Tuesday, October 10, 2006

WORLD RANKING OF UNIVERSITI MALAYA (UM) DEGREES DETERIORATING

Obtaining a good university education is everyones expectations and desire in life. Likewise, every university faces the challenge in the quest for excellence, quality and international recognition, which will be the attracting point to boost more quality students to seek a place here. Universities are annually assessed and are reported in the 'Times Higher Education Supplement (THES) World University Ranking' based on their world academic position. Although many school leavers in Malaysia do not make it into local universities due to certain reasons, obtaining a university degree will excel ones career prospects and in turn, improve the educational standards of the human resources in our country. Our government, on the other hand, is striving very hard to make Malaysia an educational hub of this region and this statitics plays a vital role in attracting and promoting higher education in Malaysia.

Normally, people do not get excited about the annual publication of the THES rankings although those who wish to further their studies do greatly rely on them for their admissions. Usually, the worth of a university degree cannot be measured by its world ranking alone but must be evaluated and respected for fulfilling the required traditional criteria of a true academic institution.

The poor international rankings of Malaysian universities in the THES 2006 World University Ranking need to be addressed by the government immediately and drastic plans need to be undertaken to ensure that the future ratings improve tremendously. With the establishment of the Higher Education ministry, a serious and methodical approach in uplifting this rating is needed to be implemented to keep with the aspirations of the 9th Malaysia Plan and 'Vision 2020'. Just depending on the vice chancellors of the local universities to improve their international recognition is quite beyond their depths and capability and with their own resources, they are only able to struggle to keep their universities within the THES 200 bracket, without any hope of even competing with the best in the Asia-Pacific, let alone the world.

Having a glance at the list of the 23 Asian-Pacific universities ranked within the top 100 universities in the THES 2006 list, there is no reason why the nation’s premier university cannot be among their ranks, especially after 30-40 years in existence, Universiti Malaya would undoubtedly be ranked among the first 10. But this is not the case.

As per the report, University Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) ranked No. 185 and UM ranked No. 192 are hovering perilously close to being knocked out of the THES ranking, as UKM is only 1.3 points and UM 0.7 points in overall score better than University of Paris Sorbonne (Paris IV), the last-ranked No. 200 university. UKM’s overall score is 29.2, UM is 28.6 while University of Paris Sorbonne is 27.9. In contrast, the overall score of the Top Five Universities are Harvard University 100, Cambridge University 96.8, Oxford University 92.7, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Yale University 89.2. The overall score of the Top Five Asia-Pacific Universities are Beijing University 67.9, Australian National University 64.8, National University of Singapore and Tokyo University 63.1, Melbourne University 61.6.

The Cabinet meeting today need to decide whether the Malaysian universities are to continue with their struggle to keep within the THES 200 Best Universities Ranking, or whether we are confident enough in the capabilities of Malaysians to take a quantum leap to aim to be among the world’s top 100 universities, including one university among the world’s top 50 universities. If so, the Cabinet must demonstrate, it has the political will to take the bold decision to restore meritocracy as the primary yardstick for Malaysian universities, from student-intake to appointment and promotion of academicians. If not, it is not so much the vice chancellors but the Higher Education Minister and the entire Cabinet, who must bear the greatest responsibility for the sharp fall in standards, excellence and quality of Malaysians universities and their dismal performance in international rankings – losing out even to Thailand’s Chulalongkorn University ranked 161 this year and 121 last year, something unimaginable only a decade ago.

Related to the future of Malaysian universities, Higher Education Minister Datuk Mustapha Mohamad should also explain what has happened to the Zahid Higher Education Report and its 138 recommendations, why they had been cast aside and the reasons for the secrecy and total lack of transparency in setting up a “high-level committee” in his Ministry to come out with a new blueprint for tertiary education for our country.