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
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
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.