Friday, October 25, 2013

Kim Jong Un Gets Honorary Doctorate

I had happily poured derision on Limkokwing University because this tertiary institution is infamous for giving away honorary doctorates to politicians, more so the unsavory types. Imagine my shock which turned to disbelief and then to sardonic acceptance when I learned that my ex-employer had made the momentous decision to bestow North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un (above) an honorary doctorate in economics -- in recognition of his "untiring efforts for the education of the country and the well-being of its people". 

If you must know, my first reaction was WTF?! 

I was referring to Dr Paul Chan (left), president and vice chancellor who together with his wife established the HELP Education Group in 1986. HELP University has no pretensions. It pledges to "provide affordable quality educational opportunities for Malaysians," and brands itself as the "university of achievers" – which makes more sense than other Malaysian universities and colleges that come up with corny if not far-fetched taglines. Like KDU’s Driving Dreams. Nilai University's Enrichment for Life. Or Universiti Tun Abdul Razak's The First and Finest Boutique University.

If you are still wondering why Paul Chan did what he did, understand that he considers himself a trailblazer! And the fact that private Malaysian education providers are fighting tooth and nail to bring up student numbers so that they can be ahead of the game. How can you outsmart, outdo and outperform each other – unless you embark on something really MAD (i.e. madcap, audacious and daring)? 

Moreover, anything to do with North Korea gets media attention, and so HELP University too receives publicity. Massively worldwide. Whether in The Huffington Post on October 24, The.New York TImes and UK's The Telegraph on October 25 – the news was plastered everywhere! And it didn’t cost him a single sen! Actually, it makes a lot of marketing sense because the more we talk about this farcical flapdoodle, the more the world at large gets to know about HELP. Sure, I am speculating but I believe I am right. 

Also, he would have detected a ripening business opportunity in North Korea. Since I have known him, he is less an academic and more a businessperson. Therefore, I am suggesting that he targets the country because he knows there is good money to be made.

Officially, his PR people would deny that his motivation is making money. They would prefer to explain it as an exercise in CSR – it is Corporate Social Responsibility at a national level. I call it Country Social Responsibility. 

As a way of explaining why the university chose to build "a bridge to reach the people" of North Korea, Chan predicted that within six years, North Korea "will engage the world in many constructive ways". As he put it: “When a world leader facilitates this, probably an American President, there will be a rush to DPR Korea. Everyone will rush in to offer assistance and investment. I am just a bit ahead of them in that I feel no one at this moment has the courage to do this though”. 

"[L]et's start with offering education opportunities to the people of this country with the support of their President," added enlightened Chan. “Why deny them? Why punish them with sanctions? The people are hungry for education to change their lives. Give it to them." 

Chan seems to be telling us that Kim is being recognized for his economic achievement, That means he is being acclaimed for having stewarded one of the world’s most dysfunctional economies. Of course, nobody cares to say that the North Korean economy is in a state of ruination. 

Anyway, that’s not the point! The fact of the matter is that Kim gets the award because he is Marshal of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea! In Malaysia, that's our preferred way of doing things, I suppose. We give away awards and titles to people not because they deserve it but because they are somebody!

Anyway, the HELP brand has just been flushed down the toilet!

On Wednesday, I went to Menara Standard Chartered in KL's Jalan Sultan Ismail to show up at the Kelly Toastmasters Club meeting. According to the meeting agenda, I was a speech evaluator. This is a club populated with good speakers but their numbers are really few. At  least the numbers attending the meeting didn't reflect a club that demonstrated vibrancy and energy. Still, I honestly enjoyed the meeting and it gets a score of a 6 over 10. 

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