(Penang, Tuesday): I am surprised by the complete silence of the Education Minister, Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak and the Education Ministry to the second Asiaweek ranking of the best 50 universities in the region, in view of the oft-declared government aim to transform Malaysia into an international centre of academic excellence with world-class educational standards.
There is no doubt that if Malaysian universities had been given excellent ranking in the Asiaweek survey of the 50 best universities in the region, Najib himself would be the first to draw national and international attention to the report. But this is no excuse for the Education Minister to keep mum for over two weeks when the survey has not been very flattering about Malaysian universities. In fact, Najib should initiate a nation-wide debate and soul-searching as to why Malaysia’s ranking is even worse than the first Asiaweek survey of the 50 best universities in the region a year ago.
Last year, Malaysia failed to get into the top 10 best universities
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 1997 ranking were:
The reason for USM’s poor ranking of being placed in No. 49th place last year could be that it did not submit adequate data or declined to participate in the survey. This problem did not arise in the latest Asiaweek survey, but this did not improve USM’s ranking or those of University of Malaya or University Sains Malaysia.
Again, not a single Malaysian university was ranked in the top best 10 universities in the region in the 1998 although University of Malaya had been ranked in the 11th place last year and Peking University had dropped out of the listing although it was ranked Asia’s seventh-best academic institution in 1997. Peking University filled out the Asiaweek questionairre but did not send it on the directive of the Chinese Education Ministry objecting, among other things, to the ranking of Taiwanese universities.
The 1998 Asiaweek ranking of the top best 10 universities in the region are:
The deterioration in the ranking of Malaysian universities as compared with other universities in the region should serve as a warning to the country that all is not right with our university education system and that we have still a long way to go to achieve world-class quality and standards and to be universally recognised as becoming an international centre for educational excellence.
The fall of University of Malaya from 11th place last year to No. 33 is partly attributed to the local currency’s "steep devaluation" as a result of the Asian financial turmoils in the past year. However, universities in South Korea and Thailand should be similarly stricken by the steep devaluation of their currencies but this did not prevent their universities from getting better rankings this year although they trailed behind University of Malaya last year.
For instance, in the 1998 ranking, apart from Seoul National University being placed in the top sixth ranking (last year No. 16), Yonsei University in South Korea replaced University of Malaya in the 11th placing (No. 18 last year) while Korea University is ranked in the 15th position (No. 31 last year). Altogether, South Korea has seven universities which are ranked higher than Malaysia’s highest-ranking University of Malaya at No. 33rd placing - which should be very serious food for thought for educational planners and the Malaysian citizenry.
Even Thailand’s Chulalongkorn University has excelled that of University of Malaya, placed in 19th position when it was ranked 44th position last year.
The ranking of Malaysian universities in the world is more important than having the tallest building in the world, the highest flag pole in the world or the longest bridge in the world.
There should be a full public debate and discussion about the 1998 Asiaweek Survey of the best universities in Asia, and the shocking ranking of Malaysian universities, and the University of Malaya, University Sains Malaysia and UKM authorities should publicly explain their deteriorating placing in the survey this year.