Malaysia-China Relations: Not China but we are the financially irresponsible and reckless nation


April 4, 2017

Malaysia-China Relations: Not China but we are the financially irresponsible and reckless nation

by P. Gunasegaram@www.malaysiakini.com

Image result for Chinese investments in Malaysia

Malaysia’s sudden, new-found amour with China in a plethora of business deals worth hundreds of billions, coming in the wake of the 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) scandal where RM40 billion is already at risk or  wasted, is tremendously worrying.

The huge amount of China borrowings that will accompany such deals, with delayed payment for up to seven years in some cases, will put the country in grave economic danger in the future as many of the infrastructure projects are not viable.

If some of the projects do not raise enough cash flow to start repaying the massive borrowings by the time payments are due, a great strain will be imposed on the country’s financial position and may even result in it becoming unable to meet its obligations, leading to default.

Already, the involvement of China state-owned firms in 1MDB-related projects such as buying power assets and taking stakes in property development ventures have raised legitimate fears that some of these may involve quid pro quo arrangements in other deals which may benefit Chinese firms.

In other words, putting it bluntly, Malaysia may be giving China plum deals in return for help in covering the hole of over RM30 billion in 1MDB. More on that later but first, here’s a list of some mega deals made.

1. Purchase of 1MDB’s power assets for RM9.83 billion cash in November 2015.

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The purchase was made by China General Nuclear or CGN, putting power assets which were purchased from Malaysian private hands into a China state company. That rubbishes any claim that 1MDB was a strategic development company. The price was considered inflated, leading to speculation that other projects will go to China to compensate for this.

2. Purchase of 1MDB land for RM7.4 billion.

Less than two months later, on New Year’s Eve in 2015, 1MDB sold a 60% controlling interest in Bandar Malaysia to a consortium comprising Iskandar Waterfront Holdings and China Railway Engineering Corporation, a China state company. The latter holds a 40% stake in the venture. This is a highly questionable deal surrendering control of one of 1MDB’s two flagship projects to others, including a China company, when there is enough local property development expertise. It lends credence to there being a quid pro quo deal with China.

3. China is expected to get high-speed rail project costing RM40-80 billion.

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The high-speed rail project between Kuala Lumpur and Singapore is expected to go to a China firm despite international tenders being planned. Interestingly, the Kuala Lumpur terminus is at Bandar Malaysia.

4. The RM55 billion East Coast Rail Link (ECRL) project announced in November 2016.

China will both fund and build this project which has a seven-year delayed payment provision. Essentially a double-tracking project linking the east coast states with the west, there has been no economic viability study on it. There are genuine fears that the construction cost is terribly overstated and it is unviable.

5. A proposed RM200 billion port development in Port Klang.

China is supposedly in the running for this massive project if it does see the light of day. This is a long-term project which again may be unnecessary considering the number of ports being developed concurrently now.

6.The RM42 billion Melaka Gateway project in September 2016.

This includes four islands – three man-made, in a RM30 billion deal with China companies – a port, a bulk-and-break terminal, ship building and ship repair, mixed development, shopping complexes, ferry terminals, marina and so on. Where is the demand for these going to come from?

7. The RM400 billion gross development value Forest City off Johor.

Image result for Forest City Project Johor

 

This massive development on four man-made islands, which may eventually house 700,000 people, is being developed by a China company, effectively in a joint venture with the Johor Sultan. Considering that it is a property development which local players could easily have undertaken, what is the rationale for bringing in yet a Chinese company into this?

Not for altruistic reasons

There are more. Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak, after a visit to China in November, came back with memoranda of agreement for RM144 billion worth of projects. That list includes ECRL and the Melaka Gateway projects but not the others, which means there are several more projects worth tens of billions of ringgit.

What is very alarming about these projects is their dubious economic value, leading to strong suspicion that they could well be related to covering a hole of over RM30 billion in 1MDB – the Auditor-General’s Report on 1MDB reportedly says US$7 billion could not be accounted for.

In fact, the Financial Times of the UK reported in December that 1MDB is preparing to make a repayment with Chinese assistance to Abu Dhabi’s state-owned fund in settling a US$6.5 billion (RM28.6 billion) dispute over an alleged breach of contract.

The move to begin repaying what 1MDB owes Abu Dhabi’s International Petroleum Investment Company (IPIC) was confirmed by two people familiar with the matter, the FT said.

Image result for Najib and Big Momma in China

Najib Razak and Big Momma

China has been approached as a source of funds for 1MDB, the FT said, citing three people with knowledge of the matter, one of whom said Malaysia would swap assets for financing.

China is of course not doing all of this for altruistic reasons but to further its own interests. First, it aims to get work for its companies and sometimes its own people – it sends in its own workers for many projects.

Two, if countries are unable to repay their debts, then more assets will have to be handed over to China and the affected countries become ever more indebted and linked to China in other ways, furthering China’s aim of strategic and military influence, as this article titled ‘China’s debt-trap diplomacy’ eloquently points out.

As a small country, Malaysia has been rather adept at playing the role of the nimble kijang or deer which keeps itself from getting crushed when elephants fight. But 1MDB’s problems may be leading us down a path which is even more dangerous than the garden path the so-called strategic development company led us up on earlier.

P GUNASEGARAM says throwing good money after bad is a lousy deal which only the desperate make. Email: t.p.guna@gmail.com.

Malaysia: Impact of defunding Public Universities


January 24, 2017

Malaysia: Impact of defunding Public Universities

by Dr. Lee Hwok Aun
Published in The Edge, January  16, 2017

Malaysia’s public universities are headed for troubled waters and it is unclear whether our policy makers and executers are even on the lookout. The university rankings business is a debatable one, but I bring it up here because it is the government’s ultimate performance benchmark, and recent developments underscore the detachment of officialdom from the institutions’ woes.–Dr. Lee Hwok-Aun

Image result for Defunding Malaysian Public UniversitiesMalaysia’s Finance Minister Najib Razak–Presiding over a soon to be financially insolvent nation

Malaysia’s public universities are headed for troubled waters and it is unclear whether our policy makers and executers are even on the lookout. The university rankings business is a debatable one, but I bring it up here because it is the government’s ultimate performance benchmark, and recent developments underscore the detachment of officialdom from the institutions’ woes.

The University of Malaya’s rise to #133 on the QS World Universities score sheet in 2016, its best position ever on this rankings scheme, was greeted on campus with surprise, nonchalance, and a dash of despair. The sentiments are distinct from previous years. When UM inched up the rankings, from #156 in 2012 to #146 in 2015, these small and steady gains brought relief, and a bigger hop from #167 in 2011 to #156 in 2012 infused a sense of accomplishment. Research grants were quite abundant, there was support for internationalization, for recruiting and retaining talent. Universities were basically supported, we seemed to be doing things better; improvement in the rankings made sense.

Then came the funding cuts. Federal budget allocations for universities were slashed by 12% in 2015, 15% in 2016, and 19% in 2017. UM took the biggest hit in 2016, when it suffered a 27% shortfall from the previous year. And here lies the trigger of despair. This defunding spree, coinciding with a major leap in the rankings, might be taken as vindication, and perhaps embolden further budgetary constriction.

The government will be perilously mistaken to do so. Continual aggressive defunding brings three significant deficits on Malaysia’s public universities.

First, a personnel deficit. Severe fund-slashing compels severe cost-cutting, shock therapy induces desperate measures. Contract staff are one of the first on the chopping block because the funds for this specific category of employees have dried up. Many contracts have not been renewed, and they are not substituted with allocations for part-time instructors or new recruits. Financial dispensability, however, does not equate with importance to core activity and service. Numerous academic departments count on contract academic staff to teach core courses and produce research and publications.

As contract staff are ushered out, the same workload gets distributed among the remaining staff, increasing their burden and contributing to the second deficit, in morale. Academics will likely see burdens increased, while concerns toward the funding cuts are typically dismissed by invoking the seemingly non-negotiable policy of reducing public subsidization of university expenditure. The Higher Education Blueprint 2015-2025 outlined new funding formulae, with performance-based allocations and per student funding as appealing new features. This formulae is to be rolled out on a “gradual”, “gate-staged” basis.

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ISEAS-Yusuf Ishak Institute Senior Fellow, Dr Lee Hwok-Aun

“Performance funding” is especially contentious. If fixated on numbers and not adequately anchored to the public interest and long-term objectives, as seems to be the case, there is every potential for the system to be gamed, for example, by lowering academic rigour to boost completion rates and student satisfaction, or pursuing quantity over quality of research. Given these complexities, one would expect the policy to be agonizingly deliberated, and gradual and systematic if implemented.

Image result for University of Malaya

But Universiti Malaya and Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia have already, for 2016 and 2017 respectively, been administered huge funding cuts of 27% and 31%. Why? Enrolments have not fallen precipitously, nor have the universities massively scaled down operations. Have they performed so badly? The lack of coherence and transparency in the targeting of funding cuts, compounded by drained research grant reservoirs, are disconcerting, and cannot be good for morale in the academic community.

Some initiatives with good potential risk derailment. At the University of Malaya, to allow for academics to play to their relative interests and strengths, different career tracks – focused on research or teaching – are also being rolled out. But in the hasty pursuit of extracting more output from less resources, research track targets have been made frighteningly difficult to hit. Few select that option, and some – the more diligent, productive, conscientious ones – have been forced to take it against their wishes, to the detriment of their morale.

What of the next generation of academics? Policy brims with rhetoric of talent development, and reference to the Higher Education Talent Roadmap, but the Malaysian approach diverges from the practices in recognized institutions. Globally leading universities excel by attracting talent, then trusting them, through their dynamism, creativity and self-motivation, to research, teach and contribute to public knowledge with light monitoring. Malaysian universities are increasingly inclined to do the opposite – micromanaging rewards for formulaic outcomes, distrusting the industry and capability of staff, monitoring for compliance and resisting change, which seriously risk repelling and losing talents that are drawn to institutions that safeguard trust, autonomy and freedom.

Which brings us to a third deficit that can grow as public financing shrinks: our international profile. Malaysia’s public universities, having made inroads in internationalization, could see these gains reversed. The public universities are subject to the public services employment scheme, including the rule that a non-citizen cannot be hired on a permanent basis. All non-Malaysian academics are on contract, predominantly short term. The more contracts are not renewed, the less international our profile. Will Malaysia’s public higher learning institutions, especially the research universities, become more domestic, less global? That might happen, and if so, our presence on the world academic stage will fade. A specific recruitment scheme for public universities, promoting secure employment of international academic staff, is worth considering.

The presumption that rebalancing of university funding sources and reducing of government subsidy necessitates budget cuts also warrants scrutiny. These can be achieved by maintaining the federal allocations, while facilitating growth in other sources. There is currently a baffling downward spiral and multiple moving targets. Both the share of government subsidies and the overall expenditure of universities are falling – why?

Suppose a university currently spends RM100 million and receives RM90 million from government, in line with the current 90% subsidization rate. Expenditure of RM120 million in ten years would be a reasonable projection. If the government share declines to 70%, then in ten years – a “gradual” rollout as the Blueprint stipulates – the government’s contribution would amount to RM84 million, or basically holding steady, not dropping steeply.

Will the government assess the impact of the funding cuts and reconsider the policy – at least its pace and severity? This will take courage, since reducing public funding has been high on the higher education agenda for a decade, and the government defends the deep cuts apparently as a mark of its resolve.

But at the rate we are cutting funds, it will be impossible to avoid deficits in personnel, morale, and international profile.

Dr. Lee Hwok Aun is Senior Fellow at ISEAS-Yusuf Ishak Institute.

 

2017 — A Thunderous Clash of Politics, Economies and Policies


January 6, 2017

2017 — A Thunderous Clash of Politics, Economies and Policies

Martin Khor is Executive Director of the South Centre, a think tank for developing countries, based in Geneva.

The Paris agreement, which was adopted in December 2015 and which came into force in record time in October 2016 as a demonstration of international concern over climate change, may face a major test and even an existential challenge in 2017, if Trump fulfils his election promise to pull the US out. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/IPS.

The Paris agreement, which was adopted in December 2015 and which came into force in record time in October 2016 as a demonstration of international concern over climate change, may face a major test and even an existential challenge in 2017, if Trump fulfils his election promise to pull the US out. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/IPS.

PENANG, Jan 2 2017 (IPS) – Yet another new year has dawned.   But 2017 will be a year like no other.

There will be a thunderous clash of policies, economies and politics worldwide.   We will therefore be on a roller-coaster ride, and we should prepare for it and not only be spectators on the side-lines in danger of being swept away by the waves.

With his extreme views and bulldozing style, Donald Trump is set to create an upheaval if not revolution in the United States and the world.

He is installing an oil company chief as the Secretary of State, investment bankers in key finance positions, climate sceptics and anti-environmentalists in environmental and energy agencies and an extreme rightwing internet media mogul as his chief strategist

US-China relations, the most important for global stability, could change from big-power co-existence with a careful combination of competition and cooperation, to outright crisis.

Trump, through a phone call with Taiwan’s leader and subsequent remarks, signalled he could withdraw the longstanding US adherence to the One China policy and instead use Taiwan as a bargaining card when negotiating economic policies with China.  The Chinese perceive this as an extreme provocation.

He has appointed as head of the new National Trade Council an economist known for his books demonising China, including “Death by China: Confronting the Dragon”.

Trump seems intent on doing an about-turn on US trade and investment policies, starting with ditching the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement and re-negotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Other measures being considered include a 45% duty on Chinese products, extra duties and taxes on American companies located abroad, and even a 10% tariff on all imports.

Martin Khor

Thus 2017 will see a rise in protectionism in the US, the extent still unknown.  That is bad news for those developing countries whose economies have grown on the back of exports and international investments.

Europe in 2017 will also be preoccupied with its own regional problems.  The Brexit shock of 2016 will continue to reverberate and several European countries facing elections will see challenges to their traditional values and established order from xenophobic and narrow nationalist parties.

As Western societies become less open to the world and more inward looking, developing countries should revise their development strategies and rely more on domestic and regional demand and investments.

As North-South economic relations decline, this should also be the moment for expanding South-South cooperation, spurred as much by necessity as by principles.

2017 may be the year when resource-rich China, with its huge Road and Belt initiative and its immense financing capacity, fills in the economic void created by western trade and investment protectionism.

But this may not be sufficient to prevent a finance shock in many developing countries now beginning to suffer a reversal of capital flowing back to the US, attracted by the prospect of higher interest rates and economic growth.

Several emerging economies which together received many hundreds of billions of dollars of hot money in recent years are now vulnerable to the latest downturn phase of the boom-bust cycle of capital flows.

Some of these countries opened up their capital markets to foreign funds which now own large portions of government bonds denominated in the domestic currency, as well as shares in the equity market.

As the tide turns, foreign investors are expected to sell off and transfer back a significant part of the bonds and shares they bought, and this new vulnerability is in addition to the traditional external debt contracted by the developing countries in foreign currencies.

Some countries will be hit by a terrible combination of capital outflow, reduced export earnings, currency depreciation and an increased debt servicing burden caused by higher US interest rates.

As the local currency depreciates further, the affected countries’ companies will have to pay more for servicing loans contracted in foreign currencies and imported machinery and parts, while consumers suffer from a rapid rise in the prices of imports.

On the positive side, the currency depreciation will make exporters more competitive and make tourism more attractive, but for many countries this will not be enough to offset the negative effects.

Thus 2017 will not be kind to the economy, business and the pockets of the common man and woman.  It might even spark a new global financial crisis.

The old year ended with mixed blessings for Palestinians. On one hand they won a significant victory when the outgoing President Obama allowed the adoption of a UN Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territories by not exercising a veto.

The resolution will spur international actions against the expansion of settlements which have become a big obstacle to peace talks.

On the other hand the Israeli leadership, which responded defiantly with plans for more settlements, will find in Trump a much more sympathetic President.  He is appointing a pro-Israel hawk who has cheered the expansion of settlements as the new US ambassador to Israel.

With Trump also indicating he will tear up the nuclear power deal with Iran, the Middle East will have an even more tumultuous time in 2017.

Some countries will be hit by a terrible combination of capital outflow, reduced export earnings, currency depreciation and an increased debt servicing burden caused by higher US interest rates.

In the area of health care, the battle for affordable access to medicines will continue, as public frustration grows over the high and often astronomical prices of patented medicines including for the treatment of HIV AIDS, hepatitis C, tuberculosis and cancers.

There will be more powerful calls for governments to curb the excesses of drug companies, as well as more extensive use of the flexibilities in the patent laws to counter the high cost of medicines.

Momentum will also increase to deal with antibiotic resistance which in 2016 was recognised by political leaders meeting at the United Nations to be perhaps the gravest threat to global health.

All countries pledged to come up with national action plans to counter antibiotic and anti-microbial resistance by May 2017 and the challenge will then be to review the adequacy of these plans and to finance and implement them.

The new year will also see its fair share of natural disasters and a continued decline in the state of the environment.  Both will continue to be major issues in 2017, just as the worsening of air pollution and the many earthquakes, big storms and heat-waves marked the previous few years.

Unfortunately low priority is given to the environment.  Hundreds of billions of dollars are allocated for highways, railways and urban buildings but only a trickle for conservation and rehabilitation of hills, watersheds, forests, mangroves, coastal areas, biodiversity or for serious climate change actions.

2017 should be the year when priorities change, that when people talk about infrastructure or development, they put actions to protect and promote the environment as the first items for allocation of funds.

This new year will also be make or break for climate change.  The momentum for action painfully built up in recent years will find a roadblock in the US as the new President dismantles Obama-initiated policies and measures.

The Paris agreement, which was adopted in December 2015 and which came into force in record time in October 2016 as a demonstration of international concern over climate change, may face a major test and even an existential challenge in 2017, if Trump fulfils his election promise to pull the US out.

But Trump and his team will face resistance domestically including from state governments and municipalities which have their own climate plans, and from other countries determined to carry on without the US on board.

Indeed if 2017 will bring big changes initiated by the new US administration, it will also generate many counter actions to fill in the void left in the world by a withdrawing US or to counter its new unsettling actions.

Many people around the world, from politicians and policy makers to citizen groups and community organisers are already bracing themselves to come up with responses and actions.

Indeed 2017 will be characterised by the Trump effect but also the consequent counter-effects.

There are opportunities to think through, alternatives to chart and reforms to carry out that are anyway needed on the global and national economies, on the environment, and on geo-politics.

Most of the main levers of power and decision-making are still in the hands of a few countries and a few people, but there has also been the emergence of many new centres of economic, environmental and intellectual capabilities and community-based organising.

2017 will be a year in which ideas, policies, economies and politics will all clash, thunderously, and we should be prepared to meet the challenges ahead and not only be spectators.

Malaysia’s Budaya Tipu in Academia


June 20, 2015

New York City

Malaysia’s  Budaya Tipu–Academic Plagiarism and Intellectual Fraud

 by Rom Nain
COMMENT: Malaysian Higher Education, evidently, is once again in the limelight. Once again, for the wrong reasons.

Over the past couple of days, news has gone around that four researchers from a local public university had deliberately manipulated images in a co-authored article published in a prestigious international academic journal.

The four, from Universiti Malaya (UM) – our oldest and,  often enough claimed, our most prestigious, public university – were initially accused of duplicating and manipulating images of cells in their article.

An article which allegedly had three versions was published in three separate journals. Sadly for them – and certainly for UM – the allegations initially exploded over the scientific community’s social media and then spread to other platforms, finally catching the attention of the mainstream scientific media.

The main author, not surprisingly, initially brushed off the charges, providing ‘reasons’ that even non-scientists who had examined the article found rather incredulous.

Now, it has come to the attention of the Malaysian Higher Education Ministry and the authorities at UM. And UM has acted swiftly enough to investigate yet another potential scandal and possibly discipline any wrongdoers.

There will surely be more revealed over the next few days and, I’m sure, there will be demands that the heads of the four researchers, if found guilty, roll. But will they? And even if they do, will the wider problems be resolved?

Going by previous incidences of this nature, one doubts anything major will be resolved. In 1994 a professor at the same Universiti Malaya went to court to defend herself against allegations of plagiarising the work of her students. Despite the evidence, she remains a professor till this day.

A couple of years back, the infamous Ridhuan Tee, while an Associate Professor at the Armed Forces University, was accused of plagiarism as well. Again, despite the clear evidence, he was able to move to another university on the east coast, getting a promotion to full professor to boot. That is classic Malaysian academic culture.

Then there is the infamous University of Bath-UiTM debacle earlier this year, when graduates from the UK university discovered that their theses had somehow found their way into UiTM’s repository, with UiTM’s copyright and watermark on them.

UiTM, predictably, apologised, asserting that it was a technical error that had caused it all. It is still unclear today why the Bath papers were gifted to UiTM by a staff member, and whether she or he had the right to do so.

Fundamental issues of Integrity–The meaning of the word Integrity.

Needless to say, there are a number of things we can – and must – take away from these cases that strike at the core of fundamental issues of integrity. Namely, the integrity of individuals, the integrity of the Malaysian academic profession and, yes, the integrity of our institutions.

It is, after all, easy to apportion blame to individuals, such as the four UM researchers or the professors who blatantly plagiarised the works of others But, unfortunately, these cases – alleged by many in Malaysian academia as barely ‘scratching the surface’ – will continue if the core issues and problems are not located and sincerely addressed.

Of course, one could say that they indulge in these activities because they feel they can ‘get away with it’. But why do they do it in the first place? And why does it seem so prevalent these days?

To begin to answer these questions, we would have to at least go back to this relatively recent phenomenon of university academics needing to meet pre-determined Key Performance Indicators (KPIs).

But, unfortunately, these cases – alleged by many in Malaysian academia as barely ‘scratching the surface’ – will continue if the core issues and problems are not located and sincerely addressed.Of course, one could say that they indulge in these activities because they feel they can ‘get away with it’. But why do they do it in the first place? And why does it seem so prevalent these days?

To begin to answer these questions, we would have to at least go back to this relatively recent phenomenon of university academics needing to meet pre-determined Key Performance Indicators (KPIs).

Pre-determined, often enough, by university administrators more concerned about pleasing their political masters than they are about the welfare of their staff and, even less, about any commitment to a particular academic ethos.

Hence, meaningful university teaching and research be damned. Instead, a bureaucratic or mechanistic view of what higher education, particularly the role of universities and academics, is advanced. Indeed, in Malaysian academia, increasingly it has become a case of institutions and individuals having to meet certain, often quantifiable and quantitative, targets.

And achieving high international rankings yearly has become the name of the game. For some public universities, especially those designated as `research’ universities, publishing in top-tier Institute for Scientific Information (ISI) and Scopus journals now is the main, sometimes determining, criterion for promotion.

It is within this cauldron of quite rapid change and shifting of priorities – often directed by politicians and their ministries – that we find many of our public universities and their faculty members.

Things have gotten worse for Malaysia under Najib Razak

This, of course, hadn’t been the case for a long time. Indeed, it could be argued that the slide began the moment politics and notions of what has derogatorily been called kulitocracy (skin based meritocracy) took top priority from the 1980s onward.

Policies that led to the recruitment of faculty due to their skin tone and, more subtly, their political affiliation, rather than the grey matter in their head, led to a culture of conformity and mediocrity being developed. For some critics this gradually replaced the emphasis on dedicated teaching and learning, and doing good research that had been cultivated in the 1960s and 1970s.

‘Carma’ academics

This was facilitated by (administrative) structures that policies and strategies that (still) disproportionately reward what the national laureate, A Samad Said, has rightly called the ‘carma’ (cari makan) academics.

These often are the apple polishers, those who turn academia into an arena where rapid advancement means getting on with their bosses and courting top UMNO leaders and moving up the administrative ladder; from section to department head, to program chair, to head of school, to dean, deputy vice-chancellor and vice-chancellor. Stopping briefly on the way, of course,to obtain a datoship from corrupt political leaders.

And this group has grown significantly as the number of public universities has rapidly increased. Often quite clueless as to what constitutes good – let alone path-breaking and innovative – research, yet now needing to ‘publish or perish’, they look high and low for the ‘right’ ingredients, however “halal” or “haram”, to enable them to come up not only with publishable papers in referred journals, but also those that often have to meet international criteria and standards for scholarly research and peer recognition.

Unfortunately, when the environment all this while has not helped to nurture whatever research and writing skills they may have, and they now have to regularly produce ‘international’ publications, many find themselves in a ethical quandary.

And so the illicit options become more enticing.Indeed, more widespread, arguably, is this practice of putting one’s name as a co-researcher on the work done by one’s research assistant or graduate student. Even when all the work was done solely by another person.

Of course, dodgy publishing houses have cottoned on to this widespread desperation by academics. So, we have the case of academics (often aided by their institutions) paying substantial sums to purportedly international publishers to get their articles published in  journals and books of questionable quality.

Needless to say, it is within this wider context – of dodgy academic standards, a legacy of a mediocre research culture and environment and a rapidly changing academic milieu and, of course, a general lack of integrity from the top downwards – that we have to locate the alleged offences committed by the UM4 and others.

Virtually nothing happens in a vacuum. Yes, if found guilty, the wrongdoers must be truly punished – and not just transferred to some other university where they are promoted later.

But issues of integrity, dignity and ethics will not and cannot be simply resolved that way. More detailed and critical examination of the environment, the policies and the strategies that have led to this sorry state of affairs, will need to be conducted.

This would require political will–this is sadly lacking in Malaysia today– and a genuine commitment to removing the rot that has set in public – and increasingly private – universities. And I don’t believe that many of us are so sanguine as to believe that this will happen any time soon under this regime.

Read more: https://www.malaysiakini.com/columns/345887#ixzz4C6pT1S7W

Innovation, high performance and diversity


February 23, 2016

Innovation, high performance and diversity :Putting the puzzle pieces together

by Juliet Bourke*

*Ms. Bourke is a Partner in Human Capital at Deloitte. She brings over 20 years’ experience in human capital, management, and law to her work and is an internationally recognised author and speaker on the workplace, cultural change, leadership, and diversity. Ms. Bourke has received a number of awards for her leadership, is a member of Deloitte Australia’s Diversity Council, sits on the Australian School of Business’ HR Advisory Board, and has been listed in the Who’s Who of Australian Women since 2007. Juliet holds Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Laws, and Master of Laws degrees. You can follow her @JulietBourke.

 

Juliet Bourke previews insights from her new book “Which two heads are better than one? How diverse teams create breakthrough ideas and make smarter decisions.”

The discovery of DNA, the breaking of the German Enigma Code, the development of the Black-Scholes Options Pricing and Charles Darwin’s theory of natural selection. Seemingly disparate moments in science, war and economics – but there’s a unifying theme.

The DNA scientists came from the diverse disciplines of chemistry, biology and physics. The Enigma Code breakers comprised linguists, mathematicians and scientists. The Black-Scholes model blended economics, mathematics and heat transfer physics. Darwin, a geologist, relied heavily on Gould, an ornithologist, to understand the significance of the birds he had collected from the Galapagos Islands.

These all exemplify the insight Frans Johansson explored in his best- selling book, The Medici Effect: Breakthrough insights at the intersection of ideas, concepts and cultures. Each of these innovations sits at one, or more, of Johansson’s intersections and created a step change in our modern world. Applying the picture puzzle metaphor to Johansson’s insights,  diversity and team performance, the picture’s central image emerges. But the boundaries and background need to be filled in.

We can complete the picture if we can incorporate more of what we now know about the effects of gender and racial diversity on team dynamics, and the value of integrating individual’s different thinking models.

And if we can see the diversity picture more clearly, we can more confidently answer leadership questions such as: What mix of people enhances the performance of boards and executive teams, once capability has been established?

Smart teams: What makes them smart?

Consider this: In one corner, a small team easily completes a set of simple cognitive tasks set by researchers from Carnegie Mellon University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The tasks involve “visual puzzles, brainstorming, making collective judgements and negotiating over limited resources”. As soon as the simple tasks are completed the teams move onto solving other more complex tasks. In another corner, a different small team is still struggling with the same simple cognitive tasks. The researchers repeatedly saw this scenario confirmed during their observations of 699 people working in groups of two to five people.

What differentiated the groups? Why was one group ‘smarter’ than another? It wasn’t so much the individual intelligence of each of the group members, although that was important. Professor Woolley and her colleagues found that the smarter teams possessed collective intelligence, and it could be predicted by three factors.  The first factor was, the degree to which team members were socially sensitive, i.e their ability to read social cues such as when someone was perplexed.  The second factor was the degree to which the group practiced speaking in turns or was dominated by a few loud voices. Lastly the third factor was whether the group included women. The inclusion of women was important not because the women were extra smart, or had access to gender specific knowledge, but because women scored slightly better on the social sensitivity test.

This is an intriguing result, and one which helps to complete the picture by putting into place another of the diversity puzzle pieces.

Gender diversity makes a difference to team performance, but not simply because it ensures a team is accessing a broad pool of talent. Woolley’s research alludes to a more subtle value: gender diversity helps improves team dynamics.  This conclusion is supported by the work of other academics.

London Business School Professor Gratton and her colleagues found that feelings of psychological safety and experimentation were optimal in a group with 50:50 gender ratios. They found that the self-confidence of team members was optimal when the gender ratio was 60% women to 40% men. University of Illinois Professor Fairburn found that small groups of men and women were 9% more likely to transfer smiles between each other than all male groups. This is significant because mutual smiling promotes feelings of social bonding. And quite obviously, positive feelings of social connectedness are conducive to people sharing information, which in turn enables more thoughtful decision making.

Racial diversity: another piece of the puzzle

In small clusters of six, stock market traders in Singapore and Texas are deciding whether to buy or sell shares. Their task is to “calculate accurate prices for simulated stocks”  over ten trading periods that each last two minutes. After 2,022 market transactions, Columbia University Professor Levine and his colleagues  observed that some of the clusters only made a few pricing errors and traded accurately about 65% of the time. However, other clusters regularly overpriced, created pricing bubbles and traded accurately only 40% of the time.

What was the difference between the clusters of traders? Once again there’s a diversity connection: the successful Singaporean and Texan traders featured multi-ethnic/racial groups, not homogenous ones. With this the researchers concluded that visible racial diversity triggered stimulated uncertainty, bringing “cognitive friction that enhanced deliberation”.

With this yet another part of the puzzle falls into place, this one relating to racial diversity.

Other researchers support this connection between racial diversity and behaviours such as curiosity and listening. Conversely, those studies also show that visible similarity stimulates feelings of comfort, confidence and assumptions of like-mindedness. Feelings which lead to faster, but ultimately sub-optimal, decision making.

Mental Models

Our own leadership and diversity research reveals a final puzzle piece: Namely individuals tend to over-emphasise one or two ways of solving problems, and to under-weight other relevant approaches. More disturbingly, we found that collectively 75% of senior leaders tend to spend much more time defining the outcomes they want to achieve and debating options (classified as the two dimensions of “outcomes” and “options”), and comparatively less time discussing risks, the implications for staff and customers, the process of implementation, and the evidence to justify and measure a solution (classified as the four dimensions of “risk”, “people”, “process” and “evidence”). Why? Because as individuals they were more likely to think that those two approaches were more important than the other four. And when the group was dominated by leaders with that bias, they formed a voting block which quietened the voices of leaders who approached problem solving in a different way.

Why does it matter? University of Michigan Professors Hong and Page calculated a 30% error rate when problems are solved via the application of one dominant approach – and conversely a 100% accuracy rate when five different approaches are applied.  This is not to suggest that collecting a widely diverse set of approaches is optimal; there is a ceiling. Too many approaches and a group will lose productivity as they spend time understanding another team member’s point of view.  Indeed, Hong and Page calculated that when nine approaches are considered, value starts to erode and the accuracy rating drops to 90%. In sum, Hong and Page defined the optimal number of problem solving approaches as between five and eight.

Our research confirms that of Hong and Page. When we have worked with leadership teams to deliberately attend to six more balanced approaches to problem solving (outcomes, options, people, process, risk and evidence), groups report that by reducing blind spots they were able to develop more robust solutions. Moreover, followers report greater faith in the ultimate solution.

The final word

So where do these puzzle pieces leave us in relation to the bigger picture? Johansson had already given us clarity about the importance of disciplined diversity to team performance. A central image. With these other studies we can lock in more of the indistinct background of racial and gender diversity, and even some of the smaller pieces about individual mental models. Together they form an interesting and realistic picture of how diverse teams deliver superior performance. A picture that is more nuanced than much of what is said about the nature of diversity and the inter-relationship between various elements.

Armed with this knowledge, diversity is no longer a puzzle. It is something leaders can pursue with great clarity, assurance and vigour. And with that, the likelihood that boards and executives will make smart and innovative decisions more consistently. Of course there’s more to be said about how inclusive leaders lead diverse groups to maximise their potential, but getting the who right is foundational.

Juliet Bourke is the author of “Which two heads are better than one? How diverse teams create breakthrough ideas and make smarter decisions” forthcoming February 2016 (Australian Institute of Company Directors).

Footnotes:

[1] Johansson, F., (2004) The Medici Effect: Breakthrough insights at the intersection of ideas, concepts and cultures Harvard Business School Press, Boston.

[2] Woolley, A. W., Chabris, C. F., Pentland, A., Hashmi, N., and Malone, T, W., (2010) Evidence for a collective intelligence factor in the  performance of human groups, Science, Vol 330, pp. 686-688.

[3] Gratton, L., Kelan, E., Voigt, A., and Wolfram H.J., (2007) Innovative potential: Men and women in teams The Lehman Brothers Centre for Women in Business, London Business School. 

[4] Levine, S. S., and Stark, D., (2015) Diversity makes you brighter. Op Ed. New York Times, December 9.

[5] Levine, S. S., Apfelbaum, E. P., Bernard, M., Bartelt, V. L., Zajac, E. J. and Stark, D., (2014) Ethnic diversity deflates price bubbles PNAS Early edition, http://www.pnas.org/content/111/52/18524 retrieved 19 November 2014.

[6] Hong, L, Page, S. E., and Riolo, M., (2012) Incentives, Information and Emergent Collective Accuracy, Managerial and Decision Economics, Vol 33, pp. 323-332.

[7] Bourke, J., and Dillon, B., (2015) Fast forward: Leading in a Brave New World of Diversity (Customers, Ideas and Talent) Future Inc, Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand.

http://www2.deloitte.com/au/en/pages/human-capital/articles/creating-high-performing-leadership-teams.html

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.
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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.