Joseph Stiglitz: Creating a Learning Society


February 9, 2016

Joseph Stiglitz: Creating a Learning Society

 

Calculus on a blackboard

(pic) Financial market liberalisation may undermine countries? ability to learn another set of skills that are essential for development: how to allocate resources and manage risk. Photograph: Image Source / Alamy/Alamy

by Joseph E.  Stiglitz

http://www.theguardian.com/business/2014/jun/09/why-learning-matters-innovation-joseph-stiglitz

Citizens in the world’s richest countries have come to think of their economies as being based on innovation. But innovation has been part of the developed world’s economy for more than two centuries. Indeed, for thousands of years, until the Industrial Revolution, incomes stagnated. Then per capita income soared, increasing year after year, interrupted only by the occasional effects of cyclical fluctuations.

The Nobel laureate economist Robert Solow noted some 60 years ago that rising incomes should largely be attributed not to capital accumulation, but to technological progress – to learning how to do things better. While some of the productivity increase reflects the impact of dramatic discoveries, much of it has been due to small, incremental changes. And, if that is the case, it makes sense to focus attention on how societies learn, and what can be done to promote learning – including learning how to learn.

A century ago, the economist and political scientist Joseph Schumpeter argued that the central virtue of a market economy was its capacity to innovate. He contended that economists’ traditional focus on competitive markets was misplaced; what mattered was competition for the market, not competition in the market. Competition for the market drove innovation. A succession of monopolists would lead, in this view, to higher standards of living in the long run.

Schumpeter’s conclusions have not gone unchallenged. Monopolists and dominant firms, like Microsoft, can actually suppress innovation. Unless checked by anti-trust authorities, they can engage in anti-competitive behavior that reinforces their monopoly power.

Moreover, markets may not be efficient in either the level or direction of investments in research and learning. Private incentives are not well aligned with social returns: firms can gain from innovations that increase their market power, enable them to circumvent regulations, or channel rents that would otherwise accrue to others.
Advertisement

But one of Schumpeter’s fundamental insights has held up well: conventional policies focusing on short-run efficiency may not be desirable, once one takes a long-run innovation/learning perspective. This is especially true for developing countries and emerging markets.

Industrial policies – in which governments intervene in the allocation of resources among sectors or favour some technologies over others – can help “infant economies” learn. Learning may be more marked in some sectors (such as industrial manufacturing) than in others, and the benefits of that learning, including the institutional development required for success, may spill over to other economic activities.

Such policies, when adopted, have been frequent targets of criticism. Government, it is often said, should not be engaged in picking winners. The market is far better in making such judgments.

But the evidence on that is not as compelling as free-market advocates claim. America’s private sector was notoriously bad in allocating capital and managing risk in the years before the global financial crisis, while studies show that average returns to the economy from government research projects are actually higher than those from private-sector projects – especially because the government invests more heavily in important basic research. One only needs to think of the social benefits traceable to the research that led to the development of the internet or the discovery of DNA.

But, putting such successes aside, the point of industrial policy is not to pick winners at all. Rather, successful industrial policies identify sources of positive externalities – sectors where learning might generate benefits elsewhere in the economy.

Viewing economic policies through the lens of learning provides a different perspective on many issues. The great economist Kenneth Arrow emphasised the importance of learning by doing. The only way to learn what is required for industrial growth, for example, is to have industry. And that may require either ensuring that one’s exchange rate is competitive or that certain industries have privileged access to credit – as a number of East Asian countries did as part of their remarkably successful development strategies.

There is a compelling infant economy argument for industrial protection. Moreover, financial market liberalisation may undermine countries’ ability to learn another set of skills that are essential for development: how to allocate resources and manage risk.

Likewise, intellectual property, if not designed properly, can be a two-edged sword when viewed from a learning perspective. While it may enhance incentives to invest in research, it may also enhance incentives for secrecy – impeding the flow of knowledge that is essential to learning while encouraging firms to maximise what they draw from the pool of collective knowledge and to minimise what they contribute. In this scenario, the pace of innovation is actually reduced.

More broadly, many of the policies (especially those associated with the neoliberal “Washington Consensus”) foisted on developing countries with the noble objective of promoting the efficiency of resource allocation today actually impede learning, and thus lead to lower standards of living in the long run.

Virtually every government policy, intentionally or not, for better or for worse, has direct and indirect effects on learning. Developing countries where policymakers are cognisant of these effects are more likely to close the knowledge gap that separates them from the more developed countries. Developed countries, meanwhile, have an opportunity to narrow the gap between average and best practices, and to avoid the danger of secular stagnation.

• Joseph E. Stiglitz, a Nobel laureate in economics, is University Professor at Columbia University. His most recent book, co-authored with Bruce Greenwald, is Creating a Learning Society: A New Approach to Growth, Development, and Social Progress.

Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2014.

The need for a new education


December 18, 2015

The need for a new education

by Jesús  Sanchez Granados*

Edited for Brevity–Din Merican

outcomes_4

In the beginning, education and the ideals it embodied aspired to create a “perfect” citizenry. Later,the objective shifted to ensuring that citizens were well-trained, and more recently it shifted once again to the awakening of the critical spirit. Today, the ideal is creativity: the capacity to learn and a lifelong willingness to face new things and modify learned expectations accordingly; there can be no learning without re-learning, without the revision that must be undertaken when we realise the weakness of what we thought we knew. In a knowledge society, education is the capacity to be creative in an environment of particular uncertainty, the capacity to properly manage the cognitive dissonance that gives rise to our failure to comprehend reality (Innerarity, 2010).

Therefore, in the world of liquid modernity, we must move away from sporadic education and towards lifelong learning.This entails overcoming security-driven resistance: the pillars to which we cling because they lend us a sense of security a mistake in a world filled with insecurities and ephemeral validities.

Conventionally, education has been understood as preparation for life, as personal realisation, and as an essential element in progress and social change, in accordance with changing needs (Chitty, 2002). Orr (2004) declares that if certain precautions are not taken, education may equip people to become “more effective vandals of the earth”. He describes education of the sort we have seen thus far as a possible problem, and argues for a new type of education:

More of the same kind of education will only compound our problems. This is not an argument for ignorance but rather a statement that the worth of education must now be measured against the standards of decency and human survival. It is not education but education of a certain kind that will save us.
(Orr, 2008:8)
Education, in other words, can be a dangerous thing (…). It is time, I believe, for an educational ‘perestroika’, by which I mean a general rethinking of the process and substance of education at all levels, beginning with the admission that much of what has gone wrong with the world is the result of education that alienates us from life in the name of human domination, fragments instead of unifies,overemphasizes success and careers, separates feeling from intellect and the practical from the theoretical, and unleashes on the world minds ignorant of their own ignorance.” 
(Orr, 2004: 17) 

Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) has emerged as a paradigm for revising and reorienting today’s education. ESD consists of new forms of knowing and learning how to be human in a different way. This education aims to contribute to the sustainability of personal integrity or, in the words of Sterling (2001), to the integrity of the spirit, heart, head and hands.

As argued by Dewey and the educational reconstructionists, it is often not enough to do things according to custom or habit that is,to reproduce the existing social system. Instead, new answers must be sought. If we are to imagine new ways of living and acting, then we must be capable of assessing and bringing about social change, because successfully achieving sustainable development requires the following principles: being aware of the challenge, taking action voluntarily, assuming collective responsibility and forming a constructive partnership, and believing in the dignity of all human beings without exception.

These principles for lasting human development, formulated at the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, imply lessons that largely coincide with the four pillars of education set out in the Delors Report: learning to know, learning to do, learning to live together and learning to be.In the context of ESD, UNESCO (2008) suggested the inclusion of a fifth pillar: learning to transform oneself and society. In a sense, education must lead to empowerment: through education, individuals should acquire the capacity to make decisions and act effectively in accordance with those decisions, and this in turn entails the ability to influence the rules of play through any of the available options. Thus, education consists in developing not only personal but also social qualities; it is the development of social conscience: awareness of how society works, knowledge of how it is structured, and a sense of the personal agency and how all together allow and determine intervention and a sense of the extent to which personal agency allows intervention (Goldberg, 2009). Essentially, it opens a dialogue between the personal and the collective, between common and individual interests, between rights and obligations. 

Reformulation of higher education

Einstein once said that no problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.Current needs suggest that we must learn to view the world and, therefore, education in a new way.Higher education has in the past demonstrated its crucial role in introducing change and progress in society and is today considered a key agent in educating new generations to build the future, but this does not exempt it from becoming the object of an internal reformulation. 

According to the World Declaration on Higher Education for the 21st Century  (1998), higher education is facing a number of important challenges at the international, national and institutional levels. At the international level, there are two main challenges. The first is the role of supranational organisations such as UNESCO in advancing the prospection of trends and improvements, as well as in promoting networking and twinning programmes among institutions. The European Union (EC-JRC,2010), for example, has stressed that higher education must change and adapt to economic and social needs, that institutional change is essential to educational innovation, and that information and communication technologies must form part of the teaching and learning process. The second international challenge is to encourage international cooperation between institutions in order to share knowledge across borders and facilitate collaboration, which, furthermore, represents an essential element for the construction of a planetary (Morin, 2009) and post-cosmopolitan citizenship (Dobson and Bell, 2006): the assumption of interdependence, “deterritorialisation”, participation,co-responsibility, and solidarity among all inhabitants of the planet. 

States must provide the necessary financing so that universities can carry out their public-service function. States may also enact laws to ensure equality of access and strengthen the role of women in higher education and in society.

The following are the challenges faced by universities and other institutions of higher education:

  • Changes in universities as institutions and at the level of internal organisation. These changes should aim to improve the management of resources (human, economic, etc.) and be restructured to improve internal democracy.Universities must continue their mission to educate, train and carry out research through an approach characterised by ethics, autonomy,responsibility and anticipation.
  • Changes in knowledge creation. Interdisciplinary and trans disciplinary approaches should betaken and non-scientific forms of knowledge should be explored,
  • .Changes in the educational model. New teaching/learning approaches that enable the development of critical and creative thinking should be integrated. The competencies common to all higher-education graduates should be determined and the corresponding expectations should be defined. In a knowledge society, higher education should transform us from disoriented projectiles into guided missiles: rockets capable of changing direction in flight,adapting to variable circumstances, and constantly course-correcting. The idea is to teach people to learn quickly as they go along, with the capacity to change their mind and even renounce previous decisions if necessary, without over thinking or having regrets. Teaching and learning must be more active, connected to real life, and designed with students and their peculiarities in mind.
  • Changes aimed at tapping the potential of information and communication technologies in the creation and dissemination of knowledge. The goal of such changes is to create what Prensky (2009) calls digital wisdom.
  • Changes for social responsibility and knowledge transfer. The work of higher education institutions must be relevant. What they do, and what is expected of them must be seen as service to society; their research must anticipate social needs; and the products of their research must be shared effectively.
 *Jesús Granados holds a PhD in Education from the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB) with a thesis on Education for sustainability and Teaching Geography. Graduated in Geography (UAB), he holds a Master in Social Sciences Education (UAB) and a Master in Environmental Education and Communication (ISEMA). He worked at Universidad de la Rioja and in 2004 moved to the UAB to teach and research at the Faculty of Education, where he implemented, amongst others, the subject of Education for sustainability that was an optional campus subject available for all the degrees at the UAB.  At present,since May 2011 Jesús is working at GUNI as studies, research and contents coordinator. For further information about this article, contact the author at the following e-mail address:  jesusgranadossanchez@gmail.com

Cherry-picking the TPPA


November 25, 2015

Cherry-picking the TPPA

by Tan Siok Choo

http://www.thesundaily.my

Dato Mustapha Mohamed

Malaysia is fortunate that TPPA negotiations were led by International Trade and Industry Minister Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamad – one of a handful of ministers who are intellectually competent, diligent and who are intellectually competent, diligent and without a whisper of corruption.-Tan Siok Choo

CONCLUDED on October 6 this year, the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) promises to usher in a new era of free trade among 12 countries that collectively contribute 40% of the world’s gross domestic product (GDP).

These countries include Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States and Vietnam.

TPPA signatories have promised to cut or eliminate 18,000 tariffs on a vast number of goods and services. Tariffs ranging from 2% to 11% will be abolished for Malaysian made exports including wood products, palm oil, rubber, car spare parts as well as electrical and electronic goods.

Services covered include information and communication technology, retailing, entertainment, electronic payments systems and software.

Comprising 4,500 pages and 30 chapters while weighing a hefty 100 pounds, the TPPA offers thousands of issues for proponents and opponents to cherry pick.

Malaysia is fortunate that TPPA negotiations were led by International Trade and Industry Minister Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamad – one of a handful of ministers who are intellectually competent, diligent and without a whisper of corruption.

Mustapa announced MPs will debate and vote on the TPPA at a special sitting of the Dewan Rakyat in January 2016.

Underscoring the remote possibility the TPPA will be rejected, the first reading of Budget 2016 last Monday received 128 votes in favour, 74 against and seven abstentions by PAS members of Parliament.

Two PAS MPs weren’t present in the Dewan Rakyat, three PAS MPs voted against Budget 2016 while suspended DAP MP Lim Kit Siang was unable to vote.

Could dislike for some TPPA clauses prompt BN MPs to risk giving the opposition a victory on this issue? This is unlikely. Mustapa succeeded in ensuring bumiputras, small and medium enterprises and those from Sabah and Sarawak will continue to be preferential suppliers for up to 40% of state-owned enterprises’ (SOE’s) annual purchases.

SOEs include Permodalan Nasional, Tabung Haji and MARA.Similarly, Petronas can continue to give priority to Malaysian enterprises to supply goods and services up to 70% of its annual budget for upstream businesses in the first year of the TPPA and scaled down progressively to 40% in the 6th year of the trade pact.

A major contentious issue in the TPPA is pharmaceuticals. Leading generic medicine manufacturer Mylan has warned it would be prohibited from doing business in TPPA member countries. By disallowing generic drugs, the TPPA could keep prices of drugs in this country higher for a longer period until patents expire.

Malaysian AIDS Council’s policy manager Fifa Rahman said a 12-week treatment for Hepatitis C using the generic version of Sofosbuvir costs RM750.06 to RM1,579.07 compared with an exorbitant RM357,000.

joseph-stiglitz

Writing in The Malaysian Insider, Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel laureate in economics, and Adam Hersh, senior economist at the Roosevelt Institute, said economists at the UN Conference on Trade and Development have forecast joining TPPA would make Malaysia a net loser because its trade balance would fall by US$17 billion annually.

Sectors that would be hurt by the TPPA include iron and steel, aluminium, mineral fuels, plastics and rubber, Stiglitz and Hersh say.

Challenging the belief that intellectual property rights promote research, Stiglitz and Hersh noted after the US Supreme Court invalidated Myriad’s patent on the BRCA gene, a burst of innovation resulted in better tests at lower costs.

Another controversy is the investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) system. Using arbitration to settle disputes rather than the courts, foreign investors will have new rights to sue governments for instituting regulations that diminish investors’ profits.

Instead of forcing manufacturers of harmful products like asbestos to shut down and compensate their victims, the ISDS could hit taxpayers twice – paying for the illnesses caused and compensating manufacturers for their lost profits, Stiglitz and Hersh argue.

Although tariffs will be abolished for Malaysia’s major exports like electrical and electronic products, will Malaysians be the biggest beneficiaries in a sector dominated by US and Japanese multinationals?

For products like palm oil, the campaign alleging plantation companies destroy the habitat of orang utans is a bigger barrier than high tariffs.

Hopes the TPPA will reduce corruption could be stymied by Malaysia’s high threshold exempting construction companies from competitive bidding for five years for contracts valued under 63 million Special Drawing Rights (SDRs) or RM374 million. After 21 years, the threshold will decline to a still hefty SDR14 million (RM80 million).

Kelana Jaya MP Wong Chen noted other TPPA countries accepted a much lower threshold of 5 million SDRs (RM30 million); only Vietnam’s threshold of SDR 65.2 million (RM387 million) is higher than Malaysia’s.

In summary, TPPA’s benefits must be spelt out in greater detail and more convincingly.

Opinions expressed in this article are the personal views of the writer and should not be attributed to any organisation she is connected with. She can be contacted at siokchoo@thesundaily.com

ASEAN Economic Integration Possible and Essential


October 29, 2015

ASEAN Economic Integration Possible and Essential

by Dr. Ooi Kee Beng

Ishak Yusof Institute (ISEAS)

http://www.themalaymailoneline.com

Ooi Kee Beng

Just 20 months short of turning half a century old, the Association of South-east Asian Nations (ASEAN) will officially become an integrated community. On December 31 this year, rotating ASEAN chair Malaysia will declare this to be the case.

The integration has essentially been and will continue to be in the field of economics. ASEAN has been ambitious and proactive in creating a common market and production base. Other areas of integration, however, by comparison and by design, take a backseat, and events there have been more ad hoc and opportunistic.

Given the way things work in this part of the world, understanding this reality requires a historical take that highlights the region’s uniqueness. Southeast Asia as a region had until recent times been largely peripheral to the greater sweep of history. This historical circumstance has many implications, and two of the most important are discussed here. First, let’s look at the region from within.

Political integration inconceivable

Although the region exhibits many cultural layers — and the overlaps vary greatly from country to country — there is no civilizational imperative for the region to integrate politically or otherwise.

A quick comparison with Europe will make this condition quite obvious. In Europe, attempts to unite the continent by force had been occurring since the end of Roman times. In contrast, South-east Asia’s diversity is rendered all the deeper by political and religious differences. This leads to conceptual miscellany in the understanding of basic concepts such as power, leadership, people or the role of patronage in politics.

Political integration in South-east Asia is therefore inconceivable in many ways. Collaboration in this area is more about border security matters, and non-traditional security threats such as epidemics, natural disasters and ecological catastrophes.

Asean Economic Community 2016Economic Integration Benefits are Real and Substantial

The region is also made up of relatively new polities and governments that are still very much focused on nation-building rather than integrating with their neighbours. In truth, it is only recently with budget airlines that South-east Asians have travelled more within the region. Most do not know their neighbours as well as they might imagine.

Second, let us look at the region within the larger geopolitical context. The region functioned both as a destination and thoroughfare throughout history for travellers, armies and missionaries from outside. Movement of people, goods and culture in and out of the region had been very free.

This porous characteristic made the region very vulnerable to colonisation, invasion and other turf wars. In the 19th and 20th century, the region was colonised by the Europeans, invaded by the Japanese, fought over by nationalist movements against the returning Europeans, and was a battle zone in the Cold War.

In the process, labour migration during this period changed the region’s demographics forever, and continues to do so today in new ways.

Gaining independence for many of these countries was not a return to an old polity; it was instead the start of new ways of political organisation that their newly installed governments did not always understand or master.

There is consequently a lot of defensiveness at the national, ethnic or cultural levels. Arguments over which country was the origin for which popular cultural item have been common, including whether the Malaysian national anthem has Indonesian roots or not, for example. And amazingly, after decades of seasonal haze clouding the region due to forest fires in Indonesia, it was only earlier this month that Jakarta accepted help from its gasping neighbours to help fight the fires.

Largely because of these historical geo-strategic and geopolitical conditions, South-east Asia is today almost by default a power vacuum. The nations each by itself cannot keep major powers out. The collective strength that Asean provides for each of its members is therefore highly valued.

Bound by nationalist economics

Suspicions remain so strong that outside powers, whenever they can, will reduce countries in the region to pawns in a bigger game. What is obvious to all is that economics decides the pace and nature of ASEAN integration. However, the economics that binds the region is essentially nationalist economics.

ASEAN’s modus operandi of consensus and unanimous decision-making is thus not a choice but a necessity. None of its members can accept being dictated to by its neighbours through a majority decision.

There are of course those who think that it is time for this tradition to be broken, but no major player really believes that this will happen any time soon. Nevertheless, ASEAN economic integration has progressed steadily, and this provides potential for the region’s new nations to influence international trends towards their own benefits. This is why ASEAN centrality is so important to these countries.

Much has been done to bring to fruition the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC). Many of the measures taken are gradual, slowed by long and laborious discussions and countless compromises. But then, what it is aiming to achieve is impressive as it is.

The AEC blueprint combines 625 million people into one integrated market and production base where the flow of goods, services, investments and skilled labour is free. Between 2008 and 2013, intra-regional trade jumped by 33 per cent from US$458.1 billion (RM1.9 trillion) to US$608.6 billion.

What ASEAN will be saying in December is that most of the necessary measures for South-east Asia to evolve into an economically-integrated region have been taken. Since early this year, it has been claimed that as much as 97.3 per cent of traded products within the region are duty-free.

Measures still awaiting completion most importantly involve removing non-tariff barriers. The significant ones are simplifying custom procedures, harmonising standards, minimising multiple testing of products and labelling requirements. As Malaysian International Trade and Industry Minister Mustapa Mohamed recently revealed, ASEAN has identified 69 such non-tariff barriers and resolved 45 of them.

Things are moving, and at a speed that its members are able to manage. But going forward, the question is whether ASEAN can keep pace with global developments. ASEAN has a tendency to be too dismissive of the relevance of the high speed at which the rest of the world is moving.

Furthermore, one worry often repeated today is that Indonesia, ASEAN’s biggest member, seems distracted by domestic issues, and its President, Mr Joko Widodo, is more interested in national solutions rather than regional ones. Time may not be on ASEAN’s side, and moving up a gear may be the region’s biggest challenge.

* Dr Ooi Kee Beng is the Deputy Director of ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute, Singapore.

Malaysia: Putting University Research under the Microscope


October 13, 2015

Malaysia: Putting University Research under the Microscope

by Murray Hunter

http://www.themalaymailonline.com

Why we are laggards compared to Universities in Asia:

  • We have a very low standard in the English language proficiency here in Malaysia and it is considered to be at a critical level which actually affects the well-being and international prestige of this country.
  • We have also a deficiency when it comes to thinking and solving problems. Analytical and critical thinking skills are very important as they help us to evaluate the problem and to make good decisions.
  • We tend to have mind-sets and value systems that are closed. By having a closed mind-set, we will not be able to accept feedback and learn from what others have to offer. We are not exposed to challenges or high standards and this is what makes us unable to cope with diversity.
  • Our poor communication skills also causes a breakdown in our productivity and this creates a poor work environment.

Malaysia is spending about 5.9 per cent of GDP on education and 1.13 per cent of GDP on research and development. However as at 2015, no Malaysian universities have made the top 100 of the THES global or Asian university rankings, or QS World University Rankings. This is in great contrast to universities with a similar start-up time frame in Singapore, Hong Kong, China, India, and even Saudi Arabia, making the top 100 in the Asian rankings over the last few years.

Although Malaysia’s ranking is high (33rd place) in the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) world innovation index in 2014, the level of resident patent applications and grants is still relatively low, being ranked 44th. Patent applications have grown from 218 applications in 1999, to 1,199 in 2013, with only 39 granted in 1999, growing to 288 patent grants in 2013. When considering that 10 per cent of these applications have been made by only 10 companies in Malaysia, there is still a long way to go for Malaysian university research to have the impact that some feel within Malaysian Government circles is due.

Malaysian university researchers, according to a Malaysian Government bibliometric study in 2012, recorded an output of 29,815 papers, although these figures may have gone up since then. This placed Malaysia in 45th position in the world, but only 50th based on citations, which is a good guide to the usefulness of knowledge presented. In terms of the research impact measured by citations per paper, Malaysia only ranked 136. This is in contrast to Singapore, Thailand, and Taiwan, which were ranked 46, 75, and 84th respectively. Even papers produced in Indonesia, Vietnam, the Philippines, and Saudi Arabia had greater citation rates per paper than Malaysia.

Malaysian University Research

There are a number of probable reasons contributing to this poor performance. The first reason stems from the organisational structure of the Malaysian research community itself. Research has been organised into clusters with top down priorities formulated by ‘unknown sources’ within particular ministries. These priorities are not always in line with market or community needs. Most often, like the biotechnology plan, the lead time to create commercial and bankable projects is too long.

A Government corporation like the Malaysian Biotechnology Corporation, controlled by bureaucrats is put in charge, where market needs often don’t make sense to the administrators. Projects are often kept in the hands of these corporations rather than commercialised, just to show the bureaucrats are doing their jobs.

Malaysian research is hindered by a lot of unnecessary costs, and bureaucracy. Although agencies like the corridor authorities were set up with the view to decentralising research and development, most initiatives are still top down and controlled by bureaucracy. These authorities are notorious in not talking to local community groups and develop strategies like paddy estates that local communities cannot accept, thus becoming ‘white elephants’. In more sinister terms, many of these research and development projects turn over community assets to government linked companies (GLCs), with little or any community benefit.

The second major problem is the nature of Malaysian academia itself. Research is a prerequisite to promotion within the Malaysian University system. This requires academics producing papers to apply for senior faculty positions. In some of the newer Malaysian universities, entering prototypes and products into technology and invention exhibitions is a way around producing papers. Consequently a large proportion of research funds go into making up promotion materials, travel, and accommodation, rather than actual research. Having a research grant is seen by many researchers as a means to travel, be it to an exhibition or conference in some exotic part of the world.

As a consequence, much university research output has little community or market relevance. The paper or prototype was produced to achieve a publishing KPI, or gain a medal at any of the international exhibitions around the world. Paradoxically, Malaysian researchers are travelling the world, but actually producing little, if any output of any commercial nature, even with the awards they are winning.

Many researchers with the above objectives in mind tend to work in isolation to industry and the community. Unlike Thailand, universities in Malaysia don’t have the same need to outreach to the community, so there are very few research projects undertaken within local communities. There is also very little collaboration with industry. This is probably not the complete fault of the researchers as industry in Malaysia, tends to be still unsophisticated when it comes to university collaboration.

As a consequence very few production prototypes ever get scaled up to commercial production. Even if there are willing parties, university bureaucracies often stall efforts to commercialize research with high financial demands, and lack of time due to other responsibilities like teaching by the researchers.

Many complex areas of research today, say in biotechnology, require teams of specialists to make specific disciplinary contributions to research. However, although in Malaysia we see many papers with multiple authors, most of them passengers. Deans, Vice Chancellors, or senior members of faculty are often put into paper authorships to curry favour for promotional purposes.

Malaysian universities have tended to put emphasis on producing large quantities of papers, rather than quality. Many academics are practicing ‘chequebook academia’ by paying to place articles in journals that can publish them within a month or so from submission. The quantity of paper output rather than academic weight is the prime KPI of Malaysian universities today.

In addition, many of the papers produced originate from the work of students, who may or may not have their name on the paper as co-author. The author has witnessed the ludicrous situation where many a Malaysian academic delivers a paper at a conference, but is unable to answer questions from the floor during question time. Some Malaysian academics are producing over 30 papers per year from this method.

Malaysian academics are very hesitant to take up alternative methods of research, such as ethnography and narrative in the social sciences. This is a symptom of a general will to innovate in the area of research. The preferred route is a safe one where other research tends to be duplicated within a Malaysian context. So in an engineering conference or invention expo, one will tend to see lots of solar panel concepts that have been revamped into new contexts, as an attempt to be novel.

Malaysian academics tend to follow local leads. If for example, Balanced Scorecard is popular at a particular university, then one will see a number of faculty members doing their PhD thesis on Balanced Scorecard.

Innovation is desperately needed in Malaysian university research, but the panels who vet research grants tend to be bitterly conservative and penalise any academic who tries to be innovative.

Malaysia needs to look at what China is doing with university research. It is quickly becoming a powerhouse, looking at contemporary problems and issues with strong research teams. The language barrier is being broken with good editors employed to work up papers to international standard.

Malaysian university research needs a paradigm change. Instead of following national agendas instituted by bureaucrats, bottom up thinking needs to be appreciated and accepted. Most technologies already exist, and don’t need to be re-invented. What is needed is applying these technologies to community and industrial problems that exist outside local universities.

Citations to research need reward rather than the production is raw papers. A realisation is needed that patenting concepts and products that have no commercial value is a futile pursuit, although it fulfills a university KPI.

Grant panels need to practice meritocracy, and grant fund to the most innovative rather than conservative.

Although overall research output is increasing from universities within Malaysia, emphasis must now be put on producing quality research, if Malaysia is not to continually fall behind its other ASEAN neighbours.

* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail Online.