Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Doubling number of foreign students - a good thing?

The push to increase the number of foreign students in Malaysia is continuing, according to Tok Pa, as recently reported in the Star. This is not something new as I've blogged about this here and here. I've expressed my doubts on whether our public and private universities have the capacity to absorb foreign students at the postgrad level. Tony probably has similar doubts on the capacity of our private universities and colleges to absorb these questions at the undergraduate level. Let me share some more thoughts about this issue.

In the Star report, it was reported that 'Malaysia aims to double to 100,000 the number of foreign students at local institutions of higher learning by 2010, Higher Education Minister Datuk Mustapa Mohamed said.'

He also said that 'Government would embark on a two-prong approach to realise the target, which he described as a “significant increase” to achieve the goal to turn the country into a centre of education excellence.'

The two-prong approach is presumably the approach of attracting foreign students both at the undergraduate as well as the postgraduate level.

Generally speaking, I'm in favor of expanding the education sector, especially the private sector, in Malaysia as an alternative source of employment and growth given that our manufacturing base is declining. Why 'especially the private sector'? It costs less for the government, it doesn't take up valuable spaces in the public universities, there's arguably more capacity or spaces in private universities and colleges. While Tony's concerns in regards to the education standards in many of these private colleges and universities are definitely legitimate, I think that competition among the private universities will slowly raise the educational standards in the top-tier private universities such as Nottingham, Monash at Sunway and perhaps HELP and SEDAYA just to name a few more prominent private colleges. As foreign students become more discerning and more information becomes available, they will be able to sift out the more 'legit' private universities versus the more 'dubious' ones.

I'm less supportive of increasing the number of foreign students in public universities firstly because as mentioned above, they take up valuable spaces which should be reserved largely for Malaysian students, especially if they are also heavily subsidized by the Malaysian government. I'm not so averse to having more post-grads at the public universities, especially if they are NOT subsidized by the Malaysian government, because the demand for postgrad studies among Malaysians is lower and because of the possible value added among these foreign post-grads to higher education in Malaysian (potential future lecturers and researchers) as well as to the larger economy (potential knowledge workers).

So some future points to ponder:

- Where will the increase in foreign students in Malaysia occur? (Private undergrad, private postgrad, public undergrad, public postgrad)
- Where are these foreign students coming from? (It's better to have a wide distribution of students from different countries and regions rather than having them come predominantly from one region)
- How are the public and private universities responding to these increases? Do they have the capacity to do so?
- How will the interests of Malaysian students, especially at the undergrad level in public universities, be safeguarded?
- What can and will be done to ensure that foreign students are not 'cheated' by private universities in terms of overpromising and underdelivering? (the same level of protection should be afforded to Malaysian students as well of course)
- Are there certain fields at the postgrad levels (such as science and engineering) which are being targeted, especially in public universities?

My ideal policy outcomes would be something like:

- Increasing standards in private universities by forcing them to compete for foreign students, both at the postgrad and undergrad levels
- Ability to attract quality postgrad students from different countries / regions to public universities
- Steady growth for the education sector as a whole in Malaysia
- Ample 'protections' for both local and foreign students

In the meantime, we'll be tracking this issue very closely.


Anonymous said...

To improve Times Higher Education ranking for Malaysian universities, it is tough to improve research and publications, so the govt is doing the easiest way -- increase foreign students. Points for international students and faculty are 10% of THES scores and that is significant when there is no other way to improve. Loss of spaces for local students is not important as long as spaces for certain people are protected.

clk said...

We are one unique Nation where one can learn from Chinese, Indian, Islamic and Western perspective without going abroad or getting foreign students, but instead the offical line is to restrict learning to only one perspective.

Then we import foreign students to improve diversification......

When can we have a school that teaches PHILOSOPHY in this Nation of ours?

Anonymous said...

Speaking as someone who might be a lecturer in physics at a public university in the not too distant future, I am cautiously optimistic about this for several reasons.

1. Having good post-grad students in one of the most important ingredients for doing good research. Unlike in some countries, physics is not a prestigious course in Malaysia and does not attract the best students. My work is such that I could probably pilfer people from engineering, but this is not true for everyone.

2. In the larger scientific community, exchanging people is a very efficient way of exchanging knowledge and forming connections. Granted, post-grads are not as effective this sense as people higher up the food chain, but something is better than nothing. What I'd really like to see is more foreign postdocs and more Malaysians doing postdocs in foreign countries before becoming lecturers. (The difference between departments that are 'insular' and those that are not is very noticeable.)

3. Given my reaction, I would say that this might be a *small* factor in inducing other scientists to return as well.

So for the university and the lecturers, foreign post-grads might be a good thing.

As for the country, I would not be too concerned about places being taken away from locals. There are hardly any post-grads anyway and its not as if people are clamouring to do PhDs in physics. In most top 10 science/engineering departments in the US, about half of the doctoral students are foreign. Many of them stay. These programmes are a major source of 'human capital' for the US. And I would guess that most people would say that in the long run these students are worth much more than the stipends that were paid to them.

As for foreign undergrads, I also don't quite see the point, unless they are paying.

Anonymous said...

The foreign students interested in coming to our universities are only from India,Pakistan, Afghanistan,Bangladesh, African countries and the Arabian countries.
Not from the 'advance developed nations'
No point taking the 'dark skinned' foreign students, more a liability

Anonymous said...

To achieve excellence in educational institution, one should be colour-blind. It is certainly a fallacy to say that 'dark skinned' foreign students are liability and also a very extreme comment. I know of many students from India, Pakistan and African nations who are very smart, down-to-earth students who are willing to go an extra mile to go good science, which is a rarity in our 'fairer' local students.

Anonymous said...

Foreign students are also choosy. Just consider China alone where you can expect reasonable students.

Dr Lee Fah Onn, CEO of Inti said in his presentation during the Star-ACMS conference on Higher Education Conference:
"In international education fairs held in China where foreign universities from USA, UK and
Australia and Malaysian higher education institutions were participants, the crowd distribution tells the whole story. Very few students make enquiries at Malaysian booths.
The gap between us and them is just too big."

From this statement, you can guess that better students go elsewhere. Among those that have to choose between Malaysia and Singapore, the better ones go to Singapore, and the leftovers would come to Malaysia.
I can only guess the type of students that would come here. Probably many of them would be problem students. So, don't get too excited about them contributing expertise or quality, etc. Probably, the only thing useful is their money.

Anonymous said...

Malaysia should concentrate her effort in area she's good at. That is, don't try to act like a smart ass and compete in the aeronautics engineering with universities from the australia, uk or us. For example, if we are good in agricultural science, where other foreign universities cannot offer a course as good as ours, I think there are good chances we can get real good students. The higher education ministry should make sure whatever they try to implement should not have any impact of the local students.

Anonymous said...

the only thing malaysian universities are good at is malay studies

Anonymous said...

and of coz courses like BA(Thuggery) and MA(Thuggery) are world renowned courses offered only by UPM should be promoted as a msian only expertise. we can even boast that world dictators and tyrants like robert mugabe and adolf hitler as graduates.

Anonymous said...

what type of students are we trying to attract, i mean no offense but just exactly what are we looking for, to be a real educational hub, as in solid research, solid teaching and so on or a place where someone comes in, lounges for a number of years and gets a degree to go with it, as long as of cos u settle all your bills properly.

Anonymous said...

Poor foreign students if they set foot in Malaysia for their education. I am making sure my children do not continue their tertiary education here. If I could afford it, I might even place them overseas earlier.

I have been in industry for many years and 6 years ago took the plunge ( with a big pay cut) to end up in academia. My sojourn has been an eye-opener. The public universities are real pits of waste, incompetency and stupidity.
In the private education sector, I can tell you that the ratio is something like 1 out of 20 staff I hired in the academic departments I run can sort of pass as a decent academic. Poor English, poor knowledge, real high maintanence employees, poor aptitude for academic work, etc etc

After having worked at several universities overseas and observed first hand education systems elsewhere, I can say Malaysia's education system has ruined one to two generation of Malaysians.

Until we have a system of meritocracy that allows for good academic standards, I will be ashame to allow foreign students into our country.

It is amazing that that we don't reward talents and still award professorships along racial lines. Sometimes I sit in a conference and thought it is with such audacity that the speaker can be referred to as a professor.

I have some information in our publications record compared to other countries and it is really shameful. One of these days when I find the time, I might publish them.

Sorry folks for this venting but the author's sense of frustration of the depravity in our education system is really high here. But we soldier on trying to build something better for the kids inspite of the deplorable system at the moment.

Anonymous said...

This is either a case of us fooling ourselves that we have world-class higher educational system or we are just conning the unsuspecting foreign students. It is like we can barely speak English and yet we offer to teach others English. Semua pun boleh.

Anonymous said...

Two more general comments.

1. Since the turn of the century, post-grad programmes outside the US have seen increased numbers of applications from foreign students. It's a good time to capitalise on this.

2. To the last anonymous, sure, speaking English is an advantage but to have a good education system and advanced R&D it is not a pre-requisite. Just look at France, Taiwan, Japan etc. People from these countries collectively speak English absolutely abysmally compared to us yet they are light years ahead in other areas. My feeling about English is...if you need it, as a Malaysian, you can learn it quite quickly.

Anonymous said...

I beg to differ with Charis.

Countries like Japan, France and Germany ( I have worked and lived and been to these countries) may not be as dependent on English for their innovative ventures while they are in their home countries because they can draw on CENTURIES of innovation and technology behind them. We don't.

The moment they step out of home ground, without English, they are severely disadvantage. EVen on their home ground, to get wind of what others are doing globally, they better be able to read journals in English. Otherwise you wait for tranlsations which can take forever and by the time you find out, you are out of the game. This is how competitive things have become with information ( in English) zapping through at light speed every second.

The other fallacy is you can pick English up easily. I have worked with hundreds of staff and students previously and I can tell you that there are very few exceptions of people taking up English later in life and can get to a decent level of proficiency in a reasonable time.

Our rot has started about thirty plus years ago and I think it will take at least another fifteen to twenty years to reverse this if our folks in power don't screw up and buckle to political pressures.

The teaching of English in Science and Maths, I fear may yet turn out to be a case of too little too late. The simple reason - we do not have a critical mass of teachers to effectively implement this. A six weeks conversion program from Bahasa to English in science teaching is a big joke.

We had better understand as a society and nation what is culturally nice to have and what we really need to SURVIVE in a flat and fast changing world.

Those of us in the industry know about irrelevant LAN courses forced upon us in the private education sector and also the islamic civilisation course forced upon the students in public univ.
Try as I might, I fail to see the point of these requirements of these useless papers forced upon our poor students by the ministry of education. And these are papers requried for graduation. These are only one tip of the mountains of nonsense we have to contend with.

The quota systems, favored people mentality, religious hang-ups and lack of meritocracy are bummers for the education of our kids today. If we can't even educate our citizens properly, why are we even seriously thinking of bringing in foreign students.

Anonymous said...

Why do we have to be so pessimistic about everything and whine about the flaw of the system while no one actually do anything to correct it. This is so helpless. It seems like there is a serious attitude problem with our society here. Those who are in the good position now often forget what they were before they became sucessful. It's always easy to criticise from the side line. These are simply just talk, no action. I strongly oppose those who think they're elite and ignore the less fortunate well being. Those who think that student from other third world country are less competent than we are really sow how superficial our society has become. Remember, we're from third world country as well. If the overseas universities shut the door on us because of that, will you still be able to achieve what you're now. Don't take it for granted. We're not superior than anyone. So do the westerners, they are not a superior human being by nature. People here seems to behave a little egoistic about themselve and offer no help at all on shaping the education system. We've heard many times that the system is getting worse and yet no one is offering to contribute any financial nor intelectual help. All I see here is just whining after whining. We're part of the reason for what is happening now. Don't complain if you didn'r contribute.

Anonymous said...

Charis Quay:

1. I think you are either too idealistic or just refused to believe the numerous postings at various Malaysian blogs about educational standards in Malaysia. You are trying to translate the US system to Malaysia ignoring the vast difference in research capabilities. Malaysian universities have graduate students and postdocs as well for decades and yet one wonders why research standards are dropping.

In the US, the majority of graduate students are still Americans. You see many foreign graduate students in the US mostly in Sciences and Engineering because most US graduates prefer to get real jobs immediately upon graduation instead of sacrificing several years to get a PhD. An entry level engineer can get over US$60K annually but a graduate student used to get only $15 K - $20 K so it is not that difficult to make a choice.

In fact, if given a choice they would prefer to hire their own American graduate students. Only problem is they have more positions than American students to fill which is why they import grad students. But graduate pays are now much better than in the past and you now see a lot more American graduate students in Sciences and Engineering. You see a lot of foreign postdocs mainly because these are the same people who graduated in the US. Singapore is also facing the same problems, which is why they have to import foreign grad students and postdocs.

But the reason Malaysia is getting foreign postgrad students is hard to understand because there are more Malaysians willing to do postgrad studies. As Kian Ming and other posters have said before, the real reason could be the govt is trying to improve THES ranking of Malaysian universities not that they don't have enough students of their own.

2. As for English, you did not fully understand what I wrote. What I said was Malaysia is trying to teach foreign students something that we don't do well ourselves. To put it more crudely, it is like half-past-six teaching another half-past-six. Who gets the raw deal in this situation? It is the student who gets short-changed.

Also don't assume scientists in France, Taiwan, Japan, and elsewhere do not need to understand English. One way or another, they have to be able to read English publications and to submit papers in well-written English. Even if they have to check every other words in their English dictionaries, they would do that. There is no way you can excel or do world-class research in Sciences and Engineering without knowing English. Since you are doing your PhD in Harvard, you should know better than that. How many English papers by Japanese, French, or Taiwanese scientiests have you read? Just asked yourself whether you would have survived without knowing English.

Anonymous said...

I totally agree with the sentiments of Anon 4/25/2007 09:06:00 AM. It is like he took the thoughts out of my head.

If we want to begin to compare with France, Japan etc, we must indeed recognise the fact that they have centuries of evolution and learning within their languages. Had we continued with English as the dominant language, then we could have likewise avail ourselves to and share in the centuries of knowledge England has accumulated. But no, we had to abandon that foundation and stupidly tried to start something anew with a language that has roots neither in the arts nor in the sciences. Even Islamic arts and sciences are based on the Arabic language, not Bahasa. So why should anyone be surprised that we all staring at huge numbers in all sorts of rankings. Dont get me wrong; I am all for boosting the standing of our national language and am as proud a Malaysian as any other. However, there can be no sense in being proud in a stupid manner.

And to Anon 4/25/2007 09:44:00 AM who said "Don't complain if you didn't contribute", I must also point out that all of us who are complaining are contributing by highlighting the widespread dismay to the authorities, for whatever it is worth (probably pointless if you ask me), and also throwing away our life savings so that our future generations may get a better education overseas, and return, if at all, in a manner better able to contribute to this society.

Please dont say people who complaint are doing nothing. It is just too painful to keep repeating what has been our sacrifice as a result of the utter destruction of our educational system.

Given the enormity of the efforts required just to change the mindset of our authorities, I think it will take us more than one generation to recoup any respectability for our education system. In the meantime, we will continue to boast about educating low-end foreign students.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

I'm glad to see that I've provoked such lively discussion and weel-thought-out responses. :-) I'll have to try to respond in the next few days as it's the 'sprint to the finish' phase of the degree...

Anonymous said...

Who would even think of going to Dr Lee Fah On's college where the lavatories are not cleaned and sometimes the lecturers have to buy there own toilet paper. Are the people suppose to not use paper to clean their behinds. Surely, that is one of the criteria that students from foreign countries would judge.

Anonymous said...

Wah!!! Dr Lee Fah On college so bad????

He spent a lot advertising his college but cannot afford toilet rolls?

Maluuuu Woh!!

Anonymous said...

A brief moment of worklessness but perhaps not of sanity (at least on this topic)...

To all the anonymouses (anonymice? :-P ) I realise that my personal exerience is very limited. I'm just stating my observations for what they are worth. And I'm glad that this has caused light to be shed on this topic from other angles normally inaccessible to me.

That is one of the limitations with blogs like this, as I am sure we all realise. We don't have numbers readily available so everything is hearsay. Being a child of the post-modern era, I'm not sure this is necessarily a bad thing - stories can paint pictures as well as numbers - but it would be helpful to have both.

Anonymous said: 'I have some information in our publications record compared to other countries and it is really shameful. One of these days when I find the time, I might publish them.'

It would be very helpful to see this.

Anonymous said: 'How many English papers by Japanese, French, or Taiwanese scientiests have you read? Just asked yourself whether you would have survived without knowing English.'

To the first question, very many, actually. The standard of English varies: some write idiomatically and grammatically, and some transliterate from German. Look, I'm not saying that English isn't important. Only a generation ago, English-speaking physicists had to learn a foreign language as a routine part of their Ph.D. training. (Usually this was German or Russian. Or Italian at Chicago because of Fermi.) This is no longer true. I am also NOT saying that we shouldn't make sure that our schoolchildren learn English well. What I AM saying is that not knowing English very well is not and should not be an insurmountable barrier. Many have overcome this handicap (virtually every scientist I know from East Asia) who started off way behind the average Malaysian. It just requires some extra effort which the person could be spared if they had learned English properly in school.

So to answer the second question, yes, I probably would have survived without speaking English as a first language, as many of my friends and colleagues from around the world have. The advantage one has in speaking English well is more in being able to fit in socially. (Sometimes people think I'm 'local'.)

This leads me to the second problem with blogs like this: You know who I am, where I am coming from and the basis I have for saying what I say. Without knowing the same thing about you (plural) it is very difficult to have a real discussion.

Re. the long history of science in France, Germany etc., point taken. There is no doubt that we do not have this and that our local academy is in a generally dismal state. I am by no means denying this. And I am also not denying the value of dissecting problems and generally complaining. However, once that is done, one has to ask what can and should be done to make things better, especially now that the government has been showing some willingness to meet people halfway. One doesn't have to praise them with faint damning all the time or turn everything into into a backhanded compliment. So going back to the English/Malay dual-media system was a good thing. Do we now just sit back and wait for the kids to become good scholars as a natural consequence of speaking English better? What else needs to be done? I challenge those of you who are on the ground to think about small practical, implementable things, not 'throw the whole thing out - baby and bathwater - and give us paradise' solutions. That may be fine if one is a utopian philosopher or something, but in real life one has to start with the situation on the ground and make small (often very small) and critical tweaks.

Yes, I may still have hope because I am not in Malaysia at the moment. I concede to y'all the moral high ground on that point.

Anonymous said...

Charis Quay:
I made a mistake. You are in Stanford not Harvard.
Anyway, I notice you have a bad habit of either ignoring what other people actually said or twisting other people's words.
For instance, I said "knowing English" and you twisted it to become "speaking English as a first language". There is no way you can survive Harvard or in the US without knowing (which means read, write, and speak - not necessarily as mother-tonge language) English.
Universities in the US remove foreign language requirement many years ago because they found English is sufficient.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous, we appear to be talking at cross-purposes. You were referring to my orginal post which was talking about speaking English well or not so well. I assumed that you had retained this meaning in your response. Cheers.

Anonymous said...

I have been in the private education industry for 2 years now and it is quite clear to me that there is a real need for us to attract international students to maintain the level of growth in the industry.

My company is one of the top 5 colleges or uni-cols around and the main students come from chinese families. This population of chinese students is insufficient to support the industry's goals for the following reasons
1) smaller family sizes
2) increased number of students thinking of going to china/spore/taiwan to give them a leg up in China

The private education sector gets little support from the govt with the exception of one or two institutions with good connections. This is a shame as there are a few of us around that have decent standards and are known in the international education circles as having some pretty good programmes.

I originally wanted to give my comments on some of your questions but went off tangent while writing. Sigh... for an dreamer, my sector can be dissapointing. A number of us institutions are thinking of expanding outside malaysia for greener pastures where they care about the reputation of education coming from their country and not the pure number of institutions they have.

my thoughts are below but i can only speak for the private uni-col sector

- Where will the increase in foreign students in Malaysia occur?
I still think that the private undergrad sector has potential but the govt does not do enough to promote education in malaysia. Our govt has something like 5 people working on China while Singapore has slightly over 500.
- Where are these foreign students coming from?
Unless we create a brand for ourselves we will invarioubly only attract SEA countries.
- How are the public and private universities responding to these increases? Do they have the capacity to do so?
There isn't an increase in students. China is developing their education sector and Singapore is taking all the middle-upper students.
If there is an increase the usual ratio for intl students ranges from 10 to 30 percent. These numbers are not that difficult to cater to. The only real problem is helping them on housing which is really tough.
- What can and will be done to ensure that foreign students are not 'cheated' by private universities in terms of overpromising and underdelivering?
Don't see that happening soon. How is this possible when Berjaya was offered a University College license without even having a college?

Anonymous said...

Anon above:
Why do private colleges have low-quality twinning programmes mostly with low-ranked obscure universities abroad?
Isn't quality the reason the upper-middle students prefer to go to Singapore?
I think it does not matter how you brand yourself because students and parents can ultimately see the difference between the quality of education in Malaysia and Singapore. Unless you brand it as affordable but so-so quality.
In the U.S., bachelor degrees from Indian universities are not recognised as equivalent..only an Indian master degree is recognised as equivalent to a U.S. bachelor degree.
Is there a possibility that we are heading in that direction where our degrees in Malaysia will suffer the same fate.

Anonymous said...

Don't think Sedaya ranks among the top private higher education providers. Not Inti too.

In fact, these players skimp so much on quality that they give our country a bad name.

Secondly, i think it should not just be a question of doubling foreign enrollment. We ought to look at the quality and mix of international students too.

Anonymous said...

Talking about foreign students 'Black skinned' or African...They bring investment into the country,if we look at the private owned universities or colleges,some Malaysian some where are making money oon these students.They way you look at the advanced country,some of their country look at yours in the same way...
And most of the countries these students come from,makes them speak fluent english than most of the lecturers they have standing before them in their classes.If you show them you don't like them,they show you the same.I'm a student,i know of a Malay girl that have groups of African(Blacks) friends,whom her parents get to meet.She is like family to them.She makes her other Malay friends understands they are not what you think they are if you show them we are all humans.