by Elizabeth Zachariah
The Malaysian Insider
MAY 01, 2014
Malaysian public universities have once again failed to measure up to higher learning institutions around the world, this time being left out of the latest ranking of the annual Times Higher Education (THE) Top 100 Universities under 50 years old.
Four Asian universities are ranked among the top 10 of the world’s young universities, including South Korea’s Pohang University of Science and Technology which took the top spot, Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (3), Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (4) and Nanyang Technological University, Singapore (5).
Malaysia, however, failed to get on the list for the second year running. In the first rankings list in 2012, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) was ranked 98th.
This is despite Putrajaya’s claim that Malaysia has one of the best education systems in the world – better than United States, Britain and Germany.
One university each from both the US and the UK were also featured in the top 10 of the latest rankings released today.
Saudi Arabia and Iran are also on the list which comprises 29 countries – one more than last year, with the addition of India, which made it on to the list for the first time.
THE described these young universities (established before the cut-off year of 1964) as rising stars which showed great potential.
“While they may not have had centuries to accumulate wealth and cannot draw on generations of alumni and rich traditions of scholarship to drive their reputations, they are free from the burdens of history: free to be more agile, lean, flexible and risk-taking, giving them an advantage in a rapidly changing global marketplace,” THE’s rankings editor Phil Baty said of the young universities.
Malaysia was also absent from the Times Higher Education World Reputation rankings list which was released last month, losing out to other Southeast Asian countries.
Malaysia’s continuous failure to feature in any university rankings despite a huge education budget every year has not gone down well with the opposition, which has taken Putrajaya to task for the miserable performance.
The Education Ministry received RM38.7 billion in 2013 and has been allocated a total of RM54 billion this year – the biggest allocation yet.
DAP adviser Lim Kit Siang, one of the more vocal critics of Malaysian education standards, had previously warned that local universities were losing ground not only to top universities around the world, but also to less comparable institutions in the region.
DAP lawmaker Zairil Khir Johari described the Top 100 Under 50 rankings as a more level playing field than Times’s other lists such as the World University Rankings which includes long-established universities such as Oxford, Harvard and Cambridge.
“The failure of Malaysian universities, all of which are under 50 years old except Universiti Malaya, to get on the list is an embarrassment,” he told The Malaysian Insider.
“What makes it worse is the fact that UKM, which was placed in the list in 2012 as 98th in the world, has now dropped out of sight,” he added.
He said the fact that countries such as Saudi Arabia, Iran and India were making remarkable progress in the education field proved that adverse socio-political and economic situations were no barrier to academic excellence.
“Clearly, Malaysian universities are uncompetitive, and will continue to be so until fundamental problems are addressed, such as the lack of academic freedom, autonomy and the quality of the faculty,” the Bukit Bendera MP said.
He said the barring of former Bar Council president and prominent lawyer Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan from delivering a talk at a law event in Universiti Malaya last month was an example of these fundamental problems.
“If leading professional figures in our country are barred from speaking to future practitioners, how do we expect our university students to be able to develop critical thinking abilities that are necessary for a competitive economy?
“Clearly, there is political interference at play, which does not bode well for an institution that is meant to cultivate future leaders,” he said, adding that former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad had received a “hero’s welcome” at the university prior to that. – May 1, 2014.