THE article that appeared under the heading “Push for rankings stirs trouble” (StarEducate, Aug 28) about Universiti Malaya (UM) was well written.
Let me get straight to the point by referring to what Assoc Prof Dr Rosli Mahat said when he “pooh-poohed” the rankings by saying: “Look at the QS and THE rankings and ask yourself who works out the criteria. Businessmen and newspapers!”
Exactly Dr Rosli, academic research and findings are of no use unless they can be made relevant and are of some use out there in the real world!
For far too long academics have sat in their ivory towers. Now that UM’s vice-chancellor Prof Tan Sri Dr Ghauth Jasmon is asking academics to become relevant to the vibrant evolving world, you balk!
There are five fundamental factors that Prof Ghauth is attempting to overcome. First, he needs to bring the academics out of their tempurung(shell).
It is not that they are comfortable or lazy, but with the World Wide Web and globalisation, their old world has exploded into a vibrant colourful global village, but there are very few “referees and line masters” to assist them as the lines and goalposts have changed.
Prof Ghauth has attempted to bring in some of these “linesmen”, and many have responded well, but they have to contend with their seniors who are afraid of being “surpassed” by the juniors.
Secondly, the ability to write and communicate is always a situation a lecturer has to contend with – to make the lectures and tutorials interesting, relevant and fun!
Here I quote another article in your newspaper that says that “school life can’t be all about books and classrooms; you need to have a conducive environment to let students explore their own interests as well”.
This same principle applies to lecturers, tutors and academics who must know how to make teaching both interesting and fun.
The UM vice-chancellor has a very simple answer: ICT and soft skills coaching – developing the individual’s innate skills to communicate.
And to this end, Prof Ghauth has pushed the ICT department to become a faculty and centre. He has also sent drama teachers to all faculties.
The third problem is the concept of “internationalisation” and “globalisation”.
It can be a frightening experience and somewhat taxing but Prof Ghauth has again encouraged the use of ICT, by providing computers and broadband access.
Let me cite an amusing experience with a lecturer whom I was assisting.
He came hurriedly to my room and asked me to visit a certain website with information that he needed for his paper for publication. He was however concerned about plagiarism.
I carefully explained plagiarism and how to handle this “phenomenon”. He decided later not to use the account with the UM staff portal.
The fourth factor is that there are no “independent” persons who can assist and supervise the research. The traditional concept is to have a mentor who is a senior within the faculty or department, to supervise the researcher.
While this is acceptable, we have some some supervisors who “take” or “steal” the research of the student they are supervising, and use such information as their own and even get it published, while delaying the final work of the student!
Such activities can now be detected easily with so many technological advances and have caused considerable panic to those who have abused the system.
To cover up for their wrong-doings, many have hit out at the vice-chancellor. They have also tried to portray the number of “academics” leaving UM as a sign of declining standards.
Finally, there is no issue with the English Language.
From my experience, the majority of those whom I had coached – who incidentally are from various races – have been comfortable with the language.
Naysayers of the language have often used English as a political tool for their own motives.
I am confident that UM can and will lead the way for Malaysian universities to excel, and Prof Ghauth Jasmon was brought in to the varsity for the right reasons. He is non-partisan, non-political, and an excellent vice-chancellor.
MICHAEL ST JAMES Via e-mail
Source: The STAR Home education Sunday September 11, 2011