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26 October 2006

World's Best by UP Professor Michael Tan

(Published on Page A15 of the October 25, 2006 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer)

World's Top Universities

SOME time back, i wrote about the ratings of Asian universities given by Asiaweek magazine. Sadly, Asiaweek has closed down, so I thought we would no longer be able to compare universities in the region.

But it turns out that there are global surveys as well, one of which was just released last Oct. 5. This is the Times Higher Education Supplement-Quacquarelli Symonds (THES-QS) World University Rankings. With thousands of universities in the world, it is an honor to make it to this list, which is based on several criteria, including faculty-to-student ratios and ratings given by more than 3,000 academicians and 700 leading international employment recruiters.

How did the Philippines fare? I'm going to keep you in suspense and just say, for now, that four of our universities did make it to the top 500 universities.

Global ranks

Let's look first at the THES-QS list of 20 leading universities. Note that there are ties so there might be occasional skipping of numbers: Harvard (1st), Cambridge (2nd), Oxford (3rd), Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Yale (tying for 4th), Stanford (6th), California Institute of Technology (7th), University of California in Berkeley (8th), Imperial College London (9th), Princeton (10th), University of Chicago (11th), Columbia (12th), Duke (13th), Beijing University (14th), Cornell (15th), Australian National University (16th), London School of Economics (17th), Ecole Normale Superieure (18th), National University of Singapore and Tokyo University (tying for 19th).

Most of the universities are American and British, but there is also representation from Australia, France, China, Singapore and Japan. Most of the leading American universities are private; in fact, on that top 20 list, the University of California Berkeley is the only American public institution. When I went on to the top 500 universities, I found that in all countries of the world, with the glaring exception of the United States and one other country (which I'll name later but which you may have guessed), state universities lead in the rankings.

Asia's best

I decided to pull out the Asian (to include Australian) universities from the THES-QS list and found that among the world's 500 leading universities, 90 are from Asia. Japan leads with 28, followed by China (including Hong Kong) with 16, Taiwan with 8, South Korea and Thailand with 7 each, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines with 4 each, Australia with 3, Singapore with 2 and Bangladesh with one.

Do be careful with those figures since it's not just a numbers game. Australia and Singapore have few universities on the list, but they are all high up in the ranking.

Enough with the suspense. Let's look at how the Philippines did. The University of the Philippines (UP) came in 299th globally and 47th among Asian universities. I have to say that's not too bad, considering how UP has had to plod along with shrinking budgets and with the flight of so many good professors. Trailing behind UP were three private universities: De La Salle (392nd), Ateneo de Manila (484th) and, talk about a photo finish, the University of Santo Tomas at 500th.


Instead of bombarding you with more numbers, I'm going to analyze those rankings and spell out three important implications for our own educational system.

First, you don't need to be a rich country to have good universities, India being the best example. Even before independence, Indian nationalists had formed a commission to plan out their future and early on, they sought to form a network of science and technology institutions. After independence, funds were put in to establish a whole network, with several Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) campuses. IIT ranked 57th in the THES-QS global list.

Indonesia, a country less developed than the Philippines, is another example. It had three universities, all state-run, beating us in rankings: University of Indonesia (250th), Bandung Institute of Technology (258th) and University of Gadja Mada (270th).

Second, the other countries seem to recognize that excellence in education must be spread out throughout the country. Note that our four best universities are all in Metro Manila. In contrast, the Indian Institute of Technology has campuses in several states, all of which fared quite well when Asiaweek rated each unit back in 2000. The three Indonesian universities I just named are all on the island of Java, but at least they're found not just in the capital, Jakarta, but also in Bandung and Yogyakarta.

Thailand's best universities -- Chulalongkorn, Thammasat, Mahidol, Kasatsart, Chiang Mai, Khon Kaen and Prince of Songkla -- are all state universities and they are located in different parts of the country.

Third (and I've made this point time and time again), the state needs to invest in universities. The THES list is clear in showing that, with the exception of the United States and the Philippines, the leading universities in every country are state-owned. Sure, UP is the leader in the Philippines, but in other countries, several state universities – not just one -- made it to the THES list.

Most governments in the world have the wisdom to look at education as something too important to leave to "free market forces" (read: "profit"). Unless we learn from them, we will continue to see more diploma mills, more scandals in licensure exams and more Filipinos having to work overseas as cheap labor to develop other countries. Note that the THES-QS rankings also relate to international competitiveness, meaning if you graduate from those that lead in the rankings, you also stand a better chance of getting a well-paying international job.

UP is still among the world's best, but if we worked harder on the entire educational system, we should have more reason to be proud. Ultimately, we should be able to look at these university rankings as indicators of our current development strategies, as well as predictors of the country's future.

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university of cambridge
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australian national university
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university of tokyo (hongo)
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university of tokyo (komaba)
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national university of singapore
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university of melbourne
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university of sydney
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university of queensland
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university of western australia
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university of the philippines (diliman)
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de la salle university
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ateneo de manila university
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university of santo tomas

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20 October 2006

tita ester

wonderful surprise. tita ester was in town for a few hours’visit. she arrived with my uncle and a cousin. they were in town to see canberra’s annual floriade. since retirement, she’s been on a world tour. and although she has to see other family members and friends across new south wales, she made sure she’d be in canberra just to see me.

i always have fond memories of tita ester. she was a hands-on wife and mother. but she was also very hands-on as a sister to my mom and a second mom to me and my siblings. when i was about two and a half or three, she helped me overcome my shyness by making me the ring bearer during her wedding. and she was always very protective of my mother. whenever we ran out of maids, she’d always send her own helpers to do the household chores for mom. she'd never allow mom to suffer a bit.

on her way to work, she’d often drop by our house with goodies like leche flan or spaghetti she had prepared hours before. or she’d make mom go to her house with me and my siblings so we can see her and play with her children.

and tita ester doesn’t easily run out of surprises. when she learned that i couldn't afford to buy really expensive materials for my school projects, she’d always ask someone to buy these things for me in cartimar or cubao (famous centers for imported goods during the 1970s) even when mom (who would always insist that i have to live on a tight budget) would say no. tita ester would also spoil me by persistently asking me for a list of the little things i had always wanted. and she wouldn’t make me wait for christmas to have these. like having crayola instead of the cheaper colora crayons. or being able to grab the latest adidas athletic shoes when all we could afford was its local counterpart, bata rom. when tita ester did these things, mom would always get mad at me. but being the younger one, mom couldn’t do anything to dissuade her sister. tita ester spoiled me and my siblings every time.

many years ago, just before i boarded the plane for my first trip overseas, tita ester also gave me some extra money so i can run to san francisco bay area's ghirardelli square and purchase boxes of what she had remembered as my favorite childhood chocolates. she stood by and watched over me and my younger brother especially when mom had to overcome a near-fatal illness. this happened a few months before tita ester got married. i can only imagine that tita ester had actually delayed her wedding plans until my mom had completely recovered. she cheered up my mom to complete recovery. as i got older, i realized that i have been fortunate to have family members like tita ester. along with my parents and a few other family members, she protected me from seeing the cruelties of the outside world by being there constantly during my formative years.

it is largely because of aunts like tita ester that i have cultivated this particular fondness for my nephews and nieces. though tita ester has kids and she had brought them up very well, she has always treated me and my siblings as her very own.

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i was not even three when this photo was taken during tita ester and tito roger's wedding
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in my office, waiting for tita ester to arrive
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tito roger, tita ester and cousin tony outside a.n.u.
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with tito roger and tita ester at canberra centre


cheat wave by anne susskind

Australia's education industry is worth more than $9.8 billion, but some academics believe almost half of all university students are cheating and they are powerless to stop it. Anne Susskind reports.

Plagiarism in university essays is so rife that bringing back compulsory exams may be the only way to stop it, warns an international expert on the globalisation of higher education.

"Plagiarism has knocked the stuffing out of the essay assignment," Simon Marginson says. "It has contaminated the essay badly, making it a waste of time as an educational project. Things have moved beyond the current regimes of assessment. The system has broken down."

With the cheating running out of control, many academics are ducking for cover, daring to speak only anonymously. The culture of silence is so strong that they refused to have their universities identified, fearing victimisation or bringing shame on their institutions, or damaging Australia's $9.8bn education export industry.

But Marginson, a professor at the Centre for the Study of Higher Education at the University of Melbourne, believes that only genuine academic excellence will protect the system. Cynicism about assessment is very corrosive, and being ahead in cleaning it up may be good for the market internationally, he says.

In Australia, 14% of students are plagiarists, according to a 2002 study in six universities commissioned by the Australian Vice-Chancellors Committee. Some academics say the figure is much higher because overworked teachers are not detecting the cheating, or are not being encouraged to report it. Estimates are as high as 50% in the many courses which rely only on essay-based assessments. Marginson believes it to be "a significant minority".

The driving forces behind plagiarism are the internet, with its eight to 10 billion pages of information freely available, and the globalisation of the higher education system, which in Australia has brought an influx of about 240,000 foreign university students, or 25% of the student body, many of whom struggle with English.

The cheating is also seen as a reflection of the "short-cut" society and Generation Y's tendency to question the value and legitimacy of copyright and intellectual property.

While plagiarism is certainly not confined to international students, many, particularly from China, Thailand, Japan, South Korea and Vietnam, whose languages have a very different structure, find essay writing and studying in English difficult. They often have to work much harder than locals and many also have jobs and visas dependent on their results.

So, while risky, the use of the internet and other forms of plagiarism is "rational behaviour, of a kind, to make life manageable", says Marginson, adding that while an original piece might take three or four nights, students can plagiarise and even rewrite and scramble texts to avoid detection technologies in probably one night.

Local students are becoming agitated, too. English speakers complain that their courses are being dumbed down - particularly at post-graduate level, where classes are often largely composed of students with poor English.

But help may be at hand with Turnitin, a plagiarism-detection system licensed to 29 universities, over 80 secondary schools and nine TAFEs or other post-secondary institutions in Australia. Robyn Lovelock, managing director of Aldiss technologies, which licences the software in the Pacific region, says that at one Victorian university, when a lecturer said essays would be run through the technology, some students stood and clapped.

Academics say the divisions are clear, with English speakers clubbing together for group assessments and Asian students often left floundering. There has even been talk of streaming local and foreign students, but this is seen as discriminatory, as well as making the courses less attractive to full-fee foreign students.

Several universities are talking of raising International English Language Testing System scores - the entry tests for English proficiency. Others have employed staff to help students with rudimentary English and academic conventions. In a system spinning out of control, faculties are improvising, with schemes such as making students sign essay cover sheets declaring that they are not plagiarising.

Steve O'Connor, CEO of CAVAL Collaborative Solutions, which conducted the 2002 research for the vice-chancellors, says that while some institutions - such as the University of Newcastle, the University of Tasmania and Melbourne's RMIT - have good plagiarism-detection programs, not enough have serious campus-wide systems.

The academics The Bulletin spoke to report that universities often do not encourage them to report plagiarism, preferring that it be dealt with at a low level, or not at all, because of the fear of scandal. Federal government funding cuts mean there are more students and less money, and universities are unable to provide the rigour and one-on-one attention previously available. They felt that teachers were largely left to draw their own lines in the sand about whether they will pursue plagiarists.

One lecturer talked of overworked academics in a "factory-type environment", pointing out that the growing number of casuals in the academic workforce were not paid enough to make the extra effort of detecting plagiarism, while other staff were simply too busy.

Andrew Humphreys, a writer and former editor of Rolling Stone magazine who has recently given up teaching after several years at Macquarie, UTS and Sydney universities, says there was plagiarism at all three, and detecting it was a long, painful process. "There are the procedural hoops you need to jump through: the department to the head of department, and the oral warning - none of which you are paid to do at all as a casual academic - not to mention the initial sifting through the piece to prove plagiarism. And for every one you pick up, how many do you miss?

"The [detection] software is good up to a point, and once you read enough student papers, something will trigger in your mind, if you're not too tired and not working that day - a tone, or something that just feels like it may have been written by an American ... If students plagiarise and are getting away with it, it's not fair to students who aren't."

Plagiarism is one result of the user-pays university system, Humphreys says. Once students, particularly from overseas, are paying so much for a degree, they think they are automatically entitled to it. "Higher education is now one of Australia's biggest money-spinners, and when that much money is involved, people willingly turn a blind eye. If a high percentage of students were failing, they would go somewhere else."

Teachers also blame themselves. One casual academic says she is so pressured that she simply can't live up to her own standards: "If we evacuate our teaching, plagiarism inserts itself. If a student feels the teacher cares, they are much less inclined to plagiarise. If you think you are just a number, and a nuisance, why wouldn't you? Why wouldn't you abuse a system that doesn't care for you? The entire process is exhausting and depressing."

Some suggest academics are failing to grasp the ways their students are thinking as a result of the new information technologies. Dr Judy Sheard, a senior lecturer in Monash University's Faculty of Information Technology, says: "we haven't shifted to their way of operating and learning. They are focusing on certain skills - they're very good at multiple processing, they're not afraid of technology and they know where to find things - and we're still stuck pre-internet, and are not valuing those ..."

Another researcher says synaptic connections are changing as students' minds adapt to technologies which provide rapid ways to access information.

Dr Jeanne Dawson, associate director of Curtin University's Student Learning Support Centre, says detection technology represents a "focus on the negative" which punishes students already disadvantaged by their language difficulties. Instead, she says we need to re-establish academic integrity: "if we value certain things, the only way is to educate our students so that they share and value them, too.

"Students often cut and paste because they're not confident of their own view. I think a lot [of plagiarism] is either because students don't understand what it is, or out of desperation, and I think that all universities have a responsibility to establish learning conditions so that no student is in that position.

"Miners used to take a canary down [the mine], and if it fell off its perch, it was a sign that there's noxious gas, and they ought to get out of there. Plagiarism is almost like the dead canary, and sometimes it seems the effort is going into resuscitating the canary, when actually you should be looking at the whole environment."

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

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14 October 2006

turning forty

a few days ago, i suddenly turned forty. to my surprise, family members and friends took some effort to greet me by way of phone calls, emails and sms messages. days before my birthday, a jet-setting friend brought bars of chocolates all the way from switzerland. days after, relatives from wollongong came over and took me out to dinner. on the actual day itself, mom organized a children's party in manila. the party was attended mostly by my little nephews and nieces. but here in canberra, i simply worked on pages of a thesis chapter.

the truth is, i never really liked celebrating my birthday. i’d rather be thankful for the many blessings that i receive everyday. i was severely traumatized by the absence of birthday celebrations when i was growing up. being the first child, the family wasn’t comfortable then. my parents were just starting up. everything was on a tight budget. my other siblings were coming out one after the other. my parents were also sending many of my cousins to university. the family was unable to throw birthday parties for me.

which was really okay except that at u.s.t. elementary school, i had classmates whose birthdays were being celebrated before and after my birthday. so every year, for three or four years, parents of these classmates would throw lavish birthday parties in class. during these parties, there was unlimited supply of magnolia ice cream and cakes and pastries from luisa and sons (with branches along avenida rizal and recto, it was a very famous brand name during the 1960s and the 1970s). there were buckets of fried chicken and choo-choo junction spaghetti for everyone to relish. there were party hats, balloons and give-away toys for every kid in class. there were clowns and mascots to keep us perky.

in contrast, on my birthday, mother would simply hand over to me a small cup of rolando homemade ice cream (the type known all over manila as “dirty ice cream” to signify that it is not magnolia) and a small slice of cake from fame bakery. fame bakery was then a third-run pan de sal-making enterprise situated at the corner of dapitan and don quijote streets in sampaloc, manila. these days, fame bakery has achieved a rather fabled reincarnation as tinapayan, a bread and pastry shop famous for ube ensaymada (now a cult favorite throughout the metropolis). but during the early 1970s, fame bakery didn’t even have special bags and boxes to properly wrap their goodies. instead, shop assistants used generic cellophane bags and old newspapers.

tragically, mother would always arrive ten to fifteen minutes after recess had ended. immediately after mother leaves, my homeroom teacher would give me five minutes to gorge on my miniscule servings of ice cream and cake somewhere behind the last row of students in class. one time, i was even consuming my birthday fare between an aquarium and a trash can.

i remember distinctively how some of my classmates would drop hints of disapproval as i tried to savor whatever little my family could afford during those years for my birthday. later in the evening, i would never tell my parents how these classmates had actually berated me because of my parents' inability to throw a party. but my mother instinctively knew what i felt, judging by my lack of vim on the way home. and mom would always have a way of cheering me up. during those years, she would assure me that someday, things will be alright. and i tried my best to believe her.

as i got older, my father’s honesty and integrity as a corporate lawyer paid off. slowly, he moved across the ranks in spite of greed and corruption that had eaten up many of his peers in the legal profession. meanwhile, mother had gone back to work by specializing in corporate accounts for a top insurance company. finally, i got to taste every chip of luxury my mother had promised me earlier. still, i never got over the trauma of birthdays. nevertheless, i remain happy these days because i have a loving family and a very supportive stable of surrogate family members, friends and students from many places. birthdays should no longer be my great concern.

this year, as i turned forty, one of my surrogate mothers took me to a japanese restaurant at civic. afterwards, we had coffee at gus’, canberra's legendary coffee shop. surrogate mother didn’t even know about my birthday. and i didn’t feel the need to tell her. but she had confided to me how she felt a deep sense of urgency to just take me out for drinks and lunch.

i reckon, the cosmic forces are always conspiring. bukas, luluhod ang mga tala, as sharon cuneta would say. my deprivation days are over. family celebrates my birthday back home and i am having lunch joyfully with one of my surrogate mothers here in canberra.

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back in the office after lunch during my birthday
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where i grew up, from google earth
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the distance from fame bakery (now tinapayan) to u.s.t.

06 October 2006

gigi grande goes to canberra

i had an unexpected visitor in my office this week.

abs-cbn pty. ltd. australia news bureau chief gigi grande was in town to say hi. she is currently filming philippine-related news and current affairs projects all over australia.

years back, gigi was my student in comm 2 (types of academic discourse) at u.p. diliman. she was taking up hotel and restaurant administration. she had just finished high school then at st. scholastica’s college in manila. she was focused and determined as iskolar ng bayan. and though she got along very well with everyone in class, i thought she also looked very young and sheltered. so i was really surprised to hear that she had embarked on a career in broadcasting.

but more than a decade after her initial plunge, gigi grande is still on philippine television. this time, she has become a seasoned current affairs journalist. and she hasn’t changed a bit. she has retained much of the sunnyside gigi i had known from the early u.p. days. she was even gracious enough to pass by my office in spite of her very busy schedule.

before she dropped by, gigi had a long interview with philippine ambassador ernesto hernandez de leon in yarralumla. she was about to do another shoot after our lunch meeting. she was also negotiating to have an interview with filipina-australian ngo workers that ably assisted victims of the filipina mail-order bride phenomenon during the 1980s and 1990s. she also had to submit reports for her network bosses back home.

along with her camera man, i took gigi to a quick walk across the a.n.u. campus. we had lunch at caterina’s. in between, we managed to squeeze in stories about our common friends and acquaintances in her network. we also discussed social and political issues ranging from typhoons to terrorists. in spite of many occupational hazards, i can see that gigi is very happy with what she’s been doing.

catching up with gigi has reinforced my desire to wrap up my phd dissertation asap. certainly, i didn’t have a hand in her success. but it feels good to realize that i had been given the opportunity to have students like her in class. it's quite funny to admit that years ago, we were only discussing term papers. these days, we’re talking as friends and colleagues in media. i can only hope that there will be more replications of gigi grande when i resume my teaching duties in diliman next year.

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photos taken during gigi grande's visit to a.n.u.



1. gma-7 news reporter dan campilan, passed away. he was only 25. if you can, please say a prayer for him.

2. tagig-pateros congressman alan peter cayetano is in the news because of the P30 million libel suit filed against him by first gentleman jose miguel arroyo, or the arroyos’ attempt to have him expelled from the house of representatives for accusing them of having a secret bank account in germany.

alan and dan are friends of mine. as far as i'm concerned, they are good people.
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tagig-pateros congressman and u.p. alumnus alan peter schramm cayetano
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alan speaks out during a protest rally outside congress
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dan campilan interviews former justice secretary hernani perez in padre faura
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dan, a la steve irwin in a zoo
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dan with gma 7's susan enriquez