Thursday, November 30, 2006

Response by KMDC

I thought that the management of KDMC might be interested in our recent findings so I wrote to its executive director, Ms. Cheng Mien Wee, on behalf of Tony and myself to ask if she'd like to respond to our posts. She was very prompt in her reply and we've obtained her permission to publish her full reply here:

Dear Kian Ming & Tony

Thank you for your email and efforts to share with us the recent line of interest established in your blog on KMDC's programme offerings and the profiles of the associated pool of facilitators involved (directly and/or indirectly) in the delivery of KMDC's projects and programmes. We appreciate your invitation to us to respond to your statements.

KMDC is a management development centre, focused on offering training courses and management development solutions. KMDC is registered with the Ministry of Human Resources as an approved training provider. Our clients range from multinational corporations and small medium enterprises to individual professionals. The solutions we offer can be delivered in various modalities, from in-house training workshops to
accredited courses that lead to postgraduate qualifications by our partner institutions, when candidates enrolled with our partner institutions fulfill all the academic requirements associated with the programme(s) concerned.

I spoke with Prof. Zaharom Nain a few days ago, with regards the points he raised in his email to me. I understand the good intentions of Prof. Zaharom and the overall objectives your blog entitled 'Education in Malaysia', and I trust that Prof. Zaharom also appreciated my explanation to him with regards the context of KMDC's business and nature of our projects and programmes.

KMDC's website carries a sample list of facilitators, from its wider pool of other facilitators from across many disciplines (subject matter). The list of facilitators profiled on our website may change from time to time, according to the projects that KMDC may be focused on for that particular period, and KMDC's project consultants are
determined based on our clients' requirements. In the case of accredited training and management development courses, the delivery of such courses would be conducted by facilitators approved by the partner institution(s) concerned.

Based on the above, the contents of KMDC's website is reviewed and updated on regular basis. In this instance, Prof. Zaharom's telephone call to me was actually timely, as it also alerted our team on updating our website with more current information. I am pleased to share that we have worked with Dr. James Chong and Dr. Ragunathan and the other facilitators, whose profiles your blog has highlighted, and their work was appreciated by our clients within the scope of the projects concerned. KMDC 'removed' their names and profiles from the current KMDC webpage, as those projects have been completed some time ago.

Others on our current list of facilitators, like Dr. Alfred Chee and Dr. Lee Kean Thong, do still offer their advice and service as facilitators in relevant training and management courses offered by KMDC. We are pleased with our association with our facilitators and we would be pleased to arrange for Dr. Alfred Chee and Dr. Lee to speak with you should you and your colleagues be interested to learn more about their
respective profiles.

KMDC is committed to offering its clients with relevant and effective management training and development solutions, and we would be pleased to offer more details to you on our suite of current programmes.



Mien-Wee Cheng
Executive Director
KDU Management Development Centre Sdn Bhd
Levels 19 & 20, Block 3A
Plaza Sentral, KL Sentral
50470 Kuala Lumpur
Tel: +603-22738286
Fax: +603-22735933

UiTM Graduates More Employable

Now I do not want to get into a slanging war with Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM) students and alumni with this post, there's enough of that sort going on in my earlier popular post on "UiTM - World Class?". Please also note that this post is not a slight at UiTM graduates as I'm fully convinced that there are good students and well qualified graduates from the University.

I thought it would be interesting to highlight the contradiction between the statement issued by the Minister of Higher Education, Datuk Mustapa Mohamed yesterday, versus a set of statistics released by the Deputy Minister of Human Resources, Datuk Abdul Rahman Bakar (blogged here) back in July this year.

According to Datuk Mustapa, UiTM graduates are "more employable than other local graduates due to their strong command of English."
He said the curriculum in UiTM stressed on the importance of English to produce students proficient in the language.

“The employment rate of UiTM graduates is generally higher than that of other local graduates because they are good in English"... Besides, Mustapa added, the university offered hands-on courses that were relevant to the job market. He said the students were taught entrepreneurial skills.
However, based on statistics released by Datuk Abdul Rahman earlier on the unemployed graduates in Malaysia, the breakdown showed UiTM as having the highest number of unemployed graduates, as shown in the table below.
In fact, UiTM has more than double the number of unemployed graduates (16.2%) relative to the next highest university Universiti Utara Malaysia (UUM) (7.6%). Even after taking into account the significantly larger campus in UiTM, the statistics by Datuk Mustapa's fellow colleague doesn't provide any justification at all to his claim that UiTM graduates are more employable than those of other local universities.

There has been a spate of Ministers contradicting and correcting each other in and out of the Parliament recently - Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein and his deputy, Datuk Noh Omar on new Chinese primary schools, Deputy Finance Minister Datuk Dr Awang Adek and Minister in Prime Minister's Department, Datuk Effendi Norwawi and others which I can't recall off-hand. Are they just displaying their incompetency as well as the unreliability of government data and statistics, or are they misleading the Parliament and the public?

On a separate note, it is worth noting that UiTM appears to have quietly removed its proclaimation that it's a "world class university" from its website, as blogged earlier, but have since termed itself as a "world class socio-economic achievement", which is probably less controversial. I've also been informed that UiTM has changed its vision to "become World Class University by 2020", according to reader and student, Khairul Idzwan, although I can't seem to find that reference on the website. At the very least, it appears that the UiTM administration is now a fair bit more grounded in its proclaimations, irrespective of whether my earlier blog post has played a part in the change. ;)

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Arabic, Anyone?

Let me make my position clear on National Schools. I'm all for the concept of national schools in this country as the mainstream of education for students of all races. And I fully support the call by the Prime Minister that "national schools will be strengthened to become the school of choice for all Malaysians" in the 9th Malaysia Plan.

However, is it a surprise that Malaysians, particularly the non-Malay community are avoiding the national schools like plague, and deserting them for overcrowded vernacular schools? I've written plenty on the increasing "Islamisation" of our purportedly secular national schools, as being one of the key factors.

Now, even as mother tongue programmes have yet to be fully implemented in the schools, you will find bungling headmasters and education department officials implementing the most clumsy of policies like forcing Indian students in a school to take Arabic lessons and sit for the corresponding examinations!
Parents of Indian students of SK Sri Baki in Senawang are upset that their children, who are in Year One, were forced to take Arabic in school. Many of the pupils were forced to sit for the examinations even though there were no classes for the first six months, reported Malaysia Nanban.

The school had said that Arabic was a compulsory subject and the children had to sit for the paper.
When parents complained to the Headmaster, the Headmaster blamed the State Education Department. The officer in-charge of languages, Ustaz Hafizi of the State Education Department was queried, he argued that "headmasters were compelled to introduce Tamil, Chinese or Arabic to children of other communities."

Are these people even competent? Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein, our dearest Minister of Education, is this your vision of the future of our national schools? How can you blame the vernacular schools for apparently causing national disunity, and the non-Malay community for their fears and paranoia, when the exalted "school of choice" for all Malaysians so obviously marginalises the non-Malay communities?

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Triumph Over Poverty

I wrote about Education being compulsory in Malaysia yesterday. In the past, I've often highlighted little stories of students from the poorest of backgrounds achieving top grades beating all odds. This year is no different, where students from families living in poverty achieved top marks.

As reported by the Star, 12-year-old Has who lives in a 3m-wide bamboo house, and studied by the dim light of the candle achieved perfect scores for her UPSR examinations.
...rubber tapper Hariff Chiyok, 39, and his wife Chu Derging, 37, are blessed with Has, who was one of five orang asli pupils in Perak to score 5As in this year’s UPSR examination.

For years, the couple and their three children have been living in the self-built shack in Kampung Batu 8 here, without furniture, electricity or running water. Every night they wait for Has to finish studying before they go to sleep together.

In school, Has is an assistant head prefect and chairman of the school’s Young Cadets club, the Netball Club and Culture Club. Has’ perseverance has rubbed off on her younger brother Haleri, who emerged second in his class in a recent examination.

“We have always encouraged our children to study hard,” said Hariff, who treks one hour every day to a rubber plantation to earn his keep. At most, Hariff makes RM300 every month and spends RM15 monthly on candles so his children can study at night.

When he asked Has what inspired her to study hard, the girl replied: “I know that if I study hard, I will be able to give my family a better life.”
Yes, indeed Has. Study hard, and you will be able to give your family a better life. It is the best and most effective passport out of the poverty trap.

More dubious "Dr.s" in KMDC

This topic has really intrigued me and our readers as well. We had tons of comments in response to Tony's recent post on dubious faculty members in private colleges in Malaysia and it has already had an effect. The three names from the KDU Management Development Center (KDMC) which Tony highlighted - Dr James Chong, Dr. Ragunathan and boy genius, Dr Jacky Chin Yew Sin - have already been taken down from the webpage featuring the program's facilitators' profile.But other names remain on the same webpage and I thought it would be fun running through the profiles of some of the other facilitators.

Apologies for picking on KDMC (most other private colleges do not feature their faculty in such detail) but some points need to be made.

Firstly, some dubious "Dr.s" still remain:

Dr Lee Kean Thong
Bachelor of Applied Science (Hons) (M’sia, 1980)
MBA (Louisiana, USA, 1984)
Doctor of Business Administration (Louisiana, USA, 1989)

Academic and Professional Qualifications
• Qualifications: Master of Business Administration from University of Hull, United Kingdom.
(Sept 1999-Sept 2000)
• Bachelor of Arts (Hons) Business Administration University of Wolverhampton, United Kingdom
(Sept 1997-June 1998)
• Certificate in Human Resource Management, Australian Programme
(June 1995-December 1996)

Academic and Professional Qualifications

• Qualification : Bachelor of Applied Science (Hons)
• Institution : Univerisity Sains Malaysia
• Duration : 1976 to 1980

• Qualification : Master of Business Administration
• Institution : Louisiana Tech University, Louisiana, USA
• Duration : 1982 to 1984

• Qualification : Doctor of Business Administration
• Institution : Louisiana Tech University, Louisiana, USA
• Duration : 1985 to 1989

Does this mean that Dr. Lee obtained his MBA and Doctorate in Business Admin from Louisiana Tech in 1989 and then went back to school to obtain another BA and MBA from a UK university 10 years later? Was it because the business environment had changed so much that he had to go back to school to obtain a Bachelors and MBA in a field in which he already had a doctorate in? Does this mean that if I do get my PhD from Duke (eventually) that I need to go to another school to get another PhD or Masters 10 years from now?

We move on to Dr. Tay Jon Jon:

Dr Tay Jon Jon
Ph.D(h.c.)in Business Administration (Marketing) -
(Calamus Extension College, UK-2004)
MBA in International Management -
(Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology University, Australia-1998)
BSc in Business Studies (University of Buckingham, UK-1990)
Post Graduate Diploma (Chartered Institute of Marketing, UK-1991)

While RMIT and the University of Buckingham are legit universities, Calamus Extension College, supposedly in the UK, is most definitely not. It is NOT listed as a degree granting university in the UK but is an internet extension college based in the West Indies. You can read about a 'professor' from Calamus in this quite hilarious post.

We move on to Dr. Alfred Chee Ah Chil.

Dr. Alfred Chee Ah Chil
MSc HRM (UK, 1998)
PG Dip, HRM (1996)

It doesn't say where he got his doctorate from. Anyone who doesn't list where he or she obtained his doctorate but still calls himself or herself a "Dr." immediately calls suspicion onto himself or herself.

It's a pity that Dr. Ch’ng Huck Khoon, the only genuine Dr in that list, gets his name associated with the other dubious "Dr.s" since he's legit.

Dr. Ch’ng Huck Khoon
PhD (Finance, USM 2001)
MBA (Finance, UK 2004)
ACIS (UK, 1997)
DipComm (TARC, 1993)

If by spending about half an hour, I can call into question the credentials of 3 of the 4 remaining "Dr.s" still listed on KMDC's webpage (as of today), why couldn't the management of KMDC do the same when vetting through these candidates as 'facilitators'?

In addition, I'm disappointed that the webpage of a management development center can be so unprofessional in listing the academic and professional qualifications of its trainers and program leaders.

Mr. Thomas Kok is listed as a course instructor / program leader and the following is his brief CV.

Mr. Thomas Kok
MSc ITB (UK, 2001)
Honours Diploma (NIIT, 1996)
IDPM (Parts 1-V) 1990
City & Guildes – 418

"Thomas holds a Master of Science Information Technology in Business from the University of Lincoln, where he researched and wrote extensively on “Customers’ Reaction and Usage of Electronic Banking in Malaysia”. He has experience facilitating executive education in the areas of Information Systems and Business Data Communications."

Is it just me or does anyone else not understand what "City & Guildes - 418" represents? Does IDPM represent the "Institute for Development Policy and Management" which is based in Manchester, UK? What does Parts 1-V mean? What is the NIIT? Is it the NIIT which is based in India or the one based in Mauritius?

Finally, I'd encourage our readers to read the bios of the individual trainers in greater detail. I'm sure that some of you would find the standard of English, "interesting", to say the least. One last example, under Dr. Lee Kean Thong again:

"Working as the programme consultant with KDU College from May 2001, handling the masters programme of University Lincoln, UK and Deakin University, Australia. Besides that, in charged of MA Work Based Learning Programme with Middlesex University."

Spelling and grammatical errors abound in the bios. While Tony and I are often guilty of such errors in our posts, we don't charge people thousands of dollars to attend executive training or MBA type programs nor do we run our blog as an educational institution. If I want to part with thousands of dollars (or ringgit) to attend these programs, the least I can expect is for the people who run these programs to be able to spell or write proper bios.

Even if the bios of some of the facilitators are genuine and they are top notch people in their respective fields, the fact that the program uses or recruits other dubious facilitators cast an overall negative light on the quality of the entire program.

Will the management of KDMC remove more facilitators or perhaps clean up some of the bios after reading this post? Let's wait and see.

Why finding a genuine PhD is not easy

In light of the popularity of Tony's recent post on dubious PhD faculty members in private colleges, I thought I'd share some of my thoughts on why it's difficult to find faculty in private colleges who have genuine PhDs.

First reason - there are not that many people with PhDs in Malaysia in the first place. I'm not sure what the actual numbers are but I feel confident in saying that the proportion of Malaysians with a PhD, a genuine one that is (as opposed to conferred honorary doctorates or PhDs from the International Irish University), is relatively low, especially compared to developed countries. This problem is especially compounded as Malaysia is trying to expand its higher education enrolment, both in public as well as private universities, at such a rapid rate.

We can all do a simple mental exercise. How many people in our extended family can we think of who possesses a doctorate degree of any sort? How many close friends do we know who have a doctorate degree? How many of them are currently teaching or working in an education setting whether public or private?

I did this exercise myself. I realized that I'm the only person in my extended family who's currently pursuing a doctorate degree. (I have a younger cousin who's already gotten his doctorate from Wichita and his working there now) Among my circle of friends, the people whom I sorta grew up and went to school with (not including my academic friends I met while I was working in Malaysia), I can think of only 4 who have completed or are pursuing doctorate degrees (not including myself). Of these, one is still in Harvard, one is working in Shell in the Netherlands (PhD from U of Sydney), one is working in London with Amex (PhD from Cambridge), one is working in a bio-tech firm in Malaysia (PhD from Oxford).

My friend from Harvard will probably end up in the academia but in the US, not back home in Malaysia. The only one who went back to Malaysia isn't anywhere near an academic institution.

The second reason, in my humble opinion, as to why there are very few PhD faculty (especially teaching faculty) in private colleges / universities in Malaysia is that the job prospects are not particularly attractive, especially when compared to the investment, both financial and intellectual, which one has put in to get one's PhD. The pay isn't particularly attractive, especially compared to alternatives in the private sector, you have to teach large classes in the profit drive private colleges, you have little time and funding for your own research, which should be the driving force behind those who want to be in the academia.

The third reason - The few PhDs who end up in private colleges usually end up in administrative positions instead of in teaching positions because of their relative seniority and experience.

But, with so few people and so many positions, it is not surprising that some private colleges end up recruiting people with dubious PhDs in an effort to boost the credibility of its programs. But frankly, my wife and I were a little surprised that KDU, which we thought was a relatively well run private college, would have so many suspect PhDs in its faculty. So if a relatively well known private college like KDU is guilty of this practice, how about colleges who are not so well known, especially some of the fly-by-night outfits or those who are not located in Selangor / KL and are thus out of the spotlight?

One of our readers recently asked us if we knew what requirements LAN needed from the private colleges in terms of the qualification of their teaching staff. Tony and I don't know since the requirements are not exactly well publicized or transparent. But it would be interesting to find out what these requirements are and how many private colleges actually fulfill these requirements. (Note: We are still eagerly awaiting the 'rating' of private colleges by the MOHE to be released)

Obtaining a genuine PhD is a long and hard process. Not many people choose to go down this path. It takes at least 3 years and sometimes much longer, especially if you are in the US. There are not many universities or programs which will fund a foreigner for the entirety of one's PhD program. (Some US universities are the exception) The few who do end up going overseas to do their PhDs usually stay overseas because of better job prospects. Those who return home to Malaysia usually end up doing something in the non-academic private sector because of more attractive financial returns.

I've said this before and I'll say it again. I think there are some private colleges which are trying to develop into real research universities with good teaching faculty who have genuine PhDs. I don't think all the private colleges will adopt this model but some are moving in this direction. The push has been foreign universities which have set up branch campuses in Malaysia, namely Monash and Nottingham.

I don't know much about Nottingham and their faculty but I do know some people in Monash. I checked out their small Arts department, under the School of Arts and Sciences, and found that all of their teaching staff with doctorates are genuine. (Note: A sure sign of having dubious doctorate is when one doesn't even bother to list the university from which one obtained his or her doctorate from, such as the boy genious Dr. Jacky Chin Siew Yin from KDU)

Incidentally, someone alerted the management in KDU and the result is that the profiles of their staff, highlighted previously by Tony, have been taken down.

So maybe there is a silver lining in this cloud of dubious PhDs. Hopefully, the dubious PhDs won't drive down the value of a genuine PhD, if not my ongoing efforts at obtaining one from Duke will be in vain. :)

In the meantime, be vigilant in looking out for these fakes. And don't forget to drop Tony ( or myself ( an email when you do!

Education is Compulsory

While most of us will take it for granted that our children must receive a proper education, it's always depressing to find out that there are those who chose to neglect providing their children with formal education.

Did you also know that "Section 29A of the Education Act 1996 stated that parents who did not enrol their children in school could be fined RM5,000 or jailed six months"? Although I've never heard of anybody being prosecuted under the act, it's also good to know that the Government have in place certain measures to encourage families who are poor to attend schools.

Deputy Minister of Education, Datuk Noh Omar said "parents could no longer use poverty as an excuse for not enrolling their children in school because the Government had established the Poor Student Aid Fund to assist all unprivileged pupils."

Assistance provided includes RM200 for registration fees, RM50 monthly aid currently distributed to poor students which will be increased to RM70 next year as well as other benefits such as free breakfasts to needy pupils.

While I wasn't born in poverty, my parents were definitely not of the privileged middle class either. My father had up to Primary 3 education, and owned a small poultry farm selling eggs for a living while my housewife mother only managed to complete primary school. We lived (and my parents still do) in the kampung 10 miles from the town of Batu Pahat.

I would attribute what I have achieved today besides a little luck, to a good education and plenty of encouragement, guidance as well as moral support from my parents. I've always believed that education is the only true leveller in and of society. Hence, it is of the key reasons why I started this blog in the first place, having experienced the immeasurable impact of education, first hand.

Poverty is not an excuse of skipping education. Poverty should be very reason why education is compulsory.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Educare 2006

Educare was started in 2001 by Venerable B. Saranankara Thero. Its objective was to ease the burden of parents by distributing educational items to students in need. Educare is mainly to lend a helping hand to those in time of misfortune and students whose parents earn minimum wages.

In the beginning of 2001, this program has successfully raise educational items to 800 needy students. By 2005, Educare has provided educational items to over 4000 needy Malaysian students. The programme, which is in its sixth year running, is a joint effort between the Sri Jayanti Association in Sentul and Parkson Grand.

This year, Educare aims to help 5,000 needy students irrespective of race and religion from 74 government schools, 14 Hospitals of Malaysian Children’s Aid Society (MACAS) and 8 orphanages & NGOs throughout Malaysia with educational items from school uniforms to stationery sets.

Deputy Internal Security Minister Datuk Fu Ah Kiow, who launched the programme on Saturday, rightly said that "he believed education was the key to eradicating poverty and it contributed to the economic and social growth of the country. "

You can help by donating educational items at the Educare collection area. They will be providing collection bins in all Parkson stores nationwide (except Parkson Suria KLCC). Your contribution can help these children lead better lives.

In addition, you can also pledge you support by purchasing school items via Parkson Online Mall.

Having gone through the online donation process this morning, I thought it was a tad messy. You can't actually donate cash, but instead you are required to purchase schooling items like uniforms and backs from the store. If you have never registered before, make sure you register first before shopping, otherwise, you'd lose your shopping bag details.

You can make payment via VISA or Mastercard, or alternatively via Maybank2U. What I thought was a tad unfair was that I was still charged shipping fees to my mailing address, even though it's a purchase specifically for donation at the collection centres in Parkson. Its probably an oversight on their part, and I treated it as petrol saved from going to Parkson itself to do the shopping. ;)

Sunday, November 26, 2006

HSBC Young Entrepreneurship Awards 2006/7

This annual Business Plan competition is back again.
"The HSBC Young Entrepreneur Awards is a regional business plan writing competition that invites talented post-secondary students from Hong Kong and other Asian countries to display their creativity and business acumen.

The local competition will take place from September 2006 to March 2007. Gold Award winners from each country or territory will compete for the Best of the Best Awards in Hong Kong in June 2007. The team that wins the regional competition will be awarded an HSBC business development fund of HK$100,000."
The Awards is an open competition and exclusively for Malaysian undergraduates. Details of the entry criteria is available here.

Winners of the Gold Award will receive HSBC self-development fund of RM10,000 per team and the opportunity to compete with other gold winners at the Regional Competition in Hong Kong to win a HSBC business development fund of HK$100,000. Winners of the Silver and Bronze Awards will each receive RM7,000 and RM5,000 respectively, and a trip to Hong Kong.

Other Awards include Certificates of Excellence, Merit and Appreciation.
Last year, The Reimagineers, consisting of Samuel Wee and Ng Khai Lee, did Malaysia proud by taking home the regional grand prize. Their business plan “Artbank Co-op”, which involves the collection, printing and sale of digital art as posters, and their excellent presentation skills wowed the judges.

Other past ideas include the implantation of a biochip in the human body to observe and monitor key health indicators, and a new application on mobile devices and PCs that matches consumer needs with relevant products.
The closing date of submission for Round 1 is pretty soon, on December 5th.

As per my offer last year, any keen participants interested in some unsolicited offers of assistance from the little entrepreneur here, please do not hesitate to email me. I'd be more than happy to assist where I can.

Good luck!

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Meritocracy & Minorities

It has often been argued by those vehemently opposed to the meritocratic system in education that the system will result in students of poorer ethnic communities performing weaker in the system. I was in Singapore yesterday (and hence the lack of posts), and they have just released their latest Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE), similar to our Ujian Penilaian Sekolah Rendah (UPSR).

We all know about how much Singapore has been praised and criticised for its "harsh" meritocratic system. Much to my pleasant surprise, the top three students from this year's examinations are all from minority communities, and two of them are Malay Muslims, who form not more than 14% of the population largely dominated by the Chinese community (77%).

Out of more than 50,000 students who took the examinations, the top 3 pupils in 2006 PSLE are (scores are out of 300):
  • Rebecca Margaret Ranee Jeyaraj, 281, Raffles Girls' Primary
  • Fadhli Mohamad Ikbal, 280, Tampines Primary
  • Nur Atiqah Azhari, 280, Northland Primary
Hence the pertinent question to ask then, is did they achieve what they did because of the meritocratic system or inspite of it? I'd like to argue that they have achieved what they did with the asistance of a quality and meritocratic education system, which will provide each individual, irrespective of race or background to shine. As reported in ChannelNewsAsia:
For 12-year-old Tampines Primary student Muhammad Fadhli Mohamad Ikbal, it is an astonishing dream come true. With 280 points, the school prefect is just 1 point short of the top scorer in Singapore. He said, "I was not really expecting (it). I thought I'll get 260 or something like that. So, I'm going to pursue my ambition to study medicine."

His proud parents say Fadhli managed his time well in spite of his busy schedule, which included representing his school in badminton, chess and Taekwando.

His mother Fawziah Wahab said, "His teachers' dedication, the school giving him exposure like taking part in competitions, representing (the) school in competitions...(this has) helped to motivate him to study even better so that he can make the school proud."

Over at Raffles Girls', the country's top PSLE student was also an all-rounder, playing netball and participating in community involvement projects. Rebecca Margaret Ranee Jeyaraj said, "I studied hard, I pushed myself. I also didn't stress myself out too much, I wasn't too caught up....a day before the PSLE, I slept early to make sure I have a fresh mind the next day, so I could focus more on my work."
The achievement of the two Malay Muslim children are all the more impressive as they both are obviously not from privileged background as they attended neighbourhood schools, and not one of the elite schools like Raffles. And certainly, nobody can take away any credit from them for their achievements in a meritocratic system for which they could only have done it fair and square.

I hate to put politics into posts in this blog, but who are the UMNO heroes who were trying to claim that marginalised in Singapore? Not in the education system, they certainly aren't.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Dubious PhD Faculty Members

Regular readers of my posts will know that I'm fairly critical with regards to the standards and quality of academics and lecturers in many of our local private colleges. I've received complaints, many as comments in my earlier blog posts with regards to the lecturer's language abilities, experience as well as competence. Because of that, I've always urged the relevant authorities to require private colleges to published detailed resumes of faculty members to allow for more detailed scrutiny of the quality of teaching at the college.

Well, here's an additional important reason. It's something which I've known and hinted for a while now, but for one reason or other, I've not had time to conduct a thorough research on it, to make it a bigger expose here. But given a slow news week on education, I thought, I might as well publish all the evidence I have here, and possibly let the bloggers and readers out help out with additional research. ;)

I have discovered that a significant number of faculty members at some of our more prominent colleges employs PhD holders with qualifications secured at dubious or even bogus institutions such as the now infamous Irish International University, blogged here.

KDU Management Development Centre (KMDC), which operates as a professional development centre under KDU College Sdn Bhd in Petaling Jaya certainly employs some of these luminaries. In KMDC faculty profile pages, if you go through some of the instructors qualifications, you'd find that many of the facilitators doctorates are obtained from dubious sources. For example:

[Update 28 Nov 06: Please note that KMDC has removed some of the dubious profiles listed below from the website. I have saved copies of it to avoid defamation charges.]
1. Dr. James Chong PhD (Ire, 2002)
"Dr. James Chong has a PhD from Irish International University, Ireland..."

2. Dr. Ragunathan PhD (2002), MBA (1999)
"Dr. Ragunathan has a PhD in Business Administration and MBA from Newport University, United States... Dr. Ragunathan lectures on Research Methodology for the MBA and MSc programs."
For Dr James Chong, the university doesn't exist in Ireland, if it even "exists" at all! So where did you attend your PhD programme, the headquarters of IIU in Pakistan? As for Newport University where Dr Ragunathan obtained his PhD and MBA, it is definitely not recognised by the Office of Degree Authorisation in Oregon, United States, which clearly lists colleges which are either unaccredited or diploma mills.

More interestingly, I found a Dr Jacky Chin whose credentials are in my opinion, impossibly impeccable.
Dr. Jacky Chin Yew Sin DBA (Aust, 1999), PhD (Can), MBA (G. Mgt) (Scotland, 1997) MBA (Int. Bus.) (Aust), MSc (Can), BA (Hons) Acct (UK, 2000), BA (Hons) Bus Admin (UK, 2001), BEng (Hons) (Malaysia, 2000), BJuris (Malaysia, 2001)

Dr. Jacky Chin holds numerous academic and professional qualifications and has been awarded the Outstanding Young Malaysian Award (2000) in the Category of Academic Leadership and Accomplishment. He has written countless publications. Dr. Chin consults extensively and holds professorships in many International universities and learning institutions. He is currently undertaking 3 doctorate programmes in various leading universities.
And more interestingly, if you dig a little more on the over-achiever, you'd find that
...Malaysian academic, Prof. Dr Chin Yew Sin, has his name listed in the Record Book of World’s Initiators for his immense achievements in the academic field. Dr Chin holds 12 world records, some of which are: The first person in the world to have attended eight graduation ceremonies to obtain five degrees and three post-graduate diplomas and certificates from the US, UK, Australia, Scotland and Malaysia in a year; first person in the world to have four bachelor’s degrees and graduated in the same year; first person in the world to complete a Bachelor’s of Arts (Hons) degree in Business Administration in four months, a Masters in Business Administration in nine months and a Doctorate in Business Administration in 15 months; and first person in the world to have 72 qualifications, including 11 degrees, post-graduate diplomas and certificates, two diplomas, 15 certificates, seven professional certifications and 37 professional memberships.
Frankly, I would think Sir Isaac Newton would have difficulty competing with Dr Jacky Chin.

[Update: A little bird who spoke to the Centre's Director who gave "some excuse that Jacky Chin was only a 'consultant' for one project."]
Now with at least 3-4 out of KMDC's list of 7 faculty members in possession of doctorates originating from dubious sources, what does it reflect upon the institution itself? I have yet include faculty members whose PhDs and DBAs originates from a little known college in Australia, Southern Cross University, whose Graduate College of Management specialises in "distance education programmes".

Now, KMDC certainly isn't the only college which employs such faculty members. Prominent Chinese educationist, Dr Yap Sin Tian of Southern College, also secured his PhD from Kensington University in Hawaii/California in 1990, which has since been closed by court order. He has also obtained another Doctorate in Philosophy of Education from, ah, Southern Cross University in 1999.

Another director of the college, Dr Chong Swee Huat, apparently secured his doctorate from a St Clements University, with origins in Turks & Caicos Islands and various African sites.

And this simple discovery is just from 2 colleges which published a little detail on their faculty members. The little details allowed me to do a little investigative research. For most of the other private colleges, large or small, I have no access to names of faculty members which clearly limits my ability to uncover more "scandalous" information. I would not be surprised even, if some of our public universities may have unknowingly recruited some of these candidates with dubious certifications.

For the benefit of the fee paying students in the market, it is critical that the Ministry of Higher Education put down the necessary rules and regulations which requires the private colleges to publish the credentials of their key faculty members. With these information, at least it will be possible for students and concerned parties to be able to have a better idea of the type and quality of lecturers who they are likely to be taught in the college.

Should any readers out there managed to retrieve any other list of faculty members in other colleges, particularly those with apparent doctorates or MBAs, please feel free to email the list to me. I'll see what else I can find.

OK, it's been a long day, gotta get some sleep ;). You may also read more on my various posts on bogus universities here.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Bad degrees drives out good degrees?

Gresham's 'law' states that bad money drives out good money. The intuition behind this law is that as more and more fake currency is circulated in the economy, more and more people will keep their genuine currency at home and transact using only fake money and we'll end up having an economy that has only fake money in circulation. Will the same thing happen with forged academic qualifications?

There was a spate of reports, here, here and here, in the Star last Sunday (Nov. 19, 2006) highlighting the issue of fake academic qualifications, ranging from SPM certificates all the way to full blown degrees.

Forging different academic qualifications have their different implications and effects. For example, forging an SPM or STPM certificate to gain entry into a private college would not have the same negative effects on a college as the forging of a fullblown degree from that same college (or their overseas partners.

A student who has bad SPM or STPM grades (they have to be pretty bad not to be able to gain entry into private colleges given that, as far as I know, most of the entry requirements are not very high)(reminder to self: This should be the subject of another post) and who fake their results are not likely to get very far in their degree programs. If the quality control within a college or university is stringent enough, then it is likely that some of these students would not pass their degree (or maybe obtain only a marginal pass). If theses students are faking their results to gain entry into a program with higher entry requirements, then it is likely that they will struggle through these programs to their own detriment.

One of the ways in which such forgery might be significant is that they might be used to obtain scholarships from the college in question or other organisations which offer local scholarships (such as the Star education fund, for example) and in doing so, deny other genuinely qualified applicants from receiving these scholarships.

The other question relating to using forged SPM or STPM certificates to gain entry into private colleges is the issue of monitoring.

In one of the Star reports,

“In general, private institutions of higher learning do not usually check their potential students’ examination certificates with MES before accepting them,” said the sources (from the Malaysian Examinations Syndicate)

It doesn't seem surprising to me that private college administrators are not unduly worried about the authenticity of SPM or STPM documents, especially at the undergraduate level. After all, it is in the interest of these colleges to accept as many students as possible given that each student represents a source of revenue.

One college administrator was quoted as saying that his "would always ask for original copies of students’ results when they enrolled" which I find a little bit incredulous. I'm sure no student would send the original copy of their SPM or STPM certificate to the private colleges to which they are applying to and I'm sure that no private college asks for the actual original certificate for every application. As far as I know, the common practice is to have a commissioner of oath authenticate a photocopy of the certificate. If a good forged copy of a certificate is shown to a commissioner of oaths, one could easily question the reliability of this method of authentication.

Only very badly forged documents would be detected by university administrators and over time, as I'm sure we can imagine, the quality of these forged copies will only improve.

I don't see any cost effective way of monitoring and keeping this problem in check. In my opinion, I don't think that this problem is that widespread, at least for now, given that entry requirements into private colleges are not very stringent. It would be possible for the Malaysian Examinations Syndicate (MES) to set up an online database for SPM and STPM results which private colleges could subscribe to and check the authenticity of the results. But this would raise other questions especially in regards to privacy issues. The other alternative would be for a government body (either under the Ministry of Higher Education or Consumer Affairs) to crack down on the outfits who are offering these kinds of services. But given that we've not managed to eliminate pirated DVD and VCD shops, I'm not sure if we'll be able to do the same for these outfits.

The more serious issue is in the forging of full blown degree certificates. This is an area in which the 'bad' i.e. forged degrees can really drive down the quality and reputation of a 'good' degree.

I see two possible strategies for people who want to take this academic 'shortcut'. One would be to forge a degree from a relatively unknown university in a Western country e.g. Marshall University from Huntingdon, West Virginia, USA. Not many potential employers would have heard of this university and are less likely to be able to tell if the degree certificate is genuine or not. In addition, you're not likely to get other people asking you whether you know so-and-so from the same college from the same year. The downside is that the lack of name recognition might not get you an interview with a potential employer (though that can be taken care off possibly by faking a summa cum laude / first class honors degree).

The second strategy is to forge a degree from a university that is relatively well known in Malaysia and where many Malaysian students have to gone and are currently attending. Some examples include Sheffield and Nottingham in the UK and Monash or Curtin in Australia. This way, you can 'pretend' to be one of the masses of Malaysian students in these universities and also get the benefit of name recognition from a potential employer.

The second strategy has a much greater potential to create damage. Imagine if over a period of time, the number of forged degrees from Sheffield in Malaysia were to steadily increase and then it reaches a tipping point where this 'scam' is revealed. It would not only call into question the authenticity of the degrees of current Sheffield students (or those who are graduating when the 'scam' is revealed) but also affect past Sheffield students.

It is in this area where the private colleges in Malaysia and their partners overseas have the incentive to crack down before the problem explodes in their faces. Again, we have no idea how widespread this problem is but if I were the private colleges or their overseas partners, I would act swiftly on this matter before it gets out of hand.

There's certainly an argument here for the private colleges (especially the big ones) to band together to create some sort of consortium / organization to lobby for such forgeries to be stopped and / or for the legal penalties for such forgeries to be increased significantly.

There's another forgery strategy which one can employ but which I don't think is very clever. One can try to forge a degree from a very well known university like Harvard or Cambridge or Oxford and then try to reap the full benefits of such a forgery. But it would take a great actor of some intellectual ability to effectively pull this off given that the level of scrutiny of graduates from these universities is much higher and the network much smaller. If Tony didn't really attend Oxford or if I didn't really do my Masters in Cambridge, we'd be revealed as frauds relatively quickly.

Bad degrees don't drive out good degrees in the same way that bad money drives out good money. Firstly, degrees are not a homogenous commodity unlike money. Even if a degree from one particular university is 'degraded', there are still other degrees out there. Secondly, there are ways to authenticate degrees without having to recall the entire batch of degrees from a particular university, so remedial effects are less costly. But this doesn't mean that university administrators shouldn't be worried about this problem.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Don't Blame Government for Unemployed

Minister of Higher Education, Datuk Mustapa Mohamed had on Saturday called on the public to stop blaming the Government’s policies for these unemployed graduates. Minister of Human Resources, said that graduates should take the initiative to acquire skills needed for work in the private sector and not merely depend on the Government to provide them with courses. They were responding to comments made by delegates during the recent Umno general assembly on the quality of local graduates as many of them could not secure jobs upon leaving university.

So is it the Government's fault that there are that many unemployed graduates?

I agree that the government cannot be totally blamed for the graduates' predicament. However, I certainly wouldn't absolve them from blame altogether.

The government's policy has been to increase significantly the number of graduates over the past two decades without the necessary increase in quality support resources as well as lowering the standards in which students gain acceptance into the local universities. This quantity versus quality policy has played a large role in unemployed graduates, particularly from universities with excessively stretched resources, such as Universiti Teknologi Mara Malaysia (UiTM).

Despite the supposed switch to a "meritocratic system", the number of bumiputera students enrolling into public universities increased significantly from 55% to 62% in the current year. This has been achieved through the undesirable means of enlarging the undergraduate to such an extent that quality is substantially impaired. I can only imagine that the reason for such a policy is politically motivated to placate the bumiputeras that a "meritocratic" switch, had little impact on Malay enrolment. Even then, you have disgraceful menteri besars who are hell-bent on dismantling of the system.

Many of these students who enrolled into the local universities should instead have been granted opportunities to pick up industrial skills with polytechnics as opposed to more theoretical and academic courses in universities.

Other contributing factors to the decline in standards in the local universities include the Government's misguided policy in promoting the Malay academia at the expense of the non-Malays. This has clearly resulted in many quality lecturers and academics leaving the public universities and joining the private sector, as well as seeking greener pastures overseas. At the end of the day, such myopia has resulted in poorer academic environment for the universities, of which the bumiputera students forms the majority.

Hence it is only right for Dato Mustapa to state that "it is time we give priority to quality." Let's just hope that he will be able to improve the quality of the higher education system, and not just provide empty rhetoric.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Who's really marginalizing whom?

This news item in the Star caught my attention today. It was reported that "An island school with 26 pupils had a 100% failure in the UPSR examination" and that this school was located in Kota Belud, in the state of Sabah.

More worrying was the following statement which gives us an indication of the status of education standards in the state of Sabah:

"Sabah education director Normah Gagoh had disclosed the school’s failure when announcing the UPSR results which saw an overall poor performance where, of the 44,432 pupils who sat for the examination, only 20,727 passed."

That's a deplorable 47% passing rate!

Here's the response of the MP of Kota Belud and former Chief Minister of Sabah to this:

“The results are shocking. We have to look at it seriously,” former chief minister and Kota Belud MP Datuk Mohd Salleh Tun Said said.

He said the possible reasons for the failure could be poverty, lack of infrastructure including power supply on the island and the lack of parents' involvement in the children's education.

If the former CM of Sabah didn't or couldn't raise the standards of education in his own constituency, not to mention the whole state of Sabah, can we say that his actions led to the marginalization of Sabahans, especially the Bumiputeras in the rural areas?

Tony has eloquently blogged about this in his personal blog and he shows that Sabah has the highest poverty incidence rate in the whole of Malaysia.

I wonder which party holds the Chief Ministership of Sabah? I wonder who's really marginalizing whom while fattening their own pockets?

Thursday, November 16, 2006

JPA Scholarship Questions?

Wow, students who want their queries on the Public Service Department (JPA) scholarships answered can now do it online. As reported in the Star today, they need to just log on to the PSD website, "post their queries on an interactive portal and chat with any of its 33 officers."

According to Head of Corporate Communications, Hasniah Rashid, queries would be answered "immediately by the officers or within three days, at least, for those requiring specific and detailed answers."

The system apparently is still in pilot stage, and the next session for the department’s online chat will be on Nov 24 from 8am to noon. The department plans to hold similar online chats every last Friday of the month.

Now, concerned parents and Form Five students out there, mark the date and do test the response from the Public Service Department. Or if you do have questions to ask and would like me to attempt the querying, let me have your queries. ;-) I'll see what I can do.

As far as I'm concerned, it's a great idea, it just needs to be implemented properly. Should the "tests" be successful, we should give the necessary kudos to JPA for making the effort. If however, there are shortcomings, we should provide the constructive criticisms.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Rejected by JPA - what do you think?

In the midst of the media circus that is the UMNO GA, this humble letter in caught my eye. Since letters to Mkini are open to the public (without subscription), I've decided to reproduce it here, point out a few issues and ask for your comments. I'll let you read the letter first after which I'll write my own comments.

M Rafee
Nov 15, 06 4:16pm

My child was born as an intra-uterine growth retardation (IUGR) baby. The doctors had advised us to always monitor her health as she grew. They were worried some of her organs might develop problems. In fact, when they induced her to be prematurely delivered, one of the doctors told me that they anticipated her to be born without limbs. I had nearly fainted.

But with God’s grace, my child was born physically complete. Among my three children, she grew up to be the smartest. She obtained 5As in her UPSR exams, 7As in her PMR exams and 7As in her SPM exam. She did her matriculation and got clearance from the Ministry of Higher Education to study medicine in Indonesia, her childhood dream.

Me and my wife, who are both government servants, had already paid the initial payment of RM60,000 which is part of the total cost of RM200,000. For the balance, we applied for a loan from the Public Services Department (JPA). But unfortunately, JPA rejected our application.

Now I want to humbly ask JPA, is a RM150,000 loan request a very substantial amount, compared to the billions of dollars that have been abused in our country? The irony is that when we appealed, one of the officers had the cheek to say, ‘If you all can’t afford, why send her overseas to study medicine, just make her study any of the courses offered by the local universities’.

God willing, my child will one day become a doctor and serve the Malaysian rakyat. And she will definitely pay the loan installments once she starts working. All types of loans are given to bumiputeras and if there is a political connection, some of them can borrow millions of ringgit without the need to pay them back.

It is a well-known fact that some of the banks went ‘kaput’ after providing huge loans which later were declared non-performing.

Here we as loyal and high-performing (cemerlang) government staff are imploring for aid to allow their child to achieve her dream of becoming a doctor, but the relevant authorities are so inconsiderate that they don’t even bother to consider the parents’ long-term loyal service to the government.

Subsequently, we had no choice but to mortgage our humble abode to finance our child’s education to see our IUGR baby beat all the odds and become a doctor. Though at a very high cost for we are paying a monthly payment of RM1,100.

Okay, now for my thoughts.

Firstly, I find it surprising that his daughter wasn't given a JPA scholarship. Her PMR and SPM results seemed pretty good. (I'm assuming that M Rafee's daughter belongs to the Bumiputera category when it comes to scholarship allocation purposes) 7As is not 11As but I would have thought that it should be sufficient to obtain some form of government scholarship.

Furthermore, he mentioned that his daughter had obtained permission from the MOHE to go to Indonesia. I'm not sure what the implications of this are, but if MOHE grants you permission, isn't that a tacit approval of your chances to obtain a scholarship? (Most of my friends who went to England or Australia to study medicine didn't have to seek MOHE approval)

Secondly, M Rafee wasn't even asking for a scholarship but for a loan (usually JPA loans have lowere interest rates but they do have to be paid back).

Thirdly, both M Rafee and his wife are civil servants which makes JPA's rejection of their loan request seem even more implausible.

Fourthly, I'm not sure if JPA knew of his daughter's childhood health problems (I must admist I don't know what intra-uterine growth retardation (IUGR) is or what debilitating effects it causes) but if they did, shouldn't they take this into consideration when processing M Rafee's loan application?

Fifthly, I applaud M.Rafee for making a substantial financial sacrifice (by first, paying the 60,000RM initial payment out of his own pocket and secondly by taking out a mortgage on their house when the JPA application failed) to make her daughter's dreams come true especially given the fact that civil servants are not the most well paid of workers in Malaysia.

Sixthly and lastly, I posit this scenario for our readers to reflect and discuss. If we were posed this exact scenario and was told at the end that the letter writer and his daughter belong to the non-Bumiputera category, would our reaction stay the same or would it change?

Some food for thought.

International Activities

Thanks to Tiara of EducateDeviate, here are some of the fairly interesting international events and activities targetted at students all over the world. These 2 events are The Greenpeace Organising Term and the International Youth Volunteering Summit.

Greenpeace Organizing Team '07

Greenpeace is accepting applications for the Spring 2007 semester of the Greenpeace Organizing Team, which they describe as a semester of “ACTION, TRAINING, & TRAVEL”.

The Greenpeace Organizing Term is an action-filled semester and the best hands-on training for students to become environmental leaders. You’ll be making an investment in your leadership skills and training in grassroots organizing, media, direct action, and campaign strategy. You’ll travel abroad with Greenpeace and join a team of incredible activists working to protect the planet. Many students are also able to receive class credit for the semester.

This semester involves training at their offices in Washington, DC and San Francisco, CA and travel to other parts of the world to meet local activists and visit the country. Their training is in-depth, covering everything from event management, organizational skills, media strategy, campaign skills, direct action - even driving boats, using communications equipment, and climbing.

Spaces are open to students aged 18 and above, though freshmen and sophomores (first and second years) are preferred. Tuition is $3,500 and covers travel costs and expenses; limited scholarships are available.

For more information, visit the Greenpeace Organizing Team website or their MySpace Profile. You can also email them at or contact Samantha Corbin at +1 202-319-2468.

International Youth Volunteering Summit '07

The International Youth Volunteering Summit is a new annual summit aimed at getting young people around the world together to discuss issues based on volunteering, non-profits, and helping the world. It is part of a planned series of activities, such as fellowships and foundations, to get youth to make a difference internationally and in their communities. From their website:

IYVS is a place for young people who care deeply about global progress to come together to understand the challenges and opportunities for their engagement; to hone the skills and mindsets that will enable them to better plan, execute, and participate in change-focused projects, and connect with like-minded peer communities from around the world.

Currently they are calling in applications for delegates for their second annual summit:

International Youth Volunteering Summit ‘07
Dates: Feb 22-25, 2007
Location: Northwestern University, Chicago, USA

While the participants will be predominantly American, they are recruiting 10 international youths aged 18-25 to be part of this summit as well. Applications are free: you will need contact details of a reference, as well as a 400-500 word project proposal on a possible project to be funded by the IYVS; guidelines are available on their application form. Chosen participants will be eligible for up to full scholarships for travel and housing (based on financial need) as well as eligibility for further grants upon completion of the summit.

Details about last year’s summit can be found at their prospectus, which explains their mission and vision, a schedule of events, future plans, participating bodies, sponsors (such as TakingITGlobal, UNESCO Youth, and perhaps Rotary International) and much more. Although it is for the 2006 summit, it is still relevant background for the 2007 summit too.

IYVS seems like a great way to get community-minded youths from everywhere mingling, networking, and exchanging ideas on how to impact the lives of those around them. Opportunities like this don’t come too often, so act quick. Applications are due Nov 10th, however applications will be accepted on a rolling basis between Nov 10th and Dec 1st, until all delegate positions are filled. If you are a student currently living in the US or Canada, fill out the Online Application here, and the deadline is Dec 11th.

Good luck! :-)

Monday, November 13, 2006

Private Higher Education Roundtable (III)

For those interested in what I raised during the private higher education roundtable in Mandarin, I'll provide a short summary in this post. In addition, you can also access a Chinese version of the points raised in my personal blog here.

But before that, I thought I should add my personal opinion on the comment which was made by one of the readers here, which claimed that the other two speakers aren't qualified to discuss issues relating to the private education industry. The key reason was their apparent lack of academic credentials, despite their long experience in the industry.

Let me state categorically that if there's anyone who potentially lack qualifications to discuss the private higher education industry, it would be me. Despite a basic degree obtain from a prominent university, I've zero experience in the academia. And with the exception of having interviewed many candidates from the private colleges, I may not have the in-depth experience of the industry like the other panellists.

While Dato' Peter Ng, President and Vice-Chancellor of Universiti College Sedaya International and Tan Yew Sing, President and Founder of Inti College International are both more businessmen than academics, but that certainly doesn't disqualify them from providing their input and share their experience on the private higher education sector.

In fact, I found during our roundtable discussions, they were remarkably restrained by not attempting any self-serving promotion of their own private colleges. I can't remember a single instance whereby they cited their own colleges as examples of whatever points they were raising. They were also fairly open and honest with regards to the potential shortcomings of the industry. Of course, they will try to put things in a more positive light, but who wouldn't? That's the reason why I believe the producers invited me to be part of the panel isn't it? To act as some sort of a counterweight to ensure a good balance in views expressed by the panelists. But I certainly came off the programme with increased respect for the 2 fellow panellist, despite certain differences in views.

OK, back to the topic. Some of the key issues I managed to raise pertains to the quality of the local private education institutions of higher education.
  • Insufficient academics and lecturers of good quality

    For example, many private colleges engage foreign lecturers from developing countries and many students have complained with regards to the quality of these lecturers, in particular with regards to their language abilities. In addition, many of the private colleges also engage fresh graduates without any significant experience. Many of these graduates didn't graduate from top schools or have achieved top results to become competent lecturers.

  • Entry requirements which are set too low

    There are too many private institutions of higher learning which accepts students with entry requirements which are too low. The world's top universities accept only students in the top percentile of entry requirements, local institutions need to adopt a more qualitative approach to become truly world-class. For example, many highly technical and rigourous courses such as engineering held by private colleges accept students without a pass in Additional Mathematics, which would have been a minimum entry requirement for other top universities.

  • Course content too shallow

    I've interviewed many fresh graduates from local private and public institutions. Many of these candidates graduated with twinning degrees granted by the local private colleges. In the case of hiring computer application developers, I found many candidates with these degrees unsuitable, despite apparently good results due to the shallow content of their courses. For example, many computer science degree programmes are carried out without any significant practical programming classes!

  • 3+0 Degree Programmes

    I've blogged many times with regards to 3+0 degree programmes here. I disagree with the attempts by private colleges to market such programmes to students with the incentive for the latter to complete their degree faster. It is obvious that such degree programmes will only result in the students learning less, resulting in longer term negative impact on the students. If the top universities in the world like Oxbridge and the London universities require at least 18 months to 2 years in preparatory A-Level courses, what makes these degrees more special that they don't have such pre-requisites? Are the students enrolled more intelligent and talented such that they can skip the extra preparatory programmes?
This part isn't highlighted in the roundtable, but the following are my suggestions in brief on what the Ministry of Higher Education should do, to help improve the quality of the local private universities and colleges. They include requirements that the local institutions of higher learning publish the detailed resumes of their lecturers and academics for the respective degree programmes as well as the lowest entry criteria for particular courses accepted for the previous enrolment exercise. The Ministry should also limit the marketing campaigns of local institutions to facts-based advertisements instead of world-class trumpet blowing exercises. Finally, I'd strongly encourage the Ministry of Higher Education to phase out the conduct of 3+0 degree programmes.

Well, those are my thoughts in a gist. The above aren't all the points which I mentioned during the programme, but are what I thought is more important anyway. Obviously there are plenty of points to further blog about, as well as further substantiate or to be put into context. Hopefully the Roundtable would have raised pertinent issues from both sides of the fence and lead to, in its own small way, the betterment of education in Malaysia. So, remember to catch the next 2 episodes of the programme on the following consecutive Sundays at 10.45pm, Astro Asia Entertainment Channel. ;)

Discrimination @ US Universities?

Well, apparently so, based on a report by the Wall Street Journal.
Though Asian-Americans constitute only about 4.5% of the U.S. population, they typically account for anywhere from 10% to 30% of students at many of the nation's elite colleges. Even so, based on their outstanding grades and test scores, Asian-Americans increasingly say their enrollment should be much higher -- a contention backed by a growing body of evidence.
The situation has resulted in increased lawsuits against premier universities for discrimination. For example, a China-born US permanent resident, 17-year-old freshman, Mr Jian Li at Yale University has filed a suit against Princeton. Despite racking up the maximum 2400 score on the SAT and 2390 -- 10 points below the ceiling -- on SAT2 subject tests in physics, chemistry and calculus, Mr. Li was spurned by three Ivy League universities, including Stanford University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

It appears that applicants of Asian-American origins are subjected to higher entry requirements than other Americans.
...Center for Equal Opportunity, in Virginia, found that Asian applicants admitted to the University of Michigan in 2005 had a median SAT score of 1400 on the 400-1600 scale then in use. That was 50 points higher than the median score of white students who were accepted, 140 points higher than that of Hispanics and 240 points higher than that of blacks
And apparently these allegations aren't new. Harvard University and University of California have both been placed under scrutiny previously.
In 1989, as the federal government was investigating alleged Asian-American quotas at UC's Berkeley campus, Berkeley's chancellor apologized for a drop in Asian enrollment. The next year, federal investigators found that the mathematics department at UCLA had discriminated against Asian-American graduate school applicants. In 1992, Berkeley's law school agreed under federal pressure to drop a policy that limited Asian enrollment by comparing Asian applicants against each other rather than the entire applicant pool.

Asian-American enrollment at Berkeley has increased since California voters banned affirmative action in college admissions. Berkeley accepted 4,122 Asian-American applicants for this fall's freshman class -- nearly 42% of the total admitted. That is up from 2,925 in 1997, or 34.6%, the last year before the ban took effect.
What was also interesting was that Mr Li was required to fill in questions on college applications about his ethnicity, just as we Malaysians do. He left the answers blank for "[i]t seemed very irrelevant to [him], if not offensive," and rightly so, I would think.

Hence discrimination, albeit more subtle, exists even in the land of equal opportunities. However, that's where the similarities between the Malaysian and the US education and governanace system end.

While discrimination and bias, being a function of individual personalities will definitely exist in all levels of society, there is a concerted attempt to remove such injustices in the United States. Unlike in Malaysia, whereby discrimination is often institutionalised, there is recourse for discrimination victims in the United States such as the legal action by Mr Li. And such recourse have obviously proven to be effective for, based on the examples cited, clear evidence of changes in policies and trends have been recorded.

Even in situations whereby discriminations appear subtle and not institutionalised in Malaysia, there is effectively little or no recourse for students in Malaysia, as cited in my earlier blog post on "Managed Meritocracy". To demonstrate the government's commitment to ensure that there are no discrimination beyond the institutionalised positive affirmative action policies, it has to establish an independent empowered body to monitor and evaluate complaints of discrimination, whether based on ethnicity, religion or gender.

Thanks to Mark for the heads up on this report ;)

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Private Higher Education Roundtable (II)

As mentioned a couple of days back, I was invited to be part of a panel to discuss the development and future of the Malaysian private higher education sector on Astro's Asia Entertainment Channel (AEC). The roundtable discussion is in Mandarin.

Just an update to let you know that the roundtable discussions is "broken" into 3-parts of 15 minutes, to be shown over 3 Sundays starting tomorrow, 12th November 2006 at 10.45pm news segment. There wasn't anything too controversial, but I thought the discussions did cover some of the more pertinent issues within the given timeframe. I'll blog more on the discussions next week ;)

For those who are watching, do let me know if I made the cut speaking in Mandarin (for which I tend to be weaker when dealing with the more technical or sophisticated terms). I'll also probably have to figure out how I'm going to catch the episodes, since I can't afford the Astro subscription ;p.

To JSTOR or not to JSTOR?

This is a follow up on one of the comments made in a previous post on knowledge management and dissemination. Someone was asking if our local grads and / or local academics had access to article databases such as JSTOR.

My impression is that our local academics have access to JSTOR but that our undergraduates do not. Most research universities here in the US have online access to multiple article databases including JSTOR and both undergrads as well as academics have the same level of access.

I was wondering if our readers out there can tell us what sort of articles databases they had access to while studying for their degree, both locally and overseas, or better yet, what current undergrads have access to, both locally and overseas.

Let the comments begin!

Friday, November 10, 2006

Jeffrey Sachs at UM?

Buried at the bottom of this Star report was this:

Abdullah also announced that the world-renowned Professor Jeffrey Sachs would be the first holder of the Royal Professor Ungku Aziz Chair in Poverty Studies.

Is it just me or does anyone else out there think that this is very strange?

For those of you who don't know who Jeffrey Sachs is, here's useful wiki link. He's currently at Columbia (a top notch US university in New York city) and he's one of the most prominent economist in the US and the world in regards to development / foreign aid / poverty issues. In his Columbia website, he's listed as holding the following 4 positions:

Director, Earth Institute at Columbia University
Quetelet Professor of Sustainable Development
Professor of Health Policy and Management
Special Advisor to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan

Note that he's already holding a chair (Quetelet Professor of Sustainable Development). I'm not exactly sure whether a professor can hold more than one chair in more than one university but from my knowledge of the US system, most prominent academics hold only one chair. One might be a professor in more than one university or different centers but rarely have I encountered a professor who holds more than one chair and at different universities at that.

There are good reasons why this is so. For example, whoever (person or institution) has endowed that chair i.e. paid for a fund to pay the salary and expenses of whomever is holding that chair, has done so with the expectation that the endowment is generous enough to pay for that professor's salary and expenses. The generous benefactor would not want that professor to 'share' his time and reputation between two or more chairs. Universities too would not want to see their chaired professors having another chair in a different, often competing, university. Morever, a chaired professor is expected to contribute to the intellectual development and research agenda of the department or center in which he or she is 'chaired' at. Being chaired at more than one university would obviously make it more difficult for this professor to make an 'honest' intellectual contribution at the universities where he or she is 'chaired'.

For all these reasons, and more, I can't imagine why firstly, UM and the MOHE would even think of trying to get Jeffrey Sachs (unless he's willing to quit Columbia and relocate to Malaysia), secondly, why Pak Lah (or his people) would want to announce it before the details are confirmed. As far as I know, there have been no details of this move announced in the US press or the administrators at Columbia. This might likely turn into an 'egg on my face' scenario. Thirdly, if Sachs is willing to take up this chair (which I don't think he is), he's likely to be in Malaysia for only a few months (at most) out of a year. He's also not likely to stay long term as the chaired professor (most chaired professors in the US stay at the institution where they are chaired until they pass away or retire).

How much intellectual contribution can he make within that short space of time? More importantly, do we really want to expose him to the workings and failings of our system of higher education? Imagine, that if he comes, he will see the poor intellectual environment in our universities not to mention the poor quality of some of the academics he will have to interact with as well as poor facilities and resources. (Maybe this IS a good thing?)

I think the larger question I want to address is this practice of throwing money in the short term hoping to solve long term problems. Tony has blogged about the RM500 million 'donation' to Cambridge, one of my alma maters. In this case, it's the RM20 million that is being spent to set up this Royal Ungku Aziz Chair and Center for Poverty and Development Studies at the UM.

Quick note here: Sachs probably gets paid somewhere in the range of US300,000 to US500,000 which translates into RM1 to RM1.75 million a year (using 3.5RM = 1US). His monthly expenses would probably run into the range of 50,000RM a month (25,000RM monthly rental, car expenses, travel, dining, relocation, computers etc...) or 600,000RM a year. You probably have to spend another 50,000RM to 100,000RM for two or ther research assistants. So you're probably talking about spending somewhere in the range of RM2million to RM3million annually for Sachs. And I haven't even mentioned the costs of setting up the physical and intellectual resources at this new Center for Poverty and Development Studies. If they are not careful, the RM20million endowment (which is supposed to be self-sustaining) will be drawn down to nothing in no time.

These kinds of 'headline' grabbers do not solve any of the structural problems in our local universities which have been discussed many times in this blog. Rather than trying to flush money down the toilet by trying to recruit these 'big names', why not push for substantive structural change instead?

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Knowledge Management and Dissemination

One of the requirements for obtaining my PhD (eventually) here at Duke is that I must go through 12 hours of training in what is called 'Responsible Conduct of Research'. I attended a recent RCR forum on the issue of copyright and was alerted to a few issues which I think are of relevance to our local universities.

The production and dissemination of research is the lifeblood on which academic life runs. The system here in the US is very good at doing both. There are multiple journals in which one can get one's academic work published in. Usually, the problem here is a case of too many articles chasing too few journals. I won't go into the details of how one gets published but what I do want to highlight is the fact that the distribution 'power' of these journals make being published in them valuable. The more one's work is read, the more one's academic career progresses.

Many of the journals which I'm familiar with (American Economic Review, American Political Science Review, Journal of Politics, Journal of Economic Literature etc...) are easily available online through institutional and personal subscriptions. Many of these journals are also part of a larger 'network' of journals which are accessible through bulk subscription on the part of an institution. For example, subscription to JSTOR allows one access to a few hundred journals across different fields.

Their accessibility combined with their reputations as leading journals ensures that there is a steady supply of good papers by good academics whose reputations are enhanced by publishing in these journals.

By contrast, I know of no economics or political science journals published in Malaysia which are either available online or 'plugged' into a larger network of journal subscriptions. For example, the Malaysian Journal of Economic Studies, published by UM only have paper abstracts online. This means that a university such as Duke cannot even subscribe to online versions of this journal but has to opt for the hard copy version instead. What this means in practice is that the works by academics published in this journal won't be read widely which decreases the value of this journal.

Note: This also might impact the 'citations per faculty' index in the THES rankings for our local academics.

I tried to do a few 'Malaysian journal' searches on google and came up with these sites.

The first site is called the 'Electronic Journal of University of Malaya' (EJUM). It has 5 journals in it mostly covering engineering and scientific fields but I don't think it's plugged into a larger network of journals, making the articles less accesible to a wider audience.

The Malaysian Journal of Medical Sciences, a USM publication, is actually part of a larger network called Bioline International which makes these articles accessible to a wider audience.

Journals to do with Malaysian law are, arguably, the best organized (both online and offline) probably because of the high demand and profitability of such journals which can be access here.

Finally, I tried to locate papers or research which have been funded by IRPA (Intensification of Research in Priority Areas) and didn't manage to locate any such database or publication. In contrast, the National Institute of Health (NIH) here in the US has a database in which research and papers on the projects in which they fund are deposited there and they are in the process of making this mandatory for all their funded projects. There are many universities which collect works done by their own professors and graduate students from various fields and puts them on an online database. This way, knowledge can be shared and the research done by academics can be appreciated and acknowledged by others.

I think there are some concrete proposals which can come out of this and I'll list some of them here:

1) Ensure that all Malaysian journals are available in online versions (and past volumes should be converted into soft copies to be uploaded)
2) Encourage the universities who publish these journals to try to be plugged into a larger network of journals (perhaps an Asian wide body that is similar to JSTOR) to improve accesibility (and perhaps profitability)
3) Encourage universities to set up databases and collect published works by its own staff and make these available online for knowledge sharing and research acknowledgement purposes
4) Ensure that one of the conditions of IRPA funding is that the result of the funded research is made public (within a reasonable time frame)

While this issue of knowledge sharing and dissemination is not as important as the other larger structural factors which have been brought up in this blog and elsewhere, sometimes, it's these small incremental steps which can be taken that together, make a bigger difference towards improving the state of our public universities in the long run.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Sensitising Our Children

It is interesting how the infusion of religion into our national schools by principals results in sensitising our children to issues which were not sensitive in the first place. As reported in the New Straits Times last week, the administrators of SK Bukit Jelutong have told non-Muslim pupils that they can't bring "wet food" to the Children's Day celebrations, only snacks like murukku or chips are allowed.
The school's senior assistant for curriculum, Ishak Mohd Zazuly, confirmed
the directive and said the decision was made "to respect each other's
religions. We are just worried that there may be non-halal ingredients in the food.
That's why we allow them to bring snacks, while Muslim pupils can bring wet
food. That way, everyone can eat," he said.

Ishak said if non-Muslim children, for instance Hindu pupils, could not eat
beef and had problems with the food brought by Muslim pupils, they should
not eat it.
Err... umm... why the double standards? If non-Muslim students not bringing "wet food" to school is a mark of respect for Muslim students, why isn't it applied vice-versa, whereby Muslim students should not bring "wet food" as well, in case they brought beef? Shouldn't then all students just bring "murukku and chips"?

But I believe that the whole argument is besides the point. Why sensitise the issue in the first place? Now, these young children, will just be inculcated with the unhealthy you versus me concept, instead of focusing on everyone being "Anak Malaysia", irrespective of race, colour or religion.

After close to 50 years of independence, we appear to be trying to move backwards in terms of national unity, instead of moving forward. We are supposed to promote understanding, respect and tolerance, not making every issue under the sky, however trivial, a sensitive religious issue. As blogged earlier in the year, we are just converting our multi-ethnic national schools into mono-ethnic religious national schools.

I'm curious to know what is the stand of our Minister of Education on this issue.

Monday, November 06, 2006

New Personal Blog

I started this blog not too long ago in April 2005. While the blog is only focused on Education, it has achieved a little success, at least in terms of readership. Hence, despite the "toll" it has taken on my personal time, I've been extremely encouraged. ;-)

Over time, fortunately or unfortunately, while reading various news reports and articles, I've come across plenty more things I thought are worth highlighting but aren't education related. I've kept myself on a leash for a while now from giving my two sen, in part because this blog should remain one for the education and academic community to build on what is achieved to date, and partly because I fear having to spend 25 hours a day blogging, while still keeping a day job. :)

But yes, as the title of this post suggests, I'm unable to restrain myself any further and I've finally started a new blog "Philosophy Politics Economics", which will be my very own personal blog. This will be where I'll be left free to blog on anything unrelated to education.

As the title of the blog suggests, this is where I can blog on all the other stuff which interests me - philosophy, politics and economics, which as you may already know are the subjects I read for my degree. I will also of course, write about possibly more personal stuff, to possibly give a better background to myself, my history and my family and hopefully through this blog, we will get to know each other better. ;p

I'm however, happy to have finally started this new blog, which has been playing in my mind for the longest time. Do come and visit often! ;p

Meritocracy Charade: Here We Go Again...

Well, the UMNO Assembly season commences shortly and all the racial meritocratic charades will be played all over the media again.

As usual, the Menteri Besar of Johor himself, Datuk Abdul Ghani Othman leads the way by his annual call for the "meritocratic" system to be scrapped. Yes, he goes bonkers every year prior to the UMNO assembly as blogged last year.

As reported in Malaysiakini:
Umno Johor has suggested that the meritocracy system practised by institutions of higher learning be terminated to reduce the gap between students of different ethnic backgrounds in certain ‘strategic’ courses.

Its head Abdul Ghani Othman said the meritocracy system should only be applied among students from within the same ethnic group, in competing for places in public universities.
His argument is:
“It would not be considered extreme to say that we are currently facing a crisis in education. The gap between Malay and non-Malay (children), especially between urban and rural areas, is wide,” he reportedly said.

“Drastic measures must be taken to develop the education environment in rural areas so that the younger generation of Malays do not become victims of discrimination as a result of the implementation of meritocracy.”
If the disparity between the rural versus the urban folks is really the issue he is so concerned about, then lets address it from a rural versus urban perspective. Why must it be a Malay vs non-Malay approach? And what about all the other poor bumiputeras like the Ibans, Kadazandusuns and other minority groups?

As it is the current "managed meritocracy" system is still a distance away from the supposed cutthroat meritocratic system that many espoused. Yet if UMNO leaders such as the Johor Menteri Besar who was actually a former academic (not a very good one obviously) seek to even dismantle whatever semblance of meritocracy in the existing system, then even the optimist would ask if there's still hope in the country.

Unlike in the past, unfortunately I don't even think that he is going to get indirect verbal correction from Pak Lah, much less even a light tap on his wrists due to the political pressures which he is facing within UMNO. Will other component leaders stand up and speak?