Malaysia’s public universities have dropped completely out of the World University Rankings maintained by the Times of London. Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia was ranked 87th in the top 100 Asian rankings in 2013, but has since fallen out. Not a single Malaysian university made the top 100 Asian rankings.
The collapse of higher education in Malaysia has grown so marked that World Bank economist Dr Frederico Gil Sander recently said the state of the system is more alarming than the country’s considerable public debt. The talent needed to develop the Malaysian economy is not being produced.
It isn’t just the Times survey. Malaysian public universities have also shown mixed results in other surveys like the QS rankings,where three Malaysian universities rose slightly while Universiti Teknologi Malaysia, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, International Islamic Universiti Malaysia, and Universiti Teknologi MARA, all slipped. Not a single Malaysian university made the top 100, According to the QS ranking profiles, Malaysian universities have lost significant ground in academic reputation and tend to be weak in research, with no Malaysian university even reaching the top 400.
Public Universities Vice-Chancellor/Rector Committee chairman Kamarudin Hussin, also vice chancellor of Universiti Malaysia Perlis (Unimap) claims that the ranking methodologies favor older, more established universities. Yet many universities within the top 100 Asian universities were established relatively recently. Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, ranked 7th was established in 1980, Nanyang Technological University, ranked 10th was set up in 1991, and Pohang University of Science and Technology, ranked 11th, was established in 1986.
Even ideologically governed schools better
In addition, a number of universities from countries that are not democratically, governed like Sharif University of Technology (43rd, Iran), Isfahan University of Technology (61, Iran), Iran University of Science and Technology (69), King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals (71, Saudi Arabia), and King Saud University (72, Saudi Arabia), all made the top 100 Asian university rankings last year.
Kamarudin accepts that Malaysian universities have “many issues that must be resolved….(and) there are plenty of oversights that must be fixed”. However, unfortunately, he didn’t mention what they are, or offer any solutions.
Probably the tone Kamarudin used in his article hints at the first problem – the view that authority takes precedence. Kamarudin asserts that academic freedom exists, but should be subject to the views of the so called “majority,” which could be read as authority. In August last year, Kamarudin was one of the strongest opponents of students attending the Bersih 4 rally, threatening disciplinary action such as suspension or even expulsion of students who attended.
Independent thought suppressed
Supressing independent thought is counterproductive to creativity, critical thinking and problem solving, the very mindset that Malaysian universities seek to develop. Among the characteristics required are people who are knowledgeable and have the right to choose.
Malaysian universities begin to lose the plot where their leaders are glorified with unnecessary ceremonies that make a mockery of academia, and tend to dominate the persona of universities, rather than act as facilitators for people to excel.
This leads to unnecessary expenses such as lavish dinners with highly paid entertainers to celebrate this or that event, this award or that. Some of these dinners are very extravagant, costing up to hundreds of thousands of ringgit. Vice chancellors make lavish trips both domestically and internationally, with no apparent benefit to the universities except for MOUs that are never acted upon.
This is in a time when university budgets are being slashed, the minister has directed university management to be frugal and seek funds outside government allocations.
The waste goes much further. The Malaysian Auditor General’s 2012 report, for instance, cited Universiti Malaysia Sabah’s (UMS) mishandling of its computerized maintenance management system. After the university spent RM400,000 between 2008 and 2012, the auditor general found that data was not keyed into the system and the person responsible for managing the system had no IT knowledge.
The cost of three building projects ballooned 8.9 percent at Universiti Tun Hussein Onn Malaysia (UTHM) due to delays and inexperience of the contractor.