Why is Penang Institute in KL?

Ong Kian Ming

MANY people are surprised when I tell them that I’m the general manager of the Penang Institute in KL.

“Why does Penang Institute need a branch in KL?” This reaction is not surprising. Penang Institute’s branding in its home state is well established, especially among those who are interested in public policy issues and debates.

Whether it is through our work in the George Town Festival or through the many public lectures we hold in our newly refurbished heritage building along Jalan Brown, it is not uncommon to find the logo of “Penang Institute, Making Ideas Work” in buntings and banners in Penang and also, perhaps more importantly, in the public consciousness of Penangites.

For a think-tank like Penang Institute to have a national presence and branding, in the thinking of Lim Guan Eng, the Penang Chief Minister and chairman of the institute, we needed to have a presence in the place where ideas are discussed and debated most rigorously. And the place where this takes place is in Kuala Lumpur (and more broadly, the Klang Valley).

Of course, Penang Institute in KL is not just an outpost for the think-tank to hang its banner, both literally and figuratively. In the three years since we have been established, our small team has undertaken a number of initiatives which looks at policy issues at the national level.

  1. We have tackled the thorny problem of the sustainability of the PTPTN loan scheme from a policy oriented perspective.
  2. We have evaluated the returns from pursuing a private higher education qualification in Malaysia and whether the private higher education institutions here have the financial resources to continue their operations.
  3. We examined in detail the strengths and weaknesses of the Education Ministry’s move to introduce higher order thinking skills (otherwise known as HOTS) into the education syllabus.
  4. We highlighted and calculated the degree in which the gender enrolment gap in Malaysian public universities has grown over the years and will continue to grow if left unabated.
  5. Our recent report on the type of jobs that were created under the Economic Transformation Programme (ETP) was referenced in the 2016 Bank Negara Annual Report in the section examining the growing problem of youth unemployment in Malaysia.
  6. We published, to my knowledge, the first evaluation of the Sunway Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system that was launched in 2015 and examined the implications of such a project on other BRTs that may be rolled out in the Klang Valley and in other cities.
  7. We examined the challenge of managing the homelessness problem in Kuala Lumpur and proposed a set of recommendations to alleviate this problem.

In addition to our research work, we organise small-scale forums to highlight public policy areas that are consistent with the philosophy and direction of the think-tank, including a recent forum featuring the former United Nations Human Rights Commissioner, judge Navi Pillay from South Africa.

We have also been a sponsor to the Freedom Film Festival as part of its effort to encourage more Malaysians to film and tell their own stories through documentaries.

In this column, moving forward, we hope to highlight some of the research work which we are doing as a think-tank in different areas of public policies that are of national as well as local interest. Even though our researchers in the KL office are few, we’d like to think that we can punch above our weight in weighing in on matters of national importance.

Our hope is that after reading about our work, you won’t feel the need any more to ask me the question, “Why does Penang Institute need an office in KL”. – April 16, 2017.

* Dr Ong Kian Ming is the Member of Parliament for Serdang, Selangor and is also the General Manager of Penang Institute in Kuala Lumpur. He holds a PhD in Political Science from Duke University, an MPhil in Economics from the University of Cambridge and a BSc in Economics from the London School of Economics.

* This is the opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insight. Article may be edited for brevity and clarity.

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