The Tempinis diaries

November 25, 2007

It’s Like Being in Love with Someone Who Doesn’t Love You Back

Filed under: education — Tags: , , , — toru @ 8:23 am

“If they (Malaysia) would just educate the Chinese and Indians, use them and treat them as their citizens, they can equal us (Singapore) and even do better than us…”

Quote from Lee Kuan Yew

 “It’s like being in love with someone who doesn’t love you back”  Alan to Orked in Yasmin Ahmad’s Gubra on how many non-Malays feel towards Malaysia.

Lee Kuan Yew’s words in a recent interview which is excerpted in the quote above enraged and infuriated many Malay politicians.  Now I am no fan of Lee Kuan Yew – but who can really dispute the sentiments that he expressed?  With all this talk about raising the standards of universities in Malaysia in light of the disastrous fall in the THES 2007 world universities rankings, Malaysia should seriously consider tapping into Malaysians who are successful academics and currently based overseas.  This can be done by either appointing such a candidate as the Vice Chancellor  or to working out joint Professorship appointments with these talented individuals.  Such steps will signal a seriousness and commitment by Malaysian universities on running Malaysian institutions of higher learning on the principle of meritocracy.  Certainly, this is a much better idea than throwing lots of money at some foreign academic superstar like Jeffrey Sachs who does not seem to have either much time for Malaysian universities or any emotional investment in Malaysia.  I am sure there are many Malaysian born academics who are extremely eminent and well qualified who can be called upon to help raise the standard of Malaysian varsities.  Some of the candidates that come to mind are the incomparable Wang Gungwu  who is based in Singapore, the world renowned economist, Danny Quah from LSE (head of department at the Department of Economics at LSE) and the much respected  Lai Choy Heng  (former Dean of Science, now Deputy Provost at NUS and originally from Ipoh ).  I am sure these people are only the tip of the iceberg of talented Malaysians who are based abroad.  When you actually sit down and think about the depth of talent that the country has lost due to the aggressive affirmative action policies, it is enough to make one feel really sad.

November 24, 2007

Apex Universities: Old Wine in New Bottles?

Filed under: education — Tags: , , , , — toru @ 2:05 pm

After all the sound and fury of the slide of Malaysian universities in THES 2007 world universities rankings, there seems to be less discussion on the Malaysian government’s plans to set up Apex Universities.  Now when this plan was first announced, I was really puzzled.  Was the government going to set up new institutions and term them Apex Universities or was some pre-existing institutions to be given the status of Apex Universities.  I think after reading the news story on the plan, it is the latter.  Which then leads to the next point?  Why are we all wasting our bloody time then?  Everyone in Malaysia knows that the best universities in Malaysia are University of Malaya, UKM and USM.  Is someone really going to say that Universiti Tenaga Malaysia or Universiti Technology Petronas is better than UM, UKM or USM? There are even ridiculous stories like this talking about the search for apex universities.   I mean why go through a long drawn process when the answer is so obvious!   

So let’s suppose we do go through the process and name UM, UKM or USM as the nation’s apex universities.  So what?  It’s a case of old wine in new bottles isn’t it?  The point is that there are a lot of things wrong with Malaysian universities;  as I have explained in my previous post , these problems are both systemic and also a question of inadequate funding .  However, these problems will not be solved by giving these institutions the title of apex universities.  It’s like cutting off the label of a cheaply made petaling street T-Shirt and slapping on the label Prada.  That’s not going to solve the problems.   We can talk until we are blue in the face but the fact remains why Malaysian universities are in the state they are in: the quota system and terrible funding.  If we don’t address these issues, it’s like not addressing the elephant in the room.  The only way to really achieve excellence at universities is to bite the bullet and to: (a) run the universities on a truly meritocratic fashion in terms of students’ admission and faculty promotion; and (b) to create a culture where research is truly valued.  It remains to be seen whether the Malaysian government has the political courage to do that. 

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