Monthly Archives: September 2010

The lost road of academia-The Star Online

Sunday September 26, 2010

The lost road of academia

By Prof Dr Mohamad Tajuddin Mohamad Rasdi, Universiti Teknologi Malaysia

You cannot force education and cultural development of writing and research simply by putting up KPIs.

AS the country waltzes once again after the euphoria of Merdeka, I wish to write a poser about what I think the academic world in this country has become.

In a nutshell, I think our leaders in the Ministry of Higher Education and the public universities have strayed far and wide on the role of the academics in this country. I understand that there is a need to set targets, to address world issues, to be on par with the Harvards and Oxfords of the world, to imagine an elite intelligentsia fuelling future industries that would mean more wealth to our people. But what I cannot accept is the methodology used in achieving these visions.

The leadership of academic excellence in this country think they can achieve the visions by waking up one day and instituting Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) that are way too unrealistic for our academics.

One of them is the requirement for Scopus journals that is deemed as more important than book writing.

The Scopus journal is simply one that has been digitised and indexed in a manner that citation of any work can be produced easily as well as help the researcher in cross referencing works. This noble and exciting tool is “flawed” in a few ways due to “academic abuse”.

Firstly, there is now a notion that a scholar is deemed excellent simply because he or she has many citations. This is a numbers game and belittle obscure but important fields of knowledge. For instance, due to commercialisation, many genetic-related papers will be cited but not so for mosque problems that are a concern to a minority of scholars.

Does it mean that the scholar who writes a new and radical thought on mosque is less scholarly than one in genetics? Well, yes, according to the numbers.

Then there is the problem of academics calling each other to cite one another’s work so that their citation and impact factors’ numbers increase. Again, just because of numbers.

Also, there is the issue that some local journals cannot be registered by the Scopus people because they do not conform to a certain format. Another is the issue of local journals dying off because academics race helter-skelter to publish in Scopus.

Finally, there is the dilemma of established and prestigious Western journals which care little about issues that affect a minority group of people, like issues pertaining to Muslims in Malaysia. It scares me to think that we have reduced scholarships to a mere numbers game.

We all laugh at the P. Ramlee movie Ahmad Albab where A.R. Tompel expounded his idea of love for a parent by a child that must be equal to the number and value of presents given to him for his birthday. Thus if a child gives many expensive presents, ergo he laughs and respects the parents most. I wonder who is laughing now at the academic world in Malaysia.

To me, an academic culture is simply one where an academic realises his or her role to bring great improvement and meaning to the lives of people they care about in this country or in the world through research, writing and disseminating knowledge to ALL levels of society and peers.

During an interview in UTM, I was asked about the role of a professor in academia.

I answered that the role of the professor was to bring about meaningful changes in society by doing research and writing.

The then VC said something like: “No, you are wrong. The purpose of a professor is to fulfil the KPI set by the Ministry of Higher Education.”

Without batting an eyelid, I answered: “No sir, respectfully I do not think so. The ministry does not have any academic in Islamic Architecture and Mosque Design and thus, how does it know what and how best to expand and disseminate knowledge on such fields? I have written books, newspaper articles, given public talks, held many workshops with ustaz and imams and I have appeared on TV to expound the problem of mosque design and Islamic architecture.

“I have also given public talks at local and private institutions as well as supervised numerous undergraduates and post graduates. I have even set up centres in various institutions to give the two fields a platform to grow organically. That is the role of the professor!”

You cannot force education and cultural development of writing and research simply by putting up KPIs that seem to short cut the culture of writing. Just because Harvard or Oxford has KPIs in relation to Scopus, that does not mean that its KPIs must be similar to ours. The academics at those institutions have a hundred year tradition of book writing. We must first of all determine where we are as a nation and where we wish to go in terms of creating an intelligent citizenry.

This country will grow or die and will develop or recede, not because of one or two leaders or academics but by the intelligence and diligence of ALL our people. What is Scopus paper compared to documenting the intellectual heritage of our people?

We have simply failed to recognise that the first and fundamental role of academia is to document systematically what is out there in his or her country like teaching methods, explaining concepts, making sense of professional practice, first generation personalities’ thoughts and musings and also looking inwards to what is in our own personal experience.

So, for my Merdeka wish, I urge the academic leaders to NOT take the Scopus short cut but to go back to writing and documenting our experience and intellectual heritage. We are talking about knowledge here, its development, documentation and dissemination.


The KPI dilemma-The Star Online

Sunday September 26, 2010

The KPI dilemma


Even as the debate on the relevance of world rankings to our public universities rages on, a third rankling argument has emerged: the race to be counted in international tables may be turning our institutions into research mills.

MEET Professor X. He is everything that an academic should be: popular on campus, well respected in the community, and of late, very active in research. The number of research papers he has published in the last three years is impressive, and he expects to notch a high “score” for his key performance indicator (KPI).

But look closely at his research papers and one will notice some glaring details: three are published in low-tiered academic journals while two are co-authored with five other academics. There is even one published in a journal with a reputation for selling publication space at RM2,000 each.

Next, meet Professor Y. He is so preoccupied with meeting his research publication KPI that he has spent more time on the phone dealing and wheeling with fellow academics to find partners for his “collaborative” research than lecturing or mentoring his students. The rest of the time is spent on his sole valid research, with the bulk of the work being completed by his two best students.

According to some local academics, the pressure to publish research papers – an important facet of the KPI in public universities – is creating an unhealthy intellectual culture.

As a professor of wildlife ecology and ecotoxicology, Dr Ahmad’s area of expertise does not lend itself well to publication.

Prof Dr P. Raveendran from Universiti Malaya’s Electrical Engineering Depart­ment, for one, highlights how many academics are finding unethical ways to “beat the system” in their bid to fulfil their KPI requirement.

“You have many tumpang academics – those who hitch on other people’s paper for the credit without actually putting in any work. I have even seen a paper with 10 authors,” he tells.

A young lecturer from the Engineering and Built Environment Faculty of a local university who declines to be named agrees that some of the papers submitted were not written by a real expert in the field.

“There are many papers with names of ‘free riders’ who just want to fulfil the quota and promotion purpose. As a result, the university may produce unqualified professors/associates.”

You have many ‘tumpang’ academics, says Prof Dr P. Raveendran

Former deputy vice-chancellor (Research and Innovation Affairs) Prof Datuk Dr Ibrahim Komoo at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) agrees that this “cutting corner” phenomenon is growing rampant.

“Many are not only just submitting papers in low quality journals but there are also those who are plagiarising work and demanding money for their papers or paying to get them published.”

KPI, in some form or other, has long been implemented in public universities to measure the performance of academics. It is used not only to gauge an academic’s performance but also eligibility for promotion.

With the changing landscape of higher education, however, Malaysian universities have imposed stricter KPI targets on their staff. The targets are further prioritised as the global borders close, forcing our public universities to play catch-up with the more established top universities of the world.

Many like Dr Raveendran accepts that it is a necessary tool if our academia wants to be recognised internationally.

“Everyone is grumbling that they are rushing to publish papers to meet the KPI, but is there anything wrong with that? It is the practice all around the world because they want to be recognised internationally. Before we became academics, we already knew that we needed to do research and publish. Basically, that is what KPI is but still many people are grumbling, mainly because we don’t have a proper research culture – it is new.”

What many fear, he says, is that those who cheat will be rewarded while those who slog but fail to meet the criteria set in the KPI will be left behind.

This, he adds, is creating a lot of resentment among those who are producing genuine research work or publishing papers in top-tiered academic journals.

The recent rankings clearly imply that our quality is not there yet, says Prof Dr Kurunathan Ratnavelu

“I can send my work to around 25 journals but I will only be respected if I send it to the high-ranked publications. It is easier to publish 20 papers in low-ranked journals than, say, getting two papers published in top-ranked journals.”

Dr Raveendran attributes this academic malaise to another cause: low morale among academics due to the salary scale.

“Everyone is getting the same pay in spite of the amount of work put in. I hear that this is what many people are grumbling about – everyone is enjoying the same cake even though some are not contributing anything. If we want to boost our standards, we should also study the salary scale of the top universities and make the pay more comparable to the quality and amount of work you put in.”

Straying off real path

Islamic architecture expert Prof Dr Mohd Tajuddin Mohd Rasdi from Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM) feels that the KPI, specifically the research publication criteria, is an unrealistic yardstick of what a good academic is (see accompanying story).

In fact, he stresses, it is setting academics astray from their real purpose.

“What is happening is that academics, especially the young, think their only role is to fulfil whatever KPI that has been set by the university in order to gain promotion.”

Calling it a tragedy, he recounts his experience with his fellow academics,

“After the customary greeting and ‘How are you?’ the reply has become quite standard: ‘What else, fulfil KPI lah;’ or ‘You know, our KPI is crazy – how are we going to fulfil it?”

For the young, he adds, it’s “Ala, Prof, two more papers before I can request for the promotion interview.”

Instead of bringing meaning and improvement in the lives of the people in this country or in the world through research, writing and disseminating knowledge to all levels of society and peers, they are more preoccupied with promotion.

A postgraduate student in Architecture who wants to remain anonymous also feels that the KPI system has indirectly had a negative impact on the spirit of the university.

“For one, it is turning the university into an academic mill – where it is producing those who are smart in manipulating the promotion system which more often than not does not reflect their real ability or contribution to their field’s knowledge or the country’s development.”

Professor Dr Ahmad Ismail from Universiti Putra Malaysia biology department is also of the opinion that academic excellence cannot be measured by publications alone.

He strongly believes that other aspects of academia should be considered.

“Publication alone is not enough. Teaching and supervising of students, attending conferences and seminars, extension and dissemination of knowledge and new findings to the public (among others) make an academician complete.”

As a professor of wildlife ecology and ecotoxicology, his area of expertise does not lend itself well to publication.

“We would like our papers to be published in reputable, high-impact journals – but we can’t because there are none,” he says.

“What is important is what we can contri­bute to our own country – at a local level. If you just concentrate on writing, then you are just a writer.

“A lecturer must develop areas of knowledge and then teach it to students, and not rely on textbooks alone.”

This is a problem faced by most arts, humanities and social science academics.

However, says Dr Ibrahim, most universities are already addressing this conundrum and accepting books published by respected academic publishers as well as writings in the media.

He nonetheless reiterates the importance of research publication.

“Publishing research papers is crucial to upgrade our quality. If we fulfil this fundamental, we will improve the quality of our public universities and standings in the world.”

He breaks down the role of an academician into three parts – research and subsequent publication; teaching; and finally extension (dissemination of knowledge to the public).

Important to improve

To Prof Dr Kurunathan Ratnavelu, UM’s deputy vice-chancellor (Development), the question is simple.

“Do we want our children to be taught by the best in the world?”

If the answer is yes, then we cannot run away from increasing our research work and publication. This was the question asked by the former Vice Chancellor of the National University of Singapore when they embarked on their internationalisation programme some 25 years ago, tells Dr Kurunathan, who is also a member of the secretariat for ranking and improving performance at UM.

He admits that “cutting corner” attempts like multiple authorship or publishing in low ranked journals are detrimental to the academic standards of our universities “but we have to start somewhere”.

He adds that eventually the culprits will be caught and those playing this game will find out the truth the hard way.

As he points out, this can already be seen in our low standings in the world’s university rankings such as the recent QS World Best University Rankings.

“It is not about obsession with KPI or rankings. It is about productivity in research and certain facets that capture the quality of a top class university. Even though we are publishing more research papers, the recent rankings clearly imply that our quality is not there yet.”

UM, he says, is taking steps to address the quality issue.

“We are trying to attract the best brains, especially Malaysians working overseas, and constantly improve our research facilities and support staff. Another thing is to wake up the academics we already have here to produce more quality work.”

The problem is that the benchmark is constantly evolving, he warns.

“There is no handicap in the race. So we will always play catch-up if we don’t correct our fundamentals.”

Dr Raveendran agrees. However, he feels, for now, having quantity is half the battle won.

“It is acceptable for younger lecturers to publish in low ranked journals, but they need to prove as they move up that they have the ability to publish in top ranked journals. And the university needs to monitor the frequency – it should not be a one-off.”

Dr Ibrahim is optimistic that the declining academic integrity can be arrested.

“We are in a transition period in the transformation of our higher education landscape as it tries to streamline with international standards. The bad apples will naturally be weeded out along the way. However, that doesn’t mean that we cannot do something about it in the meantime. I strongly believe that this phenomenon should and can be addressed strategically.”

The Integrity of Prof Dr Abd Aziz Bari

Prof Dr Abdul Aziz Bari tidak kedekut ilmu dan murah hati.

Beliau memberikan saya eceran jurnal yang amat bermanfaat.

However I discovered his lack of integrity the hard way.

He was appointed as the MMU’s school of law external examiner.

At the time I was persecuted by Ghauth Jasmon, Goh Pek Chen & Flora Teichner for refusing to manipulate marks (many students failed my paper), I called Prof Aziz Bari, asking him about the standards of the exam answers. He agreed with my view that the standard is low. So I said to him, ”Can you please convey that to the management?’. To my surprise he answered, “It’s not good (for me to tell the management that the students are of low standards) to offend the management.” This is the lack of integrity displayed by Prof Dr Abdul Aziz Bari. He preferred to protect his self-interest rather than upholding the truth. Were you remunerated for being MMU’s external examiner? If so, does money silent you? Does remuneration prevent you from saying the truth?

Mahasiswa IPTA buang bayi di dapur-Utusan Online

Mahasiswa IPTA buang bayi di belakang dapur

 KUBANG PASU 19 Sept. – Seorang bayi perempuan yang masih bertali pusat menerima nasib malang apabila dibuang ibunya sendiri di belakang pintu dapur sebuah rumah di Taman Rasa Sayang di sini, semalam. Tidak cukup dengan itu, seorang gadis dipercayai ibu bayi berkenaan telah berpura-pura kononnya ‘menemui’ seorang bayi di belakang rumah tersebut kira-kira pukul 8 malam semalam. Difahamkan, bayi tersebut dibuang ibunya sendiri yang merupakan seorang penuntut di salah sebuah institut pengajian tinggi awam (IPTA) di daerah ini. Gadis tersebut yang berusia 20 tahun, dikatakan melahirkan bayi tersebut di rumahnya namun bertindak membuang bayinya di belakang rumah itu bagi mengelakkan perkara tersebut diketahui ramai. Timbalan Ketua Polis daerah, Deputi Supritendan Ibrahim Mohd. Yusoff memberitahu, bayi itu kemudiannya dibawa ke Hospital Jitra untuk mendapatkan rawatan. Menurutnya, hasil siasatan, polis kemudian menahan seorang penuntut IPTA berusia 20 tahun pada pukul 9 malam bagi membantu siasatan. “Pelajar terbabit ditahan di kawasan berhampiran dan dia ketika ini menerima rawatan di hospital sama,” katanya.

Ibrahim berkata, kes itu disiasat di bawah Seksyen 317 Kanun Keseksaan.