The second Mahathir education review committee should lay a solid foundation for Malaysian universities to be in the same league as the world's top universities such as Harvard, Yale, Oxford or Cambridge
by Lim Kit Siang
(Penang, Monday): Two news items in the Malaysian press in the past two days should focus attention on the urgent need to get serious about national efforts to establish Malaysia as a regional educational centre of academic excellence which had so far been all talk but no action.
The first was the proposal by the Universiti Teknologi Malaysia vice chancellor Professor Datuk Dr. Zulkifli Mohd. Ghazali in the Mingguan Malaysia interview yesterday for the introduction of the concept of the “elite university” to bring together the best students and the best professors to create an university of international distinction and repute.
Zulkifli’s interview is in fact an admission that Malaysia has failed in the objective to become an educational centre of academic excellence, particularly for tertiary education, and why the call by the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad in August this year for Malaysian universities to be in the same league as the world’s top universities such as Harvard, Yale, Oxford or Cambridge remains a tall and increasingly impossible order.
In the sixties, there was no dispute that the University of Malaya belonged to the top international league of universities, but although it is still regarded as the cream of local universities, it is no more recognized as belonging to the international cream of universities.
In the Asiaweek’s 2000 ranking of Best Universities in the region, University of Malaya occupied the lowly and humiliating No. 47 position out of 77 universities, suffering a precipitate and unchecked fall from the 11th ranking in the first year of the Asiaweek survey in 1997, sliding to No.33 in 1998, improving slightly to No. 27 before plunging to the 47th place.
Two other Malaysian universities made it to the Asiaweek 2000 ranking of Best Universities in the region – Universiti Putra Malaysia (No. 52) and Universiti Sains Malaysia (No. 57).
The top 12 Best Universities (with multi-disciplinary schools) in the Asiaweek 2000 ranking were:
Asiaweek in 2000 also had a separate ranking for “Science and Technology Schools” where Malaysia’s sole mention, Universiti Teknologi Malaysia, was ranked 30th out of 39 universities/institutes – with the first 10 headed by:
In the Asiaweek 2000 ranking of the Best MBA Schools in the region, Malaysia’s top MBA school, the Faculty of Business and Accountancy in University of Malaya was ranked a lowly 32rd place among the top 50 MBA schools – worse than its counterparts in all other Asian countries including Pakistan (Lahore University of Management Sciences – No. 23) and only slightly above Bangladesh, whose Institute of Business of Administration, University of Dhaka occupied 35th placing.
The top 10 MBA schools in the survey were:
A look at these and other surveys gives an alarming picture of how far we have fallen behind other countries in the region in the academic excellence and international reputation of tertiary institutions that Malaysians must wake up to the full-blown crisis about the quality of Malaysian university education.
The second news item which attracted attention appeared in the Sin Chew Jit Poh today which reported that Dr. Su Guaning, an alumnus from Chung Hua Chinese school, Muar has been appointed the new President of the National Technological University (NTU) in Singapore from January 1 next year.
Su, 52, was chosen from 150 candidates from the United States, Europe and the Asia-Pacific in a seven-month world-wide search for the new President of the NTU which was ranked No. 9 in the Asiaweek 2000 Survey of Best Universities in the “Science and Technology School” category because of his “global talent to lead a world-class university to greater heights”.
The thought that comes to mind is whether Su would have been able to head one of the public universities in Malaysia if he had completed his primary education in Chung Hua in Muar as well as the rest of his secondary and tertiary education in Malaysia – or whether he would be another Professor Wang Gung Wu whose talents and abilities are only recognized internationally outside the country, including his appointment as Vice Chancellor of the University of Hong Kong, ranked the third best university in the region by Asiaweek’s 2000 survey.
The very fact that not a single Malaysian Chinese or Indian had ever been appointed as a Vice Chancellor in any one of the public universities in Malaysia , not for lack of qualified candidates, is a basic flaw in the strategy to transform Malaysia into a regional educational centre of academic excellence.
The second Mahathir education review committee to review the entire national education system should address urgently one of the greatest educational challenges of the 21st century by laying a solid foundation for Malaysian universities to be in the same league as the world's top universities such as Harvard, Yale, Oxford or Cambridge.
At present, the second Mahathir education review committee has neither legality nor legitimacy, as the decision for its establishment had been made by the UMNO Supreme Council on November 29 and it was never brought to the Cabinet for full discussion and decision.
There should be the fullest public discussion on the proper terms of reference and composition of the second Mahathir education review committee, including how to lay a solid foundation for Malaysian universities to become educational centres of international distinction and repute.
* Lim Kit Siang, DAP National Chairman