Friday, January 11, 2008

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.


Shawn Tan said...

Yes, I do agree that there are many loopholes. However, I have a few quibs with the letter:

... why must the Higher Education Ministry send so many of these lecturers overseas ...

It would not be fair to bond a local scholar under the exact same terms as an overseas scholar. So, naturally, the scholars will choose to go overseas. And, as long as society places more value in a fragrant piece of imported paper, it would only make sense to send them overseas.

... it is a fact that almost all of these lecturers find themselves a job ...

Before the increase, the allowance given was hardly sufficient to cover the cost of living in the UK. The old allowance was set a long time ago, and never took inflation into account. With the increase, the Malaysian scholars are just getting similar amounts as their counterparts from other places but still less than local UK scholars.

...increment in their salary and a promotion from DS45 to DS520 without...

My MoHE friend has just informed me that this is currently under review. They may not get the salary increment. However, paying these people too little, will also result in wastage if these people decide to go work elsewhere.

... and then send their family members home secretly ...

Yes, such benefit fraud happens regularly. I've also heard such stories. It should not be allowed to happen. It's possibly illegal.

Anonymous said...

is this new? no
will there be changes? no, unless there is a revolution of our mindset, which on current trends look unlikely.

If the mediocre get promoted, they will do the same to the subordinates, because no way will they get someone who is better than them and would threaten their positions. Start from the top, cull the top and replace with some good people.


chia said...

i sure saw a number of govt scholars doing their phds in UK, with their entire family in tow. A car, house, but never in the lab (working part time/almost full-time of course). If they are there to do their phds, they should live like students. if they can't finish their phds in 3 years, they should fork out for the remaining years themselves. i wonder what these guys teach their students when they get back to malaysia.

by the way, UK is so short of students interested in PhDs and very keen on collecting tuition fees from overseas students so it is not difficult to find a phd position there. getting a position is no reflection of the scholar's ability.

Anonymous said...

Is it so easy to find a full time job in the UK without a PhD?
What type of job can they get?
It is not so easy to find one outside the campus in the US. In fact, the easiest job to find in the US is to be a graduate student with a RA/TA. Probably they get a salary and allowances from the M'sian govt and then a TA from the university, i.e., double-dipping.

Samuel Goh Kim Eng said...

In the pursuit, to look good outside, for quantity
There is a huge and eventually expensive sacrifice for quality
Without bothering about the final likely consequences
That will tumble down all artificially propped up defences

(C) Samuel Goh Kim Eng - 120108
Sat. 12th Jan. 2008.

Anonymous said...

Why would the government want to give the family an allowance. Is it fair to pay for a scholar's family's 3-4 years overseas holiday?

It is totally unequitable for the intended scholar to use taxpayers' money without making some sacrifices on his part. This practice should be stopped.

Also scholars who fail to acquire their doctorates within the stipulated time should be penalised and the scholarship recovered, whether in part or in full.

Fikri said...

Daniel: The family allowance, as far as I know, is only and exactly that: an allowance. As far as I know, though it is a bit of extra money, it's not necessarily enough. From personal experience, my mother had to take on jobs to make sure that ends meet while we were in London.

Perhaps there are people who take advantage of this, but by the same token, there are also people for whom a stint in London is anything but a holiday.

In the context of allowance, at least, I believe that a case-by-case basis to decide on the amount of allowance someone gets (as well as the type of allowance that they do get) would be effective in distributing the right amount of money to the right people.

Anonymous said...

From my humble opinion, will their family members contribute some publications? If not, why they need to move their family members overseas? If they have to bear some responsibilities or commitments, they might consider to pursue their PhD in Malysia or nearer countries. It's is not wise to have such scheme like family allowances from my point of view corresponding to higher education. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

The universities should provide the following data of their staff sent to do PhD:

1 How many came home within 3 years?
2 How many got extended?
3 How many returned with Mphil?
4 How many failed to get their PhDs?

Anonymous said...

A professor of a private university gave a lecture at a local public university and she was a government scholar that admitted that she paid for her PhD from a top British Uni. Her thesis she could not present and her English enunciation atrocious what else can you say about it save nothing but disgust.

Fikri said...


I was hardly ten years old at the time. I doubt whether my mom would have passed me off to the orphanage or various family members just to pursue her education :) Perhaps there were other options, but she felt it was better that the family stick together. I reckon many other parents would make the same decision should the situation be the same.

And as for pursuing degrees overseas, some degrees are better done in a place where the academic community of that area of study is much more active. For example, you can do your Master's in Creative Technology (Film Directing) at UiTM, or you can do the New York Film Academy Master's programme at Universal Studios. On paper, the qualification level is the same, but there's much to it than just the paper. Sometimes, when you have a chance like that, you just got to grab it.

It's just a case of making sure that the right people get the right chance. Easier said than done, though...

Anonymous said...


It seems like people just write whatever they like without even thinking!

Come on!

Do you have a family? If you don't, so don't ever criticise why people bring family with them while doing their PhD.

Do you have a PhD degree? If you don't, why comment others who can't finish in 3 years?

I'm sick of people looking at negative sides of an issue and never on the positive tone

Anonymous said...

Dear PhD student

I got my PhD before even you were born! I have more than enough rights to comment!
Why dont you work hard and complete your PhD and stop getting 'sick' reading the blog

You go and see the state of our local universities and comment. I wonder if you are UNMO or BN supporter?

Anonymous said...

Dear PhD student,

Nowadays, I am wondering why some people with higher education qualification but stop their maturity development since their 1st degree.

I totally agree with fikri's situation and the main issue discussed over here was " the right people should get their chances".

Mind you, is it not a PhD holder can avoid from paying taxes?

You are right, I am doing my PhD and so as my wife.

Analyzing a problem, we should consider both the positive and negative issues but we must act positive.

Anonymous said...

Trouble is that some PhD student think so highly of their status doing their PhD and think that they are righter than right or cleverer than clever to make such myopic comments!

Just imagine how egoistic that character will be if he graduated with a PhD? He would probably think he is demi god and start looking down on others

I remembered a funny incident in my university long long ago. There was this student from India who just completed his PhD. Suddenly on getting his PhD his behaviour changes! In fact he began walking in a new style not like the way he used to before getting his PhD.

From once a quiet person suddenly he acquired a "license" to talk nonsense in public seminars! Of course he became the talk of the department for years!

chia said...

fikri you are right in saying that when a great opportunity comes up, one should take it and go. those who get into good unis and need the funding deserve the scholarships. but a lot of people also just get scholarships and go to places which may not even compare to our own unis, but at 10x the price (or much more). as for the jobs in the UK, we are allowed to work 20 hours a week without needing an additional work permit and most students take up simple jobs like waitering or cleaning jobs in a hospital. the pay is decent, but it is nothing that contributes to their education or research. i don't think it's because they need the money as most of them have cars even when public transport is sufficiently good.

and ok it's not always easy to finish in 3 years, 4 is more common.but setting a limit to the time will encourage them to work even harder and to get further funding they should be asked to present their work and their plans for the next year to finish. i just don't like seeing people going there as a fun trip, not putting in any effort into their research, and knowing that when they get back to malaysia they will have an even better post than before since they now have their phds.

Anonymous said...

Yang ramai2 orang ni dengki kenapa. Dah betul ke diri sendiri tu yang nak highlight salah org lain.Kalau betul2 nak tau cara hidup PhD student kat UK. Apply for one, hmmm.... maybe its quite difficult as the fees is expensive.Scholarship only being given to tutor and lecturers in university, but why is that happening?.Maybe they have better results than any of us.... Hmmm.....think..think... think....look at all the bright side rather than the bad. Its only the way that you can live the live as it is. Action is louder than words anyway.....

chia said...

actually, a lot of the lecturers who were sent overseas on scholarship were also the ones who ponteng-ed class the most and then had to borrow notes for exams. wonderful examples.

yes phds are expensive. it's the most expensive in the UK and probably the easiest to get there too. If the lecturers or scholars were that smart and good, they should be getting some funding from the profs they work for, not just from our government. anonymous, ask how many of these phd students actually have good papers published at the end of their studies?

Anonymous said...

Most of the graduate students from China, India, Eastern Europe and formerly a lot from Taiwan are on fellowship from US universities. Most of these are foreign students. There are and were a number of Malaysian students on fellowships too -- I would not be surprised to have some of them reading these messages. The very good students get their funding from the University or some form of fellow ship.
I have hired a number of them in the US and at one time I was representing an MNC sponsoring some of the graduate students.
If you looking at other countries, they have their best students applying for graduate schools in US, these students are bright and willing to work hard. A lot of them have proven themselves, making it easier for subsequent applicants from the same school or country. A lot of people are willing to sacrify a lot to get a good education, but does not seem to be the case from some of the posts here.
So, we end up paying more for less, not only now, but the return we can get later too. I always thought, to whom much is given, much is expected -- it seems that I am wrong here.


Anonymous said...

I know this is obvious but the government is making all decision based on a race agenda and not an educational one.

There are lots of non-bumi PHD holders who have funded their own education and are more than qualified to lectured in public universities. And I know many.

There are also a good many corporate leaders who have experiences and knowledge to share from the various industries. And I am one of them.

The are many small/medium technology driven companies who would love to work with the universities to improve their product and processes given the facilities in the university. And I own one of them.

The ministry has never approached me or any of my friends. While I was doing my masters in UK, many of the lecturers were either involved in a related industry or were acted as research partner to these comapnies.

In my opinion, if you can't do a PHD in Malaysia, I wonder how relevent is one purchased from overseas. If its a paper PHD, why bother.

Anonymous said...

Hi Chin,
There were Malaysians with PhD from MIT, Imperial College- London U being told they were over qualified when they applied for positions in Malaysian U. They end up staying outside Malaysia for years at senior positions in highly ranked universities outside Malaysia. Some of them eventually gave up Malaysian Citizen ship.
If you are highly a qualified Malaysian, it does not mean you are the first in line for the right job in Malaysia, an expat may end up to be more acceptable to the hiring managers, the expat would leave Malaysia after they made their money, we, as Malaysians may stay behind to compete for a position in Malaysia.
We can not count on the system to give us equal opportunity.