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Malaysian universities can make quantum jump to be among world’s top 100 universities, including one within Top 50, but political will and decision by Cabinet needed to restore priority of meritocracy in student-intake and academic appointments

Media Statement
by Lim Kit Siang  


(Paliament, Tuesday) :  The poor international rankings of Malaysian universities should top  the agenda of Cabinet meeting tomorrow to underline the  seriousness of Ninth Malaysia Plan in proclaiming the quality of the nation’s human capital with “first class mentality” as the basic thrust of the 15-year National Mission to achieve Vision 2020 of a fully developed nation.


How can Malaysia aspire to have quality human capital with knowledge, innovation and creativity as the key determinants of Malaysia’s future success as a knowledge-based economy when Malaysia’s universities are neither quality nor world-class, whether in the eyes of Malaysians or in reputable  international rankings?


The question now is whether Malaysia has a “first-class” or “half-past six” Cabinet in its ability to respond  effectively to the dismal results  of the  Times Higher Education Supplement (THES) 2006 World University Ranking for Malaysian public universities?


The Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi last week used the analogy of climbing a mountain to say that in human capital development efforts, Malaysia “has arrived at the base camp and is ready for the final assault”.


Are the Cabinet Ministers aware of what Abdullah was talking about or are they as blur as everyone else?

Mustapha said last Friday  he had asked the UM Vice Chancellor Datuk Dr. Rafiah Salim for her plan of action with regard to this year’s THES rankings.

To be fair to Rafiah and the other vice chancellors, the challenge  faced by Malaysian universities in the quest for excellence, quality and international recognition is  quite beyond  their depths and capability.

Left to their own resources, the most the vice chancellors  can do is to struggle to keep their  universities within the THES 200 bracket, without any hope of even competing with the best in the Asia-Pacific let alone the world.

If we look at the list of the 23 Asian-Pacific universities ranked within the top 100 universities in the THES 2006 list, there is no reason why the nation’s premier university cannot be  among their ranks – especially as 30-40 years ago, University of Malaya would undoubtedly be ranked among the first 10.

The 23 Asia-Pacific universities ranked within the world’s  top 100 universities are:

World Rank

14. Beijing University - China

16. Australian National University  - Australia

19. National University of Singapore - Singapore

19. Tokyo University - Japan

22. Melbourne University – Australia

28. Tsing Hua University - China

29.  Kyoto University - Japan

33. Hong Kong University – Hong Kong

35. Sydney University - Australia

38. Monash University - Australia

41. University of New South Wales - Australia

45. Queensland University - Australia

46. Auckland University – New Zealand

50. Chinese University of Hong Kong – Hong Kong

57. Indian Institutes of Technology- India

58. Hong Kong University Science and Technology – Hong Kong

61. Nanyang Technological University - Singapore

63. Seoul National University – South Korea

68. Indian Institute of Management - India

70. Osaka University - Japan

79. Otago University – New Zealand

82. Macquarie University – Australia

As at present, University Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) ranked No. 185  and UM ranked No. 192 are hovering perilously close to being knocked out of the THES ranking, as UKM is only 1.3 points and UM 0.7 points in overall score better  than University of Paris Sorbonne (Paris IV), the last-ranked No. 200 university.

UKM’s overall score is 29.2, UM is 28.6 while University of Paris Sorbonne is 27.9. In contrast, the overall score of the Top Five  Universities are Harvard University 100, Cambridge University 96.8, Oxford University 92.7, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Yale University 89.2.  The overall score of the Top Five Asia-Pacific Universities are Beijing University 67.9, Australian National University 64.8, National University of Singapore and Tokyo University 63.1,  Melbourne University 61.6.

The Cabinet must decide tomorrow whether Malaysian universities are to continue to struggle to keep within the THES  200 Best Universities Ranking, or whether we are confident enough in the capabilities of Malaysians to take a quantum leap  to aim to be among the world’s top 100 universities, including one university among the world’s top  50 universities?

If so, the Cabinet tomorrow must take  the bold decision to restore meritocracy as the primary yardstick for Malaysian universities, from student-intake to appointment and promotion of academicians.

If not, it is not so much the vice chancellors but the Higher Education Minister and the entire Cabinet who must bear the greatest responsibility for the sharp fall in standards, excellence and quality of Malaysians universities and their dismal performance in international rankings – losing out even to Thailand’s Chulalongkorn University ranked  161 this year and 121 last year, something unimaginable only a decade ago.

Related to the future of Malaysian universities, Mustapha should explain what has happened to the Zahid Higher Education Report and its 138 recommendations, why they had been cast aside  and the reasons for the secrecy and total lack of transparency in  setting up a  “high-level committee” in his Ministry to come out with a new blueprint for tertiary education for the country.


*  Lim Kit Siang, Parliamentary Opposition Leader, MP for Ipoh Timur & DAP Central Policy and Strategic Planning Commission Chairman

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