Idris vs Rafiah – more important is the sharp fall in standards of Malaysian universities

Higher Education Deputy Minister Datuk Idris Haron should either defend his insinuation against Datuk Rafiah Salim in Parliament implying that the former University of Malaya Vice Chancellor was lacking in “high level performance” or he should be gentleman enough to apologise if he could not stand by his statement.

Malaysians concerned by the continuous drop and decline in standards of Malaysian universities must be distressed by the unnecessary diversion from what should be the sole focus of all involved in higher education – that Malaysian university standards have fallen so low dangerously that we are even losing out to universities in Thailand, Indonesia and Philippines – something completely unthinkable in the first three decades of our nationhood.

For the second consecutive year, Malaysia had fallen completely out of the list of the world’s Top 200 Universities this year in the 2008 Times Higher Education Supplement (THES) – Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) World University Rankings.

The national shame of Malaysia falling completely out of the list of the world’s Top 200 Universities this year in the 2008 Times Higher Education Supplement (THES) – Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) World University Rankings is being compounded by the ignominy of Malaysian universities losing out not only to top universities in Singapore, China, Japan, Hong Kong, Taiwan and South Korea but also to other South East Asian nations like Thailand, Indonesia and Philippines.

For the second consecutive year, there is not only not a single university in the 2008 THES-QS Top 200 Universities list, there is also not a single university in the separate ranking of Top 100 Universities for five subject areas – Natural Sciences, Social Sciences, Arts and Humanities; Life Sciences and Biomedicine; and Technology.

Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) and Universiti Malaya (UM) were in the 2006 Ranking, placed No. 185 and 192 respectively. UKM plunged to 309 last year and improved to 250 this year while UM fell to 246 last year improving slightly to 230 this year – but both remain outside the Top 200 Universities ranking.

The government named Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) as the Apex University but it has a dismal international rankings after being included once in the Top 200 Universities list – No. 111 in 2004, No. 326 in 2005, 277 in 2006, No. 307 in 2007 and No. 313 in 2008.

It is both sad and pathetic that our Apex University, the USM, at No. 313 ranking, is not only left far behind in South East Asia by Singapore (National University of Singapore No. 30 and Nanyang Technological University No. 77) but also by Thailand (Chulalongkorn University No. 166), Indonesia (University of Indonesia No. 287) and the Philippines (Ateneo de Manila University No. 254 and University of the Philippines No. 276).

Until last year, Malaysian universities were all ranked well ahead of the Indonesian universities, but in the 2008 THES-QS World Top Universities ranking, Indonesian universities are catching up with Malaysian universities in leaps and bounds.

Last year for instance, the three top Indonesian universities were all ranked behind the Malaysian universities – University of Indonesia (UI) No. 395, Bandung Institute of Technology (ITB) No. 369 and Gajah Mada University (UGM) No. 360, as compared to the three top Malaysian universities University of Malaya (UM) No. 246, Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) No. 307 and Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) No. 309.

In this year’s ranking, University of Indonesia has improved by 108 placings to be ranked as No. 287, Bandung Institute of Technology No. 315 and Gajah Mada University No. 316.

This means that in the 2008 THES-QS Ranking, University of Indonesia (No. 287) has narrowed the gap with University of Malaya (No. 230) and Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (No. 250), while ahead of Malaysia’s apex university, Universiti Sains Malaysia (No. 313), University Putra Malaysia (No. 320) and Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (No. 356).

The performance of Malaysian universities in the 2008 THES-QS Top 100 lists for the five subject areas are even more dismal, with not a single university making into the five lists for two years consecutively although Malaysia secured four of these 500 prestigious slots in 2006 – University of Malaya was ranked 49 in Social Sciences and 95 in Natural Sciences, UKM was placed No. 62 in Natural Sciences, and University Sains Malaysia placed No. 96 for Life Sciences and Biomedicine.

For the 2008 THES-QS ranking, National University of Singapore (NUS) (No. 30) is ranked among the Top 100 Universities for all the five categories while Nanyang Technological University (NTU) (No. 77) is ranked among the Top 100 universities for three categories, viz: Technology (No. 26); Life Sciences & Biomedicine (No. 78) and Social Sciences (No.89).

NUS is ranked No. 11 for Technology; No. 17 for Life Sciences and Biomedicine, No. 31 for Natural Sciences; No.18 for Social Sciences and No. 30 for Arts & Humanities.

NTU is ranked No. 25 for Engineering & IT; No. 99 for Natural Sciences and No. 88 for Social Sciences.

Even Thailand’s Chulalongkorn University is rated among the Top 100 Universities for two categories – Technology (No. 86) and Social Sciences (No. 72); Indonesia’s Bandung Institute of Technology rated as among the Top 100 universities for Technology (No. 90) and two universities in Philippines ranked among the Top 100 Universities for Arts and Humanities – Ateneo de Manila University (No. 79) and University of the Philippines (No. 82).

After being placed in four of the 500 slots in the five Top 100 Universities for the five subjects in 2006, Malaysian universities has been conspicuously missing from all the five listings of Top 100 Universities for the five categories for the past two years.

There are over 30 “elite of elite” universities, which are not only ranked in the Top 200 Universities list, but also ranked in every one of the five Top 100 subject list.

Universities in the Asia-Pacific region which are in this exclusive “elite of elites” list are:

    (Ranking in Top 200 Universities in bracket)


    ANU (16)
    Sydney U (37)
    Melbourne U (38)
    Queensland U (43)
    New South Wales U (45)
    Monash U (47)


    Tokyo U (19)

    Hong Kong

    Hong Kong U (26)


    National University of Singapore (30)


    Peking U (50)
    Tsinghua U (56)

    South Korea

    Seoul National U (50)

Why is Malaysia not in this “elite of elites” listing and when will Malaysia have a university which will have all-round excellence as to be included in this list?

  1. #1 by All For The Road on Tuesday, 18 November 2008 - 2:55 pm

    Why are Malaysian universities not listed in the ‘elite’ group of universities in the world? We are falling far behind others, especially to other universities in the Asia-Pacific region, year in and year out.

    Where lies the problem? There’s only one simple word to sum up. We don’t practise MERITOCRACY either in recruitment of students or staff in our national universities! The big ‘word’ is both humbug and bogey to the authorities!

  2. #2 by murid-murid on Tuesday, 18 November 2008 - 3:00 pm

    The new vice chancellor of Universiti Malaya, Professor Datuk Dr. Ghauth Jasmon, has only 30 journal papers. How can he become a vice chancellor? If it is a good American university, he would not have had his tenure even, which means he would not be qualified for promotion to associate professor and will be fired. No wonder our ranking is below 200.

    His citation report:-

    Results found:26
    Sum of the Times Cited:189
    Average Citations per Item:7.27

    As an academic, Prof Ghauth has contributed extensively in research and in the Engineering Profession. He researched in the areas Power Systems Analysis, Network Analysis, Voltage Stability, System Security and Neural Networks. His works have been published in 30 international journal papers, 45 conference/seminars and other publications. He has also been involved in many professional engineering activities especially in the IEE(UK) and IEEE (USA) and was formerly a Secretary General and Vice President of the Association for Engineering Education in South East Asia and the Pacific. He is currently a Fellow of the IEE, Fellow of the Institution of Engineers Australia, Senior Member of the IEEE and an Eisenhower Fellow.

  3. #3 by ch on Tuesday, 18 November 2008 - 3:27 pm

    Dear All,

    YB Kit Siang has brought up the right issue i.e. the falling standards of our universities. In fact, YB Kit Siang had, has and will continue to bring up similar issues. The various issues brought up appear to have bearings on our government policies. To me, the Malaysian government is adopting a fire fighting approach on most issues affecting the country. For instance, the malaysian government is now caught with the most unexpected development. It was not too long ago when they thought fit then that the plantation companies have to pay windfall taxes. Basically, the government has no clue as to manage the oil palm/palm oil industry in such that all stakeholders interests are well guarded. Don’t you agree that they are fire fighting? But then again, can you blame the Malaysian government, where leaders and administrators believed to be there not due entirely to their meirt?

    I am sure the price of CPO will eventually find its level vis-a-vis other competing products and vis-a-vis other competing nations. However, the road of getting there is not going to be easy nor straightforward. Challenges are plentiful as the global economy evolves. Today, other than just expounding on the nutrional benefits of palm oil vis-a-vis other competing edible oils, the world at large is concerned with the carbon foot print as well. The government and perhaps people in the palm oil industry should ask themselves as to why palm oil today is sold at a huge discount to competing oils like soybean oil, corn oil, etc.

    My view is that for the industry to be sustainable in the long run, all stakeholders interests must be assured through the implementation of astute policies and guidelines and definitely not through fire-fighting. Surely we cannot allow the palm oil industryto be ruined by traders applying their skills over the plantation owners. You may equate the traders to the hedge funds of the financial world today. As Dr. M had correctly said that their activities and greed have substantially destroyed the global financial market and system. Therefore I would have thought that the Malaysian government or the authorities reined in the rapidly escalating palm oil prices earlier this year. Instead the government was busy devising and thinking of ways to also share in this foundamentally unsound price hike. It is short termism at play and pure greed to say the very least.

    Similarly the same situation is true in our education policies. The government should invite all involved parties (the stakeholders in education) to join in framing up the right way forward to improve the standards of our tertiary education. The government should not just exclude this policy making group to just a few who may not be qualified in the first place.

  4. #4 by Evenmind on Tuesday, 18 November 2008 - 3:29 pm

    Uncle Lim, there is nothing shocking about the rankings., it is bound to slip further, the standard of the students is directly proportional to the Lecturers , who are there by the virtue of NEP., and Mahatir still think he is smart . , NEP is the way to Nation’s destruction., all they care is ketuanan Melayu , and all the other bullocks., racism rules , racial politics is thier rice bowl.

  5. #5 by Jeffrey on Tuesday, 18 November 2008 - 3:43 pm

    Former Universiti Malaya vice-chancellor Rafiah Salim has also alleged gender bias by the government towards local academicians amidst the controversy of her not being re-appointed to the post.

    “Just because we are women and we don’t have that thing between the legs so we are not good,” she told Malaysiakini :)
    in its report of Nov 17, 08 7:23pm under title “Axed UM VC says its because she’s a woman” by Beh Lih Yi.

  6. #6 by murid-murid on Tuesday, 18 November 2008 - 3:55 pm

    Gender, for sure. Let’s have Rafidah back to teach.

    Koh has lost his minister job and he better go back to teach as well.

  7. #7 by k1980 on Tuesday, 18 November 2008 - 4:09 pm

    Ghauth Jasmon has only 30 journal papers.
    But then, in Bolehland, 1 bumi paper = 50 non-bumi papers
    Therefore Ghauth Jasmon has 30 x50= 1,500 journal papers. So, he should qualify to head both Harvard and the Massachusetts Inst of Tech.

  8. #8 by Raja Kasawari on Tuesday, 18 November 2008 - 4:16 pm

    I think one should look at how she carries herself. She is LOUD. Very EGOISTIC. This was her impression she gave me when I attended one of the functions in the campus. To be fair, she alone can’t be held responsible for the dismal ranking.

    Other aspects concerning the attitude of the lecturers (besides their qualifications) cannot be discounted. Most of them do not bother whtr the students understand what they teach. Don’t ask. They will make you feel so small. You’ll regret asking in the first place. Their attitude remind one of the type that you can expect to receive at any typical govt bodies (jpj, ird, etc). Better learn by yourself. Don’t ask, less you be black marked in some way.

  9. #9 by waterfrontcoolie on Tuesday, 18 November 2008 - 4:21 pm

    In life, two things must be made very clear: clergy should only be seen at places of worship and politicians in the parliaments. The moment they are allowed to stray outside their domains, they will try all unscrupulous magics to increase their influence.
    In the case of education, just like the judiciary, they should have left it to the academicians to elect from among themselves their leaders AFTER setting the terms for such ‘elections’; otherwise character like the guy from UTiM will play fear-politics to gather his supporters. Since in current environment the supporters do not care much for quality as the Gomen will guarantee jobs in a non-competing environment.
    This we must foresee, because Hitler too got his majority through frenzy support! So for our Us to remain relevant in the globalized world many changes have to take place. The current reaction is akin to trying to stop these changes!
    Even Friedman had advised our one time SUPER-EGO that he could not avoid change, as even the President of USA could not do it; short of spinning off this planet. This resistance to change, a kind of self-denial, is the first step towards self destruction for any society. History has been repeated so many times such incidents. To-day even USA is brought to her knees because of self-illusion of spinning wealth out of nothingness!
    2,500 years ago, the maxim that nothing is constant except change holds true whatever action you may take to try to prevent it. So please do ever try to cheat yourselves, Malaysians!!

  10. #10 by waterfrontcoolie on Tuesday, 18 November 2008 - 4:23 pm

    last line should read… Please DO NOT..ever try…….

  11. #11 by raven77 on Tuesday, 18 November 2008 - 4:35 pm

    The public should stop wasting time with public universities in Malaysia and start focusing on private universities…..Public universities in Malaysia are a gone case and little point on harping on it as long as this government is around….and even if there was another government ….the racial quota evil will never die out……the way to move forward is the local, private twinning programs. At the moment …this is the stark realty

  12. #12 by Raja Kasawari on Tuesday, 18 November 2008 - 4:49 pm

    So, you see, how can the students thrive? How can the quality of this university be improved? These people discourage enquiries and forget about debates or discussions. Perhaps they fear their inadequacies be visible if they entertain queries. Perhaps they are just plain lazy … who cares whtr the students understand or not .. why work hard when their salary are paid prompto at the end of each month… dun understand? google la.

    Sure, now they have in place a questionnaire to gauge the performance of the lecturers, whereby each student is forced to fill, otherwise they cannot sign in for the next sem. I don’t see this will work. Why? Because, this questionnaire is put online. The students have to reply online using their student username. With this in place, do you think the students will reply honestly? I am sure all right thinking students will never answer truthfully. Why risk being found out by the lecturers and be accordingly “black marked”? Sheesh.

    So much for improvement. Bah!

    For a start maybe they should revamp the whole teaching staff. Fire those useless ones and take on new ones from the industry based on merit for a change.

  13. #13 by ryan123 on Tuesday, 18 November 2008 - 4:57 pm

    Not sure, but I think that private institutions Malaysia are profit-driven rather than academic-driven, meaning that things are tailored to the market demands. Usually, little money are channeled to research involving fundamental sciences (e.g. maths, psychics).

  14. #14 by Godfather on Tuesday, 18 November 2008 - 5:32 pm

    Aiya, you folks are unnecessarily pessimistic. We have an endless stream of foreign students coming to study at our local universities, and yet you claim that our standards are declining. Our universities are so famous that people come from afar like Ghana, Sudan, Senegal, Nigeria, Sierra Leone. You think that if our standards were half as bad as you say they are, these people would bother to come ?

    These people live closer to Oxford and Cambridge, yet they choose to come to Bolehland universities. Think, folks, think.

  15. #15 by sayaAnakMalaysia on Tuesday, 18 November 2008 - 6:38 pm

    UM not USM should be the APEX University. Minister of Higher Education, please be serious. Make sure Malaysia has at least one University in the World’s top 100. Foa an APEX University:

    1. adopt NUS strategies (, forget about the NEP. BNasional has many other Universities to implement the NEPpolicies, but please, not the APEX University, only one University,please!

    2. stop sending best bumis and non-bumis students overseas. let them compete in the APEX University. don’t worry if the non-Malays perform better. We are all Malaysians. Their parents will be proud of them.

    3.Forget about Malay supremacy at APEX University. Hire the best brains . Like many other countries, NUS has a pool of foreign lecturers just to ensure that the University is a world-class University. Locals can be absorbed as lecturers only if they are highly talented. Else, transfer the KPI-nonperforming lecturers to other Universities. We have many local Universities. Good local lecturers should be promoted and transferred to the APEX University.

    Minister,please do something before it is too late. Make sure the APEX University will be among the Top 100 Universities in the world within 5 years.

  16. #16 by taiking on Tuesday, 18 November 2008 - 6:53 pm

    I think we are doing well for going against the natural flow of things. Hey it aint easy man. The design is by peddling backwards we can actually go forward. Its the law of E=MC2.

    By the law of E=MC2 the great inventor thomas edison said recently (see our most recent national scientific paper) that because the world is round (look at the shape of our moon for evidence of this statement) all things would converge.

    This is a scientific theory and we are the first to apply the theory to the human society. You see the whole thing works like so: E=MC2 is about convergence. All divergence would eventually converge at one point and the one that keeps on moving would eventually move forward after the convergence.

    We would be that one that keeps on moving and when convergence happens, we would be ahead of others.

    Dato’ Prof Dr Taiking, PhD (particle physics), University Local Elite Best.

  17. #17 by monsterball on Tuesday, 18 November 2008 - 8:46 pm

    They must employ ONLY UMNO die hard members.
    They must employ….not smarter than the PM.
    They must employ ….yes/man woman….loving race politics.
    Now the cat is out of the bag…after 50 years….playing politics with Universities….this is the end results.
    UMNO can never change.
    They are trying to survive….doing things to make voters happy and have confidence in them.
    Once they win again…next election…they will go back to their old ways.

  18. #18 by GilaPolitic on Wednesday, 19 November 2008 - 1:41 am

    Former Universiti Malaya (UM) vice-chancellor Rafiah Salim has claimed she had to live with all kinds of “nonsense” pertaining to political interference during her tenure in the university.Things like who can we bring in to speak to the students, who we can’t – even among the Barisan Nasional people,” she revealed during an hour-long interview with Malaysiakini.


    Frankly speaking, it is pity shameful for all public universities to be downgraded below more than 200 position in THES-QS ranking.

    One simple answer is the government don’t practise “MERITOCRACY” either in recruitment of students or staff in our public national universities ! .

    It is two main questions of “Kulitfication” and “Ketuanan” issues are main criterias in the selections of students and academic staff and administrators in all public universities.

    We believed that UniTAR is more multiracial public university will able to be ranked among the top 100 ranking in THES-QS Ranking in forthcoming years.

    Congratulations ! UPSR students who scored 7As in major Chinese and Indian Primary Schools are going to enrol form 1 in national schools nationwide. However, those UPSR students who scored 5As only in major National Primary Schools are offered to enrol in full hostel and 100% funded, MARA Colleges and top elites secondary schools to prepare them for matriculations and pre-universities in overseas. Discrimination policies begin from pre-secondary and pre-university levels without meritocacy consideration. Nevertheless, the cream bright students of 7As will eventually absord by neighboring country and foreign countries in coming years. What you expect the left over less smart students for local universities to meet their high quota system ?

    Brain Drain in Malaysia! See no evil, Hear no evil and Speak no evil !

  19. #19 by GilaPolitic on Wednesday, 19 November 2008 - 2:13 am

    “Just because we are women and we don’t have that thing between the legs so we are not good,” and “They have a right to appoint a monkey if they want,” the former Universiti Malaya (UM) vice-chancellor Rafiah Salim told Malaysiakini.

    We learnt two good lessons from former MU VC on her good lecture in Malaysiakini.

    Lesson 1. – GENDER BIAS OR RACE BIAS ?

    – She has alleged gender bias by the government towards local academicians amidst the controversy of her not being re-appointed to the post.
    -Malaysians said “‘Yes, the government is also “race” bias in the selection of students, academic staffs and administrators in all naional universities”.

    Lesson 2. – MONKEY BIZ IN UM ?

    – She said “The system is flawed, he (Higher Education Minister Khaled Nordin) talks of transparency… what transparency? Was it advertised? What are the criteria? Do any of us know the criteria they are looking for?”

    – Malaysians agreed YES – Where is “TRANSPARENCY” system in the Higher Education Ministry ? Closed door negotiated deal for new UM VC appointment without any open advertisement is indeed a big shame to the nation. The removal of her with bad reasons and the controversial new appointed VC caused public confidence in UM and distrust the government today.

    Correct ! Correct ! Correct ! – MALAYSIA APA-APA PUN BOLEHLAND
    See no evil, Hear no evil and Speak no evil.

  20. #20 by Chong Zhemin on Wednesday, 19 November 2008 - 3:41 am

    Dear Uncle Kit,

    It’s been quite some time since i last commented on your blog. I am really occupied with all my work and study stuff. But i still follow your blog closely. Since the first day I read your blog, you have brought up our universities qualities issues.

    You have been highlighting the THES report from 2005 till now but our uni ranking is still deteriorating. It’s a pity that i still do not see any signs of improvement in our higher education.

  21. #21 by Bigjoe on Wednesday, 19 November 2008 - 9:15 am

    This is more than just gender bias, its feudalistic medievalism. Its why they are stuck and everyone is moving faster than them!!!

  22. #22 by megaman on Wednesday, 19 November 2008 - 9:52 am

    I think I need to comment on some of the posts made here about the number of citations and publications authored by the new vice chancellor of Universiti Malaya, Professor Datuk Dr. Ghauth Jasmon.

    The number of academic publications or citations matters less here as the role of vice-chancellor is more administrative and about leadership skills rather than research or academic capabilities. Besides this, 30 journal papers authored is already quite commendable especially if the papers are published in top journals.

    The biggest fundamental issues here are rather the questionable quality of the students and the selection procedure for the student intake of local universities. Adding to this problem, reform is almost impossible, with most of the lecturers and staff of universities being positioned there not because of their capabilities at teaching or research but by connections to people in power.

    The effect of a weak education system will linger for decades. I guess that many do not realize that it would take more than just years to get things right again.

    It would take decades.

    Education reforms are necessary NOW but the improvements in the graduates would only be felt at least 10 years later when these batches of reformed students have entered the society and work their way up to become leaders.

    We have lost so much momentum and opportunities, unfortunately, we continue to lose more.

  23. #23 by pulau_sibu on Wednesday, 19 November 2008 - 10:20 am

    The woman vice chancellor should not have taken all men with ‘that thing between the legs’ into task! She should accuse UMNO men who probably do not have ‘that thing between their legs’ for doing bad things on her. The rest of men who have ‘that things’ are ok and are fine people.

  24. #24 by paix on Wednesday, 19 November 2008 - 12:07 pm

    You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.

  25. #25 by k1980 on Wednesday, 19 November 2008 - 12:29 pm

    It seems that Rafiah left a letter with the code 370H-SSV-0773H to Jasmon just before she left. To really break the code, turn it upside down and read it…

  26. #26 by zak_hammaad on Wednesday, 19 November 2008 - 12:36 pm

    No one should be surprised at the declining education standards in Malaysian institutions of higher learning. This is what you get for using outdated books and methods and not nurturing the students in English. Foreign students remain one reason bucking the rate of the fall in standards.

  27. #27 by shortie kiasu on Wednesday, 19 November 2008 - 2:42 pm

    If the government continues with the outdated, tunnel-visioned education and economic policies of mediocrity, we can forget about the performance of our local universities.

    These would be places to breed the tunnel-visioned, narrowed-minded ‘graduates’ of the upmost mediocrity of the highest order in the country.

    Thou shall never grow up.

  28. #28 by murid-murid on Wednesday, 19 November 2008 - 2:46 pm

    NUS out going President has over 150 papers. That means he is equivalent to 5 MU vice chancellors. What are we comparing here?

    Shih Choon Fong received his PhD from Harvard University in 1973. Thereafter, he led the Fracture Research Group at the GE Corporate Research Lab in the U.S. In 1981, he joined Brown University.

    Prof Shih has made significant contributions in nonlinear fracture mechanics and computational methods for fracture analyses. He has about 150 publications in leading scientific journals to his credit.

  29. #29 by hongsichuan on Wednesday, 19 November 2008 - 7:15 pm

    Relativistically speaking, Ghauth Jasmon’s academic record of 30 journal publications may have been among the best, if not the best, one can find among current VCs of Malaysian universities and even those of the last one or two decades. Whatever the number of his journal publications is (such a number may be an indicator but definitely not a true measure of one’s academic and leadership skills), I wish him all the best and hope that he can in one way or another improve UM.

  30. #30 by yellowwoman on Wednesday, 19 November 2008 - 8:43 pm

    First we have to take our children out of the public school system. Now we have to avoid the local universities at all cost.

    This is what happens when our government (UMNO and the voiceless MCA, MIC, GERAKAN) do not want to have the best people teach their own children. I don’t understand how a race who wants everything for themselves DO NOT want their children to be taught by the best teachers and DO NOT want their children and parents to be treated by the best doctors.

    What will happen to Malaysia??? WHAT???

  31. #31 by taiking on Thursday, 20 November 2008 - 9:23 am

    Rafiah the company law lecturer who is known for failing mu chinese law students. Thats what I was told. Can anyone confirm?

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