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Thursday, 24 December 2015

Malaysian public research universities using short-cut measures to achieve world-class recognition

Other ways to achieve world-class recognition

I WAS bewildered by the news that some public research universities intend to increase their intake of foreign students so that they can achieve the so-called world-class university status.

This is a misguided strategy that, if followed through, will be done at the expense of local, especially non-bumiputra, students whose places would be taken up by the foreigners.

Take a look at the National University of Singapore, a top-10 university in Asia and top-50 in the world. It has only 8% to 10% foreign students whereas Universiti Teknologi Malaysia has 20%.

My point is increasing the intake of foreign students in our public universities to 10% and above is not a compulsory requirement to attain world-class university status.

I do not deny that a developing nation like Malaysia still needs to import foreign talents but they must be brilliant people and not just the average Joe.

Reduce the intake and tighten the screening process to accept smart foreign students only.

Efforts to attain world-class status should be focused on research and development, rate of journal citation, efficiency of teaching staff and facilities, academic freedom, etc.

Let’s stop using short-cut measures to score full marks in the foreign student category.

I strongly urge public universities and the Education Ministry to fix the foreign student quota to no more than 10% and re-allocate precious tertiary education resour­ces to local people who are paying tax to the Government.

By doing this, we can also reduce the chronic problem of brain drain.

NKKHOO Cheras The Star

Stop using short-cut measures

WE share NK Khoo’s sentiments regarding some public research universities intentionally increasing the intake of foreign students to achieve “world-class university” status in, “Other ways to achieve world-class recognition”.

It is good that over the past few years the Government has been serious and determined in improving the global university ranking and upgrading tertiary education of our public universities.

It is however unfortunate that in their eagerness to satisfy the ranking companies, we have seen some of the public universities sacrificing the quality of education as a whole and using their limited resources to earn “easy” points on certain measures, such as the QS World University Ranking’s “International faculty ratio” and “Student-to-faculty ratio”.

For instance, University of Malaya (UM) and Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM) have shown a significant improvement in ranking in the “Student-to-faculty ratio” and “International faculty ratio” measurements. In the former criteria, UM and UTM had respectively climbed to 58th and 143rd in 2015, from 86th and 203rd in 2013 respectively.

There are also good signs of improvement in the latter criteria with UM and UTM ranked at 167th and 193rd in 2015, respectively.

The irony is that with these improvements in “ratio”, it still falls short in claiming graduates who are “good quality graduates” in our public universities in the last three years.

The QS surveys’ have seen declining “Employer reputation” (employers were asked to identify universities that they consider best for recruiting graduates) and “Academic reputation” (academics were asked to identify the institutions where they believe the best workplace is) of these universities in the last three years.

For UM, these “reputation” measurements have been declining from 200th (2013) to 246th (2015) for “Employer reputation”, and 184th (2013) to 175th (2015) for “Academic reputation”.

Given that the above “reputation” indicators are measured using QS global surveys, that drew responses from thousands of experienced stakeholders worldwide, it indicates the dire need for the leading public universities in Malaysia to catch up to earn their reputation professionally and internationally.

Further, one possible explanation for such a negative correlation between “reputation” and “faculty ratio” measurements is that these rankings by “ratio” do not reflect the actual quality of some of the academic staff hired by the universities.

The counter argument would be that investing taxpayers money into upgrading rankings is good in improving higher education, but should not be done at the expense of the teaching quality.

For comparison, the leading Singaporean university, the National University of Singapore (NUS) has shown positive correlation between “reputation” and “ratio” measurements. With “Employer reputation” ranked at world No. 9, its “Student-to-faculty ratio” is ranked even lower than UM, at 67th.

As compared to UM, with a relatively higher number of students per academic staff, NUS still managed to produce much better quality graduates who earned a high reputation from employers globally.

To emulate NUS’ experience, more autonomy to the administration and management of our public universities could possibly address the underlying problems.

For instance, a better and fairer reward scheme for high performance faculties, strict replacement system for under-performing staff, as well as ensuring that only truly qualified candidates enter public universities, would potentially help to improve accountability, effective work culture and reputation of tertiary education in Malaysian public universities.

As these universities are highly subsidised by the Government, it must be worthy of the money paid by the taxpayers. To this effect, the Government plays an important role in providing necessary support such as academic freedom and autonomy to public universities, and eradicating hurdles and constraints that restrain public universities’ improvements, particularly in teaching and research.

On the other hand, despite the shortcomings and flaws of all existing university ranking systems, results of comparisons between universities can still serve, to a certain extent, as indicators to gauge the international reputation of a university.

Some of these ranking measurements are useful for policy makers and academics to collectively improve the standard of tertiary education in Malaysia.

BK SONG and TINA NEIK Subang Jaya The Star

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