Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Tok Pa Responds

The Minister of Higher Education, Datuk Mustapa Mohamed wrote on open letter to the press today, as published in The Star. It is one of the rare instances our Ministers attempt to respond to public dismay, and it should definitely be encouraged. I reproduce in full his letter responding to Malaysian universities crashing out of the Top 200 list here for all to read. We can only pray that he'll take real concrete actions to redeem our pride.

Plan to shape varsities of world class

IT is that time of year again. The latest Times Higher Education Supplement - Quacquarelli-Symonds (THES-QS) World University Rankings were published on Nov 8 and, as in previous years, have drawn much attention in Malaysia.

More so perhaps, as the 2007 results do not include any Malaysian university in the list of top 200 universities.

As Ben Sowter, head of research at QS Quacquarelli Symonds Ltd, the British company that conducts the survey has said: “In many places our advice was taken and understood ? but in Malaysia, the reduced performance of Malaysian institutions became a source of great focus for both the media and politicians.”

The reaction this year is therefore inevitable as some have concluded that the performance of Malaysian universities has dropped further.

Some may also feel that the current rankings are the result of an egalitarian education policy. Still, massification of higher education was the right choice for a young, developing country that had to ensure its citizens access to education, and thus a brighter future.

Now, however, we have begun to direct our attention to enhancing the quality of our institutions and championing academic excellence.

As our Prime Minister has accurately pointed out, in order for Malaysia to become a hub of educational excellence, we need universities recognised as outstanding and of world-class quality.

The THES-QS rankings are based on six criteria: peer review (40%), citations per faculty (20%), student to faculty ratio (20%), recruiter review (10%), international faculty ratio (5%), and international students ratio (5%).

The citations per faculty criterion is particularly important as an increase in citations can lead to greater peer recognition and hence better peer review scores. These can also generate greater interest among scholars to teach at a given institution, thus raising international faculty ratio scores too.

I am, of course, concerned about the standing of our universities internationally.

Left unchecked, perceptions may form that our exclusion from the THES-QS top 200 reflects a low standard of education – even though Sowter goes on to report that “the drop (in rankings of Malaysian universities) is entirely attributable to the combination of methodological enhancements and improved response dynamics in the rankings themselves.”

Malaysia has made great strides in higher education but we have not yet produced world-class universities.

Malaysians therefore must gain an accurate sense of where we stand today, and the changes being driven by the Higher Education Ministry to bring us to the next level.

As I write this, I have just finished meeting with some Malaysians working and doing business in Vietnam. As with other such visits I have had elsewhere, I am reminded that Malaysians working abroad, most of whom have studied in our local universities, are able to do very well anywhere in the world.

Malaysian institutions have also begun to export our education abroad. This too is reflective of the advances we have made in the quality of our higher education.

So does this mean that we are doing all right and can ignore international university rankings?

No. We cannot be satisfied with present performance. As we are running, others may be running faster. The race is getting tougher and this notion must sink into all our institutions.

The ministry recognises that our universities are not yet world class, so there is still much to be done, and it must be done with the greatest possible sense of urgency.

While changes and improvements to education systems take time to mature, this does not mean that we can take our time to bring about change and improvement.

I am encouraged to note that in the last few years, vice-chancellors have come to accept international university rankings as important guides to performance and a gauge of their progress in building the human capital Malaysia needs to remain globally competitive.

Our universities must establish a strong academic reputation and the crux of the matter lies in having our academics recognised and cited as they publish their work in high-impact and refereed journals.

Four universities have been granted research university status to accelerate this. Universiti Malaya, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, Universiti Putra Malaysia and Universiti Sains Malaysia have been given additional funding and revised terms of governance so that they can pursue research excellence.

Vice-chancellors must therefore ensure that their institutions uphold the academic tradition to “publish or perish”.

The rationale for the apex university initiative is to strive for excellence. The apex university concept is not about declaring an existing university world class. Rather, it is about identifying one or two institutions with the greatest potential of reaching such levels, and focusing resources for them to compete with the best in the world, and hence be recognised as world class.

It is for this reason that the ministry has launched its National Higher Education Strategic Plan and the corresponding National Higher Education Action Plan 2007-2010. The action plan is an initiative in the pursuit of excellence while improving quality all round.

The success we have with these plans lies in the quality of our delivery, and the vice-chancellors must lead their institutions to play their part in translating the action plan into reality.

This has to be done quickly and effectively.

# Datuk Mustapa Mohamed is the Higher Education Minister.


Anonymous said...

Sigh, another great sounding letter. Let's just hope he meant what he wrote, and not all talk, more talk, blueprints, rancangan, and more talk, and then lupa. They're running out of last chances in my books.

Anonymous said...

Talk is cheap! Very very cheap! Mustapha and his gang of VC's must be really seen in CONCRETE terms they are really doing things! If not its just plain empty rhetoric!



Anonymous said...

To Anonymous 11/14/2007 07:15:00 PM.

While we understand the frustations you bear against those people, but keep in mind that all Malaysians know, a transformation of a police state like Malaysia is no easy task. It is not just about lacking political will. There are more that meet the eyes.

Tok Pa, in case you read this, please do not give up in the transformation. Your attitude so far, since taking up MOHE portfolio has been encouraging. You are one, perhaps the only one that listen to the public, go down to the field yourself instead of depending on others' pleasing reports and respond professionally.

At least you are not in denial mode. This is the kind of person we need to lead the country.

May you succeed in bring Malaysian education to greater heights.

Anonymous said...

Tok Pa said, "As I write this, I have just finished meeting with some Malaysians working and doing business in Vietnam. As with other such visits I have had elsewhere, I am reminded that Malaysians working abroad, most of whom have studied in our local universities, are able to do very well anywhere in the world."

I am not so sure he is not in denial mode. Just look at the last sentence above - so many generalisations/presumptions in that one sentence; words and phrases like "other such visits" (to where?),"most of whom" (how many percent? Actually did an analysis or not?), "do very well" (meaning what???), and "anywhere in the world" - this takes the cake.

To give an example opposite to what was said, I do not know of any accounting firms in China that comes to Malaysia to pinch local graduates; to my knowledge, they were always looking for Malaysian accountants who returned from overseas.

His analysis (sounded rather like argument, actually) is superficial, intentionally so or otherwise. Assuming he had seen in Vietnam a Malaysian Chinese accountant who graduated locally and is doing well, he is denying the very real possibility that that chap is clever enough to have studied Medicine instead, but for the discrimination.

Indeed, from the para quoted above, I am even suspecting an outright lie - " ... Malaysians working abroad, most of whom have studied in our local u...". To my observation in my own travels, an overwhelming number of Malaysian working outside of the country are NOT local graduates.

I stand corrected, judge for yourselves.

Anonymous said...

Addendum - if Tok Pa were to be believed, that is, that our local graduates can do so brilliantly anywhere in the world, how in heaven's name are they so unemployable within our own country?

If they can all do so well anywhere in the world, why are all those unemployable graduates sitting in Malaysia doing nothing. After all, most places in the world pays better and has a stronger currency.

Anonymous said...

Hi Tony & Kian Ming

I have written an analysis on the need to reform the tenure system in Malaysian universities here

Anonymous said...

Hi Tempinis: You said at your website that "Tenure is an indefinite award of appointment given to an academic until he or she reaches the age of retirement".
For your info, that is no longer true in many universities in the US. In order to provide greater accountability, many US universities now have post-tenure review and many more will be adopting that. The system of tenure actually allows people to slack off once they got tenured. It also makes it difficult to fire a delinquent faculty member. That is why some universities are considering abolishing tenure or to institute a simpler process to fire somebody for non-performance.
Actually, Malaysian and Singapore universities already have something similar to tenure. That is why there are so many people just relaxing. Getting rid of tenure is the way to go not the setting up of a tenure system.

Anonymous said...

thanks. Here is a write up on the post tenure system. .

Yes - Malaysia has some sort of tenure system. But it is certainly not the American tenure system. As I understand it, the tenure system in Malaysia is not rigorous enough i.e. not enough emphasis on international publications & citations, external reviewers etc. Slacking off after tenure is certainly a problem. But my sense is that many people dont even publish that much in Malaysia before tenure!

Anonymous said...

As I was saying a number of times before if the promotion system in the university is not transparent to the general public, we will continue to talk till the cows come home. We will still do not know if enough quality and cited publications merit the appointment
Funny there are still lecturers citing as their publications papers which are just sent to journals which are not confirmed acceptance.
What we see now is the furore at the tip of the academic iceberg. Imagine if UM is becoming the issues now, what about the less established new public universities or once university colleges?

Just visit the new universities and university colleges, they want a change to full universities just to be equal to the established public universities and immediately clamouring and demanding to be uo graded to full universities! Yet, standard wise they are lagging far from the established local public universities.

Wake up MOHE! Wake up Mustafa!
You got a lot to work on!

Anonymous said...

Universiti Malaya rank at 1,444 !according to webometrics, even Multimedia University, a 4 faculties new university rank higher than UM.

Anonymous said...

If Tok Pa is given a free hand to do whatever that needs to be done.....he would have done is quite obvious that there are hidden hands that prevent our leaders from doing the right things.

Anonymous said...

What are the hidden hands, pray tell ??

Anonymous said...

AAB's hands?? You got to be joking! The decline or the rot of our local universities started in mid eighties or so... not now
It equated with some 'policy changes' adopted by certain or groups of individuals or political groups

iamreallycoolone said...

Just a thought. Lots of comment has been made regarding the poor quality of our universities. How many of you guys are local graduates? i'm just curious.

Anonymous said...

lots of local graduates from the early years to present
lots of local academics here too ...young and old
thats why we know the local universities in and out. We know the local universities "unplugged" and share our experiences here with you all

Anonymous said...

MM wrote: "As we are running, others may be running faster. ...."

Is he for real? Our public universities running? Not crawling?

The rot started many years ago. Regarding UM, the rot started during Ungku Aziz's time.

To improve UM, there is only one drastic way - fire any non-performing deadwood, regardless of race, seniority, and rank, and then hire good English-speaking academics, regardless of race and nationality, based on good performance track record, in teaching, research, and publication. Is MM prepared to do this?

Anonymous said...

It is better not to push the universities too hard to publish. Otherwise, when they have nothing they would start making up data for publication. The damage would even be worst. Because I have heard and even seen with my own eyes some unethical practices in countries such as Korea and Taiwan, I don't trust their publications very much. Even Singapore's may also be questionable. Japan is OK. As for Malaysia..well they don't publish much or anything substantial anyway.

Anonymous said...

Want to ask something out of curiosity. Our Minister of Higher Education keep saying that our universities should publish more in order to raise our ranks. Does he really think that a paper can be accepted and published that easily? I thought that the main target is to implement a system which promotes research among the faculties first. It seems like he still cannot get the point out of it. There is no point to publish for the sake of having high ranking.

Anonymous said...

I agree. These people think that they can just wake up one day and say I want to publish something today without any research to base on.

Anonymous said...

I was wondering with the recent intake of foreign lecturers in our universities to improve our position in the THES score, whether they really contribute significantly to the academic quality of our universities?

How long are these foreign lecturers contracted out? What are their qualifications? Or are they merely absorbed from the pool of postgraduate students who obtained their Masters from our universities and currently studying in the university?

If their contract is short will it not further make a mess of teachings at undergraduate and post graduates of our universities?

Will their contracts be extended after the two or three year contract runs out?

In a nutshell was this exercise properly carried out and implications considered?

Anonymous said...

The rot began in the 80's, during the term of Mahathir. I believe most will recall the fight between new UMNO and Semangat 46.

That was when Mahathir put his leg into governing universities, because local undergraduates are going against him. All administrative officers were substituted with politically connected individuals, instead of actual academics. That is where our standard goes down the drain.

So, it's no wonder why Mahathir never criticises local universities. He remembered what he did.

Anonymous said...

Malaysians, please be prepared with a coup de'tat in UMNO. Don't be surprised when you woke up and saw another PM giving speech.

Anonymous said...

Ai-yah, how come all the gold medals in international invention shows and the presence of a space traveller as a faculty cannot guarantee Malaysian public universities to be ranked in the 200 list?

Anonymous said...

There there ladies and gentlemen, don't get your tempers up now.

Judge for yourselves if the Minister is sincere in moving the Universities forward. If you think he is, then there is little harm in showing some support and urging him forward. If not, then just say "I don't believe you" and see for yourselves if you are correct, since it doesn't hurt anyone now that we are in a cannot be worse position.

For coming out with such statements and pushing for change, he is risking his position in UMNO and offending many many senior and "haolian" people. If you want to see those changes actualise, the last thing you should do, is attack him from a second front, and leave him screwed both ways.

Anonymous said...

Tony, I suggest you also look at the Tsinghua ranking table too.

It looks a lot more objective. And yes, our Malaysian Universities still do not appear in top 200. Sadly.

Anonymous said...

That is Shanghai JiaoTung, not Tsinghua.
I prefer that one too because it has more complete database. Malaysia is not even in the top 500.

Anonymous said...

I don't think we've seen the nadir of Malaysian universities YET, and Malaysians have been too apathetic for too long a time. It is time the voices are heard. Now.

Anonymous said...

The most important step is electing the RIGHT PARTY in the coming election. Even if we dont win we must give the OPPOSITION PARTIES sufficient voice in parliament.
So to those out there and are concerned with the om going situations, please choose the right political party

We have enough of BN and UNMO spoiling everything. Its time to award the "broom' ti them and show them the way OUT!

Anonymous said...

Can anyone here provide the IQ of our ministers and VCs of our education system?

Cant help sensing lots of errors and fuzzy logics in all their decisions