21 February 1999

It does seem that even in some of the world's elite universities there exists apparently an increasingly philistine, money-fixated, even anti-intellectual stance. This happens perhaps because there is greater pressure for universities and colleges to be dependent on government funds and subsidies.

At Oxford, English literature and poetry especially have suffered because the Oxford University Press (OUP) has closed down its poetry publishing section and sacked its twenty six poets - some of whom are world famous, some tipped for the Poet Laureateship because of commercial reasons.

In many universities academic as well as physical facilities are inadequate; with mediocre teaching staff and administration and overstuffed with students. Worst of all, they have little money. What could one expect when universities are open to any who wants to study or has the money to pay irrespective whether he or she merits admission?

Our founding fathers Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra and Tun Razak - stressed that higher education was to be the pride of independent Malaya (now Malaysia) and declared that ilmu (learning and knowledge) is its route to greatness. Tun Hussein and Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir not only concurred but strenuously advocated that knowledge is power. I should perhaps remind the reader that three of our four Prime Ministers at one time or other held the Education portfolio before moving on to Jalan Dato Chin. All had tertiary education.

The United States has more than five thousand universities and colleges (population about 270 million), United Kingdom, 100 (population 59, million) India, 10,000 (population nearly one billion) whilst we have fourteen universities - excluding twinning programmes or "satellite campuses" with a population of twenty two million. A minority of these universities remain first rate, a few more have attained good reputation but a large proportion of them, I am sorry to say, leave much to be desired in more ways than one.

I attended before last Christmas - on 18 December, 1998, Fuad's (my youngest son) degree congregation at Nottingham, University in England.

He obtained a Master of Arts Degree in International Studies specialising in the Asia-Pacific region. Before this, he had secured a Bachelor of Arts degree in South East Asian studies at the University of Hull.

In his address to the degree congregations, the Chancellor of the University of Nottingham, Lord Dearing, (who is also chairman of the British national Committee of Enquiry into Higher Education and before that, chairman of the Higher Education Funding Council for England) said that once China's greatest wealth was its 12 billion people but now it is higher education and this wise investment would make China a super power sooner than many people would realise.

The graduation ceremony at the Sports Centre was brief, simple and dignified. Many Asian undergraduates and postgraduates including those from Malaysia, were given degrees in absentia. Obviously the economic meltdown in Asia has taken its toll. I had attended since the early nineties, convocations at Hull, Cambridge, Bristol, London and Harvard. Until Nottingham, grandparents, parents, brothers and sisters and even the boyfriends and girlfriends of our students would turn up in force at graduation ceremonies.

Fuad joins a long procession of Malaysians who have passed through the Nottingham, University gates which include the present Yang Di Pertuan Agong Tuanku Jaafar, Sultan Azlan Shah of Perak, the Sultanah of Kedah and Datuk Seri Najib Razak whose eldest son and step-son Nizar and Nazrin - like their father before him, are currently studying economics at the university

The University of Nottingham will celebrate its Golden Jubilee in July. It is a relatively young, "red brick" and the first new university to receive a Royal Charter following the Second World War. Its forerunner was the University College of Nottingham founded in 1988.

The author, D.H. Lawrence. studied for an education certificate and immortalised the stone-built college in his novel The Rainbow. The University with a 330 acre main campus, set in extensive parkland, rather handsome for a "red brick", is the result of the generosity and vision of Sir Jesse Boot, the founder of the famous Boots pharmaceutical company.

Fuad enjoyed Nottingham. An English family friend, George Akin and his family hosted a dinner party for us including Muhrizah, my sister-in-law, to celebrate Fuad's graduation. George's youngest son, George Jr. is Fuad's close friend having studied together in a prep school, Bilton Grange near Rugby.