Speech by Lim Kit Siang on the Ministry of
Higher Education in the 2009 Budget debate on
Wednesday, 3rd December 2008:
End the NEP in the universities as the
first step to restore a world-class university system
Malaysia is losing out in the unrelenting
battle for international competitiveness among nations, with Malaysian
universities even losing out to universities in Thailand, Indonesia and
Philippines – something completely unthinkable in the first three
decades of our nationhood.
For the second consecutive year, Malaysia had fallen completely out of
the list of the world’s Top 200 Universities this year in the 2008 Times
Higher Education Supplement (THES) - Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) World
The national shame of Malaysia falling completely out of the list of the
world’s Top 200 Universities this year in the 2008 Times Higher
Education Supplement (THES) - Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) World University
Rankings is being compounded by the ignominy of Malaysian universities
losing out not only to top universities in Singapore, China, Japan, Hong
Kong, Taiwan and South Korea but also to other South East Asian nations
like Thailand, Indonesia and Philippines.
For the second consecutive year, there is not only not a single
university in the 2008 THES-QS 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 Technology.
Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) and Universiti Malaya (UM) were in
the 2006 Ranking, placed No. 185 and 192 respectively. UKM plunged to
309 last year and improved to 250 this year while UM fell to 246 last
year improving slightly to 230 this year – but both remain outside the
Top 200 Universities ranking.
The government named Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) as the Apex
University but it has a dismal international rankings after being
included once in the Top 200 Universities list – No. 111 in 2004, No.
326 in 2005, 277 in 2006, No. 307 in 2007 and No. 313 in 2008.
It is both sad and pathetic that our Apex University, the USM, at No.
313 ranking, is not only left far behind in South East Asia by Singapore
(National University of Singapore No. 30 and Nanyang Technological
University No. 77) but also by Thailand (Chulalongkorn University No.
166), Indonesia (University of Indonesia No. 287) and the Philippines (Ateneo
de Manila University No. 254 and University of the Philippines No. 276).
Until last year, Malaysian universities were
all ranked well ahead of the Indonesian universities, but in the 2008
THES-QS World Top Universities ranking, Indonesian universities are
catching up with Malaysian universities in leaps and bounds.
Last year for instance, the three top
Indonesian universities were all ranked behind the Malaysian
universities – University of Indonesia (UI) No. 395, Bandung Institute
of Technology (ITB) No. 369 and Gajah Mada University (UGM) No. 360, as
compared to the three top Malaysian universities University of Malaya
(UM) No. 246, Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) No. 307 and Universiti
Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) No. 309.
In this year’s ranking, University of
Indonesia has improved by 108 placings to be ranked as No. 287, Bandung
Institute of Technology No. 315 and Gajah Mada University No. 316.
This means that in the 2008 THES-QS Ranking,
University of Indonesia (No. 287) has narrowed the gap with University
of Malaya (No. 230) and Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (No. 250), while
ahead of Malaysia’s apex university, Universiti Sains Malaysia (No.
313), University Putra Malaysia (No. 320) and Universiti Teknologi
Malaysia (No. 356).
The performance of Malaysian universities in
the 2008 THES-QS Top 100 lists for the five subject areas are even more
dismal, with not a single university making into the five lists for two
years consecutively although Malaysia secured four of these 500
prestigious slots in 2006 - 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
For the 2008 THES-QS ranking, National University of Singapore (NUS)
(No. 30) is ranked among the Top 100 Universities for all the five
categories while Nanyang Technological University (NTU) (No. 77) is
ranked among the Top 100 universities for three categories, viz:
Technology (No. 26); Life Sciences & Biomedicine (No. 78) and Social
NUS is ranked No. 11 for Technology; No. 17 for Life Sciences and
Biomedicine, No. 31 for Natural Sciences; No. 18 for Social Sciences and
No. 30 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 – Technology (No. 86) and Social
Sciences (No. 72); Indonesia’s Bandung Institute of Technology rated as
among the Top 100 universities for Technology (No. 90) and two
universities in Philippines ranked among the Top 100 Universities for
Arts and Humanities - Ateneo de Manila University (No. 79) and
University of the Philippines (No. 82).
After being placed in four of the 500 slots in the five Top 100
Universities for the five subjects in 2006, Malaysian universities has
been conspicuously missing from
all the five listings of Top 100 Universities for the five categories
for the past two years.
There are over 30 “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.
Universities in the Asia-Pacific region which are in this exclusive
“elite of elites” list include six in Australia, two in China, one each
in Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore and South Korea. 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?
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 Global Universities.
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 200 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. 230 as compared to the
30th 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 last 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.
Kit Siang, DAP
Parliamentary leader & MP for Ipoh Timor