Thursday, September 4, 2008

Our Varsities: Good, Bad & Ugly

I'm not going to copy and paste the entire article here. But I thought its worth highlighting that one of our resident commentator on this blog, Shawn Tan has put together a group of young Malaysians at Cambridge University to discuss burning issues, the first being the state of our universities published in Malaysiakini.

It's unapologetic, it's critical but it's not new. The fact that the points raised aren't new isn't a criticism of the article but that of our Ministry and Government for they have not addressed these issues with the necessary determination and political will despite these problems having been raised many times over the last decade or more.

35% of Science and Math teachers lack English proficiency

Is it a surprise that the MOE is considering getting rid of teaching Science and Math in English when 35% of its teachers have a poor command of English? Again, this is one in a long line of bad implementation projects in the education system in Malaysia. I didn't know whether to laugh or cry when I read this line:

The Government, he said, had provided all types of assistance to these teachers to improve their command of English, including monetary facilities to reference books and tuition classes. "We found that teachers used these monetary aids provided by the Ministry for other unrelated purposes," he added.

USM - the new Apex university

USM has been named the Apex University, beating out UM. Among other things, being named as the Apex university will allow USM to have more 'autonomy in finance, service scheme, management, student intake, study fees and determining the top leadership'. I've always had more positive things to say about USM compared to UM partly because I think that the VC there - Dzulkifli Abdul Razak - is more progressive and visionary compared to the VC at UM. Hopefully this will give another boost to USM in its efforts to improve and upgrade itself.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Not sure if I want to receive this Honorary PhD

Found this NST advertorial from Lim Kit Siang's blog. I'll reproduce it below and let our readers judge for themselves. Whoever wrote this advertorial should be fired!

D.K.II, S.P.M.J., S.P.C.M.

Yang Amat Mulia Raja Zarith Sofiah binti Almarhum Sultan Idris Al-Mutawakil Alallahi Shah has born on 14th of August 1959 in Hospital Batu Gajah, Perak. Yang Amat Mulia Raja Zarith is a third son to Duli Yang Maha Mulia Paduka Seri Sultan Perak Darul Ridzwan and Duli Yang Maha Mulia Raja Mazuwin binti almarhum Raja Arif Shah.

Yang Amat Mulia Raja Zarith Sofiah get early education in Sekolah Rendah Jenis Kebangsaan Datin Khadijah Kuala Kangsar in the state his birthplace namely in Perak. After end of the education in primary school, Yang Amat Mulia continue the education to form one at Sekolah Jenis Kebangsaan Raja Perempuan Kalsom Kuala Kangsar, Perak.

In the month of September 1972, Yang Amat Mulia Raja Zarith Sofiah have set forth to England for further education in Chaltenham Ladies College, Gloucestershire to form six. Then, Yang Amat Mulia continue learning it in Davies College London in September 1977 and his following year in receive enter to Somerville College, London after having passed Oxford Entrance Examination.

After graduated at Oxford University with Bachelor of Art in June 1983 and follow the traditional University of Oxford, Yang Amat Mulia Raja Zarith will receive Master of Art after three years in 1986. Yang Amat Mulia also is a linguist follow several courses including language Mandarin at the tertiary level, French and Italy language.

As his father, Yang Amat Mulia Raja Zarith Sofiah is a person that talented in picture arts. Refinement of soul, Yang Amat Mulia always watching natural beauty environment immortalize in the form photograph and painting to make look and reference. Yang Amat Mulia Raja Zarith performance become guide to deliver the message education to general public. Yang Amat Mulia concern on women and natural world and it custody aspect in become deep theme in painting.

Yang Amat Mulia Raja Zarith Sofiah comply have interest profoundest field documentation. Apart from producing book, Yang Amat Mulia Raja Zarith doubled up guest writer in the The New Straits Times newspapers and in personal column it “Mind Matters” in The Star newspaper. Besides writing, Yang Amat Mulia comply active presenting a working paper at the conference national level and international.

Education from her father and mother over concern to the people, make Yang Amat Mulia Raja Zarith Sofiah likes engaged in voluntary activities about as Deputy President of Majlis Wanita Johor (ROSE), Chief of Persatuan Pandu Puteri Malaysia Johor branch, Chairman of Nationalistic Community Service Red Crescent Malaysia, Patron of Spastic Children School in Johor Bahru, Patron Rotary Club of Tebrau Foundation, Advisor of Traditional Arts School International in London and become Pro Chancellor University Technology Malaysia (UTM) and becomen Royal Felllow Faculty of Language and Linguistic University Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM).

As the appreciation towards her contributions of ideas and efforts in the development of education in Malaysia, Chancellor of University Tun Hussein Onn Malaysia, Duli Yang Amat Mulia Tunku lbrahim lsmail lbni Sultan lskandar, Tunku Mahkota Johor, has approbation to presented the awards to Yang Amat Mulia Raja Zarith Sofiah binti Almarhum Sultan Idris Al-Mutawakil Alallahi Shah the Honorary Doctorate of Philosophy in Education at 7th Convocation Ceremony of University Tun Hussein Onn Malaysia in this year. Congratulation from us, University Tun Hussein Onn Malaysia members.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Congrats Prof Khalid!

Congrats to Prof Khalid Abdul Kadir for being the recipient of the first Merdeka award for Health, Science and Technology. Prof Khalid is the head of the Johor Baru Monash University Clinical School and his area of specialty is the treatment of diabetes. With so much depressing news of politicians seeking bogus PhDs and VCs having lousy CVs, it is good to read about a genuine academic who cares about his area of research. I don't know much about the research of diabetes but I do know that a simple google search reveals that Prof Khalid has quite a few publications in refereed journals. I'm guessing that Monash would not have made him the head of their clinical school in JB if he was a sub par academic.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Two years at Harvard Business School

Just read a book written by a journalist, Philip Delves Broughton, who attended Harvard Business School or HBS, as it is popularly known, and wrote about his experiences there. It's a much cheaper way to get a sense of what studying at HBS is like and definitely less stressful!

There is no doubt that HBS is the most powerful brand name in terms of business schools (sorry Wharton). What I found interesting about this book is that the author is very unlike the type A, super intense and incredibly driven individuals that one typically finds at HBS. He doesn't have any background in finance, he didn't even know how to use excel when he first attended HBS and didn't know the management speak that is common currency in these circles.

Although he finds himself being critical of some of the attitudes adopted by some of his colleagues - those type A people - he also writes very fondly of some of them. Some of them are actually nice people who don't want to work in the two industries most associated with HBS graduates - investment banking and management consultancy. (Not to say that ibankers and management consultants are not nice people :))

And I think through his journey at HBS, he actually slowly finds himself being more comfortable in the world of balance sheets, financial ratios and management jargon. He begins to write more sympathetically about the kind of stuff which you learn at HBS and even some of his experiences. He goes for that mandatory interview with Mckinsey (he didn't get the job), he pitches an idea to a venture capitalist, he visits the HQ of Google in California.

In the end, his path was not the same taken by most of his fellow graduates. He was the only one from his class that did not have a job when he graduated. I think he spent some time writing this book and doing some small consultancy projects here and there. For those of you who want to get a sense of the academic and career challenges that one faces in a place like HBS, I definitely recommend this book. There are some parts in which he discusses some of the details of what he learned at HBS which some might find boring but these snippets, in my opinion, are still instructive. While this is not as exciting as Michael Lewis' Liar's Poker, I found it to be well written and an instructive read.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

UM and possibly USM to become Apex Universities?

Looks like UM is likely to get designated to be an Apex university which will allow it to get more funding and autonomy and perhaps USM as well. UKM and UPM will not be happy. My sense is that it probably makes more sense to have 2 universities designated as Apex universities so that there will be some level of competition. But without a radical restructuring of how research and teaching and admissions are conducted and without a qualified and politically independent VC in place, I cannot imagine UM and USM breaking into the ranks of the top 100 universities in the world.

Monday, August 25, 2008

HP and AMD scholarships

Hey guys, just got notification of this pretty cool scholarship being offered by HP and AMD. There are three scholarships worth RM25,000 each and as well as a HP notebook. (The last three laptops I've bought have been HPs and they've worked great for me. And no, I'm not being paid by HP to say this.:)) There are no bonds associated with this scholarship and the closing data is Sept 30, 2008. For more details, please go to this site.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Bogus PhD confirmed

Well, our suspicions have been proven correct. We first highlighted this issue here and Malaysiakini has confirmed it here. The BN candidate for the Permatang Pauh by-election, Arif Shah, was indeed enrolled in a bogus PhD program. Too bad the Malaysiakini article didn't highlight that we first brought it up here, thanks to Sree's sharp eyes. Also, in the same Mkini article, he said that he obtained his diploma from the Federal Institute of Technology in KL so there goes the 'fact' that he studied in NTU in Singapore. I think this points to a larger problem with UMNO and perhaps the BN, that politicians are increasingly pressured to have degrees so much so that they feel they have to go out and buy one. Really sad.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Why do we go to university

I know that I said that I'll lay of the UiTM issue for a while but I can't help but publish this insightful letter written by Oon Yeoh, my partner in crime for our Malaysiakini Realpolitik podcasts. I've reproduced the letter in full below.

Why do we go to university?
Oon Yeoh | Aug 19, 08 5:08pm

University life seems like an eternity ago and I barely remember any of my professors or the subjects they taught me. There was, however, one memorable lesson given by a guest lecturer whose name I cannot recall but whose message still resonates with me until today.

In light of the controversy that followed Selangor MB Khalid Ibrahim's suggestion that UiTM open itself to some non-Malays, I would like to share what I learned from that guest lecturer who was invited to give a talk in the sports journalism class I was taking.

He was a baseball expert but when he took to the podium, he told us that he was not going to talk about America's favourite pastime.
Instead, he had a question for all of us: "Why are you all in college?"

That seemed like an easy enough question to answer. Several students quickly put up their hands.

"So we can get a good job one day and make lots of money!" said one student, to loud laughter.

The lecturer smiled and said, "Come on, we all know that there are many people who never went to college and are rich beyond imagination."

"To get an education," said another student.

"You don't necessarily have to go to college to do that," the lecturer said. "Many people get their education through the school of hard knocks."

Another student said, "To get a degree. You can't get that unless you go to university."

To that, the lecturer replied, "That's not true. You can take correspondence courses."

At that point, everybody seemed stumped so the lecturer finally said, "The main reason you go to college is to learn to socialise" and he proceeded to elaborate.

When you graduate and enter the work force, you will be surrounded by generally like-minded people with roughly the same educational background and social status.

If you are in banking, the people around you would have probably studied finance. If you are in the medical field, the people you mingle with will be fellow doctors and nurses. And if you are in architecture, your network of friends and associates will inevitably be those in the building and construction industry.

Unless you happen to have a very unique job that requires you to mingle with a broad range of people, the harsh reality is that your world will be constrained by your career choices.

College is the only time in your life when you are exposed to all kinds of people from all walks of life and from very different backgrounds – unless of course you go to UiTM.

While preparing to do a podcast on the controversy surrounding Khalid's comments, my podcasting partner, Ong Kian Ming, said something remarkably similar to what the guest lecturer had said. "The whole idea of a university is for different people to get together and interact."

He's spot on, just as the guest lecturer was. If you don't learn how to deal with a myriad of people and expose yourself to different worldviews when you are in the spring time of your life – when you are young and carefree – how will you ever be able to do so when you enter the "real world" and have to cope with the challenges and insecurities of carving out a career and struggling to make ends meet every month?

As mentioned earlier, your world will naturally constrained by the career track that you choose. But if you've had exposure to diversity early on, you would have a better chance of broadening your network beyond what would normally be the case – because you learned how to do so when you were young.

I was very lucky to have attended a cosmopolitan American university which had students from all over the US and indeed, the world. I had classmates from every continent. Some were rich, some poor; some were from developed countries, some from the third world. But in college, all of us were equals - we attended class together, we did assignments together, we played together.

Not to denigrate the value of academic lessons – they are important, of course – but my experiences in dealing with and socialising with classmates who were very different from me played a bigger role in my personal growth and development than any specific subjects I learned.

Granted, there are no universities in Malaysia that can offer the diversity you could find in popular American universities, which make it a point to take in students from all over the world.

But Malaysia does have a pretty diverse population. Even without the benefit of foreign students, there's a lot that our young people can learn from schoolmates of different ethnicity, religions and backgrounds. What a shame if we don't give them a chance to do that.

In our most recent podcast article, Kian Ming and I asked: "Can UiTM really aspire to be a world-class university if all the students there are of one particular race?" The people who are protesting Khalid's suggestion would do well to ponder upon this rhetorical question.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Interested on US Undergraduate Education?

Hear from current students and alumni!

There's something all of us speaking at this panel have in common. We've had the benefit of an educational philosophy that emphasises more than professional training - an education system that avoids the mass production of cookie-cutter citizens, unlike the universities many other countries. We've enjoyed incredible opportunities to grow as individuals, and often at the expense of the very institutions we attend. But for every one of us, there are many who could have had the same experience, yet for some reason simply ended up elsewhere.

Some of you might remember this letter one of us wrote to a local media outlet some months back, which highlighted the incredible dearth of information about the opportunities America offers.

This Saturday the 23rd 2.00pm we're doing our little bit to change this sad situation. At the Descartes Education Counselling Centre in Damansara Utama, a group of us - current students and alumni from various American universities and liberal arts colleges - will be speaking on the hows, the whys, the whats of applying to American institutions of higher education. We hope you'll join us.

Speakers include:
  • Mohd Hafiz Noor Sham (Michigan)
  • Nathaniel Tan (Harvard)
  • Andrew Loh (Swathmore)
  • Ng Eng Han (Dartmouth)
  • John Lee ML (Dartmouth)
But more than that, we hope you'll help us spread the word. There are many bright students out there who do not realise the scope of financial aid available, or the life-changing possibilities of a liberal arts education. If you have any friends who are interested in learning more, please, invite them and bring them along. If you have contacts at local colleges or secondary schools, please let them know about this upcoming talk. Even passing this email along is enough. And if you run a blog or website, please help us get the word out.

Or you can view the details on Facebook.

In the group pictures are a map to the venue, and a poster for the event. If you're interested in helping distribute the poster, please get in touch with and we can talk about reimbursement for photocopying costs, etc.

Topics include:
  • Introduction to the Liberal Arts Concept
  • Liberal Arts College vs Research University
  • The advantages and disadvantages of a Liberal Arts college
  • Future Prospects of a Liberal Arts Degree
There will be an open-ended Q&A session at the end for further discussion. Please help spread the message. The hall can sit 80 persons.

Banning Noraini's book

I read that Dr. Norani Othman's edited volume "Muslim Women and the Challenge of Islamic Extremism" has been banned by the Home Ministry on the grounds that it 'twisted facts on Islam that can undermine the faith of Muslims'. This is a bunch of crock.

I know Norani professional and personally. I contributed a couple of articles in a recent book entitled 'Elections and Democracy in Malaysia' which called into question many aspects of the electoral system in Malaysia. Thankfully, that book wasn't banned.

Norani or 'Noi', as she is known among friends in Malaysia, is a respected and well published academic and I have tremendous respect for her as an academic. I am sure that her edited volume takes a critical look at the impact of Islam both on the part of the BN as well as on the part of PAS and other Islamic bodies / movements in the country but I am equally sure that only a small part of the Malaysian community would have made the effort to read this book, given its academic nature.

I am against the banning of books in general since I think that one should be intelligent enough to judge if a book is worth reading or not and if one wants to be exposed to the ideas expounded in a particular book. But I am especially against the banning of academic books which are supposed to adopt a critical eye on the issues of the day. How can our higher institutions of learning be taken seriously if freedom of thought and expression is restricted and the works of some scholars are banned by the authorities? Such a notion would be greeted with absolute contempt in the US, UK or any developed country that respects the freedom of thought and expression. I guess Malaysia lives by different rules.

UUCA - Innocent Until Proven Guilty?

I have written earlier on the constitutionality as well as enforceability of the University and University Colleges Act amendments.

While UUCA decriminalised offences, i.e., students who breached its laws are no longer subjected to court action and be punishable by fines or jail sentences, they are still subjected to university disciplinary hearings, which may or may not be more fair.

At the same time, students who are charged with other offences in court, will also be subjected to such disciplinary actions, where the Vice-Chancellor or his/her deputy will have the right punish the student, including suspending him or her.
Innocent until proven guilty?

Tuan Yang Di-Pertua, di bawah seksyen 15D yang baru, naib-canselor berkuasa menggantung seseorang pelajar yang “dipertuduh atas kesalahan boleh daftar dan perkara yang berhubungan dengan penahanan” mengikut budi bicara naib-canselor. Pelajar tersebut juga boleh dikenakan tindakan tatatertib.

Bukankah seksyen ini bercanggah dengan prinsip di mana seseorang adalah dengan izin, “innocent until proven guilty”? Ataupun Malaysia kini mengamalkan dua sistem keadilan, satu mengikut sistem penghakiman untuk rakyat biasa, dan satu lagi untuk pelajar institusi pengajian tinggi? Bukankah masa hadapan pelajar-pelajar ini lebih penting dan tidak patut dijejaskan, dan sebaliknya dipertahankan kecuali tuduhan-tuduhan tersebut dapat dibuktikan “beyond reasonable doubt”.

Dengan secara ternyata, Akta AUKU ini prinsip “natural justice”.

In an unrelated point, but which was validly raised by Prof Zawawi during a recent forum, was that the UUCA severely limits the way in which the University could be managed in terms of the rigidity of the University structure. Specific postions such as various posts, composition of the board of directors, senate etc. are all enshrined in the UUCA. With such control, we will only find uniformity in mediocrity.
Rigidity in University Structure

Kementerian Pengajian Tinggi berhasrat untuk membina institusi yang bertaraf dunia. Akan tetapi pada masa yang sama, Akta AUKU membentukkan struktur organisasi institusi dengan keras dan tanpa kelonggaran untuk diubahsuai mengikut prinsip pengurusan yang berbeza. Bukan sahaja naib-canselor dan timbalan-timbalannya perlu dilantik oleh Menteri, pembukaan kampus baru, perlantikan ketua kampus cawang, bursar, pendaftar dan juga seorang “penasihat undang-undang” pun perlu dikuasai oleh Menteri. Malah, jawatan “Ketua Pustakawan” pun tertakluk kepada Akta ini.

Akta AUKU ini terlalu tegang dan tidak memberikan ruang perkembangan fleksibel yang mencukupi untuk universiti tempatan untuk menetapkan ciri-ciri pengurusan tersendiri untuk mencapai matlamat kecemerlangan.

Sebaliknya, penguasaan Kementerian ke atas universiti dan kolej universiti dalam faktor-faktor yang telah dihujahkan hanya akan menghadkan dan menyeragamkan pencapaian mereka pada tahap “mediocre”.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

UUCA - Unenforceable

The second point with regards to my speech on the amendments to the University and University Colleges Act has to do with their enforceability. There's really no point putting up laws which are impossible to enforce or are meaningless in nature. Unless of course, the laws are meant to be used selectively to prosecute only those who goes againts the wishes of the vested interest parties.

Tuan Yang Di-Pertua, apabila undang-undang diluluskan, ianya mestilah berfungsi penguatkuasaan, ataupun dengan izin, “enforceable”. Apabila sesebuah undang-undang dicairkan “watered down” sehingga tidak berfungsi penguatkuasaan, ianya menjadi satu undang-undang yang tidak berguna dan tidak bermakna, “useless and meaningless”. Akta pindaan yang tengah kita berbahas ini mempunyai beberapa seksyen sebegitu.

(a)Search Committee

Saya amat mengalu-alukan penubuhan sebuah jawatankuasa pemilihan dan penilaian untuk memilih seseorang naib-canselor, akan tetapi provisi di bawah pindaan Akta ini amat mengecewakan.

Untuk menaiktarafkan mutu institusi pengajian tinggi di Malaysia, peranan seseorang naib-canselor adalah penting sekali. Hanya dengan naib-canselor yang mempunyai pencapaian akademik yang cemerlang dan juga pengurusan yang cekap, sebuah universiti dapat dipimpin ke arah cemerlang.

Kita tidak memerlukan seorang naib-canselor yang berkriteria “ahli UMNO seumur hidup” dan penerbitan akademiknya terhad kepada “Gaya Hidup Remaja Masa Kini” dalam majalah yang diterbit universitinya sendiri. Ataupun seorang naib-canselor yang sumbangannya memberikan taklimat "Gerakan Anti Kerajaan Pelajar-Pelajar di Kampus - Pengalaman UiTM" kepada ketua bahagian UMNO seMalaysia.

Dalam setiap universiti terkemuka di dunia, jawatankuasa ini adalah di lantik oleh Lembaga universiti dan permohonan diterima daripada sesiapa yang berminat. Segala usaha ditumpukan untuk menarik calon yang terunggul sekali dari segi akademik dan pengurusan untuk memimpin universiti tersebut. Jawatankuasa juga perlu memilih calon mengikut kriteria-kriteria yang tertentu seperti jumlah penerbitan dalam jurnal terkemuka antarabangsa dan lain-lain.

Akan tetapi pindaan Akta ini, jawatankuasa khas ini hanya mempunyai hak “menasihati” Menteri mengenai perlantikan. Apatah lagi, Menteri hanya diperlukan melantik jawatankuasa ini dari “semasa ke semasa” dan ianya bukan satu jawatankuasa tetap.

Apakah gunanya satu pindaan yang langsung tidak berfungsi dan tidak berlainan dengan keadaan sekarang? Menteri pun boleh melantik satu jawatankuasa
tanpa pindaan jika dikehendaki, dan kuasa jawatankuasa ini hanya terhad kepada “nasihat” sahaja iaitu Menteri tidak perlu menerima keputusan jawatankuasa.

Pada masa yang sama, isu pengahlian, skop dan juga ruang lingkup “terms of reference” jawatankuasa ini juga langsung tidak dikemukakan. Apakah gunanya satu jawatankuasa di mana bidang tugasnya tidak spesifik dan kriteria pengahlian yang tinggi dan telus?

Pindaan ini langsung tidak berfungsi penguatkuasaan dari segi undang-undang dan ianya hanya satu kegiatan perhubungan awam ataupun dengan izin, public relations exercise sahaja yang tidak bermakna.

(b)Definition of students

Takrif 'pelajar' yang dipinda untuk termasuk pelajar lepas ijazah “post grad”, lepas kedoktoran “postdoctoral”, pelajar sambilan, jarak jauh, penukaran dan tidak berijazah adalah langsung tidak praktikal.

Undang-undang yang tidak dapat diperkuatkuasakan adalah undang-undang yang tidak berguna, kecuali kerajaan berniat untuk menggunakan undang-undang ini untuk menjalankan “dakwaan terpilih” ataupun “selective prosecution”.

Adakah kementerian akan memerlukan ke semua borang permohonan masuk universiti mengisytiharkan bahawa mereka adalah ahli parti UMNO, MCA ataupun PAS?

Takrif 'pelajar' ini menghinakan rakyat Malaysia dewasa yang berfikiran matang di mana hak perlembagaan mereka digantung. Ianya juga merupakan satu faktor negatif untuk menarik lebih ramai rakyat untuk melanjutkan pendidikan mereka di institusi pengajian tinggi Malaysia.

Once again, feel free to help me edit my language errors. ;-)

Monday, August 18, 2008

UUCA - Constitutionality

The Act to amend the University and University Collges Act 1971 will be tabled either at the end of this week or early next week for debate in Parliament. I will leading the team from DAP to debate on this act. Each of us will probably get approximately 20 minutes to debate the issue, maybe less depending on total time allocated to debate the bill.

Our key objective is to have the bill postponed or referred to a special select committee for consideration and fine-tuning before it gets passed in parliament. While the best outcome will be the abolishment of the bill in its existing form altogether, that's probably too much to ask in a parliament which the opposition do not have anywhere near majority control.

I'll be posting my work-in-progress speeches up here first, part by part. Yes, it's in Bahasa Malaysia (Malay). There are really a lot of points to add, but it's useful to be concise as there just wouldn't be sufficient time to say everything we'd like to say. I'd also not be covering every issue as some of the points will be raised by my other colleagues in Parliament.

The first point (out of about 6) I'd like to make in the speech is the fact that many parts of the Act actually possess clauses which are actually unconstitutional i.e., they conflict with our Federal Constitution. (Oh, and corrections to grammar and language are welcome)

Pertama sekali, banyak antara seksyen-seksyen dalam Akta AUKU adalah dengan secara langsung, bercanggah dengan Perlembagaan Malaysia. Jika pindaan ini diluluskan dalam Dewan ini, ia akan merupakan satu tanda hitam “black mark” dan menjadi satu bahan jenaka “laughing stock” seluruh dunia.

Perlembagaan kita melalui Artikel 10 (1a) dan (1b) mempertahankan hak kebebasan “speech and expression” dan juga hak berhimpun secara aman tanpa senjata untuk rakyat Malaysia kecuali dalam isu spesifik seperti bahasa kebangsaan dan kedaulatan raja-raja Melayu.

Akan tetapi, mengikut Seksyen 15(6), seorang pelajar hanya boleh “membuat penyataan mengenai sesuatu perkara akademik yang berhubungan dengan perkara yang pelajar itu terlibat dalam pengajian.” Malah, kebenaran tersebut hanya sah untuk penyataan “pada sesuatu seminar atau simposium seumpamanya yang tidak dianjurkan atau ditaja oleh mana-mana parti politik, sama ada di dalam atau di luar Malaysia”, dan juga “mana-mana pertubuhan, badan atau kumpulan orang yang ditetapkan oleh Menteri”.

Artikel 8 juga menjamin bahawa dengan izin, “All persons are equal before the law and entitled to equal protection of the law”. Hak sebuah badan pendidikan, akademik dan juga pelajar tidak dikecualikan daripada artikel tersebut.

Oleh itu, mengapa pelajar kita menghadapi hak yang terhad berbanding dengan rakyat yang bukan pelajar, khususnya dari segi speech dan perhimpunan? Dan mengapa pelajar Malaysia dalam negeri dipinggirkan berbanding dengan pelajar Malaysia di luar negeri, yang mempunyai hak yang penuh, termasuk mencampuri kelab politik UMNO, MCA dan lain-lain?

Apa gunanya Dewan ini meluluskan satu Akta yang nyata sekali bercanggah dengan Perlembagaan Malaysia yang patut dipertahankan oleh setiap ahli parlimen? Adakah ahli parlimen Barisan Nasional sanggup menutup satu mata dan meluluskan satu Akta Undang-Undang yang salah dari segi perlembagaan?

Sunday, August 17, 2008

UiTM - The Political Angle

This will be the last post I will make on the UiTM issue unless something new crops up. In a piece written by myself and Oon Yeoh in Malaysiakini, as part of our regular Realpolitik podcasts, we examine the political angle of Khalid's statements.

Selangor MB's unnecessary honesty
Ong Kian Ming & Oon Yeoh | Aug 16, 08 10:39am

Sometimes, politicians make remarks which are calculated to win over certain political constituencies. At other times, politicians make remarks without much regard to the political impact of their statements.

Selangor Menteri Besar Khalid Ibrahim's statement on opening up UiTM to non-Malays clearly falls in the latter category. While those statements were made in good faith, Khalid's political inexperience showed when he made those remarks, which does not win him additional non-Malay support and probably lost him some Malay support at a crucial time for PKR and for Pakatan Rakyat.

Khalid Ibrahim's statements were not intended to win over non-Malay support, contrary to allegations by some, including the UiTM vice-chancellor, that they were made in view of the Permatang Pauh by-election.

Non-Malays were not clamouring to get into UiTM in the first place and in all likelihood, even if 10 percent of the places there were opened up to non-Malays, it would not be filled up easily. The opening up of the Mara colleges to non-Malays is a good example in point.

Much more salient to the non-Malay community are the issues of the allocation of JPA (Public Service Department) scholarships and the quotas in public universities rather than the opening up of UiTM to non-Malays.

Ironically, Khalid's statements were made in response to a question on how the education standards at UiTM could be improved for the benefit of the Malays. All this nuance was somehow lost in the clamour of protests by certain groups of UiTM students, the vice-chancellor and a litany of other Malay rights groups.

Khalid quickly found himself embroiled in a situation which economists or political scientists would term 'an asymmetry of preferences'. On the one hand, there was a group of highly motivated individuals who strongly objected to the spirit of Khalid's suggestion (and it was only that, a suggestion) and who were ready to mobilise support against Khalid.

On the other hand, there are also Malays who feel that opening up the UiTM to non-Malays might not be such a bad idea but who do not feel strongly enough to mount protests in support of Khalid's suggestion.

This comes at a time when the 'Malay' credentials of PKR and Pakatan is increasingly under attack.

PAS' commitment to Pakatan has been questioned on the grounds that Malay rights and Islam had been sidelined, Ezam Mohd Nor quitting PKR on the grounds that it was becoming a multiracial rather than a Malay-led (albeit multiracial) party and the accusations by Dr Mahathir Mohamad that the Malays were losing their rights in their own country are all examples of politicians playing up fears among the Malay community, a fear which PKR and Pakatan cannot afford to ignore. Khalid's remarks just added more fuel to this already combustible mixture.

Lost amidst of the political rhetoric surrounding Khalid's remarks, was the larger question which he was trying to address. Can UiTM aspire to be a 'world-class' university if all the students in this university was of one particular race? Is this a realistic goal, especially given that these students are not admitted on a particularly selective basis?

This is akin to saying that we want to be Harvard but we don't care about the quality of the students admitted as long as they are from one ethnic group. Do the UiTM students suffer in any way in the long term, in terms of their career and their outlook in life, because they studied in a mono-ethnic, mono-religious environment?

These are certainly issues which should be addressed and these are challenges that will long remain after the political rhetoric has died down.

Symbolic measures won’t help

Even those who support Khalid's suggestion need to question the basis of their support. Will opening up UiTM to non-Malays necessarily improve the education standards there?

Our top public universities such as UM, UKM and USM comprise of students from all ethnic groups but that has not prevented the quality and standard of education there to plummet over the past few decades?

Do they seriously think that there will be a sudden clamour among the non-Malays to try to get into UiTM if spaces are made available, especially given the many other choices available to them?

Will there be beneficial interaction between the Malays and non-Malays if spaces are opened up?

The sad truth is that our public university system cannot be revived with just a few symbolic measures here and there. It requires an overhaul that involves many structural changes that goes far beyond changing just the ethnic composition of the student body.

Khalid is powerless in his capacity as MB of Selangor to enact any changes within UiTM which is under the federal jurisdiction of Higher Education Ministry. He was well aware of this when he made his now controversial remarks.

In view of the aftermath, Khalid would surely think twice before he says something which could be interpreted as equally controversial and political damaging, for him, his party and Pakatan. Sometimes honesty might not be the best policy, especially when you have others ready to pounce upon and exploit your statements.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Spotlight on UiTM - The Issues

After focusing on the UiTM VC previously, I want to touch on the issues highlighted by this recent controversy.

Let's step away from the politics of the statement and examine the its implications. If the VC and some of the UiTM students want to maintain UiTM as a mono-ethnic institution, then they have to consider the following. They should abandon any pretense of trying to achieve a 'world class' status university. Not that this was achievable in the first place anyways. But there is no university in the world that comprise of only one ethnic group and can be considered anywhere close to first class. Furthermore, it's not as if UiTM selects the best and the brightest among the Malays / Bumiputeras in the first place. My understanding is that it's pretty easy to get in, as long as you are a Malay / Bumi. Being mono-ethnic and being non selective, this VC and others following in his footsteps should just give up the pretense of trying to build a 'world class' university.

I've not thought about this issue from this angle since I always assumed that one of the main pillars surrounding university life was the pursuit of scholarship in the midst of diversity, not just in terms of ideas but also amidst people of different ethnic groups, income levels, etc... The idea that a university can call itself as such but reserve its places totally for students of one ethnic group just belies belief in some sense. We've always had ethnic quotas in our public universities but there was always ethnic diversity. Walk into any university in the US, from the best like Harvard to some which have never been heard of in Malaysia, or go to any university in any developed country, you'll see students of different ethnicities and nationality.

For our Malay / Bumi readers who disagree with Khalid's suggestion, try to answer this question - Name me one other university in any country, developed or developing, where the students are of only one ethnicity. If you want to argue semantics in that UiTM comprises more than one ethnic group (Malays and the different Bumiputera groups in Sabah and Sarawak), then do this - name me one other university in any country, developed or developing, which does not allow members of a certain race entry into that university.

You had this kind of policy in the American South before desegregation and you had this kind of policy in apartheid South Africa. But now in South Africa, the only other country in the world that practices affirmative action for the majority population, universities are totally desegregated and there are no universities which are reserved only for the black population.

In other words, Malaysia is probably the only country in the world which restricts citizens of a certain race (in this care, more than one race) from applying and gaining entry into one of its universities (or in effect, the entire UiTM system).

In this light, one might even say that UiTM does not even fulfill the conventional understanding of what a university is, at least not by international standards.

Let's take this a step further. Let's say that 10% of the places in UiTM are opened up to non-Malays. What is the likelihood that these places will be snapped up in a hurry? My sense is that they will not. 10% of the places in the MARA colleges were opened up to non-Malays a few years back and indications are that this quota is nowhere near being filled. There are just too many options for non-Malays out there these days. The many public unis, the private colleges, the many twinning programs etc... makes UiTM probably one of the last places that they would want to go. If this is the case, then the argument that non-Malays would be somehow 'stealing' the places of Malays does not stand. In any case, the options for Malay students in terms of universities are probably more than that of the non-Malays. It is not as if a Malay / Bumi student who fails to get into UiTM will not have the option of going to another public uni.

This is not to say that I agree that Khalid's suggestion will necessarily solve the problem which he identified. His reasoning was that by allowing non-Malays and international students to gain entry into UiTM, this would increase the standards of UiTM as well as giving the opportunity for the Malay / Bumi students in UiTM to mix with students of other ethnic groups and hence be more exposed to the world and can have better career prospects.

This might be a nice ideal to have but I suspect that allowing non-Malays and internationals to gain entry into UiTM will neither improve the standards of education in UiTM nor will it necessarily be better for the Malay / Bumi students in terms of exposure. After all, UM, USM and UKM, probably the top three public unis in Malaysia are ethnically mixed but this has not prevented the standards there from dropping over the past few decades. And there is not guarantee that the current situation of de facto racial segregation in our public unis will not be replicated in UiTM if non-Malays are allowed in.

UiTM needs much more than just allowing non-Malays entry if it wants to improve itself. There needs to be wholesale structural re-arrangement is this is to happen.

Ultimately, the losers from this whole episode will likely to be the UiTM students. The other public unis, especially the research universities - UM, USM, UKM, UPM - are moving forward and trying to be more open. If there is going to be any improvement in our universities, it is likely to start with these public universities and not UiTM, especially given that it has a VC who is an UMNO 'lifer' and an ITM 'lifer'.

P.S. I think that another negative side effect of this episode is that some non-Bumi employers might discriminate, implicitly or explicitly, against UiTM graduates, exacerbating the already serious problem about unemployed UiTM graduates.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Fake Degree in Permatang Pauh?

Thanks Sree for pointing this out to me. Disclaimer first: I am not commenting on the record of political service of the BN candidate in the upcoming by election in Permatang Pauh - Arif Shah Oman Shah. I am merely pointing out his academic credentials, which were listed in the Star recently. It says that he has a Diploma in Civil Engineering (no university / college given) and that he's currently pursuing a PhD at the Edison University of Technology (off campus program).

Sree pointed out to me that there is not such institution as the Edison University of Technology. To give the YB the benefit of the doubt, it is very possible that the Star might have misquoted his education credentials. I knew a reporter who's a good friend who misheard Lim Si Pin, the Deputy Youth Chief of GERAKAN, and thought that he had double degrees from YALE while in fact, Si Pin had graduated from WALES.

So could it be possible that YB Arif Shah Oman Shah was pursuing a PhD at the Thomas Edison State College? Perhaps. Only problem is that this college does not offer than PhD programs whether it is in house or off campus. It only offers Masters level programs are none of them are Engineering programs which I assume is the PhD which the YB should be pursuing given his background.

Perhaps he's referring to Edison College, a small college in Florida? Could be but the only problem with that theory is that this is an undergraduate only institution. Nothing about PhDs or distance learning programs on its website.

Could he be referring to the Edison Welding Institute?

Maybe he decided to branch out of engineering and go into biotechnology and is doing a PhD with the Edison Institute of Biotechnology at the Ohio University?

This is the only reference I could find on the Edison Institute of Technology and it brings you to a rare book website selling a book that is signed by Thomas Edison and is selling for US2,500.

Maybe the YB actually didn't say Edison. Maybe he said Madison Institute of Cosmetology instead of the Edison Institute of Technology?

Or perhaps he was talking about the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) or maybe the California Institute of Technology (Caltech)?

Or it could have been the Mara Institute of Technology? Except that it is called UiTM now or University Teknologi Mara?

Let's hope that he's not referring to Edison University, apparently operated by the wife of Thomas James Kirk who is in prison for creating diploma mills.

My sense of the matter is this. Because of the immense competition that takes place in the context of UMNO politics, having a degree is becoming much more important than before. He probably felt the pressure of having only a Diploma and wanted to advance his academic credentials. Instead of doing a proper degree at the Bachelor's level or even an MBA from one of the local colleges (which does not require one to have a Bachelor's), he was probably thinking, why not go all out? Why not go for a PhD instead? And since there's no way that a full time politician has the time to do a PhD, why not take the shortcut and get a fake PhD? I'm not sure how he came across Edison University but it could have been one of the places which was promoting itself as a destination for obtaining fake PhDs. He might have enrolled in the course sometime back but then didn't follow up on the procedures to obtain this PhD. When the reporter asked him about his academic qualifications, he might have forgotten the exact name of the university and blurted out Edison Institute of Technology given that it was probably an engineering PhD he was pursuing.

I'll see if any of the editors of the online newspapers will bite on this. Thanks again Sree.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Spotlight on UiTM VC

After reading about UiTM students protesting against the Selangor MB's proposal to open up 10% of the places at UiTM to non-Malays, I decided to do a bit of 'investigative reporting' on UiTM. Initially I wanted to write about the philosophy of UiTM and how it might or might not be compatible with allowing non-Malays into UiTM. I'll write about this in part II of this spotlight but for Part I, I want to point our readers to the qualifications of the current VC of UiTM, Dato' Seri Prof Dr Ibrahim Abu Shah.

The esteemed VC lashed out at Khalid Ibrahim saying that "UiTM was the last educational bastion for the Malays and other Bumiputeras to help change their lot, hence no quarters should interfere with its founding objectives and administration."

So I thought that it was fair game for us to take a closer look at the qualifications of the VC. It is not the first time that the VC has appeared on this blog. Tony has highlighted him before here, here and here.

His VC webpage can be accessed here and he has been the VC of UiTM since 2001. He is an UiTM 'lifer', if you will. He graduated with a Diploma in Public Administration from ITM in 1971 (before ITM achieved its current university status). He then worked as an Executive Officer in the Malaysian Treasury from 1971 to 1972. He then left to further his studies in the US and obtained his BA in Economics from Ohio University in 1974 and an MA in Sociology from the same university in 1975 (must have been a good student to finish a BA and MA in 3 years!).

He then came back and was the deputy dean of students affairs at ITM Shah Alam, the site of its current flagship campus from 1976 to 1982. He then transitioned to a senior lecturer from 1981 to 1991. During this time, he took leave and obtained his PhD from the University of Maryland in Government and Politics. (For those of you who don't know, Maryland is a pretty good state university and I know that their polisci department is pretty good as well)

The title of his dissertation was:

"The use of higher education as an intervention strategy in the economic development of a plural society : a case study of Mara Institute of Technology in the economic policy of Malaysia"

In fact, this piece of work is the only academic reference I could find for the esteemed VC when I did a google scholar search under his name.

Upon his return from the US, newly minted PhD in hand, he was made the Provost of ITM Sarawak. During this time, I'm guessing that ITM expanded throughout the country in an aggressive manner. He was made the Deputy VC (Academics) in 1998 and because VC in 2001.

So, let's summarize his work and life experience thus far. He got his diploma from ITM and apart from one year at the Malaysian treasury and his time in the US, he has worked in an ITM all of his adult life.

His homepage gives a list of his publications including the must read "Gaya Hidup Remaja Masa Kini. (1997) Shah Alam: Biroteks, Institut Teknologi MARA" and "Pendidikan Bermutu Masyarakat Sejahtera. (1990) Kuching: Education Department, Sarawak". None of his publications are with a recognized refereed journal or publisher. Most, if not all of his publications, are with local publishers including UiTM, his own institution. Almost all of his publications have to do with his favorite subject, you guessed it - ITM.

Having established his academic credentials, which are of course worthy of a Professorship, let's examine some of his other, "credentials". This is what is listed under 'political contributions'.

1. UMNO Member (1968 - present)
2. Youth Leader, UMNO Kg. Pulai (1981- 1983)
3. Committee Member, UMNO Youths Jasin, Melaka (1982 - 1983)
4. Chairman (Founder) UMNO Club, Carbondale USA (1983)
5. President, UMNO USA Club (1985 - 1987)

So apart from being an ITM 'lifer', he is apparently an UMNO 'lifer' as well including being the founder of the UMNO Club in the US, probably in the first year of his PhD in Maryland.

Under 'outside contributions', he is listed as being an "Exco of Alumni UMNO Club (oversea) (1995 – present)". Ironically he is also a member of the "Committee of Advisor National Unity (Panel) February 2007 – December 2008" and an occasional speaker at BTN forums. Boy, what would I give to be a fly in the wall in one of his BTN lectures.

Under 'forums and talks', the following is listed:

"Talk to all Malaysians UMNO division heads about "Gerakan Anti Kerajaan Pelajar-Pelajar di Kampus-Pengalaman UiTM" – 15 November 2001"

If having an in-depth knowledge of the inner workings of UiTM and being a loyal UMNO supporter are qualifications for the position of the VC of UiTM, the esteemed VC is probably the most qualified person in the universe. But if academic experience and an open outlook are the criteria, then... you guys finish the sentence.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Closing in on those with fake degrees

Read this piece in the Straits Times concerning the crackdown on fake degrees not only on the part of foreigners in Singapore but also among Singaporeans as well. One of the companies which does investigations into fake degrees, IntegraScreen, has an office in Penang. With the penchant for shortcuts to get degrees, I think they should be doing pretty well.

Hundreds with fake degrees nabbed 10 min
Both Singaporeans and foreigners found out while applying for government passes
By Sandra Davie, Senior Writer

OVER 400 foreigners were caught last year for lying to the Manpower Ministry in their work pass applications, a fourfold increase from the 97 cases in 2005.

MOM did not give a breakdown but the majority are believed to have used fake or forged qualifications in applying for employment passes which are for highly qualified people, or S-Passes for semi-skilled workers.

Immigration and Checkpoints Authority figures also point to a rising trend of workers using qualifications from degree mills, which are bogus universities that sell degrees for little or no study.

In the last two years, ICA caught 660 people, both foreigners and locals, lying in applications for immigration passes.

It could not give a breakdown but said many lied about their qualifications while trying to secure a dependent's pass, student visa or permanent resident pass.

Some of the locals caught had lied in the applications to be sponsors for foreigners seeking various immigration passes.

Both MOM and ICA said making false statements in the applications for work or immigration passes is a serious offence which carries heavy penalties, including fines and jail. Foreigners caught are also likely to be repatriated.

The ICA and MOM figures are just the tip of the iceberg, say job recruiters like People Worldwide Consulting and resume-screening companies such as IntegraScreen and First Advantage.

While most of those found out so far are foreigners, experts warn that more Singaporeans are also beefing up their resumes with fake or forged degrees.

One indication: The names of 36 people from Singapore showed up on a list of 9,612 people exposed in the United States recently for having bought fake diplomas and degrees.

First Advantage, a US-based company which checks claims made by job applicants, estimates that 12 per cent to 16 per cent of job seekers here are not entirely truthful in their CVs. Often, they inflate their academic achievements, current pay or responsibilities.

IntegraScreen, which does screening work for the immigration authorities in several countries in Asia and the Middle East, said about 5 per cent of the resumes they screen are found to be fake.

Its managing director, Mr John Baxter, said: 'The use of diploma mills is exploding as the Internet makes buying bogus degrees easier than ever before. More workers are buying these degrees because they're looking for an edge in the competitive job market in Singapore.'

Almost any degree, from aviation to zoology, can be purchased. All it takes is a credit card number and computer access.

Most degree mills charge between US$50 and US$5,000 (S$69 to S$6,900) for degrees at all levels. Often, buyers only have to fill up a form stating their work and life experiences and pay up.

Within a week, they are sent a professional-looking degree scroll and transcripts of fictional grades to show potential employers.

For an additional US$60, some degree mills offer laminated student identity cards, even though they have no physical campus.

Some even provide an after-sales service, with phone operators who will verify graduations and send transcripts to prospective employers who check.

Some go to the extent of offering fake degrees that look similar to those from such established universities as Harvard, Arizona State University or the University of Minnesota. Using high-tech equipment, the diplomas include watermarks and holographs.

The number of degree mills is not known, but Integra has compiled a list of over 500, with 90 per cent based in the US.

Mr John Bear, co-author of a book on degree mills, estimates that annual sales in fake degrees exceed US$500 million.

In Singapore, job recruiters say there are three groups of people who resort to using bogus degrees.

The first includes those who pay up to US$500 for undergraduate degrees and transcripts. These are non-graduates who use the fake qualifications to score a job, promotion or pay rise.

The second are consultants, trainers and private school lecturers who may have a first degree and some expertise in a particular area, but feel having a master's or PhD bolsters their credentials.

They are willing to pay between US$1,599 and US$10,000 for their bogus degrees.

The third group is made up of successful businessmen who fork out up to S$20,000 for honorary PhDs. They take care to indicate that these are honorary degrees, but like to be called 'Doctor'.

Mr David Leong, who heads PeopleWorldwide Consulting, said most people who buy their degrees are not victims, but intend to hoodwink employers or business clients.

'People who go online and order themselves a master's degree or PhD within a week know full well what they are doing,' he said.

Update on Manipal

An update on an earlier story concerning medical degrees from Manipal.

It's good that MMC has issued a clarification on this issue. The worst position to be in is that of the Malaysian students who are currently studying there and in the Melaka Manipal Medical College and also those who are planning to go there in the near future. Perhaps the Melaka Manipal Medical College should consider 'twinning' with another institution in the near future.

Melaka Manipal students not affected: Dr Ismail

PETALING JAYA: Students at the Melaka Manipal Medical College will not be affected by a recent ruling by the Medical Council of India (MCI) to derecognise medical and surgery degrees offered by Kasturba Medical Colleges (KMC) in Manipal and Mangalore.

Malaysian Medical Council (MMC) president Tan Sri Dr Ismail Merican said this was because the college was registered and licensed with the Higher Education Ministry to conduct the Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery (MBBS) programme in collaboration with the Manipal Academy of Higher Education.

The MBBS degree from the college has been recognised by the council since July 9, 2003 where its graduates have been able to practise as medical practitioners.

He also pointed out that the college's licensing terms was with the Manipal University and not KMC.

"The awarder of the degree is the Manipal University and not the KMC. The role of Manipal University towards the college is to render technical and resource support," he said in a statement Monday.

"Hence, its facilities and support in Manipal are entirely independent of KMC governance."

He added the college never sought recognition from the MCI and were never under their purview.

As for the two KMCs in India, Dr Ismail said MMC had been informed by the pro-chancellor of Manipal University that MCI was only a recommendatory body and the power to recognise or de-recognise was with India's Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.

He added the university had taken the appropriate action and the matter was with the ministry to decide.

"I believe the matter will be settled amicably," he said adding MMC would wait further outcome and developments before making decisions.

"At this juncture, I would like to advise parents and students alike, not to be unduly worried," he said.

He said MMC would update parents and students from time to time and would take steps to ensure students continue with medical education.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

NST piece on the UUCA amendments

Good NST piece on the UUCA amendments. One of the posts from this blog was quoted.

OPINION: 'Superficial' changes to UUCA Bill criticised

The highly anticipated Universities and University Colleges Act (Amendment) Bill has generated much interest among academics and varsity students alike since it was tabled in Parliament on July 16. YONG HUEY JIUN examines the core issues
STUDENT bodies eagerly await a key parliamentary debate this month on their rights, hoping for greater freedom of expression and association.

At the heart of the controversy is Section 15 of the Universities and University Colleges Act, which deems that any student joining any off-campus societies -- including political parties -- commits a criminal offence that carries a jail term. Although the new bill would decriminalise this, the student could still face disciplinary action from the university.

The Universities and University Colleges Act (Amendment) Bill, set for second reading in the next session of Parliament, would allow students to join any lawful society, organisation or group, except for "any organisation the minister has specified in writing to vice-chancellors as unsuitable to the interests and well-being of the students or university".

At issue is the latter phrase, which confers the minister full powers in decision-making.
"The ultimate power still lies with the minister," says Shazni Munir Mohd Ithnin, a member of the University Students' Movement to Abolish UUCA (GMMA). "Nothing much has changed."

Critics condemn the bill as "superficial". Some call for the act not just to be amended but repealed entirely.

"The act, if at all relevant, needs to be completely overhauled," argues Tony Pua, DAP's Petaling Jaya Utara MP.

The amendments do not go far enough, says Human Rights Commission of Malaysia's Datuk N. Siva Subramaniam, who stresses students' right to political participation.

Shazni agrees: "If other 21-year-olds can join political parties, why is it that we can't just because we are in university?"

The act in its present form emerged from anti-government student protests in 1974, when the UUCA was amended to include more restrictive clauses to curb student activism. But student activism can be a powerful force for positive change, contends commentator and educationist Ong Kian Ming.

"While I don't think student activism is highly correlated with the quality of a university," he says, "I'm convinced that having academic and student freedom to organise and freely express their thoughts is a necessary condition towards establishing a world-class university.

"Different universities in the United States and Britain have taken different routes towards making themselves world-class, but all of them have one thing in common -- academic freedom for students and lecturers to express their thoughts and views and to organise if and when necessary."

Although almost half of the 10.9 million registered voters are under 40, past studies show a low level of political awareness and involvement among youth.

The Malaysian Youth Index surveyed 4,000 Malaysians between the ages of 14 and 40 in 2006, and found that only 45 per cent of them voted in the 2004 general election and only 19 per cent were involved in a political party.

Academics, politicians and student leaders attribute the lack of interest to the UUCA. If students are not allowed to join organisations while they are in college, they say, they are unlikely to be active after graduation.

That's why National Student Consultative Council president Afandy Sutrisno Tanjung supports the amendment, calling it "a great first step". However, he worries that universities, with their own sets of campus regulations, may contain conflicting rules that could undermine reform.

"We certainly hope the deletion of the presumptive Section 15C will apply to university regulations as well," says the varsity student.

One thing's for sure: loosening control is going to take time. Some tread the line more cautiously than others, recognising that with greater freedom comes greater responsibility.

Professor Datuk Dr Sharifah Hapsah Syed Hasan Shahabudin, vice-chancellor of Universiti Kebangsaan Malay-sia, supports academic freedom and autonomy with "reasonable measures of accountability and responsibility".

Her carefully measured words reflect the views of those who are chary of granting untrammelled political freedom to students and want to see a gradual liberalisation instead.

Academics, however, laud the initiative to grant greater autonomy to university boards. The new amendment will see the appointment of vice-chancellors through a select committee on the recommendations of the boards.

Proponents and critics alike agree, of course, that the act's overarching goal is to enhance competitiveness among universities and turn them into centres of human capital development.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

I'm "BODOH", it seems

I sent a previous post on the UUCA as a letter to Malaysiakini. Apparently, someone took it seriously (other than no name) and called me the most "BODOH" citizen in Malaysia and said that my mother should have been banned from giving birth to me.

I don't hold anything against EC for not getting satire but instead I applaud him for feeling incensed that someone would actually think like this. I'm sure that there are those within the Ministry of Higher Education who would prefer that students don't touch anything that smells 'political' with a 10 foot pole. The point I was trying to make was that if we follow the Minister's line of reasoning to its logical conclusion, we'd be banning students from doing 1001 things and in ways which are obviously absurd. In a way, EC's reaction (as well as noname's) was perhaps the exact kind of reaction I was looking for, from those who didn't get that it was satire, that is.

On a more serious note, Prof Shad Faruqi pointed out that Article 10(3) of the Federal Constitution, allows laws to be written that prohibits students from joining political parties.

Article 10(3) reads as follows:

(3) Restrictions on the right to form associations conferred by paragraph (c) of Clause (1) may also be imposed by any law relating to labour or education.

This means that the government has the right to pass laws which prohibit all members of trade unions, for example, from being members of political parties. In addition, the government also has the right to prevent employees of any educational institution, be it at the primary, secondary and tertiary level, from being members of political parties. Think about that.

Manipal degrees no longer recognized

Looks like the Medical Council of India (MCI), the equivalent of the Malaysian Medical Council (MMC), will no longer recognize medical degrees from the Manipal University. This is bad news for Malaysians since this is a popular destination for Malaysians who want to study medicine. In addition, there is a twinning program between Manipal University and the Melaka Manipal Medical College, which might be affected. So far, MMC has written to MCI to ask for further clarification. It would not make sense for MCI and the Malaysian government to continue to recognize medical degrees from Manipal if MCI no longer recognizes them. It shouldn't affect past medical degrees from Manipal, just degrees that are obtained after this year.

UUC more permissive : An alternative view

A different take on the changes to the UUCA by Prof Faruqi. He argues that there have been significant changes made to the UUCA.

Trusting students with freedoms

The spirit of the law is one of evolutionary change towards more open, free and democratic campuses.

AFTER a gestation period of nearly two years, the long-awaited amendments to The Universities and University Colleges Act 1971 are finally before Parliament.

Higher Education Minister Datuk Seri Mohamed Khaled Nordin deserves congratulations, in that immediately after assuming the mantle of leadership at the ministry, he set ambitious time-schedules, tackled some lingering, tough issues with aplomb and, with a very short notice, succeeded in placing the Bill before the Cabinet and Parliament.

As with all laws, the amendments are full of negotiated compromises. There is a mixture of idealism and pragmatism. Though there is some understandable caution, a lot of risks are being taken to trust the young with rights and freedoms hitherto unknown.

The spirit of the law is one of evolutionary change towards more open, free and democratic campuses. Of course, the critics will find many flaws. But there is something worthwhile for everyone in the proposals.

Consultative processes: The Amendment puts in place a number of democratic consultative processes as a pre-condition to the making of decisions on key university appointments.

The minister, in appointing the chairman and members of the board of directors, the Vice-Chancellor, Deputy Vice-Chancellors and directors of campuses, will now have to consult with a committee.

The Vice-Chancellor in appointing deans and heads will be obliged to hear out the faculty members. In addition, he will have to inform the board of his choices. All this should promote more transparency and more quality appointments.

Good governance: University autonomy is improved by transferring some ministerial powers to the university’s board of directors. For example, student discipline appeals, at present heard by the minister, shall now be heard by a committee of the university’s board.

The Amendment demarcates clearly the powers and functions of the board, the senate and the Vice-Chancellor. But if any jurisdictional dispute still arises there is in place a non-judicial dispute resolution mechanism.

Hitherto, the university senate’s powers were subordinate to that of the board. The Amendment changes this. The role of the university senate as the primary academic body of the university is strengthened.

On academic matters, the board can transmit its opinions to the senate. But the senate will have the final say.

Staff welfare: Employees with grievances can file appeals with the board on matters of appointment, renewal and promotion.

The minister is now authorised, on the application of a requesting organisation, to allow a consenting university employee to be seconded or transferred to another institution if that would serve the national interest in education and research.

This should facilitate greater sharing of expertise.

Democratic representation: At present, the Vice-Chancellor appoints 20 professors to the senate. The Amendment empowers professors and associate professors to elect 20 of their colleagues to the university’s senate.

In addition, it charts a new course by permitting a senior academician to sit on the board of directors. The university’s senate is empowered to nominate one of its elected senators to the board of directors to represent the academic perspective and to provide a link between the senate and the board.

There will now be an employee welfare committee of the board and employee association representatives shall be members of this committee. Likewise, student representatives shall have membership on the board’s student welfare committee.

Student rights: In a break with the past the new law reflects confidence in our students’ growing maturity to handle freedoms. Educationists have always known that young people can become whatever we expect them to become. The height of their achievement is often determined by the trust reposed in them.

The Act recognises students’ constitutional right to speech and association. In their individual as well as collective capacities, students will now be free to join youth and social organisations and non-governmental organisations. Unlike as at present, they will require nobody’s prior permission to make these affiliations.

However, on the authority of the Federal Constitution’s Article 10(3), which permits restrictions on freedom of association in the field of education, students are still forbidden from membership of political parties, unlawful organisation and any group that the minister has declared to be unsuitable for student affiliation.

However, serving politicians and working adults who enrol at universities to further their education may seek exemption from the Vice-Chancellor to be allowed to continue their political affiliation.

These provisions will, undoubtedly, be criticised. But what must be noted is that a sea change has indeed taken place.

Previously students could not join any outside organisation unless they made a formal application, which could be approved or refused at discretion.

Now, freedom is inherent. No prior permission is needed. Everything is permitted unless it is prohibited.

Previously, everything was prohibited unless it was expressly permitted!

The Amendment enlarges the space for free speech for academic research and comment. It permits student interaction with outside organisations, politicians and political parties on academic occasions.

The right to participate in student democracy and to dabble in student politics as a training ground for future participation in national politics is preserved.

The Amendment protects student organisations by surrounding the power of the Vice-Chancellor to suspend or dissolve a student organisation with procedural safeguards and permitting an appeal to the minister.

The new law de-criminalises the Act by replacing all criminal sanctions with disciplinary penalties.

It removes provisions for automatic suspension or expulsion of a student who is charged with a criminal offence or who is convicted, or who is detained or restricted under preventive detention and restricted residence laws.

The university is given discretion to handle these cases as it sees fit, depending on whether the offence is a registrable criminal offence or a minor offence unrelated to academic character.

The Amendment removes provisions that provide for presumption of guilt, criminal liability even without conviction and collective criminal liability of office bearers of student organisations.

It safeguards the fundamental right to education by providing that a student who is acquitted of a charge in a court of law has a right to return to the university.

If he was excluded from a public university he has a right to enrol in a private institution or, with the permission of the minister, in any other public university.

Extensive changes have been made to provide for fairer student disciplinary procedures. The grounds on which the university may revoke a student’s degree or diploma have been reduced and this exceptional power has been surrounded with procedural safeguards.

The electorate for student elections has been expanded by enfranchising post-graduate students.

Hopefully there is something in the amendment for every sector of the university community.

Dr Shad Faruqi is Professor of Law at UiTM

Punishment for racial slurs : A Transfer

A teacher in a Banting school was recently transferred over allegations that she had made racial slurs and might even beaten up some students.

The Malaysiakini report has more details in terms of the racial slurs used - 'keling pariah', 'Negro' and 'black monkeys', ‘Indians came from dogs', Indians are ‘children of prostitutes' and the community is stupid and also allege that teacher had said the community youth ‘did not have testicles', ‘always menstruates' and indulged in thuggery and theft.

Furthermore, it was reported that she had 'beaten' up some of her students for being late. Not sure if these students were only from the Indian community.

Pending an investigation, she has been transferred to another school. My sense is that the investigation will be covered up and the teacher will get away with just a slap on the wrist.

I don't think that this is an isolated incident in our schools. I'm sure that in environments where only students of one race are taught, some teachers will not be afraid to let loose their views on students of other races and religions. After all, this kind of racist rhetoric is prevalent in BTN 'brainwashing' seminars where non-Malay students are present.

If the MOE is serious about stopping this kind of racial slurs in our schools, they should conduct a full scale investigation and sack this teacher as a sign to others who might think of following in her footsteps.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

How to develop our students

I agree wholeheartedly with the new Minister of Higher Education, Khaled Nordin, that "that allowing university students to join political parties will restrict their development into holistic first-class human capital". In addition, I also agree that "another reason for the continued ban was that the Government did not want public university students, who are heavily subsidised, to “play around” and waste taxpayers' money."

In addition, to fulfill the objective of developing our university students, I hope that the esteemed minister can consider the following proposals. I propose that:

(i) The esteemed Minister considers banning students from going to mamak stalls and coffee shops. These are places where nonsensical and unproductive coffee shop 'chatter' takes place much of it involving the topics of political interest of the day. Since we do not want our best and brightest to corrupt their ears and to waste their time by listening to this nonsense, we need to ban our students from going to these places.

(ii) The esteemed Minister considers banning students from watching football matches especially those involving foreign teams. Watching football matches, which lasts for approximately 1 hour 45 minutes (including the break), and more, if we take into account the prematch and postmatch shows, is an extremely unproductive use of time. Our students could use this time more productively, for example, in discussing the latest developments in biotechnology and nanotechnology and in collaborations to build Proton a new hybrid engine. In addition, we do not want our young minds to be influenced by the teams of the decadent West who are not only footballers but also flaunt their decadent lifestyles off the field. However, we should make exceptions for our students to watch matches involving Malaysian teams since this shows their solidarity with their own 'local' teams and contributes to nation building and increases their patriotism.

(iii) The esteemed Minister considers banning students from watching movies in the cinemas. Watching movies is another big waste of time, time that could be better spent on academic pursuits and developing one's own human capital. In addition, many movies produced in the West promote decadent values and values which are not consistent with our Asian culture. For example, we would not want our students to be unduly influenced by the portrayal of vigilante justice and 'cool' criminals in the latest Batman movie. However, again, exceptions should be made for movies produced locally since we are supporting local industry by watching these movies. However, local movies which promote values that are not in line with national values should be banned including movies such as Sepet (which promotes inter-racial dating) and The Big Durian (which glorifies the struggles of the communists in Malaysia).

(iv) The esteemed Minister considers blocking access to websites such do not promote the development of human capital in all public universities and if possible in all private colleges as well. Websites which provides access to disturbing information on matters of little importance such as the BBC, Malaysiakini, the New York Times, should be at the top of such a list. In doing so, the minister will prevent students from wasting countless number of hours spent surfing on these sites, time that could be better spent on coming up with inventions that will promote the growth of industry and technological advancement in the country.

(v) The esteemed Minister considers implementing a rule which requires all students in public universities to carry at least one book where ever they go on and off campus. This is so that students do not waste previous time when they are waiting for buses or sitting in their friend's cars or waiting in a queue or even sitting in the john, time that could be spent reading and developing their human capital. To further encourage this kind of behavior, the esteemed Minister require all public universities to have a monthly contest to reward a 'lucky' student who is seen to be carrying more than 5 books (either in his or her bag or in his or her hands) in public view. The 'reward' should be in the form of a 1000RM book voucher, to be spent in the university bookshop.

(vi) The esteemed Minister considers hiring unemployed graduates from public universities to carry out a massive surveillance plan that would ensure that the above mentioned rules are followed. They will be posted at strategic locations in and around the campus including mamak shops, cinemas, bus stops and shopping malls. This way, not only will it solve the problem of unemployed graduates in our country, but it will more than pay for itself through the development of human capital that will inevitably occur once the attention of our students are diverted from such unproductive activities including politics, sports, movies and so forth.

I sincerely hope that the esteemed Minister considers at least some of my recommendations made above and implement them as soon as possible.

Friday, August 1, 2008

More updates on UUCA 'revisions'

More reports from the Star on the 'revisions' to the UUCA can be found here, here and here. These amendments are pretty much useless, in my view, since the activities of university students will still be monitored closely by the university authorities and they are still not allowed to participate in political activities. Just look at the recent treatment of three UM students for distributing leaflets about Anwar. The only pseudo bright spot was Koh Tsu Koon's proposal to redefine students to exclude post docs and those doing off campus programs. But this doesn't go far enough. What we need is for the restriction against students joining political parties to be abolished.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Best IMO performance for Malaysia

Got an email from Shien Jin, a former International Math Olympiad (IMO) representative, about Malaysia's best performance at the IMO this year (2008). We ranked 55 out of 93 countries and for the first time, one of our competitors, Loke Zhi Kin, obtained a silver medal for Malaysia. Indeed, his score of 24 beat out the top scores for the Singapore team, even though the Singaporean team as a whole still beat us (ranked 32 versus 55). And for the first time, 5 out of 6 competitors from Malaysia received at least an honorable mention.

The full history of the IMO competition can be accessed here.

Malaysia's history in the IMO has not been a good one. Our best ranking before this year was 59 out of 83 in 2001. In the first year which Malaysia was in the competition, 1995, we ranked 72 out of 73. Last year, in 2007, we ranked 74 out of 93. We jumped almost 20 ranking positions from 74 to 55 this year.

The first time Malaysia won a bronze medal was in 2000, when Shien Jin (who went to MIT for his undergrad and Harvard for his PhD) and Suhaimi Ramly (who went to MIT). They would have gotten a higher ranking for Malaysia if Malaysia had sent more than 3 competitors (lack of funding, I was told).

Suhaimi was the 'observer' for the Malaysian team this year, meaning that he was the trainer for the team. And with Suhaimi, who's also the executive director of Aidan Corp and a co-founder of Ardent Education Consultants, in charge of training future teams, I'm sure that this is a sign of better things to come for the Malaysian IMO team.

A cursory look at the IMO historical results makes for interesting reading. Some of the usual suspects dominate the competition - China, Russia, USA. Japan, South Korea and Taiwan do well as well as do some of the former Eastern European countries - Bulgaria, Poland, Romania and Hungary.

But I was surprised to see Thailand ranked 6 and Vietnam ranked 12 this year. Iran is also a powerhouse in the IMO competition!

In addition, the Nordic countries, who do well on most other indicators (HDI, competitiveness, education standards) perform so so only. India also does not do as well as one might imagine, with all that brainpower.

My sense is that countries who do well in this competition probably have 2 common practices. Firstly, they probably have a fairly open competitive process to select the participants. This is to ensure that the net is cast wide enough such that the best competitors are selected. Secondly, they probably have a fairly well developed training regiment where the skills of these participants are honed.

I'm guessing that China probably throws tons of resources at the selection and training of these candidates much like how their gymnasts and other athletic prodigies are selected and trained.

Obviously, it would be unrealistic for us to compete against the Chinese, let's say. (5 gold medals and 1 silver!) But Suhaimi tells me that a goal of achieve 100 total points for 6 competitors is realistic. This would put Malaysia at around the 30th position, on par with what Singapore achieved this year (98 points, 32nd position). I feel pretty good about our chances with someone like Suhaimi in charge.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Vocational and Technical Training

Vocational and technical training doesn't get much airplay on this blog. Probably because neither Tony or myself are familiar with how it works in Malaysia. But it is an important component of the education system.

The Star reported that the MOE was in the process of revamping its vocational and technical training programs. It didn't exactly say how it would be revamped or what was wrong with it now.

I say that vocational and technical education is important because not everyone should be expected to take the path of going to a university and getting a university degree. Some people prefer to take a non-academic path because this is where their passion and interests lies. As such, having a good vocational and technical training and education program is important to ensure that students who are inclined towards these sectors have a respectable channel to pursue skills in this area.

In Germany, for example, apprenticing with a mentor in a 'skills' industry is a perfectly respectable career choice. One of my favorite American comics, Jay Leno, sponsors a scholarship for auto-mechanics to McPherson college and he's mentioned on his show that many of these graduates make good money - more than $100,000 a year (which is about what recent MBA graduates earn).

In Malaysia, I don't think there are such channels. Making the pursuit of these skills (being a mechanic, electrician, plumber, carpenter, etc...) more respectable is one of the ways to reduce school dropout rates and to increase the skills and earning power of those who do not lean towards the academic arena.

Since this area is more or less a black hole for me, I was wondering if any of our readers who know more about this can write a post enlightening us on the state of vocational and technical training in Malaysia?

JPA doctors don't want to come back

Yet another example of how JPA scholars are blatantly flouting their bonds. The Star reported that '236 medical graduates studying overseas under Public Service Department scholarships refused to return home to work.'

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Meritocracy examined

Just wanted to point our readers to an insightful analysis done by 'unwanted citizen', someone who's clearly in the know about the medical faculty and intake at University Malaya (UM). My conclusion from his analysis is this - there has been a more transparent implementation of meritocracy, meaning that those students who perform well in STPM AND Matriculation, are getting into the medical program at UM. The clear losers from this are the bumiputeras from Sabah and Sarawak.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

'Cosmestic' changes to the UUCA criticized

We've been anticipating the proposed changes to the UUCA for some time now. Both Tony and I have blogged about this in the past - here, here and here - and we both agree that the UUCA is too restrictive and needs to be reformed. But according to this latest Mkini report, the proposed changes to the UUCA are purely 'cosmetic'.

I haven't read the proposed bill which details the changes in the UUCA but according to the Malaysiakini report reproduced below, it still bars students in public universities from joining political parties and allows the VCs and the Minister for Higher Education way too much latitude in deciding which organizations students were banned from joining.

Firstly, I think this kind of ban borders on being unconstitutional. What ever happened to freedom of association? Secondly, with this kind of suppression of political activities among university students, is it surprising that we have about 5 million unregistered voters in the country, a majority of whom are below 35 years of age?

Students slam 'cosmetic' changes to UUCA
Tarani Palani and Rahmah Ghazali | Jul 18, 08 1:21pm
Student leaders have described the proposed amendments to the Universities and University Colleges Act (UCCA), the law which regulates their participation in political activities, as “cosmetic”.

"We do not agree with the amendments, and as we have suspected, the suggested amendments do not solve the difficulties faced by students (in political activities),” said Faridzul Nasarudin, a researcher for University Students’ Movement to Abolish UUCA (GMMA).

“The amendments are superficial and politically cosmetic."

He said the proposed changes to section 15 and 16 of the bill, which are made by the Higher Education Ministry, did not amount to much.

"The language used does not give students any concrete freedom. We can see that the decisive power still very much lies in the hands of the university administration and the minister."

Under the existing Act, students in Malaysian universities are not allowed to participate in any organisation that is political in nature.

Section 15(1) in the amended bill stipulates that students must still abstain from political activities, despite the provision allowing them to participate in “general organisations”. Even in this, the final say is with the higher education minister and university administrators.

According the amended section, university students “may become members of any society and organisation in or outside Malaysia”. But it bans student participation in “political parties, any unlawful organisation, and any organisation which the minister has specified in writing to vice-chancellors as unsuitable to the interests and well-being of the students or the university”.

Faridzul lamented that the proposed changes continue to restrict student activitism.

“Although some of the amendments open the door for greater student freedom, the limitations set are against human rights.”

Student leaders make suggestions

GMMA representatives yesterday handed a ‘suggestion paper’ on the organisation’s views regarding the amendments to Lembah Pantai MP Nurul Izzah in Parliament.

Co-coordinator Ridzuan Mohammad stressed that students are capable of critical thinking and have followed the law by submitting their suggestions and not taking to the streets to voice their dissatisfaction.

"We have not acted rashly. We have the capability to think intellectually and thus we are submitting this suggestion paper. At least, we have not organised demonstrations."

raja petra court case 060508 nurul izzahNurul Izzah (right) backed the students and argued that the proposed amendments fail to reflect the demands and aspirations of students.

Meanwhile, Segambut MP Lim Lip Eng, when asked, stated “the amendments still have a lot of restrictions, with an ambiguous section 15."

Batu Gajah MP Fong Po Kuan - a law graduate of the International Islamic University - added that the much-awaited amendments are “disappointing as it still restricts student involvement in politics”.

However both parliamentarians conceded that there are improvements in the proposed amendments.

According to Lim, those who breach the UCCA will now face a ‘disciplinary action committee’ instead of being charged in court.

Fong said that previously anyone found guilty would be subjected to immediate suspension but now the decision lies with the discretion of the vice-chancellor.

GMMA has also presented its suggestion paper to Backbenchers Club (BBC) chairperson Tiong King Sing on Tuesday.

According to Ridzuan, the backbenchers chief said he was not in favour of abolishing the UCCA but was willing to support amending or removal of certain sections opposed by students.

The ministry has tabled the amended bill on Wednesday night.

However, the higher education deputy minister requested debate on the bill be put off to the next sitting of parliament in August.

Parliament ended its current session yesterday.