Malaysia not churning out suitable graduates for innovation, R&D: Professor

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysian universities are not producing the type of graduates needed to drive innovation and research and development (R&D), both of which are necessary to move the nation forward.

Professor Dwight H. Perkins, the Harold Hitchings Burbank Professor of Political Economy, Emeritus, at the Faculty of Arts and Sciences of Harvard Kennedy School, said Malaysia is at a point where it will have to innovate very substantially.

“The question becomes whether Malaysia has the capacity here in the country to carry out that kind of innovation. Are the institutions, supporting infrastructure adequate to support that kind of activity? The first and foremost question is whether the education system is capable of producing the people that Malaysia needs to lead this endeavour,” he said at a seminar yesterday.

The seminar titled “Policy Imperatives to Drive Future Growth” is the third in a four-part seminar series jointly organised by the Jeffrey Cheah Institute on Southeast Asia and Malaysian Economic Association.

“Going forward, I think the big problem is where we are going to get human capital that is going to lead a nation towards an economy where innovation – domestic innovation by domestic people – is absolutely essential and where do you get the human resources to do that,” he added.

Perkins noted the brain drain issue in Malaysia, whereby many students who move up to tertiary level go abroad. In addition, a large number of Malaysians who go abroad for training do not come home but remain or move to countries like Singapore, China and the US.

He said one of the problems with the education system is the nature of Malaysian universities whereby the presidencies are picked by the government.

Although there was an effort to bring quality into the faculties, he noted that there was a lot of politics involved as well. While Malaysian universities picked their management, faculties and students primarily on the basis of merit, a very substantial portion of the population is still excluded.

While efforts to eliminate the relationship between ethnic group and occupation continue to this day, Perkins said, the biggest problem in universities is that all the privileges are going to people who are already privileged.

This is a major reason why the universities are not what they should be, he said, adding that if teachers are brought in without merit, it would be cheating the students.

“A few years ago I was pretty optimistic that Malaysia was going to make the necessary changes; I am a lot less optimistic today,” he said.