No joke, UM ranked among world-top 300 Universities in Times Higher Education ranking, but this UM is not University of Malaya but a university most Malaysians do not know

I could not believe my eyes when I received an email yesterday proclaiming “UM ranked among world-top 300 universities in Times Higher Education World University Rankings” as every informed Malaysian should know by now after a week-long controversy that University of Malaya had suffered the ignominy of being excluded from annual Times Higher Education (THE) Top 400 University Rankings for the fifth consecutive year since the launch of the series in 2010.

When I opened the email, I found that it was indeed true that “UM ranked among world-top 300 universities in THE rankings” but this UM is not the University of Malaya but an university most Malaysians had never heard of before.

This UM is the University of Macau.

The email contained a press release issued by the University of Macau (UM) on 2nd October 2014 that it had been ranked among the world’s top 300 universities, between 276 and 300, by THE World University Rankings 2014-15, and that “this is the first time UM made the list, and, it should be considered an outstanding and momentum building result because merely a few years ago the university were not in the top 400”.

The “UM” announcement, which was forwarded to me yesterday, went on to say:

“In recent years, UM has made a great effort to improve teaching and research, following international standards and making significant social and global outreach.

“In particular, it carried out a comprehensive reform of its undergraduate curriculum, established the Honours College, incorporated international perspective into its curricula, implemdenting an unique ‘4-in-1’ model of education (which consists of discipline-specific education, general education, research and internship education, as well as peer and community education) and established Asia’s largest and in-depth system of residential colleges.”

The UM statement went on to say that while UM welcomes the good results of THE ranking, “it would nevertheless like to stress that the university is not working for a place in the ranking” but “takes to heart the principal reason of education, namely it works to provide the best education for Macao kids to be outstanding global citizens of the 21st century”.

The University of Macau was founded in 1981 as a private university and only became a public university with Macau’s handover to China in 1999.

The Education Ministry and the University of Malaya administrators should hold their heads in shame that a comparatively new and junior university, like University of Macau, could be ranked in the THE Top 300 World University Rankings 2014 while our national premier university, UM, is boycotting the THE World University Ranking for fear of low placings or being excluded altogether from the Top 400 Universities listing.

I really wonder whether the Prime Minister cum Finance Minister, Datuk Seri Najib Razak would mention the exclusion of Malaysian universities from the THE Top 400 University Ranking 2014 for the fifth successive year in his 2015 Budget speech tomorrow.

Three weeks ago, Najib twittered congratulations to the five Malaysian universities which were ranked higher in the Top 400 of the QS World University Ranking 2014, namely University of Malaya (UM) ranked 167 last year to 151; University Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) from 269 to 259; University Teknologi Malaysia (UTM) from 355 to 294; Universiti Sains Malaysia from 355 to 309; Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM) from 411-420 to 376.

But there has been a deafening silence from Najib as well as from the DPM-cum- Education Minister, Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin in the past week over the exclusion of Malaysian universities in Top 400 in another global university ranking – THE University Ranking 2014-2015.

The arguments which have been advanced so far to justify the boycott of UM and UKM in the THE Top 400 World University Rankings while continuing to participate in the QS World University Rankings are very weak and most untenable.

I have gone through the 200 Top Universities in the QS World University Rankings 2014, and found that apart from three universities, all the other 197 Top 200 Universities were also listed in the THE Top 400 University Ranking 2014.

Have UM and UKM good reasons to believe that if they had participated in the THE Top 400 World University Rankings, both would do even worse than University of Macau and would be excluded completely from the THE Top 400 List?

Four other Malaysian universities had participated in the THE World University Ranking 2014-5, but none made it into the Top 400 of the THE rankings.

It will be doubly shameful to both UM and UKM if anyone of the four other Malaysian universities had succeeded in being ranked among the THE Top 400 while UM and UKM lose out not only to comparatively younger Malaysian universities but also to University of Macau.

Nine years ago, Najib had challenged University of Malaya to be ranked among the Top 50 universities when he was Deputy Prime Minister in 2005.

When Tan Sri Professor Dr Ghauth Jasmon‎ was Vice Chancellor of University of Malaya from 2008 to 2013, he had set a more realistic target – to enter QS World University Ranking’s Top 100 by 2015.

Both these targets have become impossible missions, as UM’s ranking in the QS World University Rankings are 207 (2010), 167 (2011), 156 (2012), 167 (2013) and 151 (2014).

Najib should address the higher education crisis faced by the country in his 2015 Budget speech tomorrow.

Lim Kit Siang DAP Parliamentary Leader & MP for Gelang Patah