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Friday, December 6, 2013

‘Apex’ university bleeding talent over slow promotions, MP claims

 Malaysia’s “apex” university is losing academic staff in several key courses owing to unhappiness over allegedly slow career progression, DAP MP Dr Ko Chung Sen has claimed.
Frustrated by the purportedly dim prospects in their academic careers, some of the unnamed university’s “hardworking and well-qualified” staff that taught “critical courses” - medicine, dentistry and pharmacy - are opting to join other universities and even the private sector, Ko claimed.
Although Ko did not name the university, he said the institution was awarded “Apex University” status in 2008 when it achieved the 307th spot in the Times Higher Education-QS World University Rankings, but noted that it has since fallen to the 355th place this year despite “hundreds of millions” of extra funding.
“It was disheartening to hear from a concerned academic that many highly qualified academicians are leaving the critical courses in an Apex University because of the slow process in the promotional exercise,” the Kampar MP said in a statement today without naming the “concerned academic”.
In his statement, Ko alleged that this university had not promoted any staff for the past three years until May this year, with a long queue of academic staff now waiting for assessment and promotion.
“Even then, now there is a huge backlog of qualified applicants to be promoted but they have no external evaluator to assess the candidates,” he said.
Ko further claimed that these critical courses were at risk of non-recognition by the relevant professional bodies, owing to the allegedly failure to meet the lecturer-to-student ratio requirements.
“This had become so critical that the ratio of lecturers to students is now in danger of not fulfilling the requirements for accreditation,” the heart surgeon said when speaking of the alleged “exodus” of the academic staff from the university.
He later added that many universities, government departments and major private firms conduct assessment exercises to promote their staff annually.
In his press statement, Ko enclosed a purported letter from an unnamed individual who signed off as a “Concerned Academic”, which contained largely similar claims against the “apex university”.
“Unfortunately, it appeared that the apex university had problems retaining the best of the talents it has, let alone attracting them,” he claimed, urging the Ministry of Education to review and to speed up the university’s promotion process.
The government had previously granted Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) - one of the country’s leading institutions of higher learning - the status of “apex university”.
In QS’s World University Rankings 2013-2014, USM and Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM) shared the 355th spot.
In the same global ranking, Universiti Malaya at 167 had the highest ranking among local institutions here, followed by Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia at 269.
The other universities in the survey are Universiti Putra Malaysia.(UPM) in the 411-420th region, while the International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM) and Universiti Teknologi MARA (UiTM) respectively ranked between 501 to 550 and beyond the 701th spot.
In response to The Malay Mail Online’s query, USM’s public relations office’s head Mohamad Abdullah said Ko’s claims were not true, saying that the university promotes its academic staff “annually”.
“To say ‘no promotions at all’ is not true,” he told The Malay Mail Online over the phone, explaining that USM was “selective” and “careful” in deciding on the promotion of its academic staff.
“As an Apex University we want talent. And promotional process is a quality benchmarking process and takes time,” he later added.
Explaining that USM announces promotions annually or bi-annually depending “depending on the number of applications and the process of evaluations”, Mohamad said  the evaluation process for the latest exercise initiated in the middle of this year was still ongoing.
“We have opened a new exercise this year which is a meticulous and detailed process whereby all applications are evaluated. This is a time-consuming process. External evaluation is one of the many steps involved,” he added in an email reply.
He acknowledged that there was some “brain drain” of staff for the medicine and dentistry courses, but noted it happened throughout the world.
“For us, brain drain in medicine is a global phenomenon because of the demand in the sector, when there are better offers, they will go,” he said on the phone, maintaining that there was not much “brain drain” happening among those who taught pharmacy.
Mohamad said USM gets accreditation for its courses as it maintains “close relationship with professional bodies”.
While saying that “attracting and retaining talent is a challenge for any institution”, Mohamad said that lecturers who leave may do so for various reasons, including the seeking of “new experience in new environment”.
“In the Higher Education scene in Malaysia there is always movement of staff from one Higher Education Institute to another for various reasons. At the moment such movements are manageable,” he said in the email.
He also said it was incorrect to say that USM did not have enough lecturers.

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