Despite the massive public outcry and the near daily protests in our local print media, Kapten Datuk Professor Dr Hashim Yaacob remains steadfastly stoic and belligerent. The fall in UM's rankings in the world university rankings table compiled by The Times Higher Education Supplement (THES) has demonstrated the UM vice-chancellor to be a recalcitrant. On Sunday, the vice-chancellor put up two simultaneous full-page advertorials in both the Sunday Star as well as the New Sunday Times (NST) to defend Universiti Malaya in the face of heavy criticism, without any hint of admission of weakness or wrong.
In a black and white advertorial which was entitled "UM - Worthy of Our Pride", with the picture of Dewan Tunku Canselor Hall of Fame taking up some 30% of the ad, the vice-chancellor wrote a lengthy "treatise" in small fonts to argue why UM doesn't at all deserve the criticism levelled at her, but should instead be 'praised' to high heavens. Here are the gist of his arguments (many of which were rehashed from earlier statements). Judge for yourselves if they deserve your high praise, and whether it was worth spending some RM30,000 of the university funds to publish them.
1. There are over 30,000 institutions of higher learning in the world. The VC argues that the fact that THES judged UM to be ranked 169th is an achievement in itself. He continues to harp on the fact that UM did commendably well in the 3 faculties of Arts and Humanities, Biomedicine and Social Sciences.
What the VC fails to tell you is that THES only evaluated some 500 universities to compile this rankings table, not 30,000. The Shanghai Jiaotong University (SJTU) world rankings table instead looked at more than 2,000 universities and UM is no where found in the Top 500 rankings list.
The only little credit I would give the vice-chancellor is the rankings achieved by the respective faculties appearing in the Top 100 list. But this "achievement" should not blind the university to all the other major failings and criticisms highlighted by the public, media and academics alike.
2. He pursued his argument that UM 'improved' technically, having increased her point collection from 16.6 to 23.5, despite the drop in rankings. He even has the cheek to state that:
Throughout 2004, I have stressed on the importance of marks rather than position as a measure of prestige. I have often emphasized on the importance of increasing our marks every year because this is something we can work on unlike the position which depends on the abilities of other universities that are assessed and the greater human and financial resources available in the more developed countries.The VC repeated the same argument during his opening speech during the "talk" by QS QuacquarelliSymonds at UM on Monday, which was labelled as a "let-down" by the Sun. Nuncio Quacquarelli, the guest speaker must have been amused by the VC's argument but was just too polite to refute the VC's statements.
The VC is wrong on so many counts here. As elaborated in my earlier post, the marks comparison between last year and this year is like comparing oranges to tangerines (not totally different, but significantly so). The manner in which the marks were compiled, normalised and measured is sufficiently different to make the comparison of absolute scores meaningless.
Secondly, throughout the past year, I have never once seen or read a speech, statement or publication by Universiti Malaya claiming that they were more concerned with the points achieved and not the rankings. When the VC nodded his head to Deputy Prime Minister's challenge to improve UM's rankings to Top 50 in the world by 2010, he has implicitly acknowledged the "importance" of the rankings. When he put up the various billboards and banners around the campus, it was always about the Top 100 rankings achievement. And when UM placed the centennial celebrations advertisement in the NST as late as September this year, it teased the public to look out for the latest rankings to be published soon. Never in any of his speeches or press interviews I have read (and I have unfortunately read quite a few), has the VC placed any emphasis or even a casual mention on marks instead of position.
And thirdly, by arguing that we should not be comparing ourselves to other institutions of developed countries is like saying that we should always be comparing ourselves with universities from some of the poorer countries in Africa. Is that the visionary mentality of a vice-chancellor of Malaysia's most prestigious university? How about the fact that Chulalongkorn University of Thailand outperformed UM this year?
3. The VC spent approximately half his "treatise" exploring the methodology used by THES (I wonder why he didn't do this last year) to justify that despite the skewed methodology that favours Western countries, "UM, to its credit has still managed to be still in the list of the world's best 200 universities."
Let me concede that certain aspects of the methodology, such as the Recruiter Review which constitutes 10% of overall scores are poorly conducted, and it may just be detrimental to UM rankings. However, flaws in methodologies can work both ways - and the UM VC has not been intellectually honest or competent enough to recognise that.
While the THES world universities rankings table has been the focus of the debate on the state of the affairs in the local institutions of higher learning, the objective of the focus is to bring the underlying problems at our varsities to the forefront. I am certain that Kian Ming (who has hinted similarly in his previous posts) and myself will be more than able to statistically demonstrate that the methodology used by THES to derive the Peer Review score (which makes up 40% of total score) is very much skewed towards encompassing more universities from different parts of the world into the list, than these universities possibly deserves.
Purely from an empirical perspective, this is one major reason why there are significantly more universities from the Latin America, Asia and Australia appearing (and are placed higher) in the Top 200 of the THES rankings list as opposed to the SJTU list. We strongly believe that adjusting the peer review score to cater for the inherent statistical bias towards universities in less developed regions, will actually produce an even lower ranking for UM, very likely out of the Top 200 altogether.
4. In the last part of his "treatise", the VC sought to demonstrate the fall in the rankings as nothing serious, and a 169th position as very credible but making references to many other universities (it's an amazing list) which also fell in the rankings table as well as other universities which didn't get ranked.
I shall not dwell on the details of the list. But once again, the VC has made it his mantra to always console himself by comparing his own achievements against those who have fallen, and those who are worse than him. The VC doesn't have the visionary capacity to compare himself to other universities which has improved significantly or remained top performers. The way the VC reacts, even if UM were to fall out of the Top 200 universities next year, he will compare UM's fate with all the other universities which also did not make it to the list, and argue that UM's still in great company.
The VC concluded his "treatise" with the following:
With its position as one of the Top 200 universities in the world, one of the top 100 universities in the Arts and Humanities, Social Sciences and Biomedicine categories as well as the improvement in marks achieved in 2005 compared to 2004, we can be confident that UM has indeed fared better in the last one year. UM is worthy of our pride!And my skin is crawling. Vice Chancellor Kapten Datuk Professor Dr Hashim Yaakob is proving to be a reactionary worthy of a seat in the Politburo of Leonid Brezhnev of the old Soviet Union. What a disappointing man.