Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Spotlight on USM (Part I)

About a week ago, I said I would look at the qualifications of the USM faculty. First of all, I'd like to apologize for taking so long to write this post. (You'll see why in a minute) Secondly, I'd like to thank Ben Teh, a regular reader who's currently doing his PhD in Japan, for this link to a detailed listing of USM's faculty. Thirdly, I'd like to apologize for what is going to be a long post.

Instead of doing a cursory run through of the USM faculty listed in the link above, I thought I'd do something a little more systematic, for my own benefit as well as for the benefit of our readers (hopefully). So what I did was the following:

- I compiled the name, highest qualification of each USM faculty, the name of the university of that highest qualification, the country of that university
- Of those faculty with PhDs, I tried to calculate the % of these PhDs which were from top universities either in the UK or the US

(This took quite a bit of time since I had to convert the data from pdf to excel form and then had to format the data)

The reasons for doing this were manifold. For example, I wanted to get a sense of the % of faculty at USM who had PhDs, an issue which the MOHE has been and is currently concerned about. In addition, I also wanted to get a sense of where most of our faculty were obtaining their PhDs from. More importantly, I wanted to see if most of these PhDs were obtained from relatively well known / good schools especially given the recent announcement by Tok Pa that postgraduate scholarships will only be offered to those who have been accepted by top schools (which Tony blogged about here). If, for example, many of the current USM faculty did not obtain their PhDs from top schools, how likely is it that future faculty will obtain their PhDs from top schools?

OK, some summary statistics first. I counted approxtimately 900 faculty in the ACU yearbook link found above. I excluded faculty from the dental and medical schools since almost all of the faculty here would be "Doctors". Included also are professors, associate professors, senior lecturers and lecturers whose names are not listed but was mentioned in the yearbook. (For these 'nameless' ones, I don't have information about their highest degree obtained and the related information) There are approximately 190 of these 'nameless' ones.

Of the remaining 710 whose full information are included in the yearbook, a surprisingly high % have PhDs. 547 or approximately 77% have PhDs. This is certainly above the 60% overall target set by MOHE for all public universities. Even if we assume that some % of those listed as senior lecturers and lecturers are not PhD holders (I estimated the figure at 50%), I still find that approximately 67% of the USM faculty obtain PhDs (about 600 out of 900). If this is indeed the case, then USM is well ahead of MOHE's 60% requirement. (If we assume that all senior lecturers and lecturers are NOT PhD holders, then only 60% of USM's faculty are PhD holders, right at the 60% MOHE requirement).

It would not surprise me if the other top two public universities in Malaysia, namely UKM and UM, have a similar % of faculty with PhDs. Which leads me to my next question: If UM, USM and UKM have more than 60% of their faculty with PhDs and if MOHE's overall target is 60% for all public universities, what then is the % of faculty with PhDs in the other public universities in Malaysia? (e.g. UITM, UUM, UPM, UNIMAS etc...) I would think that it would be significantly lower than 60% to drag the overall % for all public universities to about 30%, which is the latest national estimate. Perhaps some of our readers at universities like UITM and UUM can give us as sense of how many of their lecturers are actually PhD holders?

Next, where did these faculty obtain their PhDs from? A large number of them (slightly more than 53%) obtained their PhDs from UK universities. Unsurprising, given our long history of sending students to the UK. Coming in 2nd, at approximately 20%, are US universities. PhDs from Malaysian universities comprise approximately 15% of total PhDs. PhDs from Australian and Indian universities account for around 4.5% and 3.9% of total PhDs, respectively. These five countries (UK, US, Malaysia, Australia and India) account for 95% of all PhDs in USM. The remaining countries include Singapore, Thailand, Canada, Japan and France, just to name a few.

I decided to look at PhDs from UK and US universities since the universities in these two countries account for 73% of total PhDs at USM. I wanted to calculate the % of PhDs from top universities as measured by the latest rankings available. I realize that this is somewhat of a flawed methodolgy for a variety of reasons (rankings may have changed over time, different universities may be good in different fields) but I decided to stick with this method because it's relatively simple and intuitive. Furthermore, even if one argues that rankings are relative and subjective and that different schools specialise in different areas, I think it's hard to argue against the fact that top schools such as Cambridge, Oxford, Harvard or Princeton MUST be good in certain fields and if there are very few PhD holders from such schools in a university, this must account for something.

And so I proceed. Using the latest THES university rankings for UK universities (2007), I allocated a ranking for each of the schools from which at least one faculty member obtained a PhD from. There were a total of 47 UK schools. I then proceeded to calculate the % of PhDs which were obtained from Top 10, Top 20 and Top 30 schools in the UK. The corresponding figures are 4.3%, 21.8% and 49.7%. In other words, only 4.3% of total PhDs obtained from UK universities were obtained from schools that were ranked in the Top 10. More than 50% were obtained from schools that were outside the Top 30.

From the ACU data, I found only 1 PhD holder from Cambridge and none from Oxford. Unfortunately, because PhD holders from the University of London unis are listed as PhD (London), I wasn't able to ascertain the no of PhDs from Imperial College, the London School of Economics, SOAS, UCL and King's College, all of which are good universities, in my humble opinion. Given that the UOL includes a diverse group of member institutions, I gave the overall UOL PhD a ranking of 15, which is the average ranking for all UOLs member institutions in the THES rankings (Goldsmith's at 45 drags the overall UOL ranking down).

33 faculty from USM obtained their PhDs from the UOL. 29 were from the University of Wales member institutions, which includes Aberystwyth, Bangor, Lampeter, Swansea, University of Wales Institute, Cardiff, University of Wales, Newport and Cardiff University (average ranking of 51). The other popular universities are Leeds (34)(ranking in parentheses), Sheffield (24), Newcastle (25), Hull (49), Birmingham (33), Manchester (26), Reading (31), Strathcylde (40), Liverpool (39).

I think many of these universities are good universities, though maybe not great universities, and I'm sure that many of them have fine PhD programs in areas where many of the USM faculty obtain their PhDs in. But the fact that only a relatively small number of USM's faculty obtained their PhDs from top 10 UK universities should give pause to the MOHE in regards to their policy of awarding postgrad scholarships only to those who enter into top universities. MOHE certainly has to be careful in how it defines top universties.

Furthermore, this simple exercise that I've carried out, coupled with my personal experience in the UK, leads me to believe that there is some sort of network and networking effect at work here. A university which has accepted many Malaysians in the past is more likely to accept more Malaysians in the future. Furthermore, universities which currently have some number of Malaysians doing their PhD there are likely to attract more applicants from Malaysia to their programs because of familiarity, that it's easier to get settled into a place with at least some fellow Malaysians and so on. Also, current faculty who are from these universities are also likely to know current faculty in those UK universities and can more easily refer potential students to work under this or that professor in that particular UK university.

All this also points to the difficulty of sending potential PhD students to places like Cambridge and Oxford. Firstly, with so few Malaysian professors in our local varsities who are from these universities, it is much harder for them to be credible referees for potential Malaysian PhD students, many of them graduates from local universities. Secondly, it is quite likely that Malaysians with PhDs from Cambridge and Oxford are loth to return to teach in public universities for a variety of reasons (salary, better opportunities elsewhere, poor research environment etc...).

Perhaps, the possibility of an RM500 million 'donation' to Cambridge is supposed to make it easier for potential Malaysian PhD students to get a place in Cambridge?

What is the picture like for US PhDs? Here we find a smaller 'network' or 'networking' effect at work. Because there are more US universities, the USM faculty who have US PhDs come from many different universities. I used the latest US News and World Report rankings to calculate the % of PhDs from top 10, top 50 and top 100 universities. The corresponding figures are 3.2%, 25.3% and 53.2%. Only 5 out of the 168 US PhDs were from Top 10 schools (Stanford, MIT, Harvard, Columbia and Yale). Slightly less than half of the US PhDs were from schools outside the top 100. Some of these universities - Bradley, Northern Illinois, Mississipi State, Hawaii.

Again, I repeat some of what I've said in previous posts. It's extremely difficult to get a place in a PhD. program in a top US university. It's even more difficult when (a) the applicant does not have a US undergrad degree (b) the applicant does not have referees who know professors in these top schools personally. And if you DO get a place, it's likely that the university will fund your entire program. Given that the current PhD scholarship in Malaysia only funds a candidate for 3 to 3 1/2 years, it makes it even less likely that an applicant who does get accepted into a top 10 or top 20 school will want to take the Malaysian scholarship if he or she can accept a scholarship from the US university in question.

My conclusion from this rather long post? That the MOHE needs to work closely with the local universities to try to place potential PhD students in good programs but at the same time, be realistic that gaining entry into a top 10 program in a US or UK university is not that easy. My sense is that it's probably easier gaining entry into a top 10 UK university given that UK universities are more strapped for funds and hence, more likely to accept a fee paying Malaysian PhD student. So even though I'm a strong supporter of PhD programs here in the US, for practical purposes, it probably makes more sense for MOHE and the public universities to concentrate of UK universities instead.

Finally, the strength of any research university is not to be judged by where the faculty obtained their PhDs from but the quality of research which the faculty produces. This is much more difficult to evaluate in the kind of semi-comprehensive manner which I've done here. But try I will. In a later post, which will have to wait until I finish my exams and some final papers.


Anonymous said...

It would be interesting to know:
1 How many % of the post graduates produced by our universities are course work cun research
2 On average whats the failure rate of producing post graduates by research and those by research cum course work
3 Who are the external examiners for post grad by research and course work. External examiners from local universities not considered!
4 What is the highest qualifications of the supervisors, and how many students they have
How many years after they graduate would the lecturers supervise their own post grads?

and many more things to consider so that we will know the pathology of our university education

Anonymous said...

To Anon Tue Dec 12, 01:59:13 PM,

Be realistic, it is almost imposible for KM to do that.

No of course work and reseach depends on the faculty esp. post grad. If one faculty offer both then The university cannot forced the potential student.

Why examiners from local universities not considered? They not good? Come on la. We do have excellent academicians in Malaysia and well recognised even by international communities.

Highest Qualifications? To supervise a phd candidate, the supervisor must also have phd la. Unless full Professor. For master at least master degree.

Anonymous said...

Well done, Kian Ming. Thank your for your time, effort and detailed analysis. Really appreciate that. Also, thanks to Ben Teh for sharing the link. I am most surprised when you mentioned

"Of the remaining 710 whose full information are included in the yearbook, a surprisingly high % have PhDs. 547 or approximately 77% have PhDs."
"...top two public universities in Malaysia, namely UKM and UM, have a similar % of faculty with PhDs."

The main issue apart from % of lecturers having a PhD is the ratio of student/lecturer. A university with
[a] 10,000 students and 100 lecturer (PhD = 90%)
[b] 10,000 students and 1000 lecturers (PhD = 30%)

I'll go for [b]

As for the RM 500 million, it is better spent to sponsor 500-1000 PhD students at any Top 100 universities around the world.

Anonymous said...

Good effort. Unfortunately, ranking is a very subjective measure. For example, if one graduated in the 90s where his/her Alma Mater is in the top 10 of THES ranking. However, over the years his/her Alma Mater slipping down the ranking and now not even in the top 30. Does this mean he/she is no longer graduated from top 10 University? Is he/she less qualified now? This is very common in the UK University where university moving up and down the ranking over the past decade with exception to Oxbrigde and a few of University London (i.e. Imperial, UCL etc). Ranking itself is only an accurate snapshot in a particular time if we believed the methology in compiling the ranking is flawless.

Anonymous said...

Hi KM,

You forgot to mention if there were any phd holders from ghost universities.

Chen Chow said...

Great job, Kian Ming on a very comprehensive analysis. This does indeed give us a very thorough insights on the situation of PhD Professors/Lecturers in USM.

The analysis by Kian Ming is very thoroughly, and hence, it has covered a lot of significant areas of contention.

As pointed out by a blogger "usm", professor:student ratio would be crucial. I don't have a good estimate of USM students, but I think they have about 20,000 students. So, this would make it about 21 students to 1 Professor. This would be a little less than ideal that the typical 7:1 to 12:1 in top US universities.

Anonymous said...

Kian Ming,
That list is not complete. I tried searching for my lecturers' names couldn't find them
Prof. Zainul F. Zainuddin (Dean)
Prof. Norazmi Md. Nor (Deputy Dean)
Prof. Wan Abdul Manan
Dr. Farid Ghazali
Dr. Lalitha
Mr Nor Azmi Zainal

They have been with School of Health Sciences since 1999.

Anonymous said...

I studied at USM and UM. Here's my observations;
For lecturers above age 45, mostly have their PhDs from overseas. And more evenly distributed between the bumi and non-bumi. They are usually very good in teaching and have extensive of publications.
For lecturers below age 45, if they have PhD...usually are
- locally done
- academically not competent
- lack English proficiency
- rarely do research


Also noticed that many experienced lecturers switch to private sectors, ditching the pension plan, despite already in their late 40s.

I will assume that the working environment is no longer conducive to retain the best brains in our local institute of higher learning.
- paltry payscale
- too much politics
- too much bureaucracy
- stupid evaluation system for promotion
- lack of funding
- marginalised from those politically connected lecturers
- lack of freedom

just my two cents

Anonymous said...

BTW, noticed that the head of the university, the VC, does not even have a PhD -- perhaps kualificasion does not count after all?

Anonymous said...

Kian Ming: Thanks for the number crunching. I can assure you, after scanning through the list for mechanical engineering (my area), that you are not committing any error of "missing out" excellent ME departments in reasonably good (or even mediocre) schools. (And zero representation from schools in the US.)

Anonymous said...

I do agree in principal that there is a lot of room for improvement with our local public universities. However, I do think that despite their "lack of academic rigor" the lecturers mostly receive their training from the "more established" universities (as opposed to "ghost" universities). And please note that I am using the phrase "more established" rather loosely here, referring to mediocre albeit traditional universities especially those in the UK.

From my personal observation, most of these lecturers in our local universities went abroad under the SLAB or some were financed directly by the unversities' bursary/endowment funds. As such, they are required to attend accredited universities. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about the private universities (maybe with the exception of those GLCs such as MMU, Uniten, and UTP). The qualifications of some of these lecturers are definitely questionable.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this, Kian Ming.

I'm a little confused by some of the numbers. At the top of this entry it says that USM has 1335 academic staff. Who are the other 435 people?

Anonymous said...

Dear Kian Ming, I would urge a note of caution regarding your statistics, especially on UK universities. Your classification of Cambridge/Oxford/UoL as top schools is misleading in certain areas of the sciences.

The UK goverment periodically rates us on research quality and this rating is used as a benchmark for further research funding. This is knows as the RAE (a term that is much feared amongst us academics). The last RAE was conducted in 2001 and the next one is due in 2007. Oxbridge does not have submissions for areas like Mechanical Engineering, Electronics and Electrical Engineering etc. Some of the universities like Leeds, Sheffield and Birmingham that you list as second-tier universities are actually the leaders in the area of engineering.

In engineering, the total associated RAE scores for four areas (namely Civil/EE/Mech/Materials) are as follows. The max score is 24. Thus the top 4 schools are
1. Imperiel College London 23
2. University of Sheffield 22
3. University of Leeds 21
4. University of Birmingham 20

I have assumed a 5* RAE rating carries 6 points, a 5 RAE rating 5 points and so on and so forth.

For universities without Materials Engineering (max possible score 18)
1. University of Southampton 18
2. University of Bristol 16
=3. University of Edinburgh 15
=3. University College London 15
4 University of Surrey 14

There you have it...the top 8 schools for engineering in the UK. It's more complicated then you think!

Anonymous said...



Pls comment about MUST closing down as reported in Lim kit siang blog, esp with respect to proposed 500 RM link up to Cambriges

Anonymous said...

I agree with Ah Piau on his remarks to Anon tue 12 Dec 01:59:13.

However as with regards to supervision, qualification is not the only yardstick. If a lecturer or sometimes even a professor without a ph.d can still supervise Ph.D students because of his wealth of experience and publications. This happens too in UK!

Anonymous said...

When we look at ranking of universities, we have to be careful. What is published in THES etc, is the overall ranking of the university and does not reflect departments' strenghts and weakness.

Take for example, the university that I graduated in UK ranks 16 or 19 in overall THES sort of ranking but the department that I am associated with is ranked a 5* department under the RAE by unit assessment relative to Oxford and Cambridge which were ranked 5. Of the 41 institutions that participated in the RAE 2001 exercise only 4 institutions were ranked 5*. Further, for the whole universities only 3 departments were awarded 5*.

it is also true that ranking moves up and down and hence, it is hard to claim that one did not graduate from the top 10 based on current measurement. This apply to the overall ranking and departmental ranking.

Anonymous said...

Dear eduthots,

I can't recall posting on Tue 12 Dec.....

I also agree that a professor without a PhD can provide ample supervision without compromising on research quality...

There are several European professors in my field of expertise who are not Doctorate holders and yet they have amassed tons of international journal publications (> 200!!!) with very high impact factors. I was quite flabbergasted when I saw their CVs! I still have a very, very long way to go before I can match them in terms of publications...

Local academics should use the achievements of these professors as yardstick for academic excellence... That's how institutions like Tsinghua Uni and IIT rose to become amongst the top technological institutions in the world...this despite the fact that the two are located in third world countries...Therefore, Malaysia should not use this as an excuse.....

Anonymous said...

1. Is there a strong correlation between university ranking and the quality of graduates?

2. Is there a strong correlation between graduates from 'top' universities and quality of teaching?

3. Is there a strong correlation between graduates from top universities and research quality/quantity?

From a strict view of KM's analysis, a Phd graduate from Oxford is more than likely to outperform a Phd graduate from UM in every way. Does this stereotype hold true?

In my humble opinion, university ranking is similar to a pissing contest.

Instead, professors should be graded on their ability to educate and their ability to conduct quality research. It is difficult to measure the ability to educate but this link lists the high impact journals in their respective fields and their impact factor towards their respective field. The sum( impact_factor * publication_number) of each professor in our universities would be a relatively more robust indication of research quality.

Kian Ming said...

Hey Charis,

The other 435 'missing' faculty are faculty from the dental school, medical school and 'special' centers / institutions, all of which I've excluded.

Anonymous said...

Hi KM/TP..

Just browsing through the pdf files on USM faculty... from your link..

There is one A/P from USM (mgmt school) whom has a DBA from Newport Uni..

Is it genuine?

Anonymous said...

Personally I'm not sure I understand the value of doing a PhD, but I'm sure the academics do.

I'm more interested to know how how our universities design their courses. What are the qualifications of the staff involved in that? How and how often do they update the courses to ensure relevance to the market?

Also, do the universities know what happens to their graduates after they leave, e.g. how many percent are employed within, say, 6 months of graduating? Since graduates are the universities' 'products', wouldn't they want to know how well their 'products' are selling in the market? IF (that's a big IF) they do know where their alumni go, do they actively seek feedback from the employers on their alumni?

I'm sure it's nice to be able to keep making products without worrying about whether you can sell them, but that's not viable in the long term. :)

Anonymous said...

Kian Ming and other bloggers: This is the latest statistic of USM staff numbers (as of Aug 2006). Forget about the link that you provide. They are outdated!!!!

Main campus (n = 3216)
Professor: 87.
Assoc Prof: 216.
Lecturers (Junior and Senior): 458.
Teachers: 119.
Administrative and General Staff: 2336.

Health campus (Kubang Kerian) (n = 3530):
Professor: 24.
Assoc Prof: 67.
Lecturers (Junior and Senior): 387
Teachers: 18.
Administrative and General Staff: 3034.

Engineering Campus (Transkrian) (n = 671):
Professor: 13.
Assoc Prof: 43.
Lecturers (Junior and Senior): 109.
Teachers: 44.
Administrative and General Staff: 462.

Total staff: 7417.
Total academic staff: 1404.
Total no. Professors: 124 (8.8% of total academic staff).
Total no. Assoc Prof: 326 (23.2% of total academic staff).
Total no. lecturers: 954 (68.0% of total academic staff).

To know more about the who's who in the standing of scientific publication of USM academics, go to ISI web of science, and make a search and you will come up with the rank of the top 50 academics (sciences) who have published extensively and widely. To publish in impact factor journals is important, but getting your paper cited over and over again is more important. Otherwise, you just 'syok sendiri' seeing your paper published in international journals, but the work has no significance to other researchers/scientists. In most top universities in the world now, besides having papers published with impact factors, it is also crucial to see the published papers get cited (say after 5 years). The more the merrier.

Anonymous said...

Is this thread still alive?
I'm asking as it stops with USM (or rather began with USM before falling silent somewhat).

Just an idea: What about for each university, try and find out the non-Profs. Professors i.e. who mainly just have gold/silver/bronze medals from one of those so-called Inventions Exhibitions (read that as those who do not have refereed articles).

USM has quite a few of these 'medallion' Professors. And their inventions are, well in some specific cases, plagiarized products.

Disclaimer- Hearsay only: I heard that one such medallion professor in the natural sciences was visited by the ACA last year for something like misuse of funds. Cannot confirm.
But same professor is confirmed to have married his several phd students (initially without the knowledge of the then-wife, even denied by the then-wife, but alas Pg. is a small island ... ;-) )