Media Statement (2) by Lim Kit Siang in Petaling Jaya on Thursday, 9th October 2008: 

Malaysia falling completely out of THES-QS World Top 200 Universities in second consecutive year – another falling domino to testify country’s deteriorating competitiveness

In his press statement to announce his decision to step down as Prime Minister next March, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi spoke of the initiatives to “regain our country’s competitiveness” which are “necessary to enable our nation and our society to face the challenges that the world has in store for us”.

But in actual fact, under his five-year premiership, one domino after another of our national and international competitiveness has been collapsing one after another.

Two weeks ago, one such falling domino was Malaysia’s ranking on the Transparency International Corruption Perception Index 2008 which plunged to No. 47 placing, a fall of ten places from No. 37 in 2007.

Another domino has collapsed today when it is revealed that for the second consecutive year, Malaysia has fallen completely out of THES-QS 2008 World Top 200 Universities – further testimony of the country’s deteriorating competitiveness.

Two years ago, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) and Universiti Malaya (UM) were listed at the tail-end of the Top 200 in the THES-QS 2006 ranking, and I had repeatedly warned both in and out of Parliament that Malaysia risked being pushed out of the 200 Top Universities ranking unless there was the political will to check brain-drain and restore meritocracy and excellence to Malaysian academia.

It gives me no satisfaction but extreme sadness to see my dire prediction come true – in two consecutive years in succession.

UKM was ranked 185th in 2006, the only time it appeared in the THES-QS chart.

UM, once the nation’s premier university, has a sorry tale of continuous decline. It was ranked among the world’s top 100 universities in 2004 at 89th position, fell to 169th in 2005 and 192nd placing in 2006.

Have Malaysian universities fallen into the “black hole” of international university competitiveness stakes, unable to prove their academic quality, excellence and worth in the international arena?

At the University of Malaya’s centennial celebrations in June 2005, Deputy Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Najib Razak threw the challenge to University of Malaya to raise its then 89th position among the world’s top 100 universities in THES ranking to 50 by the year 2020.

Instead of accepting Najib’s challenge with incremental improvement of its THES ranking, the premier university went into a free fall for two years followed by completely disappearing from the Top 200 Universities ranking in the past two years.

Clearly, Najib and government leaders did not realize or know that the rot in academic excellence and quality of the nation’s premier university had become so deep and septic that far from being able to become the World’s Top 50 Universities, it was to plunge completely out of the Top 200 Universities chart in the past two years.

After he became Prime Minister, Abdullah called for a “education revolution” to achieve world-class universities in Malaysia.

This is another dismal failure of the Abdullah premiership as totally lacking was the political will to carry out such an “education revolution” to liberate our universities from the culture of mediocrity and free lecturers and students from the fetters strangling academic freedom and student idealism.

Malaysians are not asking our public universities to scale new heights never achieved before – but to restore the academic eminence, standards, excellence and quality which University of Malaya had enjoyed in the sixties and even the seventies.

If Australia can have seven universities among the top 100 Universities, Japan four, Hong Kong three, Singapore two, China two and South Korea two, why can’t Malaysia have at least one or two among the Top 100?

National University of Singapore is ranked No. 30, while Nanyang Technological University of Singapore No. 77. What must be more mortifying is Thailand’s Chulalongkorn University is ranked No. 166.

When will Malaysia’s leaders wake up from the slumber and realise that Malaysia has been losing out in the competitiveness stakes and risk being relegated to the “stragglers” instead of the “achievers” in the global society?

If Abdullah’s call for an education revolution is not to end up as another empty slogan, the government must confront and resolve the continuing crisis of higher education standards by elevating meritocracy as the primary criteria for all public universities – from appointment and promotion of academicians to university student intake.

There should be an immediate end to the divisive and fraudulent system of meritocracy for student intake by introducing only one common university entrance examination, whether it be STPM or matriculation.

Furthermore, Malaysian universities should give top priority to academic excellence which should not be compromised by non-academic considerations.

It is most ridiculous for instance that University of Malaya, unranked, refuses to recognize the degrees of Beijing University, ranked No. 50 Tsing Hua University ranked No. 56 in THES 2008 Ranking of the world’s Top 200 universities.

* Lim Kit Siang,  DAP Parliamentary leader & MP for Ipoh Timor