First step for Malaysian
universities to return to world-class university quality and excellence is
to adopt the recommendation of World Bank Report to end fraudulent
meritocracy system and introduce common university entrance examination
RM 10 salary-cut
by Lim Kit Siang
Malaysia has fallen completely
out of the list of the world’s Top 200 Universities this year in the 2007
Times Higher Education Supplement (THES) - Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) World
This is a national shame, especially as occurring during the nation’s 50th
Merdeka anniversary and it must serve as the latest warning to the
national leaders to end their complacency and delusion that Malaysia is
becoming more competitive globally when the reverse is actually the case.
The national shame of Malaysia falling completely out of the list of the
world’s Top 200 Universities this year in the 2007 Times Higher Education
Supplement (THES) - Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) World University Rankings
had been equaled by the scandal that this Malaysian ignominy had been
totally ignored by last week’s UMNO General Assembly, whether by UMNO
delegates or leaders.
This shows the superficiality of the commitment of UMNO leaders to the
slogan of “Cemerlang, Gemilang and Terbilang” and to transform Malaysia
into a knowledge-based innovative economy marked by a world-class
The Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi had after the UMNO
General Assembly expressed his concern about the fall of Malaysian
universities from the international league of best universities, but why
wasn’t there a single reference to this shocking result in the UMNO
General Assembly, touted as the most important national political assembly
of the country?
Malaysian universities have suffered a very serious drop in the
international league of the world’s best universities in the 2007 THES-QS
For the first time, there is not only not a single university in the Top
200 Universities list, there is also not a single university in the
separate ranking of Top 100 Universities for five subject areas – Natural
Sciences, Social Sciences, Arts and Humanities; Life Sciences and
Biomedicine; and Engineering and Information Technology.
For the Top 200 Universities List, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM)
and Universiti Malaya (UM) had fallen out of the ranking, with UKM
plunging from 185th slot last year to 309th while University of Malaya
plunged from 192nd last year to 246th spot. Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM),
which was ranked as the only “outstanding” five-star university in a
recent government survey, has fallen to 307th spot from 277 last year. In
2005, USM was in the 326th spot.
The performance of Malaysian universities in the Top 100 lists for the
five subject areas are even more dismal, with not a single university
making into the five lists although last year University of Malaya was
ranked 49 in Social Sciences and 95 in Natural Sciences, UKM was placed
No. 62 in Natural Sciences, and University Sains Malaysia placed No. 96
for Life Sciences and Biomedicine.
The National University of Singapore (NUS) (No. 33) is ranked among the
Top 100 Universities for all the five categories while Nanyang
Technological University (NTU) (No. 69) is ranked among the Top 100
universities for three categories, viz: Engineering & IT; Natural Sciences
and Social Sciences.
NUS is ranked No. 10 for Engineering & IT; No. 12 for Life Sciences and
Biomedicine, No. 25 for Natural Sciences; No. 20 for Social Sciences and
No. 21 for Arts & Humanities.
NTU is ranked No. 25 for Engineering & IT; No. 99 for Natural Sciences and
No. 88 for Social Sciences.
Even Thailand’s Chulalongkorn University is rated among the Top 100
Universities for two categories – Engineering & IT (No. 100) and Social
Sciences (No. 83)
Last year Malaysia was placed in four of the 500 slots in the five Top 100
Universities for the five subjects.
This year, Malaysia was completely excluded in all the five listings of
Top 100 Universities for the five categories.
There are 38 “elite of elite” universities, which are not only ranked in
the Top 200 Universities list, but also ranked in every one of the five
Top 100 subject list. The country breakdown and details for these 38
“elite of elite” universities are:
United States - 15
United Kingdom - 4
Australia - 6
Canada - 5
China - 2
Japan - 2
S. Korea - 1
Taiwan - 1
Spore - 1
Hong Kong – 1
Total - 38
Universities in the
Asia-Pacific region which are in this exclusive 38 “elite of elites” list
(Ranking in Top 200 Universities in bracket)
New South Wales (44)
Hong Kong (18)
National University of Singapore (33)
Seoul National (51)
National Taiwan (102)
Why is Malaysia not in this “elite of elites” listing and when will
Malaysia have a university which will have all-round excellence as to be
included in this list?
Until some 35 years ago, there was no doubt that University of Malaya was
one of the world-class universities and if its university standards,
quality and excellence had been maintained and not suffered any
precipitous plunge, University of Malaya would not only have taken her
place in the Top 200 Universities ranking but would be one of the two
scores of “elite of elite” universities enjoying all-rounded excellence to
be ranked among the Top 100 universities for all the five different
Today, Malaysian universities have plummeted so badly that nobody could
now answer the question: Which is the Malaysian premier university?
Nobody knows and this is a big shame as it is caused not by competition by
universities to be the best but to avoid the bigger plunge in
Is it University of Malaya?
Until two years ago, there was no dispute if University of Malaya claimed
to be the nation’s premier university – a position it had occupied
unchallenged for over three decades.
It was also internationally recognized as the premier university in
Malaysia as reflected by the 2004 and 2005 Times Higher Education
Supplement (THES) World Universities Rankings for Top 200 Universities,
being positioned No. 89 and 169th slots respectively.
However, it was toppled from the pedestal by Universiti Kebangsaan
Malaysia (UKM) when UKM beat University of Malaya in the 2006 THES
ranking, placed No. 185 as compared to the 192nd position for University
Is it UKM then?
UKM’s placing on the top of the university pole in the country lasted one
short year as in the 2007 THES Top 200 Universities ranking, UKM plunged a
shocking 124 places from No. 185 to No. 309, not only behind University of
Malaya’s No. 246 but also Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) which is placed
Furthermore, in the recent government ranking for public universities,
both UKM and University of Malaya was ranked behind USM, the sole
university to be placed on the five-star Outstanding Category, with no
university rated for the top-rung Excellent Category.
Is it then USM, to lay claim to be the nation’s best university?
Not so, although in the 2004 THES ranking, USM was rated among the Top 200
Universities when placed No. 111, but it plunged 215 places to No. 326
ranking in 2005, 277 in 2006 and 307 in 2007.
With no single university currently able to lay claim as the nation’s
premier university, this sad state of affairs is a reflection of the very
troubled public university sector.
May be this confusion awaits resolution when a private higher education
institution establishes its claim as the nation’s premier university,
better than anyone of the public universities – especially as the Chinese
government has recognized 43 private universities and colleges as compared
to only seven for public universities.
One aspect which had been overlooked in the latest THES Top 200
Universities ranking is that Malaysia is losing out badly in the
international competition for excellence, not only to universities of
developed nations but even those of developing nations.
Thailand, for instance, has established its superiority in university
excellence to Malaysia when for three consecutive years, Chulalongkorn
University of Thailand beat Malaysian universities in the THES ranking –
121 in 2005, 161 in 2006 and 223 in 2007 as compared to Malaysia’s best of
169 in 2005 (University of Malaya), 185 in 2006 (UKM) and 246 in 2007
(University of Malaya).
Also for the first time in the THES Top Universities Ranking, Malaysia has
lost out to three other third-world nations, viz.
University of Sao Paulo - No. 175
University of Campinas - No. 177
Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico - No. 192
University of Cape Town - No. 200
Just as Vice Chancellors must be held responsible for the poor rankings of
their universities, the Higher Education Minister, Datuk Mustapha Mohamad
must bear personal responsibility for the dismal international ranking of
Malaysian universities - particularly for Malaysia falling completely out
of the list of the world’s Top 200 Universities this year in the 2007
Times Higher Education Supplement (THES) - Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) World
I was very surprised that the Higher Education Minister, who visiting
universities in China last month, had asked the Chinese government to
recognize more Malaysian universities and colleges for two reasons.
It was news to me and to most Malaysians that China has recognized 50
institutions in the public and private sector in Malaysia – 7 IPTAs
(public institutions of higher learning) and 43 IPTSs (private
institutions). This is a clear indicator that public universities in the
country are losing out in terms of academic excellence and international
recognition to private institutions.
Secondly, the Chinese government has recognizing more Malaysian
universities and colleges than the Chinese universities and colleges
recognized by the Malaysian government – when many Chinese universities
are internationally recognized for their academic merit and excellence
while Malaysian universities have disappeared from the international radar
of academic excellence.
In the 2007 THES-QS World Top 200 University Rankings, six Chinese
universities were ranked but not a single one from Malaysia.
The six Chinese universities are:
36. Peking University
40. Tsinghua University
85. Fudan University
125. Nanjing University
155. University of Science and Technology of China
163. Shanghai Jiao Tong University
China has two universities,
Peking University and Tsinghua University, which are among the 38 “elite
of elite” universities, as they are also listed in all the Top 100
Universities in all five different categories.
Altogether, Chinese universities occupy 21 spots in the 500 slots in the
five Top 100 Universities for five categories – but Malaysia does not
recognize anyone of them although we do not occupy a single spot in the
500 slots for the five lists of Top 100 Universities.
Malaysia even refuses to accord recognition to the degrees of Peking
University and Tsinghua University, two of the “elite of elites”
universities as the Malaysian government only recognizes their degrees for
Chinese language studies.
Why has the Malaysian government not recognized these
internationally-acclaimed Chinese universities for their world-class
degrees and courses, when Malaysia does not have any equivalent
It is most strange and extraordinary that a country which has dropped out
of world-class university rankings is asking for more recognition for its
universities from another country with universities of international
repute but which it has refused to recognize?
The Malaysian government should promptly and forthwith recognize all the
degrees of Chinese universities which are internationally-recognized as
among the world’s top universities, and not just the Chinese Language
Studies of four Chinese universities, before we can righteously ask China
for more recognition of Malaysian universities by Chinese government.
Malaysians have not been told the real and true reasons for the shocking
performance of Malaysian universities in the THES-QS Top 200 Universities
ranking. Malaysian universities have been consistent in increasingly
deplorable results in world rankings, whether the THES-QS, Shanghai Jiao
Tong University World’s Best 500 Universities or the Newsweek’s Top 100
If the government is serious about its slogan of “Cemerlang, Gemilang,
Terbilang” to create a world-class university system to transform Malaysia
into a knowledge-based innovative economy, it must end the New Economic
Policy (NEP) in the universities and fully restore the policy of
meritocracy and academic excellence coupled with social need to provide
university education opportunities to economically-backward Malaysians
regardless of race.
It is the NEP policy and mentality which caused University of Malaya to
fall 213 rankings behind University of Singapore in less than four decades
as both universities had started on the same footing some 50 years ago.
University of Malaya is ranked No. 246 as compared to the 33rd ranking for
National University of Singapore.
The government must recognize that so long as the NEP is kept in place in
the universities, there would be no way for any Malaysian public
university to compete with other universities from other countries. This
is why Malaysia is also losing out to universities from Thailand and
Africa – which was unthinkable four decades ago!
If Malaysia is to get back to the trail of world-class academic
excellence, all universities should be allowed to enroll the most
qualified students, employ the most competent professors and researchers
with competitive remunerations and restore a culture of academic
excellence and freedom.
One simple test of whether the government is seriously committed to
abandon the baggage of past NEP policies to create a world-class
university system is whether it has the political will to end the annual
brain drain depriving Malaysia of the best and brightest for the
development of the country.
For a start, the Higher Education Minister should ask the Cabinet to check
the annual four-figure brain-drain of the best and brightest STPM students
and Chinese Independent Secondary school students to Singapore by
providing them equitable higher education opportunities at home to
demonstrate that the government is serious in wanting to build a
world-class university system.
Secondly, the Higher Education Minister must ask the Cabinet to end the
present fraudulent meritocracy using both STPM and matriculation by having
a common university entrance examination.
This is the recommendation of the World Bank study on “Malaysia and the
Knowledge Economy: Building a World-Class Higher Education System”
submitted to the government in March this year.
Otherwise, the Higher Education Ministry is only continuing to pay lip
service to university excellence and quality without the political will to
bring about the institutional changes without which there is no way for
Malaysian universities to return to world-class university status.
Opposition Leader, MP for Ipoh Timur & DAP Central Policy and Strategic
Planning Commission Chairman