the funds will be used for, to secure postgraduate places at Cambridge for Malaysians? Or whether Cambridge will second top dons to be deans of our local faculties? Or for that matter, whether Cambridge will provide unfettered access to their research capabilities by our local Malaysian academics? I cannot as yet, justify to myself the worth of RM500 million in donation to Cambridge.

I'd like to call upon the Minister of Higher Education, or even the Prime Minister himself to declare if such plans are indeed underway, and if true, what is the justification for such an act of generosity. I certainly hope that it is not another hare-brained scheme like the one by the Ministry of Youth and Sports which intended to "invest" a similar amount in a "High Performance" training centre in the UK.


Anonymous said...

Wah! half a billion! (gulp!)

" secure postgraduate places at Cambridge for Malaysians?"

Doesn't Cambridge practice meritocracy? If that is the case, I'll be very disappointed with Cambridge.

Anonymous said...

Why didn't the gov donate that money to our own local people???

To donate such a huge amount out of the country is an insane act!!!

We have so many financial hurdles and yet, the government is GIVING AWAY our money? The taxpayer money without asking us?

As a citizen and taxpayer, I protest!

What A Lulu said...

lulu saw it too and was wondering whether to blog it or not.
but decided not too, as it is only 1 person saying it, and there's no one else who's heard it or is saying it.
let's wait and see if malaysiakini's investigative reporting will come up with anything or not.

Anonymous said...

I don't doubt someone is going around trying to actually promote this. The reason why these hare-brained ideas get notice is because it provide opportunities for someone to make some money doing it. Even if say it never actually get done, there is always some money paid out to look into it. Our politicians love this stuff because the idea of making a big headline and showy projects is good for their political career. They never get punished for stupidity and failure anyway so there is no fear of looking stupid or failure even.

Andrew Loh said...

ironically, the malaysian government stil doesn't fund the education of talented malaysians who get IN to these top tier universities.

i say give the money to the kids who deserve it. pay for their education.

Anonymous said...

why don't just give this money to everyone in Malaysia. Each one of us will stand to inherit RM20 million. Just parking the money in a bank at 4% interest p.a. will yield enough income to last a lifetime...without even working.

Anonymous said...

Just to add to my comments above, as an added bonus, we could get into the Guinness World Records as the country where EVERYBODY is a US dollar millionaire!

Anonymous said...

If I am not mistaken there was a Roman philosopher who quoted " politicians are not borned but excreted...." or is it secreted.

Whatever, the statement runs true over thousands of years of human politics

Anonymous said...

I think the information is probably true based on our government project to send a Malaysian in space just to make teh tarik which cost us millions of RM

Anonymous said...

I wonder how did daniel calculate that each of us get RM20mil ... i thought it was only RM20 ....

Anonymous said...

yeah, may be something wrong with the calculator or something like that...
RM20 vs RM20,000,000. lol

Anonymous said...

a thousand apologies for the wrong calculation :( got carried away with the thought.

Weng Khong LIM said...

Uh... you can rest assured that if the government DOES donate the money to Cambridge, it will be big news here and there will either the new buildings or professorships named after Malaysian figures. It does sound very fishy to me. Why on the earth would foreign banks in Malaysia want to contribute to such a donation? I am not a government supporter but considering the political bias of the writer of the blog post as well as the highly speculative nature of this piece of news, I think it's still premature to debate it. I'll let you folks know if I hear anything about this.

Anonymous said...

I recommend Daniel to register at UM to improve his maths..he he

Anonymous said...

Am I the only one who is confused? I have totally no idea how the Malaysia education system will improve by giving out a RM500b grant to Cambridge. If those money is intent to secure postgrad position in Cambridge then they are totally wrong. A good training is essential for an academician. But what is even more important is the quality of the candidate that is being sent for the training. If you send a good people for good training, you almost guarantee to get excellent outcome. However, if you send a poor candidate for a good training, it’s totally wastes of money. After all, what ever training that is given might not be even absorbed or later implemented in the education system. This is the problem that has hauled the Malaysian education for so long.

Now, as for Cambridge, I believe that they are practicing meritocracy. However, this are mainly applied to their undergrad study. As the top university in UK, the quality of the undergrad are really top notch, no question about it. However, postgrad study is a different story. What make Cambridge stand out in the scientific world are the good leaders and researcher in the university. Of course it does train some good scientist as well. But to get a place to do postgrad in Cambridge is not really that difficult, as long as you have a good degree and financial support. After all, what could be better to have a free working force in the research group to do all the experiments. So, the bottom line is, even the greatest university in the world does not guarantee to produce good student. It is the student himself that determine his own success. If I were to spend the RM500b, I would really pay extra attention to the quality of the candidate rather than just simple sending some one and come back to fill the place. Those are just simply useless.

Anonymous said...

VC of UM,

If the rest of my math is as crap as that, I would definitely have to join UM. But then, I would become the VC, not you :) If it got any worse, they would be begging me to join the EPU.

Anyway, sorry again for the huge boo-boo.

What A Lulu said...

so, has there been any confirmation on this report?

What A Lulu said...

btw, lulu is a MATH grad from UM.
An example of her mathematical brilliance can be found on

Anonymous said...


I'm totally in agreement with Wengkius. In my humble opinion, we must be extra careful especially dealing with sensitive issue and not to start bashing based on hearsay or uncorroborated evidence.

I believed those frequant this blog will remember clearly what happen after some blogers starts to bash Prof Shamsul and later to found out that what was quoted earlier is not true.

Guys, 'fair comment' cannot be the defence if the statement is not true.

What ever it is, Happy Deepavali and Selamat Hari Raya. Drive carefully to your hometown. Take a rest when ever needed.

Anonymous said...

Satu lagi projek kerajaan Barisan Nasional....

Vote for us again next election, and we will make sure your hard-earned money is wasted.

Anonymous said...

I don't believe this is true unless this is going to be confirm by the cabinate or the paliment. RM500 million is not a small amount, is not right to speculate.

Casper said...

That will probably buy us a "Malaysia College" at cambridge, together with Chairs, Professors and Dons. :-)

Our government should then secure full Intellectual property and advertising rights that are linked to this college.

In that case, I think RM 500million might just be worth the investment...

Anonymous said...

Frankly, I doubt that even if we bring the whole Cambridge or Oxford faculties to " jump start" the quality and standard of education of our local universitieshen, will make any difference with the present scenario of our academic environment. The locals still remain the same, their attitudes and values remain the same.The core of the problem is not solved by that quick injection of Cambridge academics. Once the Cambridge scholars leave, the scenario will revert back to the original scene.
The politicians in this country do not really understand the real situation. We cannot have a short cut to success by riding on some one else back. We must work and evolve to achieve it.

That is why we have no sense of pride or achievement which we can call our own. Examples
1) Proton is still basically mitsubishi of Japan. How can we trully claim it as our true malaysian car when the engine technology is controlled by Japan? I got a feeling all these while the Japanese are using us to market their products. Why are we so proud of " our" car when with all our universities we cant even build and design our very own engine?
2) Join the space club? All we did was act as a passenger about a Russian rocket to make teh tarik? Any one with money such as Ansari of USA can be a passenger. Is the rocket made and build by Malaysians? Who are we trying to kid?
3) The satteelite Measat is not build and designed by us..we buy it and ask other countries to shoot it into space.

Why are we so proud of our zero achievements?

One of our local universities is so proud of its countless signing of MOUs . What is the outcome of those MoUs?

Then we have the ISO exercises that is a reflection of standard and quality. How come our academic quality is dropping despite having ISOs? What about those millions of RM which the universities to get the ISO? Is it just an exercise in futility? Or is it entering some persons pocket?

Then we have various kinds of centres of academic excellence in the universities. Can they justify their existence? Or is it just another ploy to get the professor
ships or extensions?

Why dont the past and present VCs nd Deans answer these allegations?

Anonymous said...

I truly agree with argument of anonymous above but we have to understand it is almost impossible for the Bangsa to emulate success stories like Japan or S'pore or NZ. Beside all kinds of shortfall we have a Bangsa that doesn't have a very strong and long cultural buildup and now willingly adopt Arab culture to replace their own culture and identity. Even top Guru like Dr.M talks about the golden era of the old Arabs but he never realize that even during such golden era the society was ruled by monarchy with absolute power served by common slavery. Not much different of what the 30 years of NEP had achieved, a few big tycoons and everyone else are sidelined. So even if we continue to attack and argue with good faith but we are not going to bring any changes. Fortunately many advance countries do not shut their doors to talents otherwise we would have a real problem, anyway Salamat Hari Raya from London.

Anonymous said...

After scrapping RM390million sports center in UK, now they propose RM500million donation to UK uni. Very very fishy.

Anonymous said...

Maybe giving the money to Cambridge University is another Gerbang Perdana project? Who knows?

Anonymous said...

I have two questions:

1. Why? I know Singapore has done this, but has it been effective? I have heard kopitiam opinions on both sides...has there been a study?

2. Even if we are operating on some proven strategy, which it is not clear that we are...why Cambridge? Not too put too fine a point on it, but research funding and output in almost all fields one could name are far, far greater in the States at the moment.

Anonymous said...

It was reported on 17 October 2006 ( that Umno Youth’s deputy chief Khairy Jamaluddin said that Umno Youth was proud that several universities would set up Islam Hadhari chairs.

“This shows that they recognise the Islam Hadhari concept,” he said.

Khairy, who was commenting on Malaysia’s readiness to set up the chair at the Beirut University, added that among the other universities that would set up the chair was the Cairo University.

It looks like Malaysia suddenly has a lot of money to give away to foreign universities!

Shouldn't charity begin at home?

Anonymous said...

What about Malaysia University of Science and Technology (MUST)? How much did the gov pay MIT for that?

Anonymous said...

Why must we always be so negative?

In stead of RM 600 million for UMNO bahagian, RM 500 million for Cambridge should be considered money well-spent.

Divided up for everyone in Malaysia, it is just what, RM 20 per per person? Not a big deal what!

Anyway, consider this. If we paid the local universities to do research, we might get a lot better results from Cambridge, without prejudice even.

We need academics of the highest quality to look objectively at many issues regarding our country. Such as, for example, calculation of equity. If a Cambridge group reports on such an issue like ASLI, will the government be able to defend its position?

So, if Cambridge undertake to set up a Malaysian institute or Malaysian studies, it will be worth all the RM 500 million that we are giving it.

We do not need to be short sighted about this. I would definately believe the reports from Cambridge, regardless of what our politicians might say. We desperately need unbias studies like these on the many issues facing our country.

Why don't we give it a chance and see what happens?

Anonymous said...

Cambridge Uni is a great uni and I am proud that we will have a relationship with such a great institution.

Anonymous said...

wow.. 0.5bil is enough to setup a college here.. most of the newer ones do not have endowments that big..

as for the anonymous comments about it being hard/easy to get into cambs, just check the official stats..

Anonymous said...

Prof Omar is incorrect about research funding in the US in his email about the RM500 mill over at Lim Kit Siang's blog. Majority of the research funding in the US is extramural funding from Federal/State govt and small amounts from private companies. A very small fraction comes from private donations and endowments. Most endowments are for scholarships, named professorships (or chairs), etc. The US federal govt remains the largest source of research funding. The way the funding works is that the university imposes a "tax" on most of the grants (supplies and salaries, etc., exempting capital equipment). This "tax" is called "indirect costs" and is taken off the grant from the top. This "indirect costs" is claimed by the university to pay for utilities, infrastructures, administrative costs, etc., which is justifiable because without water, electricity, university buildings and people to take care of the buildings, you cannot do research. Private corporations also charge a "tax" on govt research funding that their researchers received from the govt. Maybe a better term in their case would be "overheads" or "profits" in my dictionary. The indirect cost rate ranges from 40% to even over 100% for a top Ivy league university. A rate of 40% means that to pay a research assistant an annual salary of 20K, we need to get a 33K grant because the university takes 13K. Depending on the university, the "indirect costs" would be distributed between the central admininstration, faculty/college and department in which the research is carried out. But this money is now reserve money and can be freely used. The department can save this money or spend them without restrictions. Usually a portion is used as seed money for starting new research as well as for starting new labs/research activities for newly hired faculty members. This amount of money can be quite a lot if you have many active and successful profs with many govt fundings. That is why research-active professors are promoted faster and paid higher than non-research-active colleagues because they bring in money. The main point is that the main funding for research in the US is from the govt not endowment. So, if the Malaysian govt is serious about R&D funding, then for RM500 mill they should set up a single non-profit merit-based institute which is allowed to hire the best brains (even expatriates ala Singapore) with outstanding publication records in international journals and let them loose on their research. Don't bother them but audit their finances and review their achievements every year. Then you can compete with Singapore. Oh, one more thing..paid them as in Singapore, which is US competitive salary. From what I read here, I know that is one pipe dream for that to happen in Malaysia.
I suspect the discussion with US or UK university may involve this overhead costs, i.e. how much can the host university claim as their overhead.

Anonymous said...

Why the 'elegant silence' Omar?

Running out of yr intellectual or pseudo intellectual comments?

Or have you realized that who the real 'fool' is?

Anonymous said...

Oops.. realize I made an error in my comment of Fri Dec 29, 07:56:48 am. Please delete the phrase "over 100% for a top Ivy league university". It should be "over 60% for a top Ivy League university". Harvard is about 66% and Yale is nearly 70% the past year(rates vary over the years depending on negotiations with US govt.) For salaries, "Fringe benefits" (can be about 20% depending on university) has to be added before applying the indirect costs rate to the total. For industry, it can be over 100%. A 66% indirect costs rate means that a researcher needs to find $1.66 for every $1.00 that he/she budgeted for supplies and services, etc., (or, you can say that for every $1 grant, the actual money you get to spend is about $0.60). Equipment is usually exempted. For salaries to pay postdoctoral fellows and faculty members, the prof has to add "Fringe benefits" of about 20% before multiplying the total by 1.66 (which comes out to nearly 100% indirect cost for salaries). Confusing? Well, that shows research is not cheap in the US and to try to pay for that in Malaysian Ringgit is just crazy. This rate is negotiable and can be lowered for research work involving charitable organizations (eg. Cancer research society, for instance). Don't use these numbers in your thesis because they are just rough numbers for the sake of discussion.
I brought up this US component because Prof Omar mentioned about negotiations with universities in the US and UK.
But the discussion here is about Cambridge U. I don't know about UK system but would not be surprised if it is not much different from US.
Sorry for the misquotation in my previous comments.
Please don't ask any question on this comment because I will not post again.

Anonymous said...

" So, if the Malaysian govt is serious about R&D funding, then for RM500 mill they should set up a single non-profit merit-based institute which is allowed to hire the best brains (even expatriates ala Singapore) with outstanding publication records in international journals and let them loose on their research. Don't bother them but audit their finances and review their achievements every year."

Thank you for this paragraph. You have just summarized the Cambridge project.



Anonymous said...

Prof Omar:
I am breaking my promise not to post again but your reply is intriguing. Thanks for your response. If what you said is really true, then I can see where you all are heading. Good luck!

Anonymous said...

Anglophiles amongst the NEPPies ( NEP yuppies), check out the Malay Chamber of Commerce in Jalan Damansara dripping with fake class.
Its really crass.

This is how Lotus and Rover are flaunted in Malaysia not as pedigree but prestige brands. Brands which have actually devolved in more free and competitive markets as floosies. Poor Jaguar is like that today. So are Rolls Royce and Bentley. But Bentley faced a legal suit by a Chinese consumer for poor quality! Drug Lords and Nuevo rich Chinese in Shanghai. Decadence and desperate for cash. We are in the same devolutionary path as Latin America. Malaysia Boleh cash for desperate European and Brits who are willing to prostitute their icons .