10ish on Saturday morning, i toddled off to Sunway University College to help out at the annual Oxbridge English Language Event. This is organised in the name of The Oxford & Cambridge Society of Malaysia, where society members who are alumni of the respective universities give talks to around 1000 Form 4 and Form 5 students from top Malaysian schools, from Melaka, Seremban and as far as Johore (though not this year).
This was my third year participating. The first year, i had foolishly agreed to give a talk on 'Effective Writing Skills'. As a writer and not a speaker, i should have declined, but fools rush in where angels fear to tread. Anyway, needless to say, the following year and this year, i opted NOT to give a talk but to simply contribute as a judge in the essay competition.
i was a little perturbed when i heard that one of my fellow alumni had declined to participate as judge because he felt that there was a conflict of interest, i.e. because it was held at Sunway University College, and our current President is also the Executive Director of Sunway UC.
The reason why i was perturbed was because i felt that while the Society enjoyed various great events, such as the Boat Race Ball and lectures and talks by prominent and prestigious experts in their fields, the English Language event was one event where the Society actually gave back to society. Fair enough that community work is NOT in our charter. But this event costs the O&C Society less than RM1000 (for prizes for the winners of the essay competition), and the only other cost is the time from those members who volunteer to participate.
On the other hand, the event costs Sunway some RM15-18,000 as they provide all the logistics for the event, from bussing the students and teachers in from their various schools, lunch for all of them, a team to meet the Oxbridge speakers and judges and make sure we know where to go, a Sunway teaching team to shortlist the essays for the Oxbridge judges, our tea and lunch too etc. In addition, they provide the venue - even our parking is paid for! They also organised the trophies for the winners of the essay competition which have the Oxford & Cambridge crests engraved onto them.
In my humble opinion, Oxbridge and Sunway together did a great job. When i heard the kids cheering in the hall as the various Oxbridge speakers went up to get their token of appreciation (also thoughtfully organised by Sunway), i really felt so glad i could be part of it.
Conflict of interest? Who loses? As i see it, the Society wins - Oxbridge gets kudos (and those great speakers do deserve it too), Sunway wins - yes, it benefits from being linked to Oxbridge, and raises its profile with the schools but best of all, the kids win.
Yes, the winners of the essay competition received some cash prizes and trophies. But the real benefit for the students was from having the opportunity to listen to good speakers talk about writing and speaking skills - and i trust that each of those students would have gone home with at least some iota of knowledge which was generously shared by our speakers.
So maybe it's not of direct benefit to the Society members, and maybe that's why some may see it as 'controversial' and a 'conflict of interest'. Or maybe it's the fact that Sunway gets some benefit from it and that can be considered a conflict of interest.
There was a suggestion that Oxbridge hold the event at a 'neutral' venue. Which is a constructive suggestion, but unfortunately, the Society does not have the manpower to organise this huge event and i am not sure that the members would think it worthwhile to spend RM15-18000 to sponsor this event.
i am sure that if the majority of members decided that the event should NOT proceed - for the simple reason that a minority number of members may think it beneath the Society to lend it's name to an event such as this - i would personally feel a most compelling need to resign from the Society. I'm sure it wouldn't be a great loss to the Society.
They probably won't even notice.
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