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Just as Vice Chancellors must be held responsible for the poor rankings of their universities, Higher Education Minister Mustapha must also bear personal responsibility for the dismal international ranking of Malaysian universities

Spech at DAP Bukit Bendera Dinner           
by Lim Kit Siang  

(Penang, Saturday): Just as Vice Chancellors must be held responsible for the poor rankings of their universities, the Higher Education Minister, Datuk Mustapha Mohamad must bear personal responsibility for the dismal international ranking of Malaysian universities - particularly for Malaysia falling completely out of the list of the world’s Top 200 Universities this year in the 2007 Times Higher Education Supplement (THES)-Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) World University Rankings.

I find it scandalous that the shocking fall of the ranking of Malaysian universities THES-QS 2007 World Top 200 Universities was totally ignored by last week’s UMNO General Assembly, whether by UMNO delegates or leaders, although the 2007 THES-QS rankings were revealed when the UMNO General Assembly was in session.

This shows the superficiality of the commitment of UMNO leaders to the slogan of “Cemerlang, Gemilang and Terbilang” and to transform Malaysia into a knowledge-based innovative economy marked by a world-class university system.

Further details and studies have shown that Malaysian universities have suffered a very serious drop in the international league of the world’s best universities, virtually undergoing a free fall when compared to other Top Universities.

For the first time, there is not a single university in the Top 200 Universities list.

Both Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) and Universiti Malaya (UM) had fell out of the Top 200 Universities ranking, with UKM plunging from 185th slot last year to 309th while University of Malaya plunged from 89th in 2004 to 169th in 2005, 192nd in 2006 to 246th in 2007. Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM), which was ranked as the only “outstanding” five-star university in a recent government survey, fell to 307th spot from 277 last year. In 2005, USM was in the 326th spot.

But this is not the only dismal result for Malaysian universities in the THES-QS 2007 ranking. Also for the first time, there is not a single Malaysian university in the separate listing of Top 100 Universities for five subject areas – Natural Sciences, Social Sciences, Arts and Humanities; Life Sciences and Biomedicine; and Engineering and Information Technology.

Last year Malaysia was placed in four of the 500 slots in the five Top 100 Universities for the five subjects - University of Malaya ranked 49 in Social Sciences and 95 in Natural Sciences, UKM No. 62 in Natural Sciences and USM at No. 96 for Life Sciences and Biomedicine.

This year, Malaysia was completely excluded in all the five listings of Top 100 Universities for the five categories.

There are 38 “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. The country breakdown and details for these 38 “elite of elite” universities are:

United States - 15
United Kingdom - 4
Australia - 6
Canada - 5
China - 2
Japan - 2
S. Korea - 1
Taiwan - 1
Spore - 1
Hong Kong - 1
Total - 38

United States – (Ranking in Top 200 Universities in bracket)

Harvard (1)
Yale (2)
Princeton (6)
Chicago (7)
MIT (10)
Columbia (11)
John Hopkins (15)
Stanford (19)
Carnegie Mellon (20)
Cornell (20)
California, Berkeley (22)
Brown (32)
Boston (47)
Texas at Austin (51)
Illinois (73)

United Kingdom

Oxford (2)
Cambridge (2)
UCL (University College London) (9)
Edinburgh (23)


McGill (12)
British Columbia (33)
Toronto (45)
Montreal (93)
McMaster (108)


ANU (16)
Melbourne (27)
Sydney (31)
Queensland (33)
Monash (43)
New South Wales (44)


Tokyo (17)
Kyoto (25)

Hong Kong

Hong Kong (18)


National University of Singapore (33)


Peking (36)
Tsinghua (40)

South Korea

Seoul National (51)


National Taiwan (102)

I am very surprised that the Higher Education Minister, who is currently on a visit to universities in China, had asked the Chinese government to recognize more Malaysian universities and colleges for two reasons.

It was news to me and to most Malaysians that China has recognized 50 institutions in the public and private sector in Malaysia – 7 IPTAs (public institutions of higher learning) and 43 IPTSs (private institutions). This is a clear indicator that public universities in the country are losing out in terms of academic excellence and international recognition to private institutions.

Secondly, the Chinese government has recognizing more Malaysian universities and colleges than the Chinese universities and colleges recognized by the Malaysian government – when many Chinese universities are internationally recognized for their academic merit and excellence while Malaysian universities have disappeared from the international radar of academic excellence.

In the 2007 THES-QS World Top 200 University Rankings, six Chinese universities were ranked but not a single one from Malaysia.

The six Chinese universities are:

  36. Peking University
  40. Tsinghua University
  85. Fudan University
125. Nanjing University
155. University of Science and Technology of China
163. Shanghai Jiao Tong University

China has two universities, Peking University and Tsinghua University, which are among the 38 “elite of elite” universities, as they are also listed in all the Top 100 Universities in all five different categories.

Altogether, Chinese universities occupy 21 spots in the 500 slots in the five Top 100 Universities for five categories – but Malaysia does not recognize anyone of them although we do not occupy a single spot in the 500 slots for the five lists of Top 100 Universities.

Malaysia even refuses to accord recognition to the degrees of Peking University and Tsinghua University, two of the “elite of elites” universities as the Malaysian government only recognizes their degrees for Chinese language studies.

Details of the 21 spots occupied by Chinese universities in the five Top 100 lists are:

• 6 in the Top 100 Life Sciences & Biomedicine (Peking 18, Tsinghua 51, Fudan 52, Nanjing 78, Science and Technology of China 84 and Shanghai Jiao Tong 92);

• 5 in the Top 100 Natural Sciences (Peking 15, Tsinghua 34, Science and Technology of China 40, Nanjing 76 and Fudan 80);

• 4 in the Top 100 Engineering & IT (Tsinghua 16, Peking 36, Science and Technology of China 49 and Shanghai Jiao Tong 55);

• 3 in the Top 100 Social Sciences – (Peking 23, Tsinghua 44 and Fudan 62); and

• 3 in the Top 100 Arts & Humanities – (Peking 18, Fudan 45 and Tsinghua 91).

Why has the Malaysian government not recognized these internationally-acclaimed Chinese universities for their world-class degrees and courses, when Malaysia does not have any equivalent whatsoever?

It is most strange and extraordinary that a country which has dropped out of world-class university rankings is asking for more recognition for its universities from another country with universities of international repute but which it has refused to recognize?

The Malaysian government should promptly and forthwith recognize all the degrees of Chinese universities which are internationally-recognized as among the world’s top universities, and not just the Chinese Language Studies of four Chinese universities, before we can righteously ask China for more recognition of Malaysian universities by Chinese government.

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 213 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. 246 as compared to the 33rd 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 Prime Minister and the Cabinet should 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.


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

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