Thursday, January 31, 2008

Lulu's Concerned About Our Schools

The following post is taken in its entirety from Lulu's blog. I don't have to add much else really. But we know that it's nothing new. Those interested in reading up other examples of the deteriorating state of our national schools - check out my post here.

I do think however, that the recent developments are absolutely shocking and certainly runs in the face of the objective of making our national schools the school of choice for all Malaysians as per the much-hyped National Education Blueprint.

This school, and trust Lulu, it's not the only one, "disqualified" kids who were wearing shorts from winning with flimsy excuses such as failing to get the ribbons at the designated spots and that the numbers pinned on the shirts were torn.

This school pula, insisted that the children shave off their moustaches and beards and used harsh words when they tried to explain. The reason behind their un-shavenness was that they had taken a Thaipusam vow, and at least one of their parents had written in to the school informing them of their vow and the date when they would shave it off.

And we have here a case of kids who do not attend religious class [and you know la, in schools, which religion is allowed to hold "religious class"] who were asked to wash the toilet. Nothing bad/evil in washing school toilets, Lulu has had a fair share, but making it non-muhibbah? that's not right...

KJ John, who has a regular column in Malaysiakini also had problems with the zealots in his son's school.

He writes,
"The second case was when a new Ustaz in my son’s primary school insisted that all Primary 6 prefects wear long pants; not one teacher stood up to ask why or challenged this arbitrary decision. Therefore, when I went in to write a complaint, the non-Malay deputy principal was truly appreciative of my “public protest” as he could use “my parent complaint” to raise and address this issue with the principal regarding the “new policy” which was not discussed by the teachers, but merely implemented by the new Ustaz.

The third instance was when I was on a PIBG committee at my son’s school when we heard that the principal had issued a verbal directive to all non-Muslim clubs and societies to “refrain from undertaking their religious activities within the school compound.”

At the next PIBG committee meeting, I enquired of the principal where and why there was such a policy. She replied that it was a directive from the PPD or the Pegawai Pendidikan Daerah. I asked for a copy of the written directive, as I knew the implications of such a directive. The principal confirmed that it was an unwritten one. I advised her against following such “non-policies” and requested for her to rescind the policy before the annual PIGB meeting.

She did not and the matter was raised at the next PIBG meeting and was resolved when another senior ex-government servant and a Malay parent argued that it was against the Federal Constitution."
If you are a parent, Lulu hopes that you are sensitive and aware of what's happening in your children's school. Also, some children may choose to abide and suffer in silence. Take an active role in your children's school. Also, remember that right for your school Christian, Buddhist and Hindu activities are given in the Federal Constitution. Challenge your school principal if he does not allow it. When/If you are not sure if they are right or wrong, use your schooldays as the benchmark.

Join the Parent-Teacher Association (PTA/PIBG). You cannot afford to let zealots narrow your children's mind and perspective of life.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

JPA Scholars Prevented from Blogging

This practice is nothing new in its spirit. I remember that JPA scholars were barred from going to listen to Anwar talk in the UK during the Reformasi period in 1998 / 1999. We got this letter from a JPA scholar stating some fears that his / her scholarship might be revoked because of blogging activities. I'll reproduce parts of the email below and then respond.

I'm a JPA scholarships holder who is bound to an overseas degree programme and I was awarded of this scholarship in 20XX. Recently, there was a scholar who was just awarded the scholarship in 20XX and was also an active blogger on, has her scholarships suspended and most probably be revoked. And the resons why her blog has garnered so much attention was because of some comments she had for her lecturers and the security guards in our college.

Subsequently, the director of the institution also gave her warning to any scholarships holder who is writing blog and giving commentary on political issues. Allegedly, some of the bloggers are also monitored by their sponsor, namely JPA. There is a more recent incident where a US-bound student who is famous of her polemic writing style and her open declaration as an atheist, was forced to delete her blog from But, we have no evidents concerning that incident but one thing for sure, she really deleted her blog already.

As an active and devoted blogger, I must say I'm quite worried by the incident and I'm kind of forced to delete few of my posts under pressure. I don't know whether I'm under monitor or not but I'm pretty sure that JPA is having close eyes on all the scholar bloggers right now. Rumours are spreading like wildfire and to make thing worse, the director herself didn't really have a clear stand on the issue of whether a JPA-sponsored scholar can write blogs or not. She just commissioned us to write "responsibly" and "don't bite the hands that feed us". What are these supposed to mean?

I'm not writing to you just to voice up some random disgruntlement and frustration. We, as the scholarships holders just want to have our voice heard because apparently, no words have been leaked to any mainstream media and nobody has any inkling about what's happening in our institution.This is very frustrating. Now, we, the scholarships holders have no idea of what's really happening. What we want is the official statement, what should we do? What kind of content should we refrain from writing in our blog? Can scholars have our own blog? We have no official statement whatsoever.

I know there is no evidents to support my statement and as a scholar myself, I'm also facing a lot of dilemma like afraid of being discovered sending an email to an opposition leader or a prominent blogger. But, i think it's time to let everyone know our freedom of speech is restricted and some officers are apparently using our scholarships to threaten us for not speaking out what we are facing currently in the institution. The fear of losing the scholarships is simply too profound and my friend is also very concerned of my blog which has attracted quite a number of readers

It's an extremely sad situation to see some students cum bloggers who are always aware of socio-political issues and current issues forced to remain silent or act innocent. Although we have signed the contract, that doesn't mean we also have to sacrifice our freedom of speech. And I didn't see any specification in our contract that says the government-sponsored scholars are not allowed to "blog" or to voice out our opinions.

Is it wrong for JPA scholars to blog about political issues and to offer their view on them?

Let's think about such a problem arising in different contexts.

Would an undergraduate student who has been given a full scholarship to go to Harvard or Yale or Princeton not be allowed to blog about his or her criticisms of certain Harvard or Yale or Princeton policies? That Harvard's admission policies work against Asian Americans for example. That Harvard is not transparent about hiring policies in regards to minorities. That Harvard does not treat its service workers fairly. That Harvard does allow some of its grad students to unionize. (Fictitious examples of course)

Given the commitment to free speech among US universities including the top universities, I cannot imagine that any of these universities would revoke a scholarship to a student because this student has been critical of some university policy in a public forum, be it a blog or writing a letter to a major US newspaper.

From a more personal perspective, I'm currently under a Duke scholarship for my PhD program and I cannot imagine Duke revoking this scholarship just because I blogged about some of my criticisms of certain Duke policies.

Such moves would create such an outcry among the academic community (not to mention the possibility of lawsuits) would dissuade any university from having such a policy (or from carrying out such moves).

Furthermore, JPA scholars are funded by taxpayers funds. They are not obliged to support the government of the day and hence should not be prevented from blogging about their views whether they are supportive or are against the government of the day.

However, I probably would draw the line at making personal and vindictive attacks against the administrators of the JPA scholarship. I think criticizing politicians is fair game but when I use a blog to attack certain administrators within the civil service, for example by asserting that this scholar gets preferential treatment because he or she has a relationship with one of the administrator, is probably going too far. But everything else, including JPA policies, should be fair game.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Degrees at MIC linked college not recognized

A story by Malaysiakini on how twinning degrees offered by Kolej TAFE in Seremban is not recognized by the government. I think it is really disingenuous of any college to offer a degree that is not recognized by the government, especially a college which has links to one of the component parties in the BN, in this case, the MIC. I'll reproduce the story below and follow up with some comments of my own.

Ace student: MIC college cheated me
K Kabilan | Jan 19, 08 3:18pm

A MIC-run community college has been accused of misleading its students by not revealing that one of its popular degree programmes is not recognised by the government.

A former top student of the Tafe College in Seremban said that the college’s failure to disclose the status of its programme have spoilt the future of many students.

Perak-born CS Nachimani told Malaysiakini that he was not told that the Malaysian Qualifications Agency (a government agency formerly known as National Accreditation Board or LAN) had not approved or accredited the Bachelor of Engineering (Electronics System Design Engineering) degree which he pursued at Tafe.

“When I enlisted to do my degree at Tafe College in 1998, I was told that the approval was pending.

“After that not once the students were told that the approval or accreditation was rejected by LAN,” said 29-year-old Nachimani who graduated in 2002. The electrical engineering programme which he did was a twinning programme with UK-based -Northumbria University.

He claimed that there were about 150 students in his batch who were all in the same situation now.

“When I first joined Tafe and asked about the LAN approval, their response was that there would be no problems in getting the approval as it is a minister’s college,” he said.

The college, a brainchild of MIC president S Samy Vellu, is owned by the party, ostensibly to cater for the vocational educational needs of the Indian community. Samy Vellu is also the works minister.

College washes hands

Nachimani, who aced his degree examinations, was always a top scorer in his class. His lecturers thought highly of him and predicted that he would go places in his careers.

He has even published two electrical engineering theories in a UK-based trade magazine, and has a patent registered for one of the theories.

“But what’s the point. I am without a job now. If I had known the degree which I did with Tafe was not recognised by the government, I would have surely gone to study elsewhere,” he said.

He added that his problems only started when he applied to join a major educational institution as a lecturer about two years ago.

“Even since I graduated in 2002, I had lectured in smaller colleges to gain experience. And then a few years later I applied to one of the bigger ones and they told me that my degree was not recognised.”

He immediately approached his former college for clarification and was merely told off that they had failed to get the necessary approval.

A brief email response to him from the college administrator R Murgesu in November 2004 just told Nachimani that the course was not recognised as the course did not require students to complete any part of their course in the main university, in this case the Northumbria University.

“It means that the government would not recognise the electrical engineering course which was offered by Tafe on behalf of Northumbria locally,” explained Nachimani.

No help from Samy Vellu

When contacted by Malaysiakini, a spokesperson for Tafe College told that a change in government policy meant that the college had to stop offering Northumbria’s electrical engineering course.

At present the college is offering electrical engineering courses from Liverpool John Moore University, allowing students to complete two years here and finish their final year of degree in Liverpool.

However this course is also pending the approval and accreditation of LAN.

“They are up to the same thing again. I doubt if they are telling students about the approval part,” said Nachimani.

When Nachimani pressed the college to solve his problem, he was directed to Samy Vellu.

“I met Samy Vellu three times. He asked me to meet his aide, whom I had met 17 times. Still there is no solution to my problem,” he added.

He said that Samy Vellu had forwarded a letter to another MIC-run college for him to be offered a job but nothing has been forthcoming.

He was also advised by Samy Vellu’s aide to pursue his post-graduate study to overcome the non-recognition aspect of his degree.

Unfortunately for him even his post-graduate study which he did via correspondence in 2006 with an American university is not recognised by the government.

“It’s a double blow for me. And to top it off, I am being hounded now for the repayment of my education loan,” he said. He is presently jobless as all potential employers want his degree to be approved by the government.

Loans being defaulted

Nachimani has obtained study loans from MIC study loan agency MIED for both his degree and post-graduate studies. Now the agency is after him for repayment. In fact he has been sent a lawyer’s notice warning him of bankruptcy proceedings if he failed to cough up total sum.

“I borrowed about RM37,000 for my studies and with interest the outstanding amount stands at RM52,582.60. Monthly repayment comes about RM620. How can I repay when I have no work?” he asked.

He said that wherever he turned for help - from Tafe college to MIED, the only response he got was to go to Samy Vellu.

“But he has been unable to help me,” said an exasperated Nachimani. Samy Vellu could not be contacted for comment today.

“I have been cheated by Tafe. The college did not tell me and the other students the truth and they should correct their mistake.

“I want MIC, its president Samy Vellu and the college to come out with a solution for me. I am not going to be made a bankrupt for something which was not my mistake.

“I want my life back,” said Nachimani.

Thankfully, now that we have the list of government approved courses online, courtesy of the MQA, students can now check whether the courses they want to take at a certain college are indeed government approved. After checking the MQA website, I found out that only Diploma and Certification courses being offered by Kolej TAFE. Hence not only are students like Nachimani, who took the twinning course with Northumbria (no longer offer) are affected, but also potentially, the current batch of students at TAFE who are doing the twinning program with the Liverpool John Moore University.

The advice given by the aide to Samy Vellu is especially 'encouraging' which is to ask Nachimani to take a post graduate degree since his undergraduate degree is not recognized. (One point which the article fails to mention is which institution did Nachimani do his post graduate degree and why it is not recognized)

The plight of Nachimani raises 2 points:

Firstly, that all students who want to take degrees at a private college should make sure that these courses are recognized by the government. If the college in question says that approval is still pending, students should not take this degree, even if generous financial aid is given.

Secondly, there should be some sort of action which students can take, if after the completion of their degree, government recognition of that course is still pending or if that course is later canceled. There should be some sort of legal resources e.g. in the civil courts seeking damages or the MOHE can step in by potentially fining or punishing these institutions.

I find the actions of TAFE especially reprehensible since many of its students are probably like Nachimani, who had to take out loans to fund his studies. To then find out that their degree is not recognized by the government is like finding out that you've spent your money and your time on a 'worthless' piece of paper, if you will.

I'll be following this story closely and I hope that the MIC and the MOHE will respond to the questions raised by Nachimani's case.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Letter from Ong Ka Ting to JPA students

I got wind of a story that MCA President Ong Ka Ting recently sent out an email to Chinese JPA scholars. I'll reproduce the letter below and then share my thoughts after that.

Greetings to all JPA students all over the world! Its certainly a privilege to be a star student, standing tall as young Malaysians living overseas. I am sure you do your family proud, and I hope you will cherish this moment for the rest of your life, especially at this time of the year when the cheerful holiday mood is abound.

2007 has been a year of many lessons learnt for many nations. As other cities burn in turmoil, violence and disruption, Malaysia has thankfully weathered our difficulties in a peaceful manner to ensure that we have continued harmony and unity among the races. Amidst some tough economic times ahead, with worries of escalating global oil prices, every day living will increasingly be challenged. Similarly, Malaysia will also need to brace itself for such a period by remaining economically relevant and globally competitive.

The Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA) has worked hard over the last eight years to ensure that the community's best and most talented receive top class education for deserving people such as yourself. While it is understandable that the world over is also vying for the best that it can attract into their labour force, it also our hope that our own students and graduates return to their homeland to serve their country.

MCA is also actively playing a role to help returning graduates and local talents who have a special interest in serving in the government. Civil service diversity is critical to address moderation, fairness and balance in the implementation and enforcement of our nation's laws and regulations at all levels. So important is this point that MCA has set up a secretariat/service centre to handle first hand the enquiries and issues pertaining to application, entry and even promotion in the Malaysian civil service.

MCA hopes that our efforts to build the nation and community can be realized with your appreciation as well as your service so that you, your family as well as your friends can enjoy the fruits of our peaceful nation forever.

MCA wishes you a good year ahead! And Happy New Year!

Ong Ka Ting

President, MCA

Firstly, whoever sent this email out on behalf of Ka Ting, did not BCC the recipients of the email so that the privacy of these JPA scholars were not protected.

Secondly, I strongly feel that ALL JPA scholars should return to serve out their bond in Malaysia, failing which, they should be asked to pay back the value of their bond. This should not just be a call out to Chinese JPA scholars. I feel that JPA scholars can contribute a great deal towards professionalizing the improving the state of our civil service at all levels. Hence, this is a task that should be performed by JPA scholars of ALL races rather than just one race.

Thirdly, I think the move by the MCA President to send out this letter ONLY to Chinese JPA scholars can be counterproductive. Does this mean that the UMNO President and the MIC President and the PBS president and the PBB president should send out letters to Malay, Indian, Kadazan and Melanau students asking them to return to Malaysia? Will this not result in the politicization of the civil service, something that a wise MCA leader would not want to occur?

I think most of us who are reasonable can agree that we should have a professional civil service where promotions and positions are based on merit and performance rather than race or know who. The fact that the MCA president can appeal to Chinese JPA scholars to join the civil service might lead UMNO and the other component parties to do the same. Hence, we are back to a situation where individual parties in the BN are 'championing' candidates from their respective races within the civil service! This is counterproductive for the likes of MCA because the dominant party within the BN is UMNO and it does not take a genius to figure out who will win out politically at the end of the day! Politicizing the bureaucracy this way (beyond what it already is) is a double edged sword for the MCA, one which it would be wise to avoid.

I think it's much better for MCA to try to work together with other parties within the BN to push for some sort of program which will make better use of the human resources which are the JPA scholars. Right now, most JPA scholars don't return to Malaysia to serve out their bond or even if they return to Malaysia, most of them are 'lost' to the private sector. There just isn't a comprehensive, fast track, specialized management trainee type positions for JPA scholars within the Malaysian civil service. JPA scholars, if they do ever get into the civil service system, are treated as run of the mill civil servants instead of students whom the government has invested millions and millions of dollars in.

MCA cannot just 'stick' any JPA scholar into the civil service system. He or she will get discouraged and bogged down in the routine of the civil service and quickly quit public service. A much better idea would be for the government to come up with a special program that recognizes the skills and abilities of these JPA scholars and put them on a fast track within the civil service including stints in different departments to make their jobs more challenging and interesting. This kind of practice is already quite widespread in many MNCs in Malaysia in what are known as management trainee programs. Why not try to do the same within the civil service in Malaysia?

Most of the JPA scholars would not want to take up 'political positions' within the civil service for MCA ministers, deputy ministers and parliamentary secretaries. Most of these politicians have special assistants, personal and political secretaries and while these people are technically civil servants, their jobs are very much political in nature, which might not appeal to many JPA scholars. These jobs are also not 'stable' jobs in that if a certain minister loses his or her position, so does the people working for this minister. So, unless the MCA President can put these Chinese JPA scholars into positions within the civil service which are sufficiently challenging and rewarding from a career perspective, whatever which is proposed is only a short term palliative which is bound to fail as JPA scholars drop like flies in the civil service.

So my proposal to the MCA president is this: Try to work within the government to create a fast track position for ALL JPA scholars where their skills are recognized and can be utilized properly instead of trying to 'fit' a handful of JPA Chinese scholars into positions which they might not be interested in and are likely to be swamped by the larger bureaucracy within the civil service. This would yield more rewards for ALL Malaysians including the Chinese constituency which the MCA President wants to represent.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

National Education Savings Account?

This is the first time I've heard of such a thing. PTPTN private higher education loan division manager Abdul Ghaffar Yusop discussed this new policy in the recently concluded Star Education Fair. The basic idea is that parents must put money into these savings account before their children can be eligible to take out loans from the PTPTN.

It was reported that:

Under a new ruling that comes into force this year, parents with a monthly household income of less than RM2,000 must have deposited at least RM500 in their account to qualify for a loan under the National Higher Education Fund Corporation (PTPTN).

Parents who earn more than RM2,000 monthly must have saved up at least RM3,000.

PTPTN private higher education loan division manager Abdul Ghaffar Yusop said that only orphans are exempted from this new ruling.

“Parents can deposit as little as RM20 a month. The main advantage of the SSPN is that the Government provides a matching grant of up to RM10,000 for parents who earn less than RM2,000 monthly,” he said.

Other benefits of the SSPN, which is administered by PTPTN, include yearly dividends that are tax-exempt.

This must be a response to the high rate of non-payment among students who have previously taken out loans from the PTPTN for purposes of pursuing a higher education degree. I've been consistently favorable that these students should be vigorously pursued to pay back their loans. But I think there are better ways to enforce this than to force parents to put money in an education savings accounts. The PTPTN can work with credit collection agencies or even with the International Revenue Service to collect on these loans. I'm less in favor of punishing parents (or forcing them to open up another forced savings account) for the sins of their children.

The other concern is that parents might not be aware of the need to open these savings accounts or that they might not be able to put enough money into these accounts by the time their children need to apply for the PTPTN loans.

But if this is one of the ways to send a clear signal that PTPTN loans are not 'free', then perhaps it is the lesser of possible bad solutions. It forces parents to save for their children's education so that they don't think that higher education is necessarily free, especially in public universities. And there are incentives such as tax free dividends and matching grants.

I haven't done enough research on this yet but does any of our readers know more about this savings account?

Monday, January 14, 2008

Saudi University Appoints Singaporean President

This blogger has been preaching that Malaysian universities, to achieve any form of "greatness" has to first start by recognising that we need world-class leaders (as opposed to jaguh kampungs labelled as "world-class").

I've called not only for local vice-chancellor position to be "opened" up to competition from non-bumiputeras, but also to widen our search for talent globally. Only then, can our academia take their blinkers off, increase competitiveness and see the chasm separating our local institutions from top-notch colleges.

Well, Saudi Arabia's brand new university has already taken such a step. The King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (Kaust) has appointed its first President, and gasps, Mr Shih Choon Fong, who is currently the President of National University of Singapore. As reported by The Chronicle (news on Higher Education):
Mr. Shih, who received his Ph.D. from Harvard University and is a former professor of engineering at Brown University, has also led a research group for the General Electric Company and has served as a consultant for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. He is the author of almost 150 scholarly publications, making him among the world’s most highly cited engineering researchers, according to the Institute for Scientific Information, and he has received numerous awards.
As far as I'm aware, Mr Shih is certainly not an Arab, neither is he a Muslim and he probably doesn't speak much Arabic, if at all. However, Saudi Arabia, a country which Malaysia often seeks to emulate in many ways, has boldly taken the step that for the university to have a chance of reaching greatness, besides spending billions in funds, you need world-class leadership.

And Mr Shih certainly started on the right note, emphasizing strictly on "outstanding ability.
“This community will be international, encompassing people from all faiths, from all over the world,” he said. “This openness to talented individuals of outstanding ability will be the hallmark of this new university and the best guarantee it offers for achieving its remarkable goals.”
And certainly the Saudi authorities accepts, unlike our local Malaysian counterparts, that we have much to learn the world's top universities, some of which are just right across the border.
Kaust hopes that Mr. Shih can replicate in Saudi Arabia his experience in Singapore, where he was able to transform the National University into one of the world’s top 50 universities by building global networks for the university and links between academe and industry. His support for commercially lucrative research and his work with the Singaporean government on economic development will be helpful in accomplishing one of the new university’s stated goals of helping to diversify the Saudi economy away from dependence on oil revenue, as well as creating new jobs for the 30 percent of Saudi young people who are currently unemployed.
Hence the million dollar question is whether the Ministry of Higher Education in Malaysia can summon the necessary political courage to do the same for the local higher education system or will it choose to ignore international academic leadership which can bring real positive changes in place of a parochial race and nationality pride.

Or will it choose to establish another new university with much fanfare, a la Malaysia University of Science & Technology (MUST), and burn away another RM100 million?

Thanks to Ron for the heads up ;-)

Friday, January 11, 2008

Too harsh on Sachs?

Perhaps I've been too hard on Jeffrey Sachs. Jeff Ooi blogged about how Sachs brought up some development issues which the Malaysian government needed to take into account in the state of Sabah. Plus, you can see some shots of Sachs visiting some of the more rural and poorer parts of Sabah, which is not usual for a renowned academic to do. Hopefully, he'll publish a paper evaluating both the successes and shortcomings of the government's policies on poverty reduction, especially in states like Sabah and Sarawak.

Hanky Panky Lecturers?

A very comprehensive letter in Malaysiakini on the issue of sending scholars to do their PhDs overseas, reproduced below.

Thankfully I'm not funded by the Malaysian government (not even a dime) so I can't say that I'm leeching off the Malaysian taxpayer. I've been advocating that MOHE send its PhD candidates to more cost effective places such as Australia (shorter completion time, more favorable exchange rates) instead of the US or the UK. I've also advocated that MOHE sends its scholars based on merit and not on any racial quotas. Finally, there are some good points in regards to the incentives and disincentives provided to these scholars to complete their PhDs.

I don't think all of the scholars which MOHE sends abroad to do their PhDs are in the 'Mercedez' category which he / she refers to. Many of them are serious, full-time students. But some of the loopholes need to be closed, nonetheless.

Cut hanky-panky by lecturers on scholarship
A Malaysian Taxpayer | Jan 11, 08 2:38pm

In its drive to fulfil the target of 70% PhD holders among lecturers across local government-funded universities, the Higher Education Ministry has been aggressively sending lecturers overseas to pursue their PhDs. These lecturers need to fulfil only two general conditions - obtaining a band of 6.5 in the International English Language Testing Service (IELTS) conducted by the British Council and second, be offered a place by a foreign university.

Given the government’s move (as announced in the 2008 Budget) to double the cost of living allowances for students in countries like the UK, US, Australia, New Zealand and Canada, this suggests that our economy is good at the moment (Alhamdullilah!) and that the government has lots of taxpayers’ money at its disposal to send these lecturers overseas.

Nevertheless, the ministry is not spending taxpayers’ money wisely by sending many of these lecturers overseas. Firstly, it is a fact, from the past records, that many lecturers who were sent overseas came home without a PhD (even though most of them proudly came home with a Mercedes). As such, the Higher Education Ministry should learn from their past mistake of sending the wrong candidates. Lecturers must prove their academic competency before they are funded by taxpayers’ money to go overseas.

They must have published at least one journal article in English on their own accord and not on a ‘Ali Baba’ hitchhiking basis. Our taxpayers’ money will definitely go down the drain if these lecturers have problems in writing their theses in English and subsequently come home empty- handed (I mean, without a PhD). Just for public awareness, the Higher Education Ministry spends at least RM500,000 on a lecturer to do his/her PhD overseas.

Secondly, it is a fact that almost all of these lecturers find themselves a job (or even jobs) while studying despite the two-fold or even ten-fold increase in their cost of living allowance. I know a few lecturers who are currently working in the UK, some part-time while others even full-time. They told me that it is perfectly fine to not complete their studies within the stipulated three-year period as the Higher Education Ministry will surely grant them a full-salary, six-month extension and more subsequent extensions.

Aren’t these lecturers taking advantage of taxpayers’ money? Just look around and compare – self-funded PhD candidates will try to complete their studies within the shortest time possible while government-funded (or rather, taxpayers-funded) candidates will try to complete theirs in the longest possible time!

Thirdly, why must the Higher Education Ministry send so many of these lecturers overseas when they can pursue similar courses at our local higher institutions at a fraction of the cost? Is it that our local universities have no ‘class’ at all ?

May I suggest that the Higher Education Ministry spend taxpayers’ money wisely by not sending any Tom, Dick and Harry overseas when they do not have the aptitude to succeed. It is unfair to send the academically incompetent lecturers when many young, talented and academically bright Malaysians can be groomed to be future first-class lecturers who will in turn, transform the universities in which they serve into world-class universities.

The current scenario is dismal where substandard local universities grant double awards - by giving the PhD students a full salary, a full scholarship and then a double bonus (eg. a three-fold increment in their salary and a promotion from DS45 to DS520 without even considering whether or not these lecturers possess that ‘mutu istimewa’ (special quality) as stipulated in the promotion circular.

Lecturers were promoted despite their poor academic ability and a no-substance curriculum vitae, not even publishing in any national or regional journal articles, let alone international ones. Only substandard universities would consider promoting lecturers on the basis of one’s contribution in a managerial position and a few conference proceedings (these were not even peer reviewed and many lecturers share conference proceedings!).

It is also an irony that despite the ‘40-years-old ruling’, our universities are still sending their academic staff who have already passed the 40-year-old age limit to pursue their studies locally or overseas on a full-pay full-scholarship. While taxpayers do support the advocated lifelong learning programme among Malaysians, it should not be at the expense of the taxpayer. It is not a good investment considering the huge cost and the number of years they are able to contribute upon their return from the three-year doctoral venture.

Stop the rhetoric of ‘internal breeding’ as an excuse to send lecturers elsewhere for a PhD. They can always do a PhD in their respective universities under the supervision of an academically-capable supervisor.

The Higher Education Ministry should monitor these ‘privileged lecturers’ while they are overseas to ensure that they fully concentrate on their studies rather than working and make some money on the side (possibly to buy a Mercedes). If they are unable to complete their studies within the stipulated three-year period, direct them to come home and not waste any more taxpayers’ money.

In order to be at par with world-class universities, terms for Higher Education Ministry scholarships should be as firm and stringent as other prestigious scholarships. Then there will be no hanky-panky where a lecturer deliberately delays his/her thesis submission so as to gain extra mileage in getting full-pay full-scholarship extension.

Finally, I have heard about lecturers who bring their family members overseas (of course, their whole family’s flight tickets are bought on taxpayers’ money) and then send their family members home secretly so that they can continue to enjoy or receive the full family allowances.

The Higher Education Ministry should take disciplinary action against lecturers who claim family allowances when their families are actually residing in Malaysia. This is blatant cheating of the taxpayer as Higher Education Ministry staff are incompetent in their monitoring of such lecturers. Maybe the ACA can swing into action to bring these lecturers to justice.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

No more non bio-degradable styrofoam at USM

At last, some positive news at one of your public universities. USM has banned the use of non-biodegradable styrofoam food containers. Kudos to USM's VC Prof Dzulkifli for this move. Our public universities should embrace these kinds of socially responsible activities instead of policing its own students for taking part in political activities or engaging in chest beating banner raising activities.

Another Sachs UM pilgrimage

Jeffrey Sachs is in Malaysia again for another 'Praise Malaysia to the High Heavens' UM tour. To be fair to him, I didn't think that he would come back to Malaysia so soon (it's winter break in the US). I thought that he'd only be back in summer. Furthermore, he might have said some more critical things about Malaysia's poverty eradication schemes but it might not have been reported. He could also be conducting genuine poverty research when he's not giving his rehashed speeches. And his latest bio, updated in January 2008 (this month), still does not state his affiliation with the UM, which defeats the purpose of using him to raise the profile of UM internationally.

Irish International University Confirmed Bogus

I've written often before on Bogus Universities, in particular, one "Irish International University" with dozens of Malaysian "graduates", which for one reason or another remains in "business" without being subject to persecution by the authorities. And of course, its CEO, Prof Dr H. Sandhu is a holder of a "Grand PhD".

Well, in an article possibly harsher and better researched than those I've written, The Times confirmed IIU's status as a bogus university.
But the institution, which hires rooms at Oxford for its degree events, is neither Irish nor a university. It encourages foreigners to spend thousands of pounds coming to Britain to study for worthless qualifications.
Most important, note the following proof of its bogus status:
The Irish International University’s website boasts of a campus in Dublin but the address is only a mailbox. Universities in Ireland must be endorsed by the education ministry. However, a loophole in Irish law allows businesses to register names with “university” in their titles.

The university’s web pages claim that its degrees are backed by the “Quality Assurance Commission”. The body was traced to an office in North London where a woman was answering phones on behalf of various companies; there were no signs that a commission existed.

The university’s honorary chancellor and head of its council, known as “His Excellency Baron Knowth”, was tracked by BBC London to Monte Carlo, where he is a tax exile. He also has a £1.2 million townhouse in Kensington, West London.
And the university officials have admitted as much that as long as there are suckers for bogus qualifications, they will continue to give them "value for money".
Talking to an undercover reporter, the honorary chancellor, in fact a chartered accountant called Jeffrey Wooller, admitted: “Of course it’s dodgy. So long as they’re happy, what difference does it make? It’s not accredited so it’s not recognised anywhere.

“They [students] get their degree, they go to the convocation and employers accept the degrees. They’re happy, they tell their friends and the university multiplies. The university is giving value for money.”
It really can't get any funnier and dodgier than that! Thanks Steve K for the heads up! ;-)

Monday, January 07, 2008

MQA is here

This blog has been keeping track of the setting up of the Malaysian Qualification Agency (MQA) since early 2006. You can read previous blog entries on this issue here, here and here. I was pleasantly surprised to read that the MQA has published a list of approved courses in both public and private universities in Malaysia.

I think having this kind of information accessible to the public is really helpful, especially for students who want to know if the courses and colleges they are interested in applying to. I had a quick glance through the list of private colleges and was pleased NOT to find any entries for the Irish International University. One may be interested to note the large number of private colleges, many of whom we've probably not heard of. But one has to remember that the MQA is only responsible for ensuring that courses offered by these private colleges fulfill certain minimum criteria. It is not responsible for vetting the quality of these courses.

One still has to use one's judgment when thinking about applying to some of these private colleges. For example, Sunway Monash and Nottingham's campus in Malaysia are obviously more recognized institutes than Kolej Keris - I kid you not - which offers only a diploma in hotel management and tourism in Ipoh, Perak. (I'm sure some of our readers will have fun going through the list of private colleges listed in the MQA website)

Surprisingly, not all of the public universities are listed in the MQA website. I found only ten:

1) Kolej Komuniti
2) Kolej Tunku Abdul Rahman (KTAR) - I didn't know KTAR was an IPTA
3) Politeknik
4) Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS)
5) Universiti Malaysia Terengganu (UMT)
6) Universiti Pendidikan Sultan Idris (UPSI)
7) Universiti Sains Islam Malaysia (USIM)
8) Universiti Teknikal Malaysia (UTeM)
9) Universiti Tun Hussein Onn Malaysia (UTHM)
10)Universiti Utara Malaysia (UUM)

Is this because the other public universities had not submitted their courses to MQA? Or is it because we can assume that all the courses being offered by UM, USM, UKM and the likes are all accredited courses because of their status as the more established public universities in Malaysia, compared to let's say UUM? I'm guessing that the other public universities will eventually make it to the MQA website since relatively new universities such as UNIMAS in Sarawak or the new public universities in Perlis, Kelantan and Pahang.

In the meantime, we are still waiting for the 'ranking' or 'grading' system of private colleges in Malaysia to be released, something which the MOHE has been promising for sometime. It would certainly gives us more insight into some of the smaller private colleges such as the aforementioned Kolej Keris and the many other small time operations that offer only a handful of courses for diplomas.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Want to be a Lawyer?

She is here to save the world from wars, conflicts and evil.

And she does that without the power the stop time, change minds or fulfill demands like a genie. She does that by blindfolding herself, holding a double edge sword on the right hand, suspending a balance weighing scale on her left hand.

She is Justitia, the Roman Goddess of Justice.

Are you prepared to blindfold yourself to uphold justice, without fear or favor, without regard for power, wealth or identity? Are you prepared to make judgments by giving balance considerations on a case's support and opposition? Are you prepared to counter the perversion of the course of justice with your double edge sword, which may be wielded either for or against any party?

Are you prepared to save the world?

Whether you like debating and presenting arguments, or you like to think quietly before you make a verdict, there is a place for everyone in a law education, there is a chance for everyone to maintain social order with one of humanity's inherent virtue – justice. There is a chance to save the world.

The Descartes Education Counselling Centre is proud to present an information session featuring Dr. Tang Hang Wu, a highly experienced Associate Professor at the Faculty of Law, National University of Singapore.

Dr. Tang, with his 13 years of exposure to the law and a PhD from the prestigious University of Cambridge, will be sharing insights into a law education and career, including information on admission to the National University of Singapore. The details of the session are as followed:

Information session by Dr. Tang Hang Wu
Date : Friday, 11 January 2008
Time : 4.00 - 5.30pm
Venue : Descartes Education Counselling Centre, 55-1 Jalan SS21/1A, Damansara Utama, 47400 Petaling Jaya
Admission is free, although donations are most welcome ;-). For more information, do visit Descartes website here.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Bakri Musa on 'Yet another Report'

I reproduce Bakri Musa's excellent column on the latest MOHE sponsored World Bank report on higher education in Malaysia. While I'm less pessimistic about the value of such reports, I agree with many of the general points he raises.

Among the points he raises - the fact that less than half of faculty in Malaysian universities have PhDs compared to almost 100% in Canadian universities, the fact that we shouldn't be comparing ourselves with basket cases like Zimbabwe, the need for greater autonomy (especially from political interference) among the universities, the need to increases fees at public universities (and scholarships as well).

The only minor quibble I have with Bakri is that I think Chinese drop outs are as likely to become VCD sellers and car mechanics as they are to help out their parents in mom and pop retail and hawker stalls.

Higher education: Yet another report
M Bakri Musa | Dec 21, 07 12:19pm

It is a sure sign that local leaders are way over their heads (or refuse to make the tough decisions) when they start calling in expensive international consultants. This is the case with Higher Education Minister Mustapa Mohamad’s commissioning (together with the Economic Planning Unit of the Prime Minister’s Department) the World Bank that resulted in its report: Malaysia and the World Economy: Building a World-Class Higher Education System.

You can be certain that the report, 18 months in the making, was not cheap. That would be just the beginning. Consultants have a knack of making themselves indispensable, so expect even greater expenses when they are called in to help implement their recommendations.

Yet for all the expertise, wealth of data, and impressive comparative statistics presented in this 285-page report, its recommendations are nothing new or original. These include, among others, granting greater autonomy, meritocracy both in admitting students and recruiting faculty, rationalising the role of the private sector, and emphasis on science, technology, and research.

What we lack is the political will to make the tough necessary decisions to implement them. Unfortunately no foreign experts no matter how skillful their powers of persuasion are can help in this arena. My only hope is that as those recommendations now carry the World Bank’s imprimatur, the natives are more likely to listen.

World Bank’s Report

The Report is conveniently divided into two parts. The first addresses or “diagnoses” the various issues like governance and financing, quality matters, graduate unemployment, and the integration of universities with the national innovation system. It begins by “benchmarking” Malaysia against selected OECD and East Asian countries. No marks for guessing where we stand; we are not even in the same league. For example, less than half the faculty at the University of Malaya, supposedly the nation’s premier, has terminal qualifications as compared to over 98 percent at Canada’s McGill.

The only point I see in making such obviously glaring comparisons is to wake up our leaders who are smugly satisfied as they are forever comparing Malaysia with the likes of Zimbabwe.

The specific recommendations are in the second part of the report.

The Report rightly highlights the universal dilemma of quality versus quantity with the democratisation of higher education. One solution, which I recommend in my book An Education System Worthy of Malaysia would be to emulate California’s tiered model. Malaysia has adopted some aspects of this by designating selected institutions as “research universities.” Designating alone is not enough and would be counterproductive unless accompanied by other changes, like much greater autonomy and considerably increased funding.

The beauty of the Californian system is that there are enough commonalities and clearly defined channels to enable student to switch from one system to the other. This flexibility is necessary to accommodate changes in students’ plans.

Also notable with the Californian system is that each campus enjoys considerable autonomy, including choosing its own students and faculty. The central office serves only administrative functions like dealing with the legislature and managing the faculty’s pension plans.

In Malaysia, the ministry micromanages every campus, right down to choosing the color of the faculty lounge drapes. I wish the Report would emphasise this point. As University of Malaya Law Professor Azmi Sharom observed, if we really love our universities, we must free them. I would further suggest that Higher Education Minister Mustapa should listen more to professors like Azmi Sharom and less to Umno Youth leaders, or even World Bank’s experts.

Problems with International data

The report is inundated with cross-national statistics. While it is good to compare ourselves against others, we must first however be assured that we are using the same measuring stick. This is easier said than done.

Take the apparently straightforward data on years of schooling. This seemingly objective criterion is anything but. One does not have to be particularly perceptive to note that nine years of schooling in South Korea would produce a far superior graduate as compared to someone with many more years spent at an American inner city school. Likewise with comparing nominal figures on expenditures per student; a dollar at the University of Malaya would go a long way as compared to at the University of California.

If we are not careful we could be easily misled; we would then be better off without those statistics. At least a dead clock tells the right time twice a day; a malfunctioning clock never. Likewise with data; bad data is more damaging than no data. A bad compass is worse than no compass. With the latter you would not be misled, and you learn to use your senses.

Studies done on OECD countries indicate that it is not so much the years of schooling that matter with respect to labor productivity rather the workers’ actual language and mathematical skills. Harvard’s Robert Barro shows that it is not just any education system that enhances economic development rather one that emphasizes the sciences, technology and mathematics that is crucial.

This is clearly demonstrated in Malaysia. The government’s oft stated goal of 60:40 ratio favoring students in the science stream remains just that: a goal. More important than focusing on this thus far unattainable objective would be to raise the mathematical skills and science literacy of all our students. Most American universities require all their students to take a year of science and mathematics.

Malaysian data indicate that Malays have more years of schooling and fewer dropouts than non-Malays, in particular the Chinese. Yet the economic performance of Malays lags that of Chinese. The reason is obvious. The education of Malays is heavy on arts and religion; Chinese, science and technology. When Chinese students drop out, they work for their parents’ enterprises, be they mom-and-pop retail stores or roadside hawker stalls, where they learn important lessons of economics and life generally far more effectively than at school. Malay students would hang around waiting for government jobs. The only lesson they would learn in such an environment is that the world owes them a living.

There is however one comparative statistics worth noting: tuition fees differential between public and private institutions. In Malaysia it is about ten-fold whereas in America it is about a 3 to 5- fold difference. I would narrow this by increasing tuition at public universities, coupled with more generous students aid. This would generate more revenue as well as reduce the subsidy for rich students.

Timid report

The Report soft-pedals two separate but interrelated crucial issues: one, the dangerous racial segregation of educational institutions at all levels; and two, the intrusive as well as destructive role of politics, in particular language nationalism.

The Bank advocates the giving of scholarships for students to attend private institutions as one way of making them reflect the greater Malaysian society. I would go further and make it a condition for granting of permits. I agree with the Bank that we should treat private and pubic institutions equally with regard to awarding research funds and other grants. If these institutions are doing good research and performing useful societal functions, what difference does it make whether they are public or private?

Politics underlie most if not all the problems of our education system. While it is impossible to divorce politics (institutions ultimately must respond to the political realities) nonetheless once certain objectives are agreed upon by the body politic, then let the professionals take over in implementing them.

Take the teaching of science and mathematics in English and the general need to enhance the English proficiency of our students. This decision was made at the highest political level, yet at the slightest obstacle in implementing, an otherwise sensible policy was reversed. It is such a flip-flopping that is so destructive.

The World Bank should have been more forceful in presenting its recommendations and in highlighting what ails our education system. Had the Bank done so it would have encouraged the many voices for reform from within. That might just nudge these politicians and bureaucrats to take the necessary bold steps.

OECD university rankings

Read this in a November copy of the Economist - The OECD is trying to come up with a different way of ranking universities. The results are scheduled to be out in 2010.

I'll reproduce the article in full below and then follow up with some of my own comments.

A new sort of higher education guide for very discerning customers

WORKING out exactly what students and taxpayers get for the money they spend on universities is a tricky business. Now the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), a Paris-based think-tank for rich countries, is planning to make the task a bit easier, by producing the first international comparison of how successfully universities teach.

That marks a breakthrough. At the moment, just two institutions make annual attempts to compare universities round the world. Shanghai's Jiao Tong University has been doing it since 2003, and the Times Higher Education Supplement, a British weekly, started a similar exercise in 2004. But both these indices, which are closely watched by participants in a fickle and fast-expanding global education market (see chart), reflect “inputs” such as the number and quality of staff, as well as how many prizes they win and how many articles they publish. The new idea is to look at the end result—how much knowledge is really being imparted.

“Rather than assuming that because a university spends more it must be better, or using other proxy measures for quality, we will look at learning outcomes,” explains Andreas Schleicher, the OECD's head of education research. Just as the OECD assesses primary and secondary education by testing randomly chosen groups of youngsters from each country in reading and mathematics, it will sample university students to see what they have learned. Once enough universities are taking part, it may publish league tables showing where each country stands, just as it now does for compulsory education. That may produce a fairer assessment than the two established rankings, though the British one does try to broaden its inquiry by taking opinions from academics and employers.
Click here to find out more!

There is much to be said for the OECD's approach. Of course a Nobel laureate's view on where to study may be worth hearing, but dons may be so busy writing and researching that they spend little or no time teaching—a big weakness at America's famous universities. And changes in methodology can bring startling shifts. The high-flying London School of Economics, for example, tumbled from 17th to 59th in the British rankings published last week, primarily because it got less credit than in previous years for the impressive number of foreign students it had managed to attract.

The OECD plan awaits approval from an education ministers' meeting in January. The first rankings are planned by 2010. They will be of interest not just as a guide for shoppers in the global market, but also as indicators of performance in domestic markets. They will help academics wondering whether to stay put or switch jobs, students choosing where to spend their time and money, and ambitious university bosses who want a sharper competitive edge for their institution.

The task the OECD has set itself is formidable. In many subjects, such as literature and history, the syllabus varies hugely from one country, and even one campus, to another. But OECD researchers think that problem can be overcome by concentrating on the transferable skills that employers value, such as critical thinking and analysis, and testing subject knowledge only in fields like economics and engineering, with a big common core.

Moreover, says Mr Schleicher, it is a job worth doing. Today's rankings, he believes, do not help governments assess whether they get a return on the money they give universities to teach their undergraduates. Students overlook second-rank institutions in favour of big names, even though the less grand may be better at teaching. Worst of all, ranking by reputation allows famous places to coast along, while making life hard for feisty upstarts. “We will not be reflecting a university's history,” says Mr Schleicher, “but asking: what is a global employer looking for?” A fair question, even if not every single student's destiny is to work for a multinational firm.

First of all, I think it's a good alternative to the Shanghai Jiao Tong and the THES rankings in that this OECD ranking tries to measure the 'learning outcomes'. I'm generally in favor of more information being collected and published rather than less and leave it up to the 'marketplace of ideas' to sort out the implications of the different ranking systems.

Secondly, I'm sure that this ranking system will also invite its fair share of critics and criticisms as well. One immediate challenge I can think of in terms of measuring 'learning outcomes' is the difficult of measuring the 'value added' of a university. Obviously, students graduating from Harvard will, on average, know more, compared to students graduating from a community college in the US or students graduating from UM. This is because students who enter Harvard are obviously brighter and know more compared to other students in less known universities. Hence, the measure of 'learning outcomes' of a university should be the 'value added' that it provides to its graduates, rather than the absolute level of 'learning outcomes'.

I recall that Singapore used to measure (not sure if they still do) the value added of each school at the secondary level comparing the PSLE (Primary 6) scores of students entering different schools and their O level grades. This way, one can control for the fact that students going to schools such as Raffles Institution and Raffles Girls School have much higher PSLE scores compared to those students going to the 'neighborhood' schools. I'm not sure if the OECD measure is able to control for such factors. My feeling is that it probably won't and what it will end up measuring is the absolute levels rather than the 'value added' levels.

If this ranking system measures absolute rather than value added levels, I think that graduates from Malaysian public universities are at a disadvantage compared to many of its peers in other countries. Here are a couple of reasons why this is the case:

Good students in Malaysia have many options to study in non-Malaysian public universities because of scholarships (public and private), the determination of many Malaysian parents to save for and fund such studies, the relative proficiency in English of such students and the availability of options in private universities (including many 'twinning' programs). In addition, there are push factors such as the quota system in the public universities which push many good students out of public universities and leaves many weaker students in the public universities.

For most students in developed countries i.e. the OECD countries, their first option is to study in a university (mostly public, with the exception of the US) in their own country because these are seen as credible choices and also where some government funding is provided. This means that universities in such countries are able to retain their best and brightest within its own universities. Rarely would you expect many of the best and the brightest in these countries to study full time in universities in other countries. In Malaysia, the opposite is true. Rarely would you expect the best and the brightest to study in the local university. You would expect these individuals to be studying in a foreign university. Hence, the quality of students at our public universities are 'scrubbed' of many of the best and brightest students (with perhaps the exception being the law and medicine students).

For many students in Asian countries such as Japan, India, China, Taiwan and Korea, their public universities are credible options for their best and brightest to study at. Many Chinese students aspire to study in Beijing or Tsinghua. Many of the 'technical institutes' in India are a breeding ground for the best and brightest in India. Although the proportion of students from these countries going overseas is increasing (especially as China and India become richer), there is still a critical mass of good students going to their public universities, unlike in Malaysia.

A note on Singapore - Many of the best students in Singapore end up going overseas on government scholarships. But Singapore universities are also able to retain a critical mass of good local students in its public universities (apart from the law and medicine students). Let me give you some concrete examples. About half of all students who take A levels in my alma mater (and Tony's as well), Raffles Junior College (RJC), obtain 3 As or more. I think a similar cohort from Taylors or Sunway will probably have at most 20% obtaining 3As or more. Most of these 3As and above students will not get government scholarships to go overseas but go to the Singapore unis i.e. NUS, NTU and SMU. In contrast, most of the top scorers at the A levels in Malaysia ends up going overseas. A much smaller proportion of the student population takes the STPM with most of the tops scorers wanting to take up law or medicine at the local universities. Many of the top students have been 'filtered' out by STPM.

Furthermore, Singapore universities are able to attract good Malaysian students to attend. Many good Malaysians who can't get into their preferred course in Malaysian unis (because of the quota system) end up going to Singapore. I know of two Malaysian students at the PhD level at Duke who went to Singapore unis. At the same time, many of my Asean scholar friends also decide to attend Singapore unis because they don't want to or cannot afford to go overseas.

This is not to say that our public unis don't have good or even great students. The law and medicine students are clearly the exception because of the high level of competition to get into such pro grams. But the proportion is far lower than that in Singapore, not to mention the developed countries or even Asian countries such as China and India.

And I haven't even begun to discuss the learning process in our public universities. If even a sliver of some of the horror stories I've heard in regards to the learning process in our public universities - high absentee rates among lecturers, lecturers who 'dumb down' their lectures or make exams easier, etc... - then I'm quite certain that there might be a 'value decrease' in the impact of our public universities on our graduates.

I don't know if the OECD measure will include any or many of our public universities but I'm quite sure that it it does, our graduates will do worse compared to their compatriots in other Asian countries and most definitely compared to universities in the developed countries.

I think some of the obstacles I've outlined above would be too great for the current MOHE minister, To Pak, to overcome, regardless of action plans and such.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Sacrifice for one's country

This is a slightly different post from one that normally appears on this blog. The picture in this post was voted by viewers of the Today show as the most memorable photo of 2007. As I heard the story of the woman at Arlington cemetery, I began to reflect on whether someone of a similar profile would have put his or her life on line for Malaysia. Sadly, I have to say no.

The woman in the photo is one Mary McHugh, who was visiting the grave of her fiance, James John Regan, at Arlington Cemetery, just outside Washington D.C. James Regan was killed in Iraq in February, 2007, where he served as a sergeant in the US Army.

While many of us may have doubts in regards to the US initiated war in Iraq, I find it harder to question the motives of brave, young men (and women) like James Regan, who was willing to put his life on the line for the higher aspiration of defending his country. These are the people who were caught in the political crossfires and the crossfires (literally) of the war in Iraq and paid for it with their lives.

What makes James Regan a little more unique than the 3000 plus US soldiers who have lost their lives in Iraq (and the many more Iraqis who have lost theirs) is that he could have made many other career choices, many of which were more lucrative financially and all of which would not involve putting his life on the line.

From this website, I found the following in regards to James Regan.

With an undergraduate degree from Duke, a top LSAT score and a laser-like focus, Jimmy Regan would have succeeded in whatever he wanted to do in life.

Instead of taking a scholarship to law school or a financial services job, Regan followed a calling to the military, where he became an Army Ranger and served two tours of duty in Afghanistan and two in Iraq, family members said.

After graduating from Duke, Regan turned down a job offer from UBS, a financial services company, and a scholarship to Southern Methodist University's law school to enlist in the Army, where he passed on Officer Candidate School to focus on becoming a Ranger.

"He said, 'If I don't do it, then who will do it?'" said Regan's fiancee, Mary McHugh, a medical student at Emory University who, like scores of others at the Park Avenue house yesterday, wore Regan's high school graduation photo clipped to her shirt. "He recognized it as an option and he couldn't not do it."

Army Sergeant James John Regan was born June 27, 1980, in Rockville Centre, New York. He graduated from Chaminade High School in Mineola, New York,m where his lacrosse skills earned him a scholarship to Duke. There, while earning a bachelor's degree in economics, he played midfield on two teams that won conference championships and one that reached the NCAA semifinals.

Regan enlisted in February 2004 and spent three years in the Army, earning a Bronze Star, Purple Heart and several medals marking his service in Iraq and Afghanistan. He went to the Army's language training school and read about the countries he patrolled, but remained humble enough to make his three sisters laugh with a Borat film-character impression or explain the region's centuries-old conflict to his mother, Mary Regan, when he was home for Christmas.

Regan's stint in the Army was to end in February 2008, and he and McHugh planned to marry the next month. They were to move to the Chicago area, where her family lives, and he was going to become a social studies teacher and coach lacrosse.

The equivalent to James Regan in Malaysia would be if a Harvard or Oxbridge grad choose to serve in the Malaysian army or become a teacher in a rural area in Malaysia instead of taking up a lucrative job as a management consultant or an investment banker. There are very few such individuals in Malaysia.

I can speculate as to why this is the case.

We have far fewer individuals in absolute terms who go to such 'elite' universities compared to the US or even the UK.

Perhaps, more important is the fact that very few of us feel compelled enough to 'sacrifice' ourselves for a country which perhaps might not appreciate these kinds of sacrifices.

The few examples I can think of are usually associated with opposition parties in Malaysia. I can think of Nathaniel Tan, a graduate or Harvard, who runs the website and who also works for PKR and his colleague, Nik Nazmi, who went to MCKK, KYUEM and King's College. I hesitate to put Tony in this category since he's had some commercial and financial success before going into politics full time although this does not lessen his personal sacrifices of going into opposition politics.

Perhaps I'd be more encouraged to hear about more Malaysians going into non-partisan work which benefits the community or the country in a larger sense. It does not have to involve joining the army or the police force. It could be starting an NGO or working for one. It could be joining the teaching profession. It could be working in a rural clinic. But the current state of our country's political and social environment does not encourage these kinds of 'sacrifices', sadly.