Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Of Meritocracy & Top Universities...

There were small snippets of news in the last week with regards to higher education in Malaysia. Firstly, the Ministry of Higher Education announced that it will only "hire the best" for the 20 Malaysian public universities. And secondly, the Minister, Datuk Mustapa Mohamed also announced separately that 1,800 overseas Public Service Department scholarships, 300 more than the previous years, will only be made available to students who obtained places in "renown foreign universities".

Both pieces of news are not new. In fact, I've blogged on the latter here.

While I certainly welcome both "announcements", what appears sorely lacking in the news reports are the details of its implementation. As highlighted many times on this blog, the success or failure of our 'noble' policies lies pretty much in their implementation (or lack of).

In trying to "hire the best" for the local public universities - how will the Ministry or the local university administration approach the delicate issues as to how the "best" is decided?

For example, I'm personally aware of an extremely experienced returning academic overseas who was offered a position by a senior academic at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM). However, the offer was apparently vetoed without any reasons given by the "higher ups" (whoever they may be). One man's loss is certainly another's gain, for he is now working in Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (ISEAS) of National University of Singapore (NUS).

Will underperforming deans of local faculties be keen to hire talented academics who might threaten his or her position in the university for example? This is without even taking into consideration the politics of pay and research funds, or for that matter, the issues of racial discrimination in the universities.

Similarly with regards to the scholarship application to "renown foreign universities" - which exactly are these universities? Wouldn't the current crop of students seeking these scholarships require the relevant information in order to prepare the applications to the 'right' universities? How big is the pool of "renown" universities and who decides on this pool? Is Iowa State University included? Or is it restricted to purely the Top 100 in any of the popular global university ranking tables?

Tok Pa, it's good to hear that you are (or at least appear to be) doing the right things - at the very least, it's good for press write ups. However, with no accompanying details to the relevant policies, the announcements are really as good as idle chatter. We certainly hope to hear more (hopefully positive) details on the proposed policies.


Howsy said...

That is what we call the "Aksyen mau, umum dulu, malu tak apa" philosophy.

Take this another example File Not Found about the expertise directory of our local researchers but the website is nowhere to be found.

Sally Ong said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sally Ong said...

That's an interesting bit of news. PSD/JPA seems to have moved toward sponsoring many twinning programs in recent years. I know for sure that US bound students are no longer sent directly. Many other programs in Australia and the UK are also done through twinning programs with unknown local institutions and equally unknown foreign institutions. This is a sad move because many Malaysians are well capable of entering top universities. My group of INTEC mates in the ATU program back in 2002 included students who are now in Brown, Duke, Harvard, MIT, Stanford, UPenn, Johns Hopkins, etc.

Twinning programs, on the other hand, limit students to lesser known institutions. If the government really wants to save money, I would rather they follow Singapore's footsteps and ask students to complete their undergraduate degree from US universities in 3 years, instead of the customary 4. This can be done if students do the IB or A levels in Malaysia before going to the US. With their IB/A level credits, students can opt out of many freshmen introductory classes. Under the new 1+3 twinning programs in Malaysia, students spend freshman year in a local university and then transfer to a US university for years 2 to 4. The thing is, renown universities in the US don't take transfers from abroad. You need to apply as a freshman.

Anonymous said...

d77, I share your frustration, although my initial reaction was 'yawn..what's new?'. I have no idea how Malaysians can keep up with the amount of rubbish that is perpetually dished out....


H said...

I think for PhD, the global ranking is not that useful. In some fields, the best uni in the field is not even in the global/national ranking. It’s best to assess the worthiness of sponsoring postgraduate student based on merit of the dept where the student is going to (i.e. the staff, their research). It is all relative (there are several ranking systems and each produce different list)
Whats more important is, to utilize what the scholars had learned/experienced in their doctorate study when they return to work with the public university. Even if they just went to a mediocre university, this doesn’t mean they are incapable of doing research and publish paper, I guess it is the problem of attitude.

H said...

I just got this frm my friend, I think u might be interested in ths
Webometric ranking (I quote from the wbsite, Webometric indicators are provided to show the commitment of the institutions to Web publication)

USM is ranked 1st in Msia and 1193 Global

Anonymous said...

Hi guys,

the actual website is

Note: It is NOT http, but https!

Anonymous said...

As per 27 Feb 2007 from webometrics,


The Student.

Anonymous said...


Go further beyond getting the best lecturers or students...!!!!

Anonymous said...

"Hire the best?" Really?????????

These people dont even want to admit the best of our STPM students. Matrikulasi students take the lions share of the university places despite the fact that the STPM students study for a longer period compared to the nine months of studies put in by the matrikulasi students. What level playing field is this? Most of the time the cream of the STPM students get a measly number of places in the critical courses. And the rest if they are offered places get one of the 6th to 8th choices that they filled online in the application form. Cakap, cakap sahaja.

Anonymous said...

You know what, i think those politicians who talked a lot - AAB, Najib, Samy, Zam, Hishamuddin should publicly appologize to the citizen of Malaysia for failure in carrying out their duties as leader.

AAB - "Apa pun tak tahu"
Najib - Support AAB without using his head
Samy - "It's not my decision"
Zam - "Stop playing up the issue"
Hishamuddin - Keris feat every year

If they do that, i think all of us might gave them another chance. If they think this is like 50 years ago and get away with what they said earlier because humans have short memory, too bad. THIS IS 2007, a technology-driven society. Anytime you need evidence, search the net.

PS: pls remove this once you read it.

Anonymous said...

please take some time to explore the websites for those full-fledged local college universities. it is sad to see the qualification of the academic staffs. master holders could produce leading-edge researches? pheww... i would say they can't even teach properly...

Wilson J Q Quah said...

Read today's stories on the star?

Well one of them says New spm record likely

I just don't like the way they use the word "likely" in the media

Anonymous said...

As usual, NATO,
no action talk only,
empty promises..
open tender, 18 big corrupted fishes...
you name it...

Anonymous said...

R u refering to Kosi Pilai of ISB UM ?
I heard his teaching ability is .........:(((

Anonymous said...

Click Below.
This girl is awesome!

Anonymous said...

Hi nerd just clicked the link you posted. Was impressed until I read some of the comments assailing her and also upholding her. Have to take it with a pinch of salt. On local soil the Malay dailies are splashed with news of the new wonder girl who scored 19A1s. Anything now also "boleh".

Silent Me Not AUthor 1 said...

It's refreshing to see you guys to pick on this topic too.

The question of implementation is certainly a crucial one. In fact, i hope, as part of the opposition party DAP now, Tony, is able to provide us with an IMPLEMENTATION PLAN instead of pure bashing. Anyone can bash plans and ideas. but only Leaders can lead us towards it. Since BN leaders have failed us repeatedly, would our opposition stands up to the challenge?

I m looking forward to some old styled Tony P's blog - where he did not just post an issue, but also some solutions options to the issue.

Keep up the good work.
PS: i can t agree more with Hafiz MZ

Anonymous said...


All this idea is nothing new, it is speak out of various education minister mouth back in 90's.

Not until one show the real sign of reform. Otherwise, same speak will appear in year 2010, 2015,2020, 2030,2200.

Anonymous said...

silent me not author 1,
i agree with you that sometimes DAP is too much talking but lack of detailed implementation plan. hope Tony can make some changes here. :)

Anonymous said...

I was almost laugh out loud when I look at the so called “expert list” provided in the link above. I don’t know whether I should feel sad or hilarious about it anymore. Look at those researchers and staffs. With their qualification and publication experience, it will never even get them for an interview for a job in academic or industrial position in Singapore, US, UK or other country. And yet, in our very own “world class universities” they are appointed as lecturer or even professor. Now, here is the thing that I don’t quite understand :

1) If you look at their publication list, how many really published in international journals. It might be true that they have been working very hard and blah….blah… Bur, let’s face it. If you have been working in your field for the past 5-10 years and yet you haven’t even published in international journal, you’re a loser. It’s simply utterly inefficient.

2) Well, some might argue that the facilities and funding in local universities is not good and so forth. Well, again, look at their publication list and I don’t even see them publish anything while they are doing their PhD in the overseas university either. Are you telling me that the university in UK or US has no expertise or facilities ? Why couldn’t they come out with even a small little tiny international paper?

3) Look at the project they are being funded. Now, tell me, how many of those has a big ambitious to change the world or at least do some good to the society? It really makes me wonder how could some really ridiculous projects get huge amount of IRPA grant. Even worse, most of the studies already been done to dead in other country and yet our “great scientist” proposed to start from the scratch and understand the whole mechanism again. It’s totally waste of money. I would rather spend all those money to build up more school for the children rather than spending on those worthless, non-significant research. Will you expect those poorly defined research findings will change our life or improve our knowledge ?

Well, I think it’s just a joke to tell people that we want to “hire the best” for our universities. Meritocracy is rotten deep down from the root while in primary school. Inefficiency is everywhere from the people at the top position to the very low level. What could you expect? Anyone who still has a slight dignity and ambition will give it a pass until the situation is changed. Unless you implement a true meritocracy, there is no way in the world that the “best” people will join or even consider joining our university. Sorry to say that, but I think Singapore perhaps has a better chance for survival.

Anonymous said...

The scariest thing though, is that the list is mostly made up by a certain priviledged group of people. Whilst top universities promote diversity, here in the 'truly Asia' country we practise monoculturalism.

I am not convinced with TP's fray into politics, particularly with DAP. I remember Tan Sri Razali Ismail once said on TV that to make a difference it is better not to join politics. Now his are words I would listen to.


Anonymous said...

Wow! Our university are full of experts....yet none can even tie their own shoe lace!

The funny thing is that the whole MOHE swallows and believes this!

I think our country is in a state of perpetual denial...with UM*O at the helm

Sean Kuay said...

Malaysians have always been over-fed by good "news" and "policies" from the current Malaysia government. It's well known to us that eventually all these good "news" will remain just as they are - simply "news".

Shouting anti-corruption motto with the Anti-Corruption Agency (ACA) director-general being investigated over allegations of corruption, shouting meritocracy by claiming Kolej Matrikulasi is equivalent to STPM and etc.. a never ending list. All these are the result of poor execution of good policies, or simply unjustifiable policies. And we Malaysians are not new to these either.

Can we change this? Frankly tough. The existing "culture" have been laying deep roots within the whole structure of the governance.

Don't those ministers know of all these issues about poor execution, irrational policies? Perhaps some of them are aware. However, they probably can't do much because he/she may need to fire 80% of the staff in the ministry to uphold his reformation.

Anyway, we shouldn't be too pessimistic. Malaysians can "change" the government. Or Malaysians can "trigger" the government while they are executing those "policies". A big reformation may not happen, a little improvement is possible though.

At least, we still have a Prime Minister who shouts "anti-corruption" and "No NEP in 2020". :):)

Anonymous said...

Dracula77 [3/06/2007 05:01:00 AM] and kafkalee [3/06/2007 10:08:00 PM] gave their opinions on universities employing lecturers who got “second class lower and below” and who proceeded with their Masters. Both seemed to suggest that universities should not be employing these lecturers as they question the abilities of these lecturers to teach and to do research.

My educational institution, when it was newly set up, employed me. I only had a second class lower honours for my Bachelor's degree and a Master’s degree (from local institutions). Prior to joining, I had 2 years' experience in the commercial line. I knew that having some practical experience did not translate to being able to teach or do academic research. So I worked hard by reading books, going for trainings (organized by my institution), discussing with and observing more experienced colleagues on how to teach and do research.

It's been a couple of years now. Not to brag, but my ex-students always told me I was the best lecturer they had, compared to some of their lecturers who got first class from top universities. And I have so far presented four papers in two local conferences and two international conferences.

Despite all that, I am always aware of how the education industry look at lecturers with second class lower and without doctorate. I am now working towards starting my doctorate in a top foreign university. I hope it won't throw out my application just because of my second class lower for my Bachelor degree, the way my institution gave me a chance to prove my worth.

Anonymous said...

Well, dunno how to say it...

But isn't STPM the world's 2nd hardest exam? (I thought so...) While our local matriculation? Low standard like shit... So y matriculation students guaranteed place in public u while non-malay stpm students struggle like f to get into public u only 2 b given a place to do their 5/6/7/8th choice course. With UMNOputra ppl at helm, i think the future looks gloom for us non-bumis..

Nerd, honestly saying I'm not impressed with the 19A1 although I was surprised by that news. (Yeah yeah, I'm anxious of my own SPM results next monday too..) I mean, look at what subjects she took man... Sains Teras? (Free A1, cos if u can get A1 in Biology, Chemistry, Physics, how can u not get A1 in Basic Science?), Sastera, Geografi, Ekonomi Asas, Perdagangan, Prinsip Akaun n not to forget the 3 extra islamic subjects like Tasawur Islam, Pendidikan Al-Sunnah n Pengajian Quran or something like tat. Forgot d, lol. (Refer to utusan malaysia website i think got)

N btw, wat happen to our 17A1 girl, Nur Amalina? Heard she got sent back to Malaysia due to language barrier??? (Excuse me, but what is so hard about speaking English? Don't they use English in London?? LMAO)

Well, Second class lower lecturer, u do noe tat u're an exception right? Not many second class lower lecturer are as passionated like u alright? Speaking of lecturers, i gotta say i love my lecturers here. (Compared to my skul teachers??? Omg, don't compare... Well, there were a few exceptional ones as well but overall... Its like heaven n earth..)

Okay, I'm not eligible to vote (yet) but... I do hope that DAP will fight all the way against those idiotic UMNOputra. Give them a lesson. So much so for Mat Rempit, malay agenda, unemployed malay youth, the KERIS n all sorts of rubbish... Kick'em out n throw them into the dustbin, nope, they can't be recycled u noe...

Gud luck, Mr Tony...

Anonymous said...

college freshie, have you actually clicked on the link I have provided? It's totally unrelated to 19A1 in SPM. LOL :)

Anonymous said...

Those who is not familiar with Tok Pa is that he has never been a key person for real change but rather for holding the line on things getting worst. Throughout his career, he is known to be called him to clean thing up when disaster happen rather than actually make fundamental change. He is cleaner than most politician, truly cares and work hard. But in the face of overwhelming political agenda, he has consistently failed. So all these talks are more for pointing to a desired direction rather than real determination to achieve it.

Anonymous said...

Got the feeling the anon above is a strong UM*O supporter....who is subjective and have no facts to support his argument!

Anonymous said...

ooops... wrong person... the 19A1 case i'm referring to a reply from a mum...


Anonymous said...

Hi college freshie, I am actually not taken in by the record. I am quite aware that the standard of As has deteoriated. For certain subjects I know for an average score you can be given an A.

She scored 4As for agama related subjects and IMHO to take basic science to gain an additional A to look good is actually a laughing matter to me.

Also it is not easy for students to score A in Chinese even though the student is good. I think a smart person can anlyse the reason why. I dont need to elaborate further.

Its quantity not quality that matters and this really sucks when it comes to applying for JPA scholarships. A consistently good deserving student with 10A1s and maybe an A2 in Chinese or Pen. Moral can get rejected for a scholarship.

Anonymous said...

a mum,

Darn, after 4 years I done SPM, only today u enlighten me why I got A2 for Moral and B3 for Chinese and A1 for the rest. AHHHHHH, haf been frustrated at myself for 4 years now,its not my fault after all.

But when i think again, maybe I got A1 for the other subjects because they lower the standards for 'their' sakes, so i shud be even more frustrated for getting grades i did not deserve. ARGH, I dont know what to think anymore!!!

But the bright side is now that I am safely in a reasonably good Uni, nobody cares bout SPM anyway.

Anonymous said...

On the one hand, it is very frustrating to be discriminated against because of skin colour/religion; on the other hand this has led us to improvise, get to places with higher pedigree, open up better opportunities and attain higher respect from other communities. I mean, it may a blessing in disguise if we are rejected by local unis...


Amir Dina said...

In actual fact, yes lecturers from Indonesia/Pakistan/India/Bangladesh etc. is all what we can afford. And for most of them this will be their stepping stone for better job prospect elsewhere. Or for some, their tenure here is to provide a better education (international school) that they cannot afford back home.

However, from the development of private institutions in those countries M'sia will not receive this kind of ppl to teach here now.

Just like in any other industry when you work with passion the results will show. No matter from where you starts.

Anonymous said...

a mum.. couldn't agree more on what u said... i'm really thankful that i had been given a full scholarship to get a foreign education now. Otherwise if i go for STPM, oh my gosh, i'll suffer the same fate again.

oh btw, juz in case anyone missed it, the girl didn't get 19A1 afterall. Lol. So much for the hype huh? She got 14 A1, 4 A2, n 1 B3.

as for myself... well.. a bit dissappointed with my EST, but the rest is juz like what i've expected. 7 A1 3 A2.

Anonymous said...

Dear College Freshie,

Congratulation for your SPM result.

BUT before you embarked on the next level, may I as an older person offer some advice (if you want to read. If not just ignore it)

1. First, should not make a statement if 'I thought so'. what more if the statement is used against another party. Its not justified legally and morally.

2. Secondly, hearsay evidence is inadmissible? So do not make statement by saying 'i heard someone telling'. You want to know why hearsay evidence is not admissible? Because of the issue of fabrication and concotion. Its unfair to the other party.

3. Thirdly, respect our teachers. No matter how worse you thing your teachers are. There must be something that they have taught you and contributed to your success.

4. Fourthly, be humble. You will not lose a single cent if you are humble.

5. Fifthly, do not be judgemental. Why must 'Kick'em out n throw them into the dustbin'?

Dear College Freshie,

You are so young may be 18. There are so many things that you yet to experience out there. So my advice is do not be so emotional. Try to be open minded so that you can see things in more wider perspective.

Good luck to you.

Anonymous said...


other people also do better than u but not so cocky mah! shy oh only how many As?

Anonymous said...

my apology.

I thought the madness of taking and scoring a handful of As in SPM is started by chinese.

and i myself graduated with 2nd lower engineering degree. and I had worked with two MNCs with majority of chinese. i still managed to compete and my works were at par if not better with them.

but I do agree that the UPU favors Matriculation over STPM. and it is indeed not fair.

brotherlone said...

meritocracy is a form of discrimination

upper middle class and elites get to perpetuate their social standing, while the rest linger around poverty and get stuck in the working-class trap for generations

we need some sort of interference by the goverment, its not only upward social mobility that we should promote but also downward mobility. then only meritocracy would work.