Elitist university – can our dream comes true?

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):

Brown University
Columbia University
Cornell University
Dartmouth College
Harvard University
University of Pennsylvania
Princeton University
Yale University

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.


29 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. monsterball
    Sep 04, 2008 @ 10:53:51

    No surprise,
    All the while…Penang USM is the best.
    It is only now…best is chosen…against UMNO likes and dislikes…making a mockery for the whole world to laugh at us.
    And seeing ACA..really mean business….argurs well for our future.
    But big fishes are not caught yet…..I wonder why.
    Don’t tell me..same stunt like Najib did..apologising for Ahmad…indirectly supporting Ahmad. We are no fools!!
    So ACA better catch few obvious past ministers….so many volumns of complaints done in the past…surely none are false…especially Maika shares and APs.


  2. nick
    Sep 04, 2008 @ 11:25:06

    “Excellence-have we lost the urge”? This malaise has indeed afflicted most spheres of malaysian life. But I dare to venture that the spirit and pursuit of excellence is much alive in most MNC’s. Well, I can see it in my own Company and our customers in Malaysia. We never stay still, paranoid about our future and constantly re-inventing ourselves. Our productivity and growth numbers are in the double digit over the last 5 years and I dare say that within 2 years, my Company could possibly be the No. 1 in our niche product. Not an empty boast and we are competing against the best and brightest from the US and Korea/Japanese. As for our Universities, I have long resigned to the fact that it is a useless institution, beyond redemption. Sorry folks for being so harsh. I voted with my own sweat and hard-earned money to send both my children overseas with no scholarship except my own. Both my children grauduated from the finest Univ in the UK, both with first-class degrees.


  3. jeff
    Sep 04, 2008 @ 12:13:30

    Majority of top brains had already migrate out of the ‘bodohland”, to country that recognize their talent, knowledge and qualification, top students that did well in their SPM n HSC are best materials for foreign university are offered places to study, where else can Malaysia find the best to reach the goal? from those half past six student from UTM?


  4. nick
    Sep 04, 2008 @ 13:02:12

    Jeff, I do not wish to denigrate students who have no opportunity due to financial reasons to study overseas. Local Universities are their answers to a better life. For these type of students, they will have to “rise above the system”. They have to be achievers in an environment that does not reward meritocracy. It is hard but not impossible. I would urge them to broaden their own outlook and thrive in their chosen field of knowledge and learn the skills to compete even though they may be surrounded by h6-lecturers. Come to think of it, when I was abroad studying for my degree, I too had useless lecturers. We had to seek out books to enlighten ourselves.


  5. Dr Hsu
    Sep 04, 2008 @ 13:52:53

    The crust of the matter is well laid out by our blogging freind, daffodils, in her article to Malaysiakini.

    I will quote the article here:

    Diversity is our strength
    Daffodils | Sep 3, 08 2:36pm
    “Perpaduan Teras Kejayaan”. This theme suggests that solidarity and unity among Malaysians will bring the nation to the forefront.

    Everyone talks of unity but it is really there? Are we making a big fuss over something that is not real? Is the annual Merdeka parade just a charade?

    How can we stay united when people are labeling honest tax-paying citizens as ‘squatters’? How can a person make that kind of callous remark and not be given a severe reprimand for offending the feelings of the minorities?

    How can we stay united when there are institutions which are mono-ethnic and when there were calls to open its doors to other races, they were shot down vehemently and aggressively?

    How can we stay united when there are different routes for students applying for admission to our local institutions of higher learning? How can it be fair when an STPM qualification which takes one and a half year of hard work is put on par with a matriculation qualification which takes only a year?

    How is it fair that scholarships for local and overseas studies are not given out in a transparent manner? How can you explain to a student who has 11 As that he or she is not as qualified to receive a scholarship as one with 8 As when all other factors are equally weighed?

    How can we bring the people of different races together under one roof when the public sector is heavily populated by one ethnic race?

    What is the reason behind the best brains in the country being denied positions in government linked companies? Why are these posts taken up by people based on ethnicity and cronyism?

    How can we stand united when our leaders keep on harping and chanting of the superiority of one race over another? Aren’t we all equal in the eyes of God?

    How can we allow teachers people who are supposed to be models to our young minds be sarcastic and critical of other races?

    When can we look to the day when we can proudly call ourselves Bangsa Malaysia and genuinely hold hands with our Malay, Indian and Chinese brethren and regard ourselves as equal beings in the eyes of God? Only when this happens can we be truly united and move forward.

    Let’s put aside our differences and work on the common goal of moving Malaysia forward. Diversity should be our strength, not weakness.


  6. romerz
    Sep 04, 2008 @ 14:59:37

    Dr Hsu,

    You should read the essay “An Apex of Mediocrity? – A Reflection of the State of Our Public Universities” by Khoo Boo Teik.

    (I found this essay in a book of critical essays titled “Out of the Tempurung”)

    I won’t summarize since its too long to do it any justice in a few paragraphs but in essence, unless we take the politics out of education, our universities will just remain what they are now, mediocre institutions producing mediocre graduates.

    No amount of rebranding or financing will change that without addressing the root cause.

    Something our government is very good at. Nice to look at but rotten to the core!


  7. A true Malaysian
    Sep 04, 2008 @ 16:35:06

    Finally, ‘Diversity is our strength’ is affirmed. I mentioned this quite sometime back. DIVERSITY IS OUR STRENGTH is displayed prominently in Ikea Damansara Mutiara and is a contributory factor of Ikea’s success in its innovation.

    So, all our universities and institution of higher learning should recognise this fact and go back to MERITOCRACY, nothing else but MERITOCRACY.

    Over the last two decades, BN was overzealous in making one race rule supremacy over the others by lowering the marking scheme and syllabus in our education system, resulting in the drop in ranking and standard. Still, many of our creams can still survive under such conditions, not serving in the country but drained to other countries.

    So, instead of ‘Jaga maruah bangsa’, it becomes ‘Malukan maruah bangsa’. There is nothing else to save our country but to fall back on MERITOCRACY, nothing else but MERITOCRACY.


  8. monsterball
    Sep 04, 2008 @ 16:53:23

    When I was abroad….I did not study.
    I chased girls..and took up singing lessons.
    Did not graduate. Came back…dad scolded me.
    I told him..when grandpa sent you abroad….you also never graduate…you took up ballroom dancing!!
    He took out his size 8 shoe and chased me ..to wallop me. I ran faster than him.
    PS:..Nay….just make up story!!…


  9. suchfun
    Sep 04, 2008 @ 17:25:25

    So long as bn is in power, never hope any real improvement in Msia Uni.


  10. Justin Choo
    Sep 04, 2008 @ 17:47:10

    There is only ONE way, the ONLY way. Get the BN regime out of the way. There is no other way!


  11. monsterball
    Sep 04, 2008 @ 18:50:43

    No way can one way be the only way ..with a one way ticket to hell for UMNO.
    Keep them alive…..and buy a one way ticket for them..to Timbuktu.
    Send 6000 policemen to guard them day and night….no way to escape.
    10 years later…we may think of a way…to pardon them….that is..if they are still alive..eating shit meals.


  12. Kenny Gan
    Sep 04, 2008 @ 19:52:41

    How can we have world class universities when student entry is regulated by racial quotas?

    Is the govt prepared to open USM to all races based on meritocracy only? Will the VC and lecturers be selected and promoted based on meritocracy?

    Will the UUCA which stifles creative energy be suspended for USM?

    If the govt is not prepared to do all the above, pouring money into USM is not going to create a world class university.

    It’s like trying to create a Silicon Valley by pouring money into building infrastructure. The fate of the Multimedia Super Corridor is palin for all to see.


  13. A true Malaysian
    Sep 04, 2008 @ 21:55:43

    From Malaysiakini, Lim Kit Siang said :-

    “It is time that BTN’s racist indoctrination courses be exposed and all true Malaysians, both Malays and non-Malays, are invited to expose such extremist excesses and communal poison in BTN indoctrination courses as a prelude for its total revamp if not abolition,”

    Full article, here http://malaysiakini.com/news/89061

    Anak Malaysia, you were right.


  14. A true Malaysian
    Sep 04, 2008 @ 22:12:52

    Some very good quotes by PKR secretary-general Salehuddin Hashim in Malaysiakini, about the same as what I commented previously :-

    “We do not give you anything to induce you to crossover. You cross because you think that by your action you would get a government more responsive to the needs of the nation at this moment of its history,” asserted Salehuddin.

    “The present situation necessitates quick, surgical action to check the slide in the economy and in our regional competitiveness, and urgent and drastic action to restore the credibility of our criminal justice system. (note : same as what Dr. Hsu commented)

    “Whatever you may say to attack the morality of their crossing over and the motives of the one persuading them to do so, you have to credit them for their realism in coming to grips with what basically ails the nation.

    “If they think Anwar holds out hope of urgent correction to the national political situation, it is not something he has extracted from them through coercion or inducement. It is something they have elected to arrive at.”


    Are these indications of 916 becoming a ‘reality’?


  15. yh
    Sep 04, 2008 @ 22:23:50

    justin choo

    of the same view. this country, under BN, has one way to go which is DOWN.
    Dont expect UMNO to change coz the gravy is too good to lose. It will still be ketuanan melayu propaganda as cover up for their greed and the rest subservient to this.


  16. Aming
    Sep 04, 2008 @ 22:38:10

    Only the best seeds would yield the best fruits, and if you give peanuts, you attract monkeys.

    Somehow, the rot in our universities has become systemic and no cure would be effective given the unchanged political mode used for the criteria of selections of students and teaching staff.


  17. Meng
    Sep 04, 2008 @ 23:32:31

    Is there such a institution called Apex U when it is staffed by Donkeys.

    When Donkeys decides and nominate a Apex U, it will be a U for Donkeys.

    If you send a Donkey to a U it will still come back a Donkey.

    So Donkey Donkey all the way. Thats how it is.


  18. desmond
    Sep 04, 2008 @ 23:34:42

    As pointed out by a number of other commentators, unless there is a total change in the way USM is administered, its selecting to an APEX U must be considered the biggest joke and hoax by the government in the history of Malaysian education.

    As Dr Hsu himself concluded, the whole idea is a stillborn for obvious reasons.

    Or do I even smelt a rat here. With all the expected funds to be lavished at USM with this appointment, there will be long rounds of happy hours for its participants.


  19. monsterball
    Sep 05, 2008 @ 02:37:42

    Yes….I withdraw my praise for USM.
    I fully agree with what were written by few above.
    USM did bring me fond memories..as I knew one hell of a smart Engineer…lecturing there for years.
    I guess I was carried away.


  20. jeff
    Sep 05, 2008 @ 03:21:55

    Nick, if you consider oversea lecturers are h6, you can rest assure that you will not be forced to study in oversea university by us like the way the ruling elite did to prevent other intelligent but sadly poor non bumiputra Malaysians from entering local university.


  21. jeff
    Sep 05, 2008 @ 03:27:03

    In the eye of GOD, we are all equal, but not so in the eye of umnoputras and their lap dog parties, as these men n women are just mortals who seem themselves above the almighty. Doc!


  22. folo4
    Sep 05, 2008 @ 09:07:20

    You know, you could’ve easily link your own post instead of COPY PASTING EVERYTHING!

    Your archives still work perfectly.


  23. Justin Choo
    Sep 05, 2008 @ 10:08:38

    Talking about link, my comment always rejected when I put my link.

    Can anyone help solve this problem?


  24. Anak Malaysia
    Sep 05, 2008 @ 11:10:07


    agreed. meritocracy is the way to go.

    however, while we pursue on meritocracy we need to strike a balance. we should not forget that higher level education should be made affordable to all, especially those from among the poors and various ethnics backgrounds. for once, we cannot compared those student with access to tuitions to be equally compared to those from poor families or for those who come from the remote areas, right?

    instead of spending those billions into useless (money siphoning ways for cronies) “mega projects”, it should be used to provide education for the younger generation.

    regarding the lecturers, i agreed 100% that it must be based on meritocracy. otherwise we’ll have the case of “a blind man leading a blind man” and it will not produce the required results.

    most importantly, the idiot University Acts need to be removed. how are we suppose to achieve excellence when we are being bound by an act who teaches us nothing but only to be subservient?


  25. A true Malaysian
    Sep 05, 2008 @ 12:31:12

    Anak Malaysia,

    I can understand what you mean and we must help the poor at the same time.

    We must give good education to the poor instead of monetary contribution, ie teach them how to fish instead of giving fish to them.

    Bravo, I found a friend that having same thinking.


  26. jeff
    Sep 05, 2008 @ 13:45:53

    It ‘s true that whatever restriction or quota placed in the higher education institutions for student admission, it is always the poor and no political connection but smart students that ‘s losing out most of the times, they are always the one who are sacrificed in government unfair education policy where not every one is entitle to tertiary education in Malaysia even though they did well in pre-university exam, what a shame in a country that is consider rich among the neighbor.


  27. Anak Malaysia
    Sep 05, 2008 @ 13:56:47


    If that is the case, then it has to change without sacrificing the one that I have mentioned above. That’s why I’ve said, those billions would better be spent to increase the capacity of the local university and additional scholarships for top students to further studies overseas. A solution can be found to achieve a win-win situation for all…

    Justice must be seen to be applicable to all…


  28. Anak Malaysia
    Sep 05, 2008 @ 13:59:17

    Yes True Malaysia,

    I do not believe in the subsidy mentality. Just give them the opportunity and then encourage them to grew out from there…

    Yup, just teach them how to fish, that’s all…


  29. A true Malaysian
    Sep 05, 2008 @ 14:43:10

    Anak Malaysia,

    Just imagine if our Malay brothers and sisters can come out of their own to be ‘berdirikari’ instead of seeking refuge in government as civil servants, our country’s economy can be at least double the present size and release pressure on national budget.

    Money saved can be allocated to develop our economy further, no deficit budget and strengthen the value of RM.

    Yup, just teach them how to fish, that’s all…


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