USM has been chosen to be groomed into a world class university. This is like choosing a baby from birth and trying grooming him into wolrd class athlete. Whether this sort of things ca be done , no one really knows. What is known is that a good unviersity takes time to develop, and much depends on the faculty and the students and the culture that evolves as time goes by.
The experiment to turn a chosen university into a prime university, over others, is like doing a Eugenics experiment. Nazi Germany attempted to create a super race, through killing of the Jews ad promoting the Aryan superiority, but in the end Hilter failed. Our southern neighbour , in the eighties, tried to implement a policy where the offsprings of graduates would be given first preference for choice school, but the idea was dropped when the people opposed it. Can we turn one of our Univeristies into a worldclass one simply by announcing and pouring in money?
To answer this I will repost below one of my earlier articles: Elitist Univeristies – will it remain a dream?
One of the main reasons why I started blogging about 10 months ago (editor: I started blogging end of 2006) is because of the decline in excellence in almost every field in our country. Please read one of my first posts : in search of excellence, which was published in Malaysiakini as a letter to the editor under the title : Excellence – have we lost the urge?
Our University of Malaya was once an elite university whose ranking was on par with the likes of premier universities in Asian countries such as University of Singapore, University of Hong Kong , University of Chulalongkong. The medical faculty and the law faculty of MU were on par with the best of the British and Australian Universities.
I was enrolled in the medical faculty for one week, after that I went down to University of Singapore because of an offer of Asean Scholarship to do medicine in University of Singapore. Then, MU medical faculty was under the late Prof Danaraj, an iconic figure whose single-mindedness to excellence had in no small way contributed to the excellent standard of MU medical faculty. It was recognised by British General Medical Council as equivalent to the standard of a British university.
However, towards the latter part of the 70s and early 80s, the standard has started to drop. GMC withdrew its recognition after an inspection round.
MU (University of Malaya) used to be among the top 100 ranked universities but it is no longer up there with the top schools of the world. What a pity – it took many years of hard work of the faculty, staff, and students to reach that height, but it took only one or 2 years of neglect for the standard to decline.
It is therefore laudable that the PM has announced yesterday a plan to turn some of our universities into elite university, able to compete with the best in the world.
To do that is of course not easy, but if we have a will, we will have a way of achieving that. The main question is : do we have the will?
Let us look at the top universities in the world. In UK, indisputably, Cambridge and Oxford are the best. In Australia, Melbourne University is among the premier league. In US, they have the Ivy league , of which there are 8 universities.
The Ivy league consists of 8 universities who have an athletic conference among them (meaning they compete with each other in games and certain social events):
University of Pennsylvania
They are supposed to be the best in the world and all are privately funded institution. Among the public Universities, the top one which is ranked as good as the Ivy league is University of California Berkeley campus. There are others which are renowned in certain fields. MIT and Caltech is among the best in Engineering, Johns Hopkins is perhaps the top medical school in the world. Most of the top 100 universities are in the States, which is one of the reasons why US is still the top nation in Science and Medicine.
How do these universities achieve excellence? For one, a university is often judged by the standards of students it produces. Harvard has luminaries like John Hancock, John Adams, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, and Pierre Elliot Trudeau.
To produce good students, you need to have good materials to start with. It is not possible for a class of IQ 60 to be top mathematicians or scientists. Most of these universities have an admission policy which are very strict. Entrance requirements include excellent academic results as well as personal traits of creativity, leadership ability, personal confidence, objective thinking and perhaps a high achievement in sports. One word to describe the entrance requirement: competitiveness. Are we prepared to have that?
Students in these world class universities are provided with a milieu to seek the truth, to seek knowledge, to challenge existing ideas, to be ready to compete with the peers, to learn to develop independent thinking and leadership, to be analytical and critical of existing knowledge. They must learn and master the methodology of scientific research.
They cannot be spoon-fed and then expected to be world beaters.
These top universities also have dedicated lecturers and professors who are among the very top in their respective fields in the world. Very often, they become famous because of the research they carry out in these universities.
The milieu in which these academics function is very different from that of our universities. They very often have total freedom to carry out their research. Freedom to pursue academic excellence as well the the tolerance and encouragement of diversity of ideas often lead to new thinking, breakthroughs and new discoveries in the various sciences. Promotions and rewards are based strictly on merits. There is also a milieu of fairness and recognition of excellence, and competition is very often encouraged.
On top of that, they have cutting edge hardware and technology to do experiment and their academics are free from harassment of politicians and bureaucracy.
If we want to have excellence in our university, we cannot just pay lip services. We must be ready to let our students compete fairly against each other. We must be ready to let our academics have the freedom to do research, freedom of thoughts. We must encourage exchange of ideas and healthy debates. Our politicians must stay away from these institutions of higher learning, and let academics run their universities and departments with an almost totally free hand , with only excellence in their minds.
Competition leads to excellence and discovery of new ideas. Are we willing to have free competition in our universities? Are we willing to have an admission policy based on meritocracy? Are we willing to have a milieu of almost total freedom for our academic to do research?
Do we have such will? I doubt. If we cannot have that, we can never expect our universities to rank among the best in the world.
Our dreams will always remain as such – dreams.