Helping Kim Jong Un: HELP’s Bad Mistake

Koon Yew Yin

Friends and some other people in my social circle know of my deep interest in education. For those who do not know me, let me say that education has helped me to be who I am and where I am. Recognizing the value of education I have tried to fulfil my social responsibility and repay my debt to society by making educational work the main focus of my charitable contribution to those less fortunate.

Since I began my educational philanthropic mission, I have received and read close to a thousand applications for financial assistance. At the beginning, I found that most of the applicants had fairly good SPM results and were able to express themselves reasonably well in English. But besides lacking the funds, they had difficulty in gaining admittance to universities which had stringent entry standards.

However, as time has gone by, I have been shocked by the low educational standard of the applicants and especially their poor command of the English language. I have been also shocked by the ease with which these students have been accepted by the various universities they have applied to. During my time and even until ten years ago, they would not even have been considered for fifth or sixth form entry so low was their standards.

For example I received this application about 2 weeks ago:

Hi…let me introduce myself first…my name is X Y Z…hmm…i live in kampar…im 18 year old…chinese guy…boy…now i meeting finance problem to my further study….i hope Mr yew…can lead a hand to me…i will very thanks to you…hope i can solve the finance problem quickly caught my study…THANK A LOT…

Putting money where one’s mouth is has always been my credo and helping poor young students enter into universities even if they are not particularly well qualified is personally satisfying especially when the recipient makes good and continues my mission as promised.

However soothing for my ego, I know that the charity I provide is only a small drop in the ocean of need. Ultimately it is what is happening at the level of the larger system which is the main driver of change and brings about progress or regression.

Hence I have been very concerned about developments in our national educational system and on the need to influence policy change for the better through questioning or criticizing what is wrong – whether in the public or private sector.

In the last few days, the big buzz in education in the internet media has been the award of an honorary doctorate by HELP University, one of the major private universities in the country. The news of this award has raised a firestorm of criticism from many readers in the internet – and quite rightly so. But it is necessary to look beyond the obvious concerns and to use it to understand what is happening in our educational system and why developments such as this are taking place.

The Major Flaw in Private Higher Education in Malaysia

My main concern with private higher education in Malaysia is that it seems to place profit making above all other considerations. There is nothing wrong with wanting to make profits. Obviously, people who invest in private education are not in it for charity. But there must be honour and integrity in making money. From what I have seen from the quality of students taken in by the private sector universities as well as from the graduates churned out, most of our private universities do not care about the low standard of the students they take in and the final product that they churn out. All they are concerned with is to maximize their student intake, rake in fat profits by charging the highest fees possible, and push the graduates out quickly so that another fee paying intake replaces the ones who are leaving.

A key part of the strategy on profit maximization is to generate public interest in the university which can then boost student enrolment. This is also done by lowering the standards of entry and accepting less qualified and poorer quality students as I have found out in the last few years.

Trumpeting the achievements of the university and drawing attention on how it is able to provide value to the prospective student is another method. Unfortunately, the great majority –if not all – of our universities suffer from low academic quality and have few if any academic achievements to boast about. In the chase for students and profits but confronted by their low standard of their students and staff, private universities in Malaysia then have to look to other ways to publicise themselves and to catch the public eye.

Who is Kim Jong Un?

This to me is the reason why HELP has bestowed what is for most universities their most prestigious academic award to a dictator and tyrant who presides over one of the most totalitarian and repressive regimes in our region. It is doubly scandalous that the honorary degree is in economics, a subject which the North Korean government has failed its people so miserably that many of its children are victims of hunger and malnutrition. HELP’s award does not appear to be one to “build a bridge to help people“- it is simply to help itself.

Of course, HELP is not alone when it comes to the poor choice of recipients for honorary degrees to confer. If you look at similar awards made by other private and public universities in Malaysia, one can see that they are all scrapping the bottom of the barrel in their selection of leaders and so-called luminaries.

HELP’s choice is so breathtakingly bad and wrong that I hope it begins a debate on how we can wean our private universities away from their fixation with short term gain and profit maximization leading to goofy decisions such as this.

My advice:

I note that HELP is listed on the main board of the KLSCE. My advice to HELP’s management is to grow your university through the slow but sure method of academic excellence and nothing else. Invest in enhancing the quality of your staff and students and the market will take care of itself. The best long term business strategy is to maintain a high standard of academic achievement so that their graduates can easily find work and their performance will be the best advertisement.

Rely on what has been denounced as stunts such as this and your credibility – and that of your staff and students – will be badly compromised.

  1. #1 by Godfather on Saturday, 26 October 2013 - 3:18 am

    Kim Jong Un and his generals are well-fed while the ordinary population starves. This is not only a travesty by HELP, but makes Paul Chan a laughing stock around the world.

    I think HELP has caught the madness disease of the public sector.

  2. #2 by Jeffrey on Saturday, 26 October 2013 - 4:55 am

    Kim Jong Un’s academic background is murky but then honorary degree nowadays is often conferred not so much to a person of academic merit, rather more for his contributions to a specific field or to society in general. However even by this latter criteria he would by consensus fail miserably. Interestingly in awarding him honorary doctorate HELP appears to have taken the criteria (in terms of justification) to another (political) level. It facilitates “building a bridge to reach the people” by using “a soft constructive approach” to engage with North Korea. Does this imply that every political dictator isolated and treated as pariah by the international community needing engagement than isolation could qualify by this criteria to be honoured? (Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe was honoured by University of Edinburgh and University of Massachusetts Amherst). We should consider Syrian President Bashar Assad Myanmar General Than Shwe Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. This will ‘help’ ‘engage’ these guys and besides ensure that they send Syrian Burmese and Iranian students to our colleges!

  3. #3 by yhsiew on Saturday, 26 October 2013 - 7:02 am

    It is very wrong for HELP to award an honorable doctorate to Kim Jong Un, a man who wants to build nuclear bombs to disrupt world peace.

  4. #4 by Di Shi Jiu on Saturday, 26 October 2013 - 8:25 am

    Paul Chan,


    You have exceeded all expectations by plumbing the depths of sheer stupidity and lunancy.

    Will you also be planning to award a Business Administration doctorate to Robert Mugabe for corporate governance?

    Or how about a posthumous Humanities doctorate to Adolf Hitler for his work on peace, stability and inter-racial harmony?

    I await eagerly for your next mind-numbing brain-freezing communique.

  5. #5 by lee tai king (previously dagen) on Saturday, 26 October 2013 - 11:07 am

    I am not going to talk about HELP. Let someone else help instead. I will talk about something more general. Education.

    Education. It is precisely that which our younger generation lack. And I do not blame them. A six yr old child and for that matter a 17yrs old boy and even a 22 yr old young man could do nothing to change what is already a rotten system. On top of that the problem is compounded by the completely misplaced expectations of parents esp chinese parents who see education strictly in terms of grades and exam scores and nothing else. And the attitude of school teachers and principals that was influenced by parents’ expectations.

    I am sure Ir Koon would agree with what I hv to say.

    Do we learn only ABC and 123 in school? Is that all there is to learning in school? Definitely NO. We actually learn a great deal more than ABC and 123. Academic excellence is for those who are academically inclined. And not everyone is academically inclined. For those who arent, school is also the place where they are given the opportunity to discover their abilities and interests in other areas like sports, music, art and etc.

    You see Astro had a nationwide programme to search for the next lee chong wei. I believe the programme is still ongoing. But I am not proud of it. The fact that we need an outside body (outside of schools) to carry out a programme with such objective is clear testimony that our schools and education system have failed. We ought to be able to pick our next potential lee chong wei from schools! Enough said.

    And lets not forget. School is also the place where we all learn about responsibilities (prefects, librarians, class monitor etc etc) and the place where we all acquire our basic skills to interact with others, to thrive in a social environment and also to function as a team member. For those who learned these aspects well they would eventually become leaders (whether in politics or in business). Look at vincent tan and lee kim yew. They never went to university. I supposed they were not academically inclined. But can we honestly say that they have therefore learned nothing from their days in school? Such postulation is clearly far from the truth. The scout master in a school camping trip could have told the boys under his charge stories that have lasting effects. And words like “do not keep the ball to yourself if you want the team to win” from the football master could leave a lasting impression too. These too are precious lessons learned during school days.

    Umno is not willing to change anything. At least, as parents, we ought to begin change by going back to the basic of education.

  6. #6 by Loh on Sunday, 27 October 2013 - 9:10 pm

    ChaoChao said 2000 years ago that so long as you can make a name, it would not matter whether it is good or bad. HELP has perfected the art.

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