The Tempinis diaries

December 8, 2007

Managing Superstar Academics: Of Whales and Guppies

Filed under: education — Tags: , , , , — toru @ 4:17 pm

Philip Yeo, the former Chairman of the Economic Development Board of Singapore (“EDB”) has an interesting article in Nature.  In this article, he likens superstar hires to ‘whales’ who will guide, inspire and mentor young local talent whom he calls ‘guppies’.   It seems that Singapore has nurtured 1,000 guppies, all of whom would have completed their PhDs at top graduate schools including their lab attachment year by 2009 in areas such as information technology, engineering, molecular biology, biochemistry and medicine.  Edison Liu talks about how top overseas scientists in Singapore inspire local scientists like Lisa Ng and Ng Huck Hui to continue to stay and produce good work in Singapore. 

While there is  dispute on the direction of Singapore’s biomedical push, I think that the Singapore government is on to something here.  It is not just about buying in top talent.  But rather more importantly it is to ensure that these top talent will help lift the standards of the local talent.  This is certainly a lesson that we should learn after the entire Jeffrey Sachs debacle.  Hopefully, UKM will have a plan in place for Dr. Tan Hock Lim to work closely with the local faculty members and to improve their standards.

…we will draw our parang to defend Ketuanan Melayu…

Filed under: malaysia, Uncategorized — Tags: , , — toru @ 2:39 am

The esteemed  Rahim Tamby Chik was quoted as saying: ““The Malays have never taken to the streets so do not force us to do so as we will draw our parang (machete) to defend the Ketuanan Melayu (Malay supremacy) in this country.”

If this statement is not in contravention of s. 3(1)(e) of the Sedition Act i.e. ” to promote feelings of ill-will and hostility between different races or classes of the population of Malaysia”, I don’t know what is.  One blogger thought this statement was tragic; I think it is simply disgusting.  Any right thinking person (whatever his or her politics) should denounce him.  

December 6, 2007

Harakah’s Unsubstantiated Allegations Against the UKM Vice Chancellor

Filed under: education — Tags: , , — toru @ 3:02 pm

It seems that there is a lot of interest over Dr. Tan Hock Lim’s appointment at UKM. Harakah seems to be in a state of frenzy over this appointment – they have thrown a lot of wild and unsubstantiated allegations against the Vice-Chancellor of UKM. To me, the real issue is whether UKM overpaid for Dr. Tan’s services (an alleged RM 8 million over a period of 4 years). As I said in my last post, I don’t really know what are the salaries for superstar doctors and what kind of superstar doctor Dr. Tan is. Instead of making these wild allegations against the Vice-Chancellor of UKM, Harakah should show a table of comparable salaries of top scientists in other jurisdictions. If RM 8 million is really off the salary scale, then Harakah does have a case against the UKM Vice Chancellor. It has been reported in the New York Times that salaries for top scientists at Singapore’s Biopolis are “lavish”. And Singapore’s star recruit, Edison Liu, is rumoured to be living in a suite in the Four Seasons. I am afraid that these days, the top scientists do demand top salaries.

Of course, hiring superstar professors is not the panacea to the problem of declining standards at Malaysian universities. The real challenge is how to harnest such a top scientist like Dr. Tan to bring up the standards of our local scientist. More on that in posts to come.

December 5, 2007

The Brain Gain’s Poster Boy Wants Out

Filed under: education, malaysia — Tags: , , , , — toru @ 1:47 pm

A very interesting article  from the Chronicle of Higher Education dated 11/11/2005 that I found here.   It seems that the person mentioned in the story Rajah Rasiah has moved back to Europe.


The Brain Gain’s Poster Boy Wants Out


Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Rajah Rasiah once considered himself a fortunate man. At the age of 45 he was a full professor at United Nations University, in Maastricht, the Netherlands, earning more than $150,000 a year, tax-free.  


The Campaign to Confer Public Stars on the Five Dragon Boaters

Unless you have been living under a rock or have been overseas, you would have read about the tragic incident involving five Singapore dragon boaters in Cambodia.  Their deaths affected many people.  Perhaps, it’s their youth that moved perfect strangers to feel very sorry for them and their families.  Speaking personally, I felt quite sad that such young people who seemed to have so much vitality, good will and zest for life had their lives cut short.   Which set me thinking a few days ago – I think these fine young men (to paraphrase something I read in the papers) represent the best that Singapore has to offer.  A quiet everyday man who had simple dreams and who was a good son, brother, teacher, colleague, student and sportsman.  Since they died in the course of representing Singapore, the nation does owe them something.  In the United States, if someone dies or gets injured in the course of serving the country in the Army, he or she is awarded some sort of medal.  So too in this case – these young men deserve some kind of national honour even if it is posthumously.  I am sure it would mean a lot to their families.

And so this post marks the start of the campaign to confer public stars on the five dragon boaters – Chee Wei Cheng, Jeremy Goh, Stephen Loh, Reuben Kee and Poh Boon San.  How can you help with the campaign?  Write about this idea on your blog, link this blog post and send in a feedback to Government via this website.  If enough people join in this campaign, then hopefully public stars can be awarded to Wei Cheng, Jeremy, Stephen, Reuben and Boon San at the next national day.

December 3, 2007

Dr Tan Hock Lim appointed at UKM

Filed under: malaysia — Tags: , , — toru @ 3:21 pm

In my previous post on the brain drain from Malaysia, I mentioned Dr. Tan Hock Lim.  There have been a couple of visits to this blog searching for his name.  Intrigued, I did a google search.  I was delighted to find out that Dr. Tan Hock Lim was appointed a professor at UKM by UKM Vice-Chancellor Professor Sharifah Hapsah.  This is certainly good news and a big catch for UKM.  However, there is currently a furor about the fact that Dr. Tan Hock Lim is allegedly paid RM 168,000 a month.  That seems pretty high to me even for Singapore standards.   But I can’t really comment on this issue with any authority because I don’t know what the market rate is for superstar doctors and what kind of superstar Dr. Tan Hock Lim is.   I am sure Singapore pays Edison Liu much more.  If this indeed the market rate for such distinguished doctors, then my take on the salary issue is that you would have to pay such salaries to employ these people. 

Asean Scholarship: A Compilation of Personal Accounts

Filed under: education — Tags: , — toru @ 2:39 pm

I have been getting a steady stream of hits everyday based on the keyword search of the phrase “what to do after spm“.  Someone told me my previous post might have painted a too rosy picture of studying in Singapore; I thought in order to have a more balanced account I might link up a couple of other people’s posts.  See here for an extremely negative account of the Asean scholarship.  A rebuttal by an irate Singaporean is found here.  More positive accounts can be found herehere and here.  To me the most balanced account is found here (especially in the comments section). But I guess with most things the truth probably lies somewhere in the middle.

At the end of the day, some people just don’t like studying and living in Singapore.  For example see this blog by a Malaysian studying at SMU.   As my father used to say, you can’t argue about someone’s taste.

December 2, 2007

Dismantling the Quota System in Malaysian Universities

Filed under: education, malaysia — Tags: , , , , , — toru @ 2:21 pm

In my previous post, I blogged about how the quota system (in terms of student admissions and faculty promotions) is hurting the quality of Malaysian universities.  The most obvious solution to improve the standing of Malaysian universities would be to abolish the quota system practiced by the administration at all universities.  But is this even a realistic option?  My own feeling is that it is not.  Any Government Minister who dares to implement this would probably be ousted immediately.

So it there a solution to the current rut that we are stuck in?  Or are Malaysian universities destined to a continued downward slide?  I believe that there is a way out and a compromise solution.  While the Malay dominated electorate may not be able to stomach abolishing the quota system currently in place at all universities, perhaps it is possible to abolish the practice of the quota system at one university.  Let’s say University of Malaya is named an Apex University and is run primarily on merit in terms of student admissions and faculty promotions.   A less aggressive quota system can be put in place, let’s say 10 % in favour of Bumiputras.  Why do I think that this might work?  This is because it is ultimately in the Malays’ self-interest to have at least one internationally respected university in the country than having all universities in the country being at the bottom of the pile internationally.  At least, the Malay graduates and faculty who are from that university will be respected both locally and hopefully, internationally.  To my mind, it is foolish to have 60 % (I am just guessing and I might be way off the mark) of the student body being Malay if the degree conferred is not respected locally and internationally.  This actually harms the top 10 % of the Malays in the cohort because they are pulled down by the bottom 50 %.  Non-performing faculty (whether Malay, Chinese or Indian) members can also be slowly transferred to other universities to get rid of deadwood.

Whether the Ministry of Higher Education is prepared to take any drastic measures to improve the quality of Malaysian universities remain to be seen.  It is quite evident that the state of universities in Malaysia is so dismal that something drastic needs to be done.  I am afraid that merely unveiling snazzy reports with fancy slogans will not do the trick.   

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