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Media Statement by Lim Kit Siang in Parliament on Thursday, 24th January 2008:

Malaysia by-passed while Singaporean chosen in global search by Saudi Arabia for first President of US$10 billion King Abdullah University of Science and Technology

Educational and in particular university quality and excellence has increasingly become an important indicator not only of a nation’s international competitiveness but its capacity for development as a world-class developed nation.

A recent news report in the world of higher education is a sober and somber reminder as to how far we have lagged behind in the international stakes for university excellence and development of quality human resources.

Earlier this month, it was announced that the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, Saudi Arabia’s much anticipated US$10 billion university, has appointed Shih Choon Fong, a Singaporean as its first president.

Shih, who is president of the National University of Singapore, will assume the task of creating from scratch what Saudi Arabia hopes will become one of the world’s leading research institutions.

Ali Al-Naimi, Saudi Arabia’s minister of petroleum and mineral resources, who is chairman of the university’s governing board, said that Shih was “the right person” to fulfill the vision for the new institution. The university, known as Kaust, is scheduled to open in September 2009.

Was any Malaysian from the 20-odd public universities in serious running of being scouted in the extensive global search among top academic research leaders for the top job for the world’s sixth richest university even before it opens, as King Abdullah provided US$10 billion of his own money to start the new institution?

Malaysian educators should have an edge over a Singaporean as both Malaysia and Saudi Arabia are members of the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) and the Islam Hadhari concept propagated by the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, but clearly these “affinities” were not enough when it is a test of excellence and meritocracy.

Malaysians would like to hear from the Prime Minister and the Higher Education Minister, Datuk Mustapha Mohamad as to what they have to say why no Malaysian was in the running for the top prestigious job for KAUST and what they propose to do to end the mediocrity of Malaysian universities in the international league of higher education.

* Lim Kit Siang, Parliamentary Opposition Leader, MP for Ipoh Timur & DAP Central Policy and Strategic Planning Commission Chairman


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