July 2nd, 2016

Experienced professors needed to achieve better rankings, Be vigilant of fake professors

Be vigilant of fake professors

IN 2004, Laura Callahan, then the senior director and chief information officer of the United States’ Department of Homeland Security, stepped down from her position after she was exposed for purchasing her bachelor’s degree, masters, and PhD doctorate through online transactions.

The incident raised questions on the security of the White House as it clearly showed that no thorough background check was done prior to the hiring of Callahan.

Early this year, Serge Belamant, CEO of Net1 UEPS in South Africa, which is responsible for distributing the equivalent of RM20bil in social grants monthly, was reported to have been duped into thinking he had a PhD.

In March this year, Myanmar’s Finance and Planning Minister U Kyaw Win also confessed to owning a fake PhD degree. He was, however, allowed to carry on with his job when the ruling party stated that fake educational credentials would not make any difference to his eligibility for the minister’s post.

The scam of fake degrees is among the worst kind of criminal activities today and it is growing in scale worldwide.

According to The Economist, between 40,000 and 45,000 legitimate PhDs are awarded annually in the US while 50,000 spurious PhDs are purchased and issued nationwide, valued at RM4bil per year. In other words, more than half of all people claiming a new PhD may be having a fake degree.

In Russia, a fake doctorate certificate could be bought for RM3,000. There are also syndicates that produce fake doctorate certificates with the name of Harvard University for RM120,000 each.

There is also a website issuing fake degrees including PhDs from reputable institutions of higher learning for RM240 only. This offer is very cheap and more attractive as the purchasers are allowed to choose from a variety of fields or courses and their preferred university.

A few years ago, fake degrees involving Malaysian universities were detected following a cheating case related to qualifications from Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM). The syndicate, masterminded by a former student of the university, offered USM degrees for RM4,888 each through a website.

In another case, Malaysian police were able to successfully suppress a syndicate that was selling fake certificates purportedly from five foreign countries. Buyers of degrees from this syndicate were reported to comprise businessmen, politicians and even individuals with the title of “Tan Sri”.

The company reportedly charged RM6,500 for a bachelor’s degree, RM8,500 for a masters and RM10,500 for PhD in various disciplines from foreign universities that were subsequently found to be non-existent.

While the desire to cheat may be a fundamental and sub-conscious aspect of human nature, not everyone will be dishonest enough to go to this extent. However, some opportunistic people would pursue short-cuts for faster rewards, thinking there is no need to study when you could easily obtain within seven days what would take university students three to six years of hard work to achieve.

Such dishonest people are proud to introduce themselves as “Dr” or even professor when in fact their education may be only up to Form 3 or Form 5.

These individuals feel this can boost their image and credibility while some do it to progress in their career or business.

These factors combined with public attitude, which easily believes glib talk without reviewing a person’s educational background, and the weakness of employers in Malaysia who only look at criminal records of job applicants, cause such fraudulent behaviour to proliferate.

A national data centre must be established to prevent graduate forgery and all certificates should be printed by the National Printers (Percetakan Nasional) which has a high level of security. Meanwhile, those individuals who flaunt their fake academic achievement should be repulsed by their attitude.

They should be ashamed to face society and even their family members who know the truth.

It is appropriate for them to be charged under section 468 (Forgery for the purpose of cheating) and 471 (Using as genuine a forged document) of the Penal Code.

If the individual is convicted, he or she “shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to seven years, and shall also be liable to fine”.

Failure to curb this evil will seriously affect the quality of education in our country.

It will also send out a wrong impression to foreigners, thus affecting Malaysia’s efforts to make the country a hub of higher education.

Last year, the Majlis Professor Negara (MPN) launched the guidelines on the use of the “professor” title.

The guideline was aimed at enhancing the professional credibility and image of academics in Malaysia and to clarify how and when the title could be used. Datuk Akhbar Satar Director, Institute of Crime and Criminology, HELP University, Kuala Lumpur The STAR Home News Opinion July 1, 2016

Experienced professors needed to achieve better rankings

I REFER to the letter “A focus on students boosts world rankings” (NST, June 29). Although doing so can help, one cannot focus only on students to achieve better rankings.

Passionate and dedicated students can achieve good grades in universities, and subsequently, these students will be successful in their future endeavours.

However, students must also be exposed to a wide range of reading materials, be competent in English and be taught or supervised by a senior professor who is a world authority on a subject.

Such eminent professors are an asset to the nation. We should have more of such professors, who have written books, have had their articles published in journals and have supervised more than 50 graduate students, among others.

They should be appreciated not only by academic communities, but also by learned society. Perhaps, the top universities in the world have high rankings mainly due to new discoveries by their professors.

Additionally, all nations, too, depend on new ideas forwarded by professors. For example, China has poured in billions of dollars to invite top senior professors from all over the world to be attached to its universities, paying them handsome salaries.

Perhaps, to be included in the list of the world’s top universities, a lot of financial “help” is required. No wonder Chinese universities are approaching top-class status.

However, it is unfortunate that in Malaysia, due to economic constraints, most of the country’s well-known professors are being laid off.

Due to this, most faculties in local universities are without “champions”. This leaves them without quality research and teaching.

For example, the practice of graduate students’ theses being evaluated by eminent academicians is lacking. Therefore, the standard is being compromised. In the long run, most of our students are not marketable.

MASHHOR MANSOR,   Professor, School of Biological Sciences, Universiti Sains Malaysia, Penang NST Home News Opinion 1 JULY 2016 @ 11:01 AM

Humility a trait of true leaders

IN positions of leadership, be it at the national level, in institutions or businesses, in the community or in the home, humility is critical for the creation of an environment in which those whom one is responsible for feel respected and included.

Humility is reflected in selflessness — even sacrifice — in recognising the needs and concerns of others, and placing them above our own. It aims at helping those we lead to achieve more and be better individuals in pursuits that contribute to a common good.

Through determination, courage, integrity and the power of example, as set by leaders, people from all walks of life and in whatever situation cannot but take notice, learn something and change their own lives accordingly.

Sadly, today, in our tense, money-driven and often deceitful world, where we crave to draw attention to ourselves, it is not often that we find such an inspiration among those in positions of responsibility and authority.

Humility stands out as the one virtue that separates the good and the great from the self-seeking.

It constantly demands an honest assessment of one’s real merit, that we acknowledge our imperfections, admit when we are wrong and, then, change course for the better and greater good. It counsels against self-aggrandisement, which is rampant in this day and age.

Conventional wisdom often mistakenly holds selflessness, sacrifice and, above all, humility in daily life, business or politics as a sign of weakness and the inability to strive towards the highest goals.

In fact, pride, envy and greed obscure the idea that humility is indispensable to achieve success as leaders. Often, leadership is misconceived and misconstrued as authoritarian and dictatorial, exuding an aura of “I know it all” and “what I do is always right” — anything but humble.

Sometimes, we let our ambitions outpace our virtues and calibrate our actions. When we serve others by respecting their rights and strengthening their roles in life, the more success and achievement become meaningful.

The pursuit of success spurs people to soar above the rest.

Humility issues a warning against flying too high. It makes us less quick with a harsh word and more ready to listen.

In discovering our own fallibility, we find a keener sense and a clearer vision to lead. It is in our humility, through selfless service and sacrifice, that we will find true success as leaders — qualities to be admired for and, hopefully, those that many will learn from and strive to emulate. Rueben Dudley, Petaling Jaya, Selangor The STAR Home News Opinion Letters 1 JULY 2016 @ 11:09 AM

Set reasonable KPI

SCIENTISTS, especially those in the universities, nowadays are under a lot of pressure. It is the pressure to publish, a key KPI for lecturers.

In fact, they are constantly hounded by the “publish or pe­rish” warning. Those who are behind in their publications risk losing out on promotions and other benefits.

With the recent drying up of research money, meeting this KPI has become even more challen­ging. Researchers have to resort to all kinds of creative ways to meet that KPI. As a result, it has been inevitable that there have been some compromises on scientific integrity and ethics.

Has it always been like this for scientists? Not really. The truth is that such pressure to publish is a relatively new phenomenon. A study of the history of science would reveal the fact that scientists of the past published not because they were under any kind of external pressure.

They published because they needed to share their newfound knowledge with their peers.

The intention was to test the validity of their findings. They would write in the journals of the day, hoping to obtain feedback about their research. And the consequent citations by fellow scientists would lead to further strengthening and refinement of their research.

In other words, the knowledge would be validated and enriched. The scientists then did that out of their own passion and interest in the subject or topic they were studying. They were never pro­mised promotion or other forms of rewards for their work.

It is different now. Publishing in the so-called peer reviewed journals has become the top KPI of university scientists.

Failure to measure up to an acceptable rate of churning out published papers will be at the expense of one’s career progression. Promotion in the universities is largely determined by publishing achievements in high impact journals.

And because of the high demand, journals nowadays have become highly commercialised. In fact, some have suggested that science journals have become a lucrative business.

In some of the top journals, you have to pay a considerable fee to get your articles published. No wonder journal owners earn big money.

With the advent of the internet, some fake electronic journals have emerged, persuading scientists to use their platforms for a fee. But there are also genuine electronic journals.

Publishing in the so-called tier one journals has also become more demanding for university dons because of the recent increasing obsession with ranking.

Recent years have witnessed some disturbing developments in the race to be on the high ranking. Often, some degree of manipulation may have taken place in order to look good in the ranking exercise.

A key criterion in many such ranking platforms is how many of the university research papers are accepted for publication in the high-impact journals. Though there are other criteria, the publishing KPI somehow dominates.

This is what creates the pressure on lecturers. There have been claims that such unbalanced demand has led to some amount of neglect on teaching, another core mandate of university education. Can this be the reason why the quality of graduates in local universities has shown a worrying decline?

Many in the upper hierarchy of the university administration have called for a re-examination of the almost religious patronage of the ranking culture. Their key argument is that it is pointless to compare us with universities in advanced countries. We are at different stage of development.

We should instead come up with our own criteria and standard to help us improve. Furthermore, our development agenda is unique to our own country. We should not equate ourselves with the likes of Harvard and Oxford. What we desperately need to do is to bring the universities closer to our own society.

The culture of research, for example, is still low in our society. University professors need to engage more with the society at large in order to address this weakness.

Instead of asking scientists to devote most of their writings to tier-one journals where the readers are only of their narrow discipline, the KPI should include writing to communicate their thoughts with the larger society.

The National Council of Professors may want to give serious thought to this! Prof Datuk Dr Ahmad Ibrahim Fellow, Academy of Sciences Malaysia, UCSI University The STAR Home News Opinion Saturday, 2 July 2016

Honing the right skills to stay alive

THE live python is slaughtered right before your very eyes. Are you game enough to eat it?

Its head is then chopped off, followed by the skinning process. The flesh is cooked without washing. It is finally ready for serving.

You may feel nauseous. You may even vomit. Take it or leave it. Either you live or die of starvation. What is your reaction?

This was the jungle survival course I took part in, organised by the Penang Fisheries Department at Pulau Beras Basah, Pulau Langkawi in 1990.

It was led by its national enforcement chief Abdul Hamid Shukor.

If you are a castaway on a lonely island, you would have to hone your survival skills to stay alive. You would have to kill or be killed.

Eating python flesh was anadditional tip I learned from this Sarawakian jungle survival expert.

I could find none of these facts from the six hardcover survival books in my home library.

Not even in my Commando Survival Manual.

The long-haired and bearded survival specialist said the flesh should not be washed or it would become sticky.

Even crocodile and monitorlizard flesh are edible in the event of an emergency. The flesh of the serpent and other reptiles is pure white.

Mixed with some spices and taken while the soup is hot, it is palatable to some people.

The reptile meat, when smoked, can be preserved for ration. It can help you survive for a few months until help is at hand.

Drinking water from a tree vine is another source of water in a jungle. The vine has an abundance of water stored inside. This tip was among the lessons taught to us.

Eating plant shoots and the right types of leaves act as an insect repellent.

While in a neighbouring country, I saw a roadside snake peddler extracting blood from the serpent by just pressing its mouth. He claimed it was effective for boosting the libido.

The blood dripped into a miniature glass. It was sold for a nominal sum. I just wondered about its authenticity.

It was a sales gimmick to earn a fast buck. Yet, gullible bystanders bought and drank the blood.

I came across a news report that a restaurant in Hong Kong offered snake soup in its menu.

Demand for snake soup is high, from the Mid-Autumn festival right up to the winter. The snake used for the soup was sourced from South-East Asia and not from China.

The shop is adorned with dried snakes and reptiles preserved with alcohol in glass jars.

In recent years, the shop used sea snakes. On a busy day, the owner can sell 800 bowls of soup.

A bowl of soup costs around HK$50 (RM28.65). Many western tourists patronise the shop.

My wife once served me a chicken speciality. She said it was given by a neighbour.

Only after I finished the dish did she reveal that it was actually rabbit meat. I pity the poor animal. But I like the taste as it is better than chicken.

Once again, I was taken for a ride when she served me horse meat instead of beef. After eating it, I felt very “heaty”.

The animals were slaughtered according to Muslim rites. So it was halal.

Today, I abstain from eating beef as I have a soft heart for these animals.

If you observe cows carefully, they have a melancholic appearance. Their faces are quite appealing, with a tender look in their eyes.

I do not mind eating live grasshoppers and dragonflies when it comes to the survival factor. They are rich in protein and easy to catch.

For those who love to venture into the wild, it is advisable they should have some knowledge in survival skills.

Be prepared in case you are lost or marooned. The harsh jungle conditions will have no mercy on you.

In some mountains I climbed, I had the opportunity to drink from a small hot spring from the rocks’ crevices.

According to my guide, the spring was patronised by tigers to quench their thirst.

The survival books in my possession are suitable for jungle-bashing as well as outings in the wild and deserts.

The other five are: Reader’s Digest Survival Against Great Odds, The Survival Handbook, Complete Book of Survival, Survival Tips and Outdoor Survival.

The bounty in the jungle is never lacking. You must have the know-how to source these items. Do you dare? You will be richer for the experience.

The solace will rejuvenate you. You will enjoy nature in all its splendour.

Start moving, then. The wilderness welcomes you.

A.R. Amiruddin is a former journalist with The Star for 19 years and the defunct National Echo for 10 years. The views expressed here are entirely the writer’s own. A.R. Amiruddin The STAR Home Metro Community Saturday, 2 July 2016