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Which is the Malaysian premier university? Nobody knows and this is a big shame as it is caused not by competition by universities to be the best but to avoid the bigger plunge in international rankings!

Speech at DAP Petaling Jaya Dinner          
by Lim Kit Siang  

(Petaling Jaya, Tuesday): Which is the Malaysian premier university? Nobody knows and this is a big shame as it is caused not by competition by universities to be the best but to avoid the bigger plunge in international rankings.

Is it University of Malaya?

Until two years ago, there was no dispute if University of Malaya claimed to be the nation’s premier university – a position it had occupied unchallenged for over three decades.

It was also internationally recognized as the premier university in Malaysia as reflected by the 2004 and 2005 Times Higher Education Supplement (THES) World Universities Rankings for Top 200 Universities, being positioned No. 89 and 169th slots respectively.

However, it was toppled from the pedestal by Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) when UKM beat University of Malaya in the 2006 THES ranking, placed No. 185 as compared to the 192nd position for University of Malaya.

Is it UKM then?

UKM’s placing on the top of the university pole in the country lasted one short year as in the 2007 THES Top 200 Universities ranking, UKM plunged a shocking 124 places from No. 185 to No. 309, not only behind University of Malaya’s No. 246 but also Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) which is placed No. 307.

Furthermore, in the recent government ranking for public universities, both UKM and University of Malaya was ranked behind USM, the sole university to be placed on the five-star Outstanding Category, with no university rated for the top-rung Excellent Category.

Is it then USM, to lay claim to be the nation’s best university?

Not so, although in the 2004 THES ranking, USM was rated among the Top 200 Universities when placed No. 111, but it plunged 215 places to No. 326 ranking in 2005, 277 in 2006 and 307 in 2007.

With no single university currently able to lay claim as the nation’s premier university, this sad state of affairs is a reflection of the very troubled public university sector.

May be this confusion awaits resolution when a private higher education institution establishes its claim as the nation’s premier university, better than anyone of the public universities – especially as the Chinese government has recognized 43 private universities and colleges as compared to only seven for public universities.

One aspect which had been overlooked in the latest THES Top 200 Universities ranking is that Malaysia is losing out badly in the international competition for excellence, not only to universities of developed nations but even those of developing nations.

Thailand, for instance, has established its superiority in university excellence to Malaysia when for three consecutive years, Chulalongkorn University of Thailand beat Malaysian universities in the THES ranking – 121 in 2005, 161 in 2006 and 223 in 2007 as compared to Malaysia’s best of 169 in 2005 (University of Malaya), 185 in 2006 (UKM) and 246 in 2007 (University of Malaya).

Also for the first time in the THES Top Universities Ranking, Malaysia has lost out to three other third-world nations, viz.


University of Sao Paulo - No. 175

University of Campinas - No. 177


Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico - No. 192

South Africa

University of Cape Town - No. 200

The only way to restore Malaysia’s pre-eminence in university excellence is to end the policy of mediocrity and its replacement by a policy of meritocracy, with the recruitment of the best students and lecturers for each university coupled with an affirmative policy not based on race but on socio-economic needs.

Otherwise, Malaysian universities will continue to be left more and more behind other countries, including from third-world countries, in the global race for university excellence.


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

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