University Education Woes - Sacrificing Quantity For Quality


April 11, 2006 09:47 AM

University Education Woes – Sacrificing Quantity For Quality

By R.Ravichandran

KUALA LUMPUR, April 11 (Bernama) – A lot of debate has been generated over what ails Malaysia’s university education amidst the emergence of more public and private universities and the growing unemployment among graduates.

University of Malaya Pro-Chancellor Raja Dr Nazrin Sultan Azlan Shah, at the university’s convocation last year declared that a university should be bold in sacrificing quantity for quality.

" It must play the role of a nursery which churns out thinkers and knowledge creators and not a place for printing degrees," said Raja Dr Nazrin.

University of Malaya (UM), the country’s first and once its premier university, had seen its ranking plummeting to 169th last year from 89th in 2004 among the world’s top 200 universities.

“Quality must be the top priority. It should never be compromised in the quest of meeting the targeted quantity,” said the Perak prince, who obtained his doctorate from the Oxford University. According to Emeritus Prof. K.T. Joseph, the decline in the UM’s standard began in 1988 when its then vice-chancellor Royal Professor Ungku Abdul Aziz left and there were policy changes after that.

“In 1990, the Medical Faculty of UM lost its recognition from the Medical Council of Britain,” said Prof. Joseph, who retired from the university in 1988.

He said it was important to ensure that a vice-chancellor must be someone who was not only a qualified person but more importantly an outstanding scholar and should be selected by other scholars who had no vested interest.

“Now there are a lot of political interference in the selection of a vice-chancellor. In the case of Ungku Aziz, the university’s Senate had a big say in his appointment,” said the ex-geography professor of UM.

He also said that in those days, advertisements were placed to recruit lecturers and their appointments were made by comparing the curriculum vitaes to select the best candidates. He also pointed out that the semester system being practised now was not practical because a one-year study had to be completed in six months and the duration was not enough for students to read and digest.

Prof. Joseph said there was also a need to narrow the salary gap between professors and lecturers.

“Unless you raise the salary at entry point, you will not get the best people for lecturing and that would affect the students,” he said.

Emeritus Prof. Charles S. Hutchison said that he had always felt that the UM was the country’s best but that might not be the case now as the university failed to “see the reality of the day”.

He said the UM, especially during Ungku Aziz’s time, used to have researchers, teaching staff and scholars from overseas but now there were almost no such people.

“University is a body of knowledge…we must build on new ideas coming from other countries. That seems to be missing now. Being part of the world community, we should learn from others and perhaps they could learn from us,” said Prof. Hutchison, formerly with UM’s Department of Geology. Prof. Hutchison observed that not many local university lecturers were keen to expand their knowledge by taking time to read many of the international journals at the university’s library.

" Also not many teaching staff could go overseas for sabbatical due to financial constraints and this could hamper them from expanding their horizon and knowledge".

He pointed out another weakness in the system under which “the vice chancellor has become more like an administrator rather than a leader of an institution of higher learning”.

Echoing these views, Emeritus Professor Datuk Dr Khoo Kay Kim said that today the people had forgotten the real role of a university as “there is a tendency and wrong assumption that more universities would produce more students.”

He said what was needed now was to create graduates who could think well, be creative, inventing new ideas, and intellectually able to compete with others in the world.

He said Malaysia had already started to lose out to Singapore and “The Thais are not so good in English but many foreign students are going there now. Likewise, the Singapore dollar is more expensive than our currency, but more and more students are going there now. We have to find out why,” said the noted historian.

Prof. Khoo stressed that a university vice-chancellor must be a good scholar so that he could lead the university into greater heights.

“The leader of any university must be concerned with the university’s ability to function in a manner which befits the university. When you have excellent scholars, they will produce excellent students,” he said.