Thursday, January 26, 2012

Guest Post

Today's post is by Masturah Alatas. It is in response to a comment in the Kuala Lumpur New Straits Times by James Campbell that begins:

"Any discussion of Malaysian tertiary educational policy needs to take into account the needs of national development in a specific and historical context. Recent debates in regard to the competitive position of Malaysian higher education globally is one area where the pressures of competition and liberalisation must be balanced by the interests of inclusion and social sustainability."


Over the last few years there has been an ongoing debate between those Malaysian academics who accept the challenge of globalisation  and those who more concerned with, as Campbell puts it, "ensuring national values, addressing horizontal social inequality, rural disadvantage and looking into the needs of sustainable and inclusive economic and social development".

The comment continued by invoking the name of Syed Hussein Alatas, a Malaysian social and political theorist who had considerable  international influence, being cited by, among others, Edward Said.



"The discourse of neo-liberal globalisation is itself still arguably beholden to what Syed Hussein Alatas critiqued as the discourse of “The Lazy Native”. Higher educational institutions’ commitment to inclusion and social justice is central to their merit in society."


The following is a response to this comment by the daughter and biographer of Alatas.

Finding the clarity

by Masturah Alatas

As biographer of late Malaysian sociologist Syed Hussein Alatas (1928 – 2007), I do not consider his life story to end with the end of his life. Any continuing narrative about Alatas also has to take into account how, for example, he is talked about in the media today.

As a case in point, I refer to the article Finding the Balance (Learning Curve, New Straits Times, 20 November 2011) by Dr James Campbell, a lecturer in Education at Deakin University, Australia, and researcher with Universiti Sains Malaysia.

Even though the article carries a moribund photo of Alatas, it contains only one sentence in direct reference to him. And the sentence is difficult to understand. “The discourse of neo-liberal globalization is itself still arguably beholden to what Syed Hussein Alatas critiques as the discourse of The Lazy Native”.

The article does not explain what, if at all, neo-liberal globalization has to do with “the discourse of The Lazy Native”. And nowhere in the article is it clearly stated that many of Malaysia’s current higher education policies are neo-liberal to begin with. So Campbell is vague. He seems to be criticizing neo-liberalism in general, but not what is specifically neo-liberal about Malaysia’s higher education policies.

Campbell argues that comparisons between the National University of Singapore and Universiti Malaya may not always be valid “given important distinctions and differences in national policies and political culture between the two nations.”

But how does this reasoning square with the fact that a Malaysian sociologist like Syed Hussein Alatas taught at the National University of Singapore for over twenty years, and was appointed Head of Department of Malay studies there? What criteria of merit did NUS apply when they tenured Syed Hussein Alatas? Is Campbell suggesting that the same criteria cannot be applied in a Malaysian university? And if so, why not?
Malaysians may still remember Syed Hussein Alatas’ short-lived, controversial term (1988 – 1991) as Vice-Chancellor of Universiti Malaya when he tried to promote academic staff based on merit. For Alatas, one way to establish merit was to look at the publications of academics. The New Straits Times itself carried reports of the controversy, so it is no secret. Some of them contained statements like “five members of the students association have come out in support of Vice-Chancellor Syed Hussein Alatas’s stand on the appointment of non-Malay deans to faculties in the university” (NST, 12 March 1990).

When Campbell writes that any discussion of Malaysia’s higher education policies “needs to be placed in perspective against the needs of national development in a specific historical context”, and that notions of merit must take into account ideas of inclusion and social justice, what exactly does he mean? Inclusion, of course, necessarily entails exclusion. But who is being excluded and on what grounds are they being excluded? And whose sense of social justice are we talking about here?

Syed Hussein Alatas’ works from The Myth of the Lazy Native to his writings on corruption precisely warn against the dangers of relativising notions of social justice. So it is quite odd that Campbell would refer to Alatas in his article.

All written legacies can be appropriated, rightly and wrongly, to support a particular persuasion or agenda, and it depends on critics to call attention to what is right or wrong appropriation. One of the best writers I know, for example, who has creatively applied Syed Hussein Alatas’ ideas on mental captivity and the inability to raise original problems to the role of education and the Arts, is former New Straits Times columnist U-En Ng. “You can use entertainment to pull wool over people’s eyes and divert attention away from whatever it is you don’t want them to see or think about. Or, more positively, you can use artistic expression to build civic participation and the capacity to raise original problems,” he writes in the article Governing through the Arts (NST, 09 January 2011). “Rebellious performance art by university students tells you both what you can expect from the current education system as well as how the public might react to new ideas.”

At the same time, a young Italian poet from Osimo by the name of Andrea Palazzo reminds us that an excess of “the so-called need to express oneself can be the mortal enemy of Beauty and Truth. Overshadowed by popular opinion, great art dies, or rather it disappears, or languishes in museums.” And for Palazzo, the prospects for Philosophy in some Italian universities, which he feels are “conservative rather than selective”, are not much brighter either.

Syed Hussein Alatas believed that any process of change must necessarily be accompanied by a philosophical set of criteria for selection of what to reject, retain and strive for (see Erring Modernization, 1975). Quoting from German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche’s The Use and Abuse of History, Alatas stressed the importance of having a horizon of thinking, “a line that divides the visible and the clear from the vague and shadowy” in order for an individual, a community and a nation to thrive. “We must know the right time to forget as well as the right time to remember, and instinctively see when it is necessary to feel historically and when unhistorically.”

It is, of course, extremely difficult to know when and what to remember and forget, especially when the spectre of Malaysia’s 1969 May 13 Racial Riots still haunts us, and when Malaysia is making itself dizzy by rushing to become a High Income Nation before eight years are up.


But one way for a line, a horizon of thinking, to become clearer is through good writing. And this may just be what will rescue Alatas’ work from languishing in the shadows.



Masturah Alatas


Monday, January 23, 2012

Worth Reading

Ranking in Higher Education: Its Place and Impact by Jan Sadlak. Originally appeared in the Europa World of Learning 2010.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Power of Small Numbers

My attention has just been drawn to the citations per paper indicator in the 2011 QS Asian University Rankings. In first place is University of Santo Tomas in the Philippines, a very good school in some ways but not usually considered as a research rival to Hong Kong or Tokyo. It seems that UST's success was the result of just one much cited medical paper of which just one UST researcher was a co-author.

 Another highly cited many-authored medical paper seems to explain Universitas Padjadjaran's appearance in sixth place in this indicator even though the total number of papers is extremely small.

Leiden University have started offering fractional counting of publications in their rankings:

The fractional counting method gives less weight to collaborative publications than to non-collaborative ones. For instance, if the address list of a publication contains five addresses and two of these addresses belong to a particular university, then the publication has a weight of 0.4 in the calculation of the bibliometric indicators for this university. The fractional counting method leads to a more proper normalization of indicators and to fairer comparisons between universities active in different scientific fields. Fractional counting is therefore regarded as the preferred counting method in the Leiden Ranking.

This would be one way of avoiding giving a high position to universities that produce little but manage to get researchers included as co-authors a few papers, usually in medical journals,
FindThe Best

This is a site that has just come to my attention. There is a great variety of rankings of things like antivirus, snowboards and fertility clinics and also of colleges and universities, including business, law and medical schools.

The colleges and universities ranking is US only and includes a "smart ranking" combining  statistical information with the Forbes, US News and ARWU (Shanghai) rankings. This sounds like a good idea but there does not seem to be any information about the methodology.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Happiest University in Britain?

According to the Daily Telegraph it's St Mary's University College Belfast. I thought Belfast was in Ireland but then again I did not do geography in secondary school.
Update: The Journal Bubble

Jeffrey Bealle has a list of predatory journals.

 Note  that some of the comments dispute the inclusion of some journals.
The Journal Bubble

Inside Higher Ed has a piece by Philip Altbach about the proliferation of dubious academic journals.

Clever people have figured out that there is a growing demand for outlets for scholarly work, that there are too few journals or other channels to accommodate all the articles written, that new technology has created confusion as well as opportunities, and (finally) and somewhat concerning is that there is money to be made in the knowledge communication business. As a result, there has been a proliferation of new publishers offering new journals in every imaginable field. The established for-profit publishers have also been purchasing journals and creating new ones so that they “bundle” them and offer them at high prices to libraries through electronic subscriptions.

I suspect that this is causing increasing problems for struggling but respectable journals in the academic periphery. I know of of least one journal that has had several submitters "disappear" after being asked  to make modest revisions or even deal with problems identified by a turnitin report. One wonders where the papers will reappear.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Research Fraud in the UK

AN article in Times Higher Education by Jack Grove indicates that there is a large amount of research fraud going on in UK universities, although the comments raise questions about the validity of the study.

I am wondering if there is any comparative international data available.
Primary School League Tables

The craze for rankings continues unabated. There is now a League Table for English primary schools.


The league tables show the percentage of 11-year-olds in each school reaching Level 4 – the standard expected for their age group – in both English and maths at primary school.
Officially, this means they can spell properly, start to use grammatically complex sentences and employ joined up handwriting in English. In maths, they should be able to multiply and divide whole numbers by 10 or 100 and be able to use simple fractions and percentages.

Pupils exceeding this standard are awarded a higher Level 5.Data for individual schools also shows three other measures: average points score, value-added and pupil progress.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Who says college isn't worth it?

There is a web site called SeekingArrangement which puts sugar daddies and sugar babies in touch with another. Apparently, large numbers of college graduates are signing up in the latter category, perhaps because of increasing difficulties in paying off student loans.

There is now a ranking of the top 20 colleges among sugar baby sign ups. I have doubts about the validity of the ranking. All that is necessary to be a certified college sugar baby, and get three times as many enquiries from sugar daddies (it's good to know that American society still values education), is an edu email address.

New York University might be number 1 because its tuition fees are so high or job prospects for graduates so meagre or maybe because the sugar daddies are in New York.

Here are the top twenty:

1. New York University (NYU) -- 185
2. University of Georgia -- 155
3. University of Phoenix -- 144
4. Tulane University -- 129
5. Temple University -- 113
6. Virginia Community College -- 108
7. University of Southern Florida -- 93
8. Arizona State University -- 85
9. Michigan State University -- 81
10. Ivy Tech Community College -- 78
11. Georgia State University -- 74
12. University of Wisconsin -- 73
13. Penn State University -- 72
14. University of Central Florida -- 67
15. Kent University -- 65
16. Maricopa Community College -- 63
17. Indiana University -- 62
18. University of California, Berkeley -- 61
19. The Art Institutes -- 60
20. Florida International University -- 59

Please note that I found this story via the Chronicle of Higher Education.
Online Education Rankings

US News has announced its rankings of American online education programs. There are six categories: Bachelor's, Business, Education, Engineering, Info tech and Nursing. Within each category there are rankings for faculty credentials and training, student services and technology, student engagement and assessment and, except for bachelor's, admissions selectivity. For bachelor programs the top universities are:

Faculty Credentials and Training
Westfield State University, Massachusetts

Student Engagement and Assessment  
Bellevue University, Nebraska

Student Services and Technology
Arizona State University, Tempe

Thursday, January 12, 2012

The end of the university as we know it?


MIT has already been putting its course materials online for anyone to access free of charge. Now they are going a step further.

"MIT today announced the launch of an online learning initiative internally called “MITx.” MITx will offer a portfolio of MIT courses through an online interactive learning platform that will:
  • organize and present course material to enable students to learn at their own pace
  • feature interactivity, online laboratories and student-to-student communication
  • allow for the individual assessment of any student’s work and allow students who demonstrate their mastery of subjects to earn a certificate of completion awarded by MITx
  • operate on an open-source, scalable software infrastructure in order to make it continuously improving and readily available to other educational institutions.
MIT expects that this learning platform will enhance the educational experience of its on-campus students, offering them online tools that supplement and enrich their classroom and laboratory experiences. MIT also expects that MITx will eventually host a virtual community of millions of learners around the world.

There are a lot of questions that come to mind. Will students be assessed according to the same standards as conventional MIT students? If someone accumulates sufficient certificates of completion will they be entitled to an MITx degree? What will happen if employers and graduate school  start accepting MITx certificates as equivalent to standard academic credentials? If so, will MIT be able to resist the temptation to start charging hefty fees for a certificate.

MIT may, perhaps unwittingly,  have started a process that will end with universities becoming something very different.

Monday, January 02, 2012

How Did I Miss This?

The blog Registrarism has discovered a fascinating article, published in 2002 in Higher Education Quarterly, that compares university league tables (that is British university rankings) with the football (soccer to Americans) league tables.