Saturday, January 20, 2007

Calling all benefactors

I picked this up in a recent issue of my campus' newspaper, The Chronicle. It reported that the estate of the late Tan Sri Khoo Teck Puat (of Standard&Chartered fame) donated $80 million to the Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School that will be matched by the Singapore government. Which reminded me of the fact that such benefactors are totally absent in Malaysia, at least to my knowledge.

It is a common practice for wealthy individuals here in the US to fund endowed 'chairs' or to donate generously to the building of a new facility, often to have their name attached to that facility. In the Malaysian context, almost all of these endowed 'chairs' have been funded by the government or government linked companies such as the Tun Razak Chair in Ohio University or the recently announced Ungku Aziz chair.

Why haven't any of the wealthy individuals in Malaysian, many of whom obtained the bulk of their wealth through government contracts or licenses, come forward to fund endowed chairs or other worthy causes in our public or private universities? Why haven't the like of Vincent Tan, Ananda Krishnan, Halim Saad, Tajuddin Ramli, Lim Goh Tong, Francis Yeoh and others stepped forward?

Perhaps some of them have donated to education causes, some of which have been publicized, others which have not. I remember Ananda Krishnan making a RM20 million donation to UTAR a few years back. The late Yap Chor Ee (founder of Ban Hin Lee Bank) has donated a building as well as cash to GERAKAN's Wawasan Education Fund for the establishment of the Wawasan Open University. If anyone remembers if any other tycoons have made significant contributions towards educational causes, please let us know.

I can think of some reasons why this has not happened. Firstly, as a developing country, many wealthy benefactors have not inculcated the habit of making financial contributions especially at the higher education level.

Secondly, many of them do not see value in making contributions to public universities because they were not, by and large, alumnis of public universities. (There are exceptions, I remember my uncle telling my that Tajudin Ramli graduated from UM) One of Duke's major benefactors is the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation because Melinda Gates was a graduate of Duke. Many wealthy benefactors to US universities are also graduates of those universities.

Thirdly, many of these wealthy benefactors probably don't want to be associated with any of the public universities because of their relatively low international prestige. Remember that naming privileges or endowment privileges are in part 'branding' exercises. Many people want to see their names attached to a Harvard or Yale 'chair'. I'm guessing that less people want to see their names attached to a UM or USM 'chair' or a business school because of the potential of seeing that 'name' devalued.

Fourthly, there is almost no 'marketing' efforts done on the part of university administrators to reach out to these potential benefactors to ask them to contribute to these universities. There are no incentives for VCs or other university administrators to do so. Funding of professors and other faculty comes directly from the government. There is little competition in terms of the salary of a professor because it is standardized across all the public universities (more or less).

So while many of these wealthy tycoons should be gently 'reminded' of their 'duty' to contribute back to the country, including the area of higher education, the current infrasructure and organization of our public universities also have to take some blame.

Who will be the first Malaysian 'Khoo Teck Puat' to step up? Incidentally, he was a Malaysian before he became a Singaporean.


Anonymous said...


'alumni' is already the plural of alumnus. No such thing as 'alumnis'.

Anyway, just to let you know that the former medical faculty of NUS was renamed the Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine after accepting a big donation from the family of a former Malayan doctor who went to school in the old V.I. in K.L in the 1920s.

Anonymous said...


Perhaps these tycoons do want to retain a lower profile when they donate to a Malaysian university, that's why they don't publicise it.

But Malaysians do donate generously to universities albeit with publicity. Check out this one by Toh Puan Mahani Idris Daim (Tun Daim Zainuddin's wife).

The Toh Puan Mahani Idris Daim Chair Professorship was launched at the Istana (S'pore)on the 29 Nov 2005. She donated S$1.5mil to Nanyang Technological University.

Anonymous said...

Yes, visit

Pepople like to associate with organizations which are open, transparent, fair, and successful.

These days not many UM alumni wish to contribute to UM (in KL) which has degenerated to become Pantai Valley High School and is promoting racially-biased practices.

Anonymous said...

Ouch my eyes! Please do use paragraphs next time. :P

Golf Afflicted said...


2 quick things:

1. Eh... post is by Kian Ming-lah. I kena blamed pulak ;) But yes, I've often been the guilty party mixing up my alumni and alumnus, as pointed out by readers. But hey, I ain't the only one ;)

2. Anon above - it's not Kian Ming's fault on the paragraphs. There's somethings really wrong with Blogger composer at the moment - it's not recognising paragraphs properly. I had the same problem earlier, and took me a lot of tweaking to get it right. I can't even get into the composer at the moment!

;) Tony

Anonymous said...

I have a very simple question to ask.

Who dares to donate money to an institution that will not bear fruit?

Let's put aside the so-called publicity benefits for the donor and think about it. What has our institutions create so far, other than those medals from exhibitions etc? Then, there's accountability problem with our administrations, where money could have disappeared without trace. So if you have a lot of money to donate, who and where will you choose? I rather throw or burn my money than giving them to parasites.

Anonymous said...

In Singapore, all the major donors to schools are from Chinese individuals or foundations. This stems from the old-school Chinese belief that it is noble to give to education, which is one of the pillars of Confucionist thought. I wonder where these Chinese donors/foundations are in M'sia?

Anonymous said...

Mr. Chen Jia Geng, A famous Chinese immigrant in Singapore(1874-1961)set an unprecedented record in the area of education. He personally financed the establishment of Xiamen University (which is a highly reputable institution in China today) and 26 secondary and primary schools in the Fujian Province. He also built five secondary and primary schools in Singapore. He paid for the administrative expenses of Xiamen University in the first 10 years of its operation.

Anonymous said...

Of course then you have the famous overseas Chinese - Tan Lark Sye who donated a princely sum of $5mil towards the establishment of Nanyang University (Nantah). Not only that, he donated more than 500 acres of land as well.

The establishment of Nantah was even made more remarkable for the fact that the Chinese community in Malaya, Singapore from all walks of life donated. Hawkers, businessmen, trishaw pullers, you name it, they gave generously. This act of generosity surely puts to shame some of the fund raising activity that we have now.

Anonymous said...

Ask Ka Ting to donate laa!
Ask Dr Ling Leong Sick oso!

Anonymous said...

Re. the alum* thingy...

alumnus - male/general, singular
alumni - male/general, plural
alumna - female, singular
alumnae - female, plural

That is why Mount Holyoke has an Alumnae Association. To make it simple, people often just say 'alum'. :-P

Back on topic, one of the reasons giving is low could be that our universities don't do much to cultivate 'school spirit' while people are there and don't make as much of an effort to keep in touch with alums. Does MU have a 'development' office? An Old Boys' Association (or whatever the varsity equivalent is)? What do they do?

Another good quantitative question to ask is how many alums give back in any given year...if I'm not mistaken, the giving rate at Mount Holyoke and comparable institutions is around 50%. That means that in any given year, one in two alums gives something back. Graduating classes often have close to 100% giving rates. Lately it's become a competition of sorts...

Anonymous said...

Clearly I am not reading carefully and have answered a different question. Nevertheless, I still think the cultural factor is important. In the same way that you can only get a Shakespeare or Rashid Sidek if people generally are writing and playing badminton, you can only get rich people giving lots of money to universities if people generally think it's a worthwhile thing to give to varsities at whatever level they can afford.

(On the other hand, we do have Nicol whatshername, so I could be wrong.)

I wonder how Malaysians do in terms of charitable giving in general.

Anonymous said...

Kian Ming said, "Why haven't any of the wealthy individuals in Malaysian, many of whom obtained the bulk of their wealth through government contracts or licenses, come forward to fund endowed chairs or other worthy causes in our public or private universities?... "

Kuok Group donates every year through their Kuok Foundation and sponsored tertiary education for many like myself by providing scholarship and partial scholarship (in which a portion has to be paid back interest free).