Sunday, 1 July 2012

Malaysian Higher Education System Under Critical Comment

A Comment on Malaysian Educational Standard
                          by Dr JB Lim 
 Note:  In response to a press report on April 7, 2012 that Malaysians failed to gain admission into the World’s most prestigious Harvard University for the second year in a row due to a slide in the quality of Applicants, the Blogger's most learned e-buddy Dr JB Lim has the following to say:

If I were to relate to you my experiences with all these local graduates, especially those from public universities, let alone school leavers trying to enter universities in the United Kingdom like Oxford, Cambridge or at St Andrews University, or those in the United States like Harvard, Princeton, MIT, CIT, you will laugh at the atrocious standard of our Malaysian educational standard especially in Science.    It would take me pages after pages to recount my experiences.
Very briefly :
1. You ask them a simple question in English, they can only reply in Bahasa Malaysia.

2. You ask them a simple technical question in the area they study in the university, they will be stunt.    They will just stare at you ; look up at the ceiling instead of looking at you.    You will wait for 1 - 2 minutes for them to answer.    When you repeat the question once again, they will just smile at you.    They just don’t seem to know.

3. I have been a previous external examiner to some of the undergraduate students studying in local universities.    When I asked them questions, not only do they just remained silent & just smiled and showed their teeth, but they gave irrelevant and out-of-point answers.    They told me they have not studied that before.    When I asked them, then what did they study, they replied points that were neither here nor there.    I just can’t believe it.    But their lecturers who sat beside me as an observer during the oral examination told me these were taught to them although not in great detail.
Anyway, I have never failed any student even if they cannot answer.    During the oral examination even if they cannot answer,  I would explain to them, and gave them the answer. I then asked them to promise me that they will remember what I told them before I let them go with a pass.    So for compassionate reasons, none has ever failed under my hands.

4. Over the last 10 years I have also been one of the International Judges for ITEX for all the local public universities, and a few private universities competing with each other with their research inventions and innovations.    I found most of their research, discoveries and inventions by academics and postgraduates students below expectations.
A few years ago, a Malay female M.Sc. student from the University of Malaya even tried to bluff me and my co-judge that she boiled a flower extract in water for over 180 degrees Celsius, and she found the colour of the flower extract heat remained stable.    This instantly caught me by surprise because water at normal atmosphere can never exceed 100 deg C.    So I asked her if she used some kind of very special very high pressure cooker to boil the water.    To my surprise she said no  . . .  ’just boil it with water in a beaker.’
Instantly I failed her.    Her professor (a Chinese lady) who was standing behind her to give her support could not defend her,  because I was one of the International Judges evaluating the quality of inventions put up by local public (some from overseas)  universities.
I would have forgiven her if she was only a Form 1 or Form 2 school student.    I would have taught her that water can only boil at 100 deg C under sea level atmospheric pressure.    But she was doing her Master of Science degree from what was supposed to be the best and oldest university in Malaysia.

5. My drug company employs a few science graduates, including qualified professional nutritionists graduated from UPM and UKM.    During my conversation with some of them about nutritional diseases and methods to diagnose them,  surprisingly they told me they have not heard of these deficiency diseases, let alone identify their clinical feature and diagnose them.
I remember at London where I studied nutrition, we were drilled through and through on the clinical features of all the nutritional disorders until we were truly expert in identifying every one of them.    Both my external examiners were from the Department of Medicine from Cambridge.    Both were Jews and Professors appointed by the University of London to examine us.    I remember during the oral exams they would show us clinical slides of nutritional diseases, and ask us to make a diagnosis.
We could do this with ease because our London professors ( also all Jews – all walking encyclopedias.    The Jews are a very highly intelligent race that hold almost all the chairs of university departments in the UK) have already drilled us very expertly in this area among many other branches.    We have no trouble at all answering our external examiners from Cambridge.
We never smiled, remained silent and stared at the ceiling like what I experienced with our local university students when you examined them.
The academic standards between British and Malaysian universities are worlds apart.    There is totally just no comparison at all – even in the 1960’s the academic standards of British universities are far higher than those of Malaysian universities in 2012.

6. I have also been a Chairman of scientific sessions where research papers were presented by academics and post-doctoral researchers in scientific congresses.    I just can’t believe the sub-standard quality of their papers which I think even a good Upper Form Six student from another country can do better.
When I was at the University of London doing my postgraduate way back in the early 1960s the quality of papers from British Universities were so high that we, even as postgraduate students, find it very difficult to understand.    They were all so good, so professional and so specialized.    Their papers were beyond us.    Even way back in the 1960s, their papers were full of data, statistics and mathematical analysis of the experimental data done in a very sophisticated and elegant way.    It was so professional.
But when our Malaysian university academics present a paper at a scientific conference, they only show pictures and photos, and seldom any research data.
Here in Malaysia in the 2010s, I feel very bored and sleepy especially after lunch as chairman for the afternoon sessions trying to listen to our local postgraduates’ sub-standard papers.    Their slides were just pictures and photos taken with a camera.    There is seldom any statistic or data to back up what they were trying to present.    But they call it ‘presenting a research paper’.
So with the sub-standard knowledge of our local students, their professors and subsequent education how can they ever hope to enter Harvard University ? They are crying for a blue moon in their dreams.
JB Lim
(Not a local graduate receiving hand-out scholarships freely and randomly)

A proud Dr JB Lim posing with his daughter Ai Hsing graduated with BSc (Hons) in engineering from Liverpool John Moore University

This valuable mail just came into my mail-box; I am glad to read Dr. JB Lim's
factual report and comment on Malaysian Higher Education System. It is deterioting and going down the drain, dragging the government run public universities into shambles. Dr. Lim wrote this article with feisty gung-ho and well-intended criticism, without fear or favour, with his indisputable authority. I place this article at my blog for sharing with those who have not read it. Unfortunately there is no Dr. JB Lim's e-mail address attached for me to send him a 'thank you' note. I am sure he will not not mind my effort to disseminate his message to all readers.

Alan CY Kok


  1. I taught math at pre-u (form 6)for 33yrs .I have watched the standard of math dropping due to three factors - poorer quality of teaching at all levels - main decisions of improving the syllabus/books/exam papers were poorly done - more capable people of mathematics are not getting into leadership positions of mathematics

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