In its drive to fulfil the target of 70% PhD holders among lecturers across local government-funded universities, the Higher Education Ministry has been aggressively sending lecturers overseas to pursue their PhDs. These lecturers need to fulfil only two general conditions - obtaining a band of 6.5 in the International English Language Testing Service (IELTS) conducted by the British Council and second, be offered a place by a foreign university.
Given the government’s move (as announced in the 2008 Budget) to double the cost of living allowances for students in countries like the UK, US, Australia, New Zealand and Canada, this suggests that our economy is good at the moment (Alhamdullilah!) and that the government has lots of taxpayers’ money at its disposal to send these lecturers overseas.
Nevertheless, the ministry is not spending taxpayers’ money wisely by sending many of these lecturers overseas. Firstly, it is a fact, from the past records, that many lecturers who were sent overseas came home without a PhD (even though most of them proudly came home with a Mercedes). As such, the Higher Education Ministry should learn from their past mistake of sending the wrong candidates. Lecturers must prove their academic competency before they are funded by taxpayers’ money to go overseas.
They must have published at least one journal article in English on their own accord and not on a ‘Ali Baba’ hitchhiking basis. Our taxpayers’ money will definitely go down the drain if these lecturers have problems in writing their theses in English and subsequently come home empty- handed (I mean, without a PhD). Just for public awareness, the Higher Education Ministry spends at least RM500,000 on a lecturer to do his/her PhD overseas.
Secondly, it is a fact that almost all of these lecturers find themselves a job (or even jobs) while studying despite the two-fold or even ten-fold increase in their cost of living allowance. I know a few lecturers who are currently working in the UK, some part-time while others even full-time. They told me that it is perfectly fine to not complete their studies within the stipulated three-year period as the Higher Education Ministry will surely grant them a full-salary, six-month extension and more subsequent extensions.
Aren’t these lecturers taking advantage of taxpayers’ money? Just look around and compare – self-funded PhD candidates will try to complete their studies within the shortest time possible while government-funded (or rather, taxpayers-funded) candidates will try to complete theirs in the longest possible time!
Thirdly, why must the Higher Education Ministry send so many of these lecturers overseas when they can pursue similar courses at our local higher institutions at a fraction of the cost? Is it that our local universities have no ‘class’ at all ?
May I suggest that the Higher Education Ministry spend taxpayers’ money wisely by not sending any Tom, Dick and Harry overseas when they do not have the aptitude to succeed. It is unfair to send the academically incompetent lecturers when many young, talented and academically bright Malaysians can be groomed to be future first-class lecturers who will in turn, transform the universities in which they serve into world-class universities.
The current scenario is dismal where substandard local universities grant double awards - by giving the PhD students a full salary, a full scholarship and then a double bonus (eg. a three-fold increment in their salary and a promotion from DS45 to DS520 without even considering whether or not these lecturers possess that ‘mutu istimewa’ (special quality) as stipulated in the promotion circular.
Lecturers were promoted despite their poor academic ability and a no-substance curriculum vitae, not even publishing in any national or regional journal articles, let alone international ones. Only substandard universities would consider promoting lecturers on the basis of one’s contribution in a managerial position and a few conference proceedings (these were not even peer reviewed and many lecturers share conference proceedings!).
It is also an irony that despite the ‘40-years-old ruling’, our universities are still sending their academic staff who have already passed the 40-year-old age limit to pursue their studies locally or overseas on a full-pay full-scholarship. While taxpayers do support the advocated lifelong learning programme among Malaysians, it should not be at the expense of the taxpayer. It is not a good investment considering the huge cost and the number of years they are able to contribute upon their return from the three-year doctoral venture.
Stop the rhetoric of ‘internal breeding’ as an excuse to send lecturers elsewhere for a PhD. They can always do a PhD in their respective universities under the supervision of an academically-capable supervisor.
The Higher Education Ministry should monitor these ‘privileged lecturers’ while they are overseas to ensure that they fully concentrate on their studies rather than working and make some money on the side (possibly to buy a Mercedes). If they are unable to complete their studies within the stipulated three-year period, direct them to come home and not waste any more taxpayers’ money.
In order to be at par with world-class universities, terms for Higher Education Ministry scholarships should be as firm and stringent as other prestigious scholarships. Then there will be no hanky-panky where a lecturer deliberately delays his/her thesis submission so as to gain extra mileage in getting full-pay full-scholarship extension.
Finally, I have heard about lecturers who bring their family members overseas (of course, their whole family’s flight tickets are bought on taxpayers’ money) and then send their family members home secretly so that they can continue to enjoy or receive the full family allowances.
The Higher Education Ministry should take disciplinary action against lecturers who claim family allowances when their families are actually residing in Malaysia. This is blatant cheating of the taxpayer as Higher Education Ministry staff are incompetent in their monitoring of such lecturers. Maybe the ACA can swing into action to bring these lecturers to justice.