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Higher education in Southeast Asia October 29, 2006

Posted by genchan in Education, Government, Southeast Asia.
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education1.jpg Found an interesting report from UNESCO on the current status of higher education in some of the Southeast Asian countries. According to the report (dated 2006), there are some visible changes on how the countries are adapting to the challenges facing higher education in the region and trends at the global level.

To briefly summarize, some of the more advance countries such as Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand are becoming exporters of education, helping to expand transnational education across borders. This is partly due to the english language used which makes it easier for foreign students to study but also the fact that overseas providers have been given access to set up branch campuses, giving students from poorer countries opportunity to obtain degrees from well-known institutions at a fraction of the cost. Some of these branch campuses also act as catalysts in raising the standards of local institutions.

In light of global trends in the increase of institutional autonomy, the report noted that there is a gradual move for governments to trade autonomy for more accountability. Some countries like Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore are showing more willingness in ceding autonomy which has led to institutional restructuring and changes in university governance. Some has gone as far as delinking academics from civil service.

But as these measures are introduced (bit by bit), rules and regulations will have to be made more rigorous and a corporate culture to be nurtured as universities would be required to compete for funding on their own and maintain competitiveness. The setting up of research universities in Malaysia and specialized research institutes in Singapore are noted in the report as innovative approaches.

The balance between autonomy and accountability, however, continues to be a torny issue for most countries as political involvement is unavoidable. While the report provides an interesting update on the health of higher education in the region, the changing trends mentioned are minor steps as more needs to be done to fully integrate into the global educational system that could be achieved through stronger international cooperative research, increased foreign faculties and students, up-to-date curriculum/courses, reduced bureaucracy and competitive salaries. Interestingly, faculty salaries, which are notably low, has not been mentioned or covered well in the report.  


Sticks and carrots, what’s next? October 25, 2006

Posted by genchan in East Asia, Government, Politics.

North Korea’s attempt to go nuclear has recently been confirmed with a first test underground. US’s sniffer plane detected particles from the blast and later confirmed it was plutonium based. Still the blast impact was very low recorded as 4.2 magnitude compared to Pakistan’s at 4.8 and India’s at 5.4.

While the low yield may suggest an imperfect test, it more than confirms North Korea’s position as the 9th country in the world to possess nuclear capabilities. The other 8 being the US, Britain, France, Russia, China, Pakistan, India and Israel. Iran might just make into the top ten soon. Presumably, more will follow.

While Iran continues to deny, North Korea (NK) has owned up to its nuclear ambition. Because  NK is part of the ‘axis of evil’ as the US President calls it, NK’s action is simply unacceptable and severely condemned.

This is understandable as nuclear weapons in the hands of a rogue state would destabilize the entire region. But to begin with, how did NK even manage to come so far? Iraq was taken down right away because of suspected WMD that didn’t even include nuclear while NK was spared. Obviously, geo-politics were in play.

In the case of NK, first there were carrots. Clinton brokered a deal to supply NK with two light-water reactors in replace of Yongbyon’s plutonium-producing reactor in 1995. Later in 1998, South Korea came out with its ‘sunshine policy’ and fed the North with more carrots – a total of more than a billion dollars’ worth of aid. 

Then came sticks. Unlike his predecessor, President Bush took a hard-line stance and by early 2002 the 3 countries Iran, Iraq and NK became known as the infamous axis of evil. Around the same time, CIA learned that NK has illegally acquired centrifuges for processing uranium of which NK admitted. The reactor plants and oil supplies to NK were halted. NK reciprocated by withdrawing from the NPT in Jan 2003. In replace of the NPT, the 6-party talks was set up.

Be reminded that 2003 was also the year that the US declared war on Iraq. So, several questions remain. Why Iraq and not NK? Was the Iraq situation more severe than the NK? Was the Iraq war meant to be a detterence to  Iran and NK? What would have happened to the situation in NK if Iraq was not invaded?

Iraq was thought to be an easier target, which obviously have been proven otherwise. It was also meant to deter Iran and NK from pursuing WMD, which has anything but led to the opposite result. Unlike Iraq lacking a strong ally, war with NK would at that time (and probably now) bring China, a regional power, into conflict and cause destruction to South Korea’s economy. Clearly, the stakes are higher.

The 6-party talks have gone nowhere and more sticks were added with an account freeze on NK’s Macau-based bank. Under the recent UN resolution passed by all the Security Council members (a vote of 15-0), more sanctions are in place with China and Japan freezing N.Korean accounts. Japan has also banned port calls by N.Korean ships.

So, what’s next? Will it cause NK to go into further isolation? How much impact will all these additional sticks have on the government in relative to its people? Will other countries like Japan change course and go nuclear? More importantly, what is stopping NK from selling what they know to terrorists? And what impact is NK’s test have on Iran’s nuclear ambition? A lot I would think – it has given Iran a strong impetus to push forward with its nuclear program against all odds.

Yesterday, it was reported that NK intends to end its nuclear quest and return to the talks. Japan’s FM Taro Aso has expressed pessimism and caution that more test could come.

One thing for sure is that the simultaneous actions of US’s sticks and South Korea’s carrots does not work. There has to be a more coordinated effort on how the five countries intend to deal with NK. There should be one clear message (not necessarily an ultimatum) and not several overlapping messages. 

Criticism at the highest level October 24, 2006

Posted by genchan in Government, Malaysia.
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 Malaysia’s former PM Dr. Mahathir has been an outspoken person since taking the helm back in 1981. Thus, it’s no surprise that he has continued to be outspoken on many issues even after his retirement. It is, however, surprising and somewhat anew in the history of Malaysia for a former PM to openly criticize the current government that he has helped to shape.

Its not something that you will see everyday in developing countries. But it is a healthy process for democracy and for the nurturing of a civil society. It has a bigger impact than criticisms from the opposition or the general public, simply because its coming from the man that for two decades has been at the center of Malaysian politics. However, it might be naive to think of the criticisms as a representation of societal woes rather than the frustrations of one man.    

Below is an interesting excerpt from New Straits Times (24th Oct 2006) on Dr. M’s meeting with PM Pak Lah.

1) The reason why Dr Mahathir met the Prime Minister

I think a lot of people are unaware or confused about the reason why I met Pak Lah.

Actually, Mubarak, the organisation of ex-Members of Parliament and State Assemblymen, approached Mokhzani, my son, to try and help resolve this problem, the problem being my criticism of the government which is causing a lot of confusion. They suggested three things: That I should meet the Umno supreme council.

Secondly, if that cannot be done, I should meet the Malay members of the Cabinet and thirdly, if that is not possible, for me to see Pak Lah.

Pak Lah agreed to see me. So I was informed that I should meet Pak Lah. Since this was initiated by Mubarak, I said I would like to see Mubarak first to find out what is it that they were asking me to do.

Mubarak came, five of them including their president, and Tan Sri Zaleha. I told Mubarak what I felt about things and after Mubarak listened to me, they felt that I should tell these things directly to Pak Lah.

I said if I am free to speak frankly then I would see him. After that, I believe Mubarak went to see Pak Lah and Pak Lah agreed to see me and a date, a time and a place was fixed. I had requested that there should be one person as witness for each of us but the agreement was that there would be nobody and I said that was fine. 

 2) The meeting

Pak Lah met me at the door together with his son, Kamal, and I went to his office, I think, in his house, at least it used to be an office when I was there. I told him I would record our dialogue. I will talk. So I set down the recorder on the table and I told him I would like to start. Then of course, I told him about all the things I was critical of the government. In one and a half hours I covered a whole lot of things.

He interrupted me several times when I was talking, for example when I said that it was not true that the government did not have money for the projects because when I decided to step down in 2002, I had made sure of four things: That the country was stable, that Umno had regained its popularity, that the economy was doing well and number four that the finances of the government were in good shape.

It was only after that I decided to step down. But I said that there was no question that when I stepped down the government had no money.

He said “yes, yes, the government now has money” implying of course that at the time I stepped down the government had no money. I said yes, I know all about that and now the government has more money than it has ever before.

When I said that his son and son-in-law have been telephoning people to give contract to so-and-so, he said he did not think they did.

There were a few other things he mentioned but as he talked I saw that it was nearly two hours and I decided that the meeting was over. I got up and collected my recorder and said goodbye to him at the door and I came out. 

Q: What was Pak Lah’s reply when you called Malaysia a police state?   

   A: He said this is not true. He doesn’t agree with me that this is a police state.

Q: What do you hope to achieve ultimately? You didn’t ask the Prime Minister to step down and you’re not thinking of a time frame and this thing has been going on for months, so what is your goal?   

   A: Governments have been criticised before and governments which are sensitive would take into consideration criticisms. It may take the form of resignation, it may take the other forms like stop doing all these wrong things, things that people criticise about.

Q: Tun, were you convinced or satisfied at all of any of Pak Lah’s responses to you?    

   A: At the moment, no.

3) On his legacy

Q: You are considered the father of modern Malaysia. Are you concerned that your legacy is being chipped away by this controversy?   

   A: It is not being chipped away by this controversy. It is being chipped away by the actions of this government. For the past three years, there has been no move. The economy has not been doing well, people have not been able to get jobs and unemployment is still high. Nothing has been done really to improve the economy, although we read, of course, of very good figures but we see that the retail business is not good, contracts are not easy to come by.

4) On Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak

Q: Would you support Najib as Umno president?   

   A: That is hypothetical.

Q: Do you think he would make a good prime minister?   

   A: Well that is up to them to decide. It is not for me to decide or for me to say whether I support or don’t. It is entirely dependent upon Umno. But I must admit that I had appointed Najib as the Deputy Prime Minister and in the course of time, as is tradition, the Deputy Prime Minister should succeed the Prime Minister.

Q: Are you unhappy with Datuk Seri Najib for not saying much?   

   A: Whether I’m happy or not, whatever happens to him, it is something that will happen to him, not to me. Whatever he does will affect his future.

Q: But you lobbied for him.   

   A: Well, I did. But beyond that, I’m not prepared to go and do anything more.

5) On how the Chinese will vote in the next general election

Q: You mentioned Chinese business people earlier. Do you think the Chinese will vote for the Opposition in the next election?   

   A: My assessment is that it is not possible for the Opposition to win but they may be able to reduce the majority of the government.

Q: Don’t you think that what you are doing now is bad for the party?   

   A: I see that what he is doing now is bad for the party. Unless you criticise and stop what he is doing now, you’re going to have bad results for the country. It’s not an internal problem of Umno alone. It’s not a question of unity within Umno. Umno cannot win elections without public support and today, the public is very critical of the present condition of the economy, the present system of administration, the involvement of family members.

Q: Have you anything good to say about the government? Has the government done anything good?   

   A: We’re still an independent country although foreign policy-wise now we are less highly regarded than before by the developing countries and the Muslim countries. Abroad, they are asking what happened to Malaysia. It is one thing to be friendly with Bush.

6) What next?

Q: Would you meet with Pak Lah again or is it no use?   

   A: If there is chance to meet him and if there is a use, then yes. If there is a problem and I only speak to him and others don’t know about it, the effect would not be there.

Q: What is next for you after this?   

   A: Nothing. I told him I would continue to make criticisms and I will go on in my usual way but I do hope that this habit of asking the police to frighten people should stop and my civil rights should be restored. I have a right to speak to Umno. I have a right to speak to any audience I like.

Q: How long more will you be patient?   

   A: I will continue until there is some change, until I see some results. Of course, I am 82 years old. People believe that if they delay long enough, this interfering nosy Parker will disappear or will not be able to speak.

Q: Would you like to see the Prime Minister lead for a second term?   

   A: Depends on how he performs.