Paper chase in pursuit of scrolls, not knowledge

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GEORGE TOWN: An obsession with paper qualification has led to many Malaysians turning to dubious institutions, without realising that their “degrees” might not be of much use to them in the long run, says an academic as the debate over suspicious degrees continues to rage.

Mohamed Ghouse Nasuruddin of Universiti Sains Malaysia also said the “paper chase” did not reflect a thirst for knowledge.

This, he said, could be seen when many courses offered by local universities were not popular.

“The quest for knowledge is lacking, but the quest for degrees is aplenty,” he told FMT.

He spoke of the belief that by getting a degree, one also obtains a sense of authority.

“It gives you a perception or sense of authority, of having the knowledge to command or to be eligible for a certain position,” he said.

Similarly, Ghouse said honorary doctorates were also abused.

Many recipients of honorary degrees, including politicians, use the “Dr” title on their names when they are not supposed to, he said.

“While we academics work hard to earn a doctorate, these people plonk a ‘Dr’ in their name, simply because some university in the boondocks gave them that and they have suddenly become an intellectual,” he said.

He added that it is not hard to get academically “knighted” these days.

“Some politicians or corporate figures get people to write their assignments. How do they even find time to study and do research?

“You get people to write for you, and you append your name on the coursework, and we churn out diploma and degree holders.”

He said the paper chase had led to the problem of graduates unable to accommodate market demands, whether in the corporate world or the government.

But the problem is not with students alone, as it is rooted in the university system, he added.

He described some higher institutions of learning in the country as “assembly lines” obsessed with rankings and profits.

For Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia’s Shamsul Amri Baharuddin, buying a degree instead of going through years of studies appears to be increasingly acceptable in Malaysian society.

He said even those who could not pass their Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) exam could now claim to have a degree.

Degrees, he said, were now “decorative” pieces and a tool to boost one’s image.

“Buying a degree depends on how well off you are and has nothing to do with one’s academic ability,” he said.

Despite Malaysia’s 20 public universities, he added, many choose not to make the effort to enrol in a recognised course.

Shamsul said five public universities had been accorded research status, with a degree quality “higher” than that of non-research institutions.

As for private universities, he said, the gap between the best and the worst was “huge”.

“For example, the best (private universities) built their own permanent physical and non-physical infrastructures. The worst can only afford to rent two-storey shophouses,” he said.