ALLOW me to give some personal comments and observations on the recent report about the potential crisis which our 111-year-old Universiti Malaya is facing, “UM feeling the crunch” (Sunday Star, Jan 8). I am among the professorial staff who have taught for three decades in UM’s Faculty of Medicine and who are preparing to exit in less than two years.
It is indeed a case of “no money, no show”. The budget cuts will certainly affect the research performance and key performance index (KPI) of university lecturers. The collective KPI will then contribute to the status achieved in the ranking or yanking exercise of the annual “academia beauty” competition!
Upon the introduction of KPI with its good intention and weightage more prominently given to research activities, there has been a progressive loss in interest and devotion to teaching our undergraduates. In particular, the younger lecturers face the greater pressure to publish and meet research milestones in order to ensure their promotion.
With significantly less credit given to good teaching, which is not easily quantifiable compared to the number of publications achieved, it is inevitable that the younger staff would commit more time to developing and building up their research KPI than to improving their teaching. Invariably, our students for whom the university exists to teach and train suffers.
During the pre-KPI days, I had academic freedom and unhurried time to read through as many Physiology texts as I could to get different perspectives on homeostatic mechanisms in order to best impart the insights to the medical students. But now, given the time and energy needed to fulfil their research expectations, my younger colleagues no longer have this privilege and, unfortunately in many cases, the dedication to read, think, digest and teach well. To teach well is time-consuming. Time to read and prepare (it needed more care and time during the pre-PowerPoint days!); time to review a lecture given; and time to modify and fine-tune for a better lecture. But why “waste” time on an activity for which much less merit, recognition and applause are now being given?
The current financial crisis facing UM and other educational institutions in Malaysia with regards to their research programmes and status is real.
The other deficiency, which is seldom talked about with as much concern, is the quality of our university teachers. This academic malaise is there and the symptoms are showing. Unfortunately, the patients are our undergraduate students who will be the future leaders and contributing citizens in Malaysia. As academia, we cannot neglect our calling and responsibility as educator of their minds and physician of their souls.
Our students almost always remember the impact we have on them as teachers and very seldom as researchers.
DR CHENG HWEE MING
Department of Physiology
Faculty of Medicine