The value of quality foreign education

17 May 1998

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The University of California at Berkeley where I had long discussions with a dozen or so professors and administrators charges only about half or two thirds of the fee of some other lesser known universities a year, because it is state-funded and yet hardly any bumiputra students ever studies there for a while.

Prof. Amin Sweeney, a Malaysian Professor at Berkeley for the last twenty years or so is mystified.

He told me with a much regret: "We hardly have Malaysians at Berkeley, certainly no bumiputra students. What a pity! An elite education can be had for a price well below the fees of lesser known schools where the bumiputra seem to congregate." I entirely agree with him..why indeed?

Yet there are thousands of sponsored students being sent nowhere and every where, some paying double of what Berkeley charges.

San Francisco, an attractive city has created many modern phenomena from the counter culture (gay and lesbian quarters) to cyberchic living.

This was my fourth visit in 38 years and each time I find the city's beauty and charm overwhelms me, it is hard to leave San Francisco! One disadvantage: there are 15000 homeless people and the number is growing.

Sacramento is the quiet capital of the most populous state in the American Union and the State University of Sacramento is a conducive place to study where Malaysian students appeared happy and well received.

I will say this much for Hawaii. It is better known as a holiday destination than an education center. Yet there are three good institutions there - the Hawaii Pacific University (private) the Hawaii University (state) and East West Center (federal).

Maui is irresistible beautiful and a haven for an idyllic life with all modern facilities and telecommunications and unlike Honolulu, is not expansive.

The attraction of Hawaii is the people are friendly : our students are happy and enjoying themselves.

The Hawaii Pacific University where most of our students are is the most popular institution with foreign students based on the percentage of last year's enrollment.

I do not apologise for being biased towards elitism. Must be he or she apologises for being rarefied? Like in anything, attitude besides ambition is crucial.

Attitude of the parents, the ministry of education officials and the students themselves makes a big difference where our students study whether in the US, Canada or Britain.

We should think seriously about what is right and good for our children. It is about time we became more discriminating where we sent our students.

People have been waiting too waiting far too long for those responsible to change their attitude and mindset. We can accomplish more with quality. Please don't get me wrong. While we need to make up the number so that it looks good statistically quality is absolute for there is no substitute for it.

I do not believe Oxford will allow itself to being relegated to the international second or third division. Oxford will make amendments soon enough.

Parents, please remember this: top American universities have unparalleled research facilities and even their undergraduate studies are well funded and staffed. Harvard's endowment is almost US$11 billion (RM 40.7 billion) whilst Yale has over US$ 6 million (RM 22.2 billion). They offer students flexible learning, openness and unrivaled experience.

Whether a Malaysian is in the US, Britain, Japan or China, he or she should strive to be at an upmarket school during the merry years of education chasing.

Dato' Abdullah Ahmad is Malaysia's Special Envoy to the United Nations

(This article has been reproduced with the kind permission of Sun )