(Petaling Jaya, Wednesday): When Asiaweek recently ranked Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad as Asia’s second most powerful individual after the Chinese head of state, Jian Zemin, it was given front-page treatment in the local media.
In the Asiaweek’s second annual ranking of the 50 men and women who wield the most clout in the region, Suharto slides to the No. 3 spot from the No. 1 ranking in 1996.
In a press briefing on the May 30 edition of Asiaweek which carried the ranking, Asiaweek assistant managing editor Ricardo Saludo said Mahathir, who was ranked No. 4 last year, was now "arguably the most prominent spokesman for Asia and the developing world."
He also said: "At the same time, Dr. Mahathir’s vision continues to guide Malaysia, now towards a high-tech future."
This is the commentary of Asiaweek when promoting Mahathir from the fourth to the second position:
"POWER SHIFT Dr. M is stronger than ever -- in part by putting loyalists in key posts of his dominant UMNO party. Despite stiff criticism, he pushed through initiatives to admit Laos, Myanmar and Cambodia to ASEAN. His Multimedia Super Corridor grabbed the attention of Hollywood and Silicon Valley moguls. Recently made his No. 2 Anwar Ibrahim acting PM and party chief while he takes two months' holiday. Now that's power."
Asiaweek admits that its choice of Mahathir as the second most powerful individual in Asia is "perhaps our most controversial choice", justifying it with the following argument:
"To be sure, Dr. M. remains autocratic and prickly, and he runs a relatively small country. And yet he is a regional giant, a key mover in ASEAN, a hobnobber of global proportions. What other leader could pillory the West on one day and on the next rub shoulders with the most powerful men in Hollywood and Silicon Valley? In recent weeks rumors have flown that Mahathir plans to step down before long. And that is the true measure of a great leader, one who can hang on to power and relinquish it, too."
While the local media gave front-page treatment to Asiaweek’s ranking of the 50 individuals who wields the most clout in the region, the local media have completely ignored another Asiaweek survey reported a week earlier - a ranking of the 50 best universities in the region.
The reason can only be that Malaysian universities did not shine in the survey and there was nothing to boast about. In fact, Malaysians should feel ashamed of the poor ranking of Malaysian universities in the Asiaweek survey of the 50 best universities in the region.
There was not a single Malaysian university which could get into the top 10 best universities in the region, which comprised two universities from Japan, three from Hong Kong, two from Australia, one each from Singapore, China and Taiwan.
The top 10 best universities in Asiaweek’s ranking are:
1. University of Tokyo
2. Kyoto University
3. University of Hong Kong
4. National University of Singapore
5. Chinese University of Hong Kong
6. University of New South Wales
7. Peking University
8. National Taiwan University
9. University of Melbourne
10. Hong Kong University of Science and Technology
University of Malaya was ranked No. 11 of the top 50 best universities in the region, while two other Malaysian universities which made into the list were University Kebangsaan Malaysia, which was ranked No. 20 and University Sains Malaysia, which was ranked No. 49.
Asiaweek’s ranking of the 50 best universities in the region is based on five criteria with different weightings, namely academic reputation 30%; faculty resources 25%; student selectivity 20%; financial resources 15% and value for money 10%.
The reason for USM’s poor ranking of being placed in No. 49th place could be that it did not submit adequate data or declined to participate in the survey.
However, what is very significant is that in the survey for the purpose of determining academic reputation, each university was asked to rate its peers on a scale of 1 to 5. In this specific survey on academic reputation, University of Malaya and UKM’s ranking fell lower to No. 24 and 37 respectively; while USM’s ranking was placed at No. 32.
All in all, Asiaweek’s ranking of Asia’s best universities show that Malaysian universities have still a long way to go to be universally recognised as of world-class quality and standards - without which Malaysia cannot claim to be an international centre for educational excellence.
The Education Ministry and all the university authorities should hold an urgent conference to consider how they could make a quantum leap to improve the academic quality, standards and reputation of university education in Malaysia, and ensure that Malaysian universities can be acknowledged as belonging to the top 10 best universities in the region as well as belonging to the top five per cent of the world’s institutions in terms of scientific research and information technology.