• Not all overseas universities are better, but many clearly are better

    Media Statement by Dr. Ong Kian Ming, MP for Serdang, on the 12th of March, 2015

    Not all overseas universities are better, but many clearly are better

    Bernama reported on the 7th of March that Minister of Education II, Dato’ Seri Idris Jusoh, had asked Malaysian students who do well in their public examinations not to be obsessed about going overseas, because not all overseas universities are better than our local public and private universities.[1]

    I concur with the Minister’s point that not all overseas universities are better than our local public and private universities. But he completely misses the point in that most high performing students want to go overseas not to study in a 3rd rate university, but at world class institutions which by most objective measures would give them a better educational experienced compared to local universities. Can one ask a high performing student to give up a place in a world class university such as Harvard, Cambridge or Oxford in favour of a local university?

    The recently released Times Higher Education World Reputation Rankings 2015 indicates that there are many overseas universities which have a better reputation than our local universities.[2] Not surprisingly, universities from the United States (43) and the United Kingdom (12) dominated the Top 100 university rankings by reputation. Interestingly, 10 Asian universities made it to the Top 100 list including 5 in the top 50 – the University of Tokyo (12), the National University of Singapore (24), Tsinghua University (26), Kyoto University (27) and Peking University (32). No Malaysian university made it to this Top 100 ranking.

    The Minister may respond to these rankings by saying that our local universities cannot be compared to universities in the United States and Europe but among our peers in Asia. But in the Times Higher Education Top 100 Universities in Asia, not a single Malaysian university made it to this list.[3] NUS in Singapore was ranked No. 2 in this list and NTU, also in Singapore, was ranked No. 11. Two universities in Thailand – King Mongkut’s University of Technology, Thonburi (50) and Mahidol University (82) – made it to this list. 10 universities in India, 3 in Saudi Arabia and 3 in Iran were ranked in this top 100 list.

    The Minister may respond to these rankings by saying that most universities in Malaysia are relatively young and cannot compete with the older and more established universities. But the Times Higher Education Top 100 Universities under 50 years of age also does not feature a single Malaysian university.[4] 12 universities in Asia made it to this list including the Pohang University of Science and Technology (1) and the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (3), the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (4), NTU (5), City University of Hong Kong (17), the Sharif University of Technology (27) in Iran and the Hong Kong Polytechnic University (30).

    The Minister may respond to these rankings by saying that Malaysian universities may be better or world class in certain fields such as life sciences or engineering. But sadly, no Malaysian university made it to the Top 100 list of universities by subject ranking – Arts and the Humanities, Clinical & Health, Engineering & Technology, Life Sciences, Physical Sciences and Social Sciences – in the Times Higher Education subject ranking for 2014 & 2015.

    In fact, the only Malaysian university that featured in any Top 100 list in the Times Higher Education university rankings is Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM) which ranked 93 among the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) and Emerging Economies universities.[5]

    I have gone on record to say that we are sometimes too obsessed with university rankings.[6] I do not feel that Idris Jusoh needs to defend the absence of Malaysian universities in the Top 100 lists of the Times Higher Education world university rankings. He is rightly proud of the fact that our local universities have made strides in improving the quality of research and teaching in the recent years, as I am.[7] He is also right to applaud the international reputation which a few Malaysian academics in our public universities have achieved including Professor Dr Abdul Latif Ahmad (USM, School of Chemical Engineering) and Professor Dr Ishak Hashim (UKM, School of Mathematical Sciences). And he should highlight the successful efforts of many local universities in increasing the percentage of their lecturers with PhD qualifications.

    But he should not need university rankings to tell him that our local public and private universities are far from being world class, and that almost all top students prefer to study in world class universities overseas rather than stay in Malaysia. Perhaps that is the ultimate challenge for Idris Jusoh – to improve our local universities to the extent that high performing Malaysian students would prefer to stay home than to go abroad to pursue their university education.

    Dr. Ong Kian Ming
    Member of Parliament for Serdang

    [1] http://m.malaysiakini.com/news/291283

    [2] http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/world-university-rankings/2015/reputation-ranking

    [3] http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/world-university-rankings/2013-14/regional-ranking/region/asia

    [4] http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/world-university-rankings/2014/one-hundred-under-fifty

    [5] http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/world-university-rankings/2015/brics-and-emerging-economies

    [6] http://www.thestar.com.my/Opinion/Online-Exclusive/Im-OK-man/Profile/Articles/2013/11/25/university-rankings/

    [7] http://www.themalaysianinsider.com/sideviews/article/what-it-means-to-be-world-class-idris-jusoh

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