There must be a change of attitude and cultivation of research culture to create universities that produce global players

Press Statement
Dr Tan Seng Giaw

(Kuala Lumpur, Friday): We have called for a Royal Commission instead of a Review Committee on education to enable the Chairman Dato' Seri Dr Mahathir to overcome multitudinous hindrances. We have proposed the creation of at least 35 public universities of international standard with credible admission criteria.

Today, we discuss attitudinal change and research culture, the lack of which hampers the efforts to achieve excellence in education. Even if we accept the need to change, it will take years before we can see the results.

On 19 December, 2002, Dr Mahahtir repeated his change of attitude on assimilation, saying: "initially there were thoughts of assimilating Malaysians into one race, but this was not carried out as Malaysians of various racial, cultural and religious backgrounds did not accept the idea.

"Because we allow for this (people having their own language and schools), there is no bitterness and anger between different races. We don't intend to assimilate anybody. What we want is integrate the different races and tribal groups into one society, each playing its own role and no one is higher than the other," he added.

Dr Mahahtir has changed his attitude to deal with the reality. We hope that he uses similar attitude in the educational review. While making national schools more attractive to all races, he should genuinely assuage the fear among educationists about Chinese and Tamil schools. He should instill integration into the Education Ministry, universities and schools.

We should practise integration by having credible admission criteria, and motley composition of administrative and academic staff members, realizing the policy of merits and needs.


The atmosphere in the universities must be conducive to academic excellence. The Government must recognize this. This attitude goes from the Government, the academic and administrative staff members down to the students.

If a Vice-Chancellor is a voracious reader, caring for meritocracy and free from political shackles, then the deans, the professors and the lecturers are likely to follow suit. If the whole teaching and administrative staff members are that way inclined, then the students are in the right milieu.

As the Education Ministry truly practices integration reiterated by Dr Mahathir, the people can see the example. Should the ministry be strictly mono-ethnic, it would be difficult to persuade others to do otherwise.

If a lecturer is not promoted on merits and there is no research atmosphere, then he or she may be frustrated. A lecturer who is promoted on grounds other than merits stifles academia. A brilliant person may find other openings.

Some people such as the Education Minister Tan Sri Musa Mohamad argue that even under trying circumstances like the former Soviet Union, there were creative scientists. (Albert Einstein saw persecution in Germany before he emigrated to USA.). Others insist that we don't need Nobel Prize winners. Instead, we concentrate on producing the majority of graduates who are competent in doing their work in their chosen fields. (We wonder whether the minister prefers a conducive or an oppressive atmosphere to encourage meaningful research.)

There is an urgent need for the change of attitude from the Education Ministry, the Vice-Chancellors to the academic and administrative staff members.


We do not know the actual amount spent on research and the findings. Research is very expensive and many findings are not of commercial value. The types of research to be conducted may be controversial especially basic research. The deciding authority often changes from time to time. Certain types of research may not be allowed now. They may be approved in the future.

Nevertheless, research and development are very important. They determine partly whether a university has a high standing internationally. A professor or lecturer must do meaningful research. There must not be plagiarism. Apart from inclination to research, he or she must also learn how to teach unless the job is full-time research. Public universities should have modules on effective teaching for lecturers. They should encourage lecturers to do an appropriate module or modules and, on completion, he or she is awarded a diploma or a master degree.

Industrial research takes on a different basis. It is equally important.

Occasional scientists may be tyrants, being determined to etch their names in the hall of fame. As they are adamant about their beliefs, they may stifle researchers holding different views at the expense of science.

The Government says that it conducts biennial surveys on R & D. during the Seventh Malaysia Plan, it allocated RM3.587 billion for science and technology, S & T, but only RM2.611 billion were used. Between 2001 and 2005, the Eighth Malaysia Plan allocates RM4.708 billion for S & T.

In 1996, the amount spent on R & D was RM549.1 million. In 1998, it was RM1.1 billion, increasing from 0.2% Gross Domestic Product, GDP, to 0.4%. This should be increased to 1% GDP or more. The private sector spent RM400.1 million and RM746.1 million on R & D in 1996 and 1998 respectively.

As expected, R & D are mainly in manufacturing, information and communications technology (ICT) services, plant production, primary products and energy resources. Under the Intensification of Research in Priority Areas (IRPA), a total of 3,705 projects valued at RM698.3 million was approved. But, in 1996, the number of protection of intellectual property or patents was 141 in Malaysia compared to 335,061 in Japan and 124,476 in USA.

Basic research in universities is lacking. Between 2001 and 2005, only RM100 million will be provided for it.

Although the Government prattles about various programmes and schemes in research in S & T including the Malaysia-MIT Biotechnology Partnership Programme (MMBPP) and Industrial Research and Development Scheme (IGS), it needs to review comprehensively all aspects of R & D in the country. We require the Royal Commission.

Malaysia does not have the culture of R & D. Even those research establishments left by the British such as the Medical Research Institute (MRI) and the Rubber Research Institute (RRI) do not have many researchers of international standing and the organization and funding of research have to be improved. The Government talks about a national biotechnology programme and the biotechnology cooperative centres (BBCs). Yet, it has not grasped fully the implications of these, the amount of allocations, the number of true experts and the need for a drastic change in the mentality of decision-makers on R & D.

As the Government wants to increase enrolment at least to 20,000 per university and the number of private IHLs mushrooms, the ratio of lecturers to students has increased from 1:15 in 1990 to 1:20 in 2000. It intends to have more attractive and comprehensive training schemes.

We need more and better professors and lecturers so that the ratio can be reduced to 1:10 or even 1:5. We have to attract teaching staff from within and outside the country.


* Dr Tan Seng Giaw, DAP National Vice-Chairman and MP for Kepong