Muhyiddin should initiate a review to end the policy of boycott of UM and UKM in the annual THE World University Rankings to demonstrate our seriousness in wanting to restore the international reputation and academic excellence of Malaysian universities

For the third day in succession, the Barisan Nasional owned/controlled mainstream mass media has maintained a blanket of silence on the Times Higher Education (THE) World University Rankings 2014 in tandem with the Education Minister, Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin and Barisan Nasional leaders also going dumb on the latest world’s Top Universities Ranking because of the shame and disgrace of not a single Malaysian university able to crack a placing among the Top 400 Universities listing for the fifth consecutive year.

This is a most strange and abnormal international behaviour, for in the past three days in countries which realize the critical importance of education in determining the future of their economies, the THE World University Rankings 2014 released on Thursday had dominated the public domain and debates, with their mass media and public opinion leaders either celebrating the success of their universities or lamenting their setbacks in the latest THE Top 400 University rankings.

For instance, while the US and UK media reported on the continued dominance of their universities in the Top 400 Universities Ranking, they also warned that “Western leading universities risk declining, Asian institutes keep rising in new rankings”.

Similarly while Australian media take pride in not only having world-class universities but a world-class university system, they worry whether such world standards could be maintained with the full deregulation of tuition fees underway in its radical reform programme, as reflected in headlines like “Australian universities rise in world rankings but report questions proposed tertiary education reforms”.

Other world headlines of the THE World University Rankings 2014 include: “World university rankings show 'power shift' from US and UK towards Far East”;

“Canadian universities slide down world ranking scale”;

“Fewer Dutch universities in latest Times Ed ranking”;

“Indian universities fail to make it to top 200 of Times list”;

“Moscow State University Ranks in Top-200 on Times' University List”;

“Four Israeli universities ranked in world’s top 300”;

“South Africa’s best universities”.

The Education Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin should stop all this “make believe” about Malaysia’s prowess as an educational superpower and should initiate a review of the policy to end the boycott of University of Malaya (UM) and Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) in the annual THE World University Rankings to demonstrate our seriousness in wanting to restore the international reputation and academic excellence of Malaysian universities.

No good reason has been given as to why UM and UKM have refused to participate in the annual THE World University Rankings exercise.

Muhyiddin must tell the University of Malaya Vice Chancellor Professor Datuk Dr. Mohd Amin Jalaludin that his argument that the university has not participated in the THE rankings because the UM is not yet in a strong enough financial position to compete with other richer, older and better-ranked universities until 2018 does not hold water and is completely unacceptable.

In fact, out of the nine South Korean universities in the THE Top 400 University Rankings, Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) ranked No. 51 was founded in 1971, Pohang University of Science and Technology (Postech) ranked No.66 was founded in 1986 while Korea University, ranked No. 201-225, was founded in 1993.

Sungkyunkwan University (SKKU), ranked No. 148, has as its Mission Statement the objective to become by 2020 “a global leading university in the Asia top 10 and global top 50”!

Equally instructive are the Hong Kong universities, with five of its six universities in Top 400 formed after the University of Malaya. They are Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, ranked 51, founded in 1991; Chinese University of Hong Kong, ranked No. 129, founded in 1963; City University of Hong Kong, ranked No. 192, founded in 1984; Hong Kong Polytechnic University, ranked 201-225, elevated to university status in 1994 and Hong Kong Baptist University, ranked No. 301-350, founded in 1956.

I can still vividly remember that some ten years ago, University of Malaya was in a celebratory mood when it was ranked No. 169 in the THE-QS World University Ranking 2005, although it had fallen 80 places from the previous ranking of 89th in the 2004 listing.

The then University of Malaya Vice Chancellor launched a three-phase media blitzkrieg campaign to celebrate UM’s fall in 80 places, though still within the Top 200 Universities at the time, viz:

  • The first phase of what I had at the time described as the “Seven Billboards of Shame and Dishonour” where the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister and the Higher Education Minister were drafted by the then VC to celebrate UM’s 80-point fall from 89th to 169th position in the Top 200 Universities Ranking.
  • The second phase of 150 banners/buntings hung on lamp-posts in the campus to celebrate UM’s “achievements” in the THES World University Ranking 2005;
  • The third phase when tens of thousands of leaflets, 37 cm by 37 cm, flooded the campus, whether residential colleges or faculties, reproducing an article by VC in the local media extolling UM’s “achievements” in the THES World University Ranking 2005.

Unless there can be good and proper reasons, which should be fully made public, Muhyiddin should ensure that UM and UKM participate in the annual THE Top 400 World University Rankings.

Lim Kit Siang DAP Parliamentary Leader & MP for Gelang Patah