1. Claim the exact opposite!
And do it with a straight face. Yes, our Universiti Malaya vice-chancellor (VC), Prof Datuk Dr Hashim Yaakob maintained that its performance "has improved despite falling from 89th to 169th spot in a ranking of the world's top 200 universities compiled by The Times Higher Education Supplement (THES). This was reported in Bernama yesterday evening.
2. Dig deep for silver linings, and harp on it!
"UM is ranked among the 100 best universities in the arts and humanities category at number 45, social sciences at 83 and bio medicine at 82."
Yes, the above is true and you can see the individual tables here. Although there are plenty of doubters out there, UM did well to secure the top 100 placement for the above faculties. However, you can expect the UM VC to continue to harp on the above to drown the criticisms raised on the drastic "fall" in UM rankings.
One must wonder, why is it that having ranked "top 100" in 3 of 5 faculties, did UM perform so poorly on the overall rankings table? The answer is simple. For the overall rankings, THES takes into consideration several other factors such as "Recruiter Review", "International Faculty & Student", "Faculty Student ratio" and "Citations" score. These other factors contribute to a whole 60% in terms of weightage.
Without taking into consideration these other important factors (to varying degrees), UM actually performed credibly overall in terms of "peer review", ranking joint 77th-85th. Well, if the UM VC reads this blog, he'll probably harp on this point as well :)
To put "Peer review" into perspective, it's sort of a "who's who" rankings survey of academics. Hence, UM performed credibly in this criteria by having certain prominent academics cited by his/her peers. However, this doesn't do the university any good, if the number of students he has to teach is too big, which results in a weak "faculty student ratio" score. Hence a universities' ranking should not be based entirely on the "peer review" score, as rightly tabulated by THES.
3. When all else fails, clutch at straws
This one is quite funny (well, to me anyway). The UM VC claimed that the survey by "the newspaper showed the university's overall score had increased to 23.5 from 16.6 last year."
Numerically speaking, the UM VC is correct in adjusting last years' score of 166.4/1000 to 16.6/100 for comparison against 23.5/100 this year. However, what has not been taken into consideration is the fact that the 23.5 score was achieved with a "moved" goalpost this year as opposed to last year. Comparisons are hence definitely inaccurate and meaningless without understanding the underlying changes in methodology and normalisation.
A clear indication of how the scores tabulated has changed between last year and this year, is in the way the "peer review" score was derived. Statisticians will easily spot the difference by identifying the major difference in the steepness of the curve between last year and this year. For example the normalised peer review score in 2004, had a 80 points (out of 100) difference between the 1st and the 32nd university, whereas this year, it takes 166 universities to make the same 80 points difference. Given reasonable assumptions - that universities throughout the world don't change so drastically over 1 year - THES has definitely changed the way they calculated the peer review scores - rendering our UM VC's claim as ----. (Those interested in discussing details of the above, can always email me).
The UM VC has either shown himself to be dishonest in his usage of statistics to portray an "improved" status or has very poor analytical skills in deciphering data. Either way, he has portrayed Universiti Malaya and its administration in extremely poor light.
So, what next, Prof Datuk Dr?
Given that he is able to "read" tables comparing last year's 166.4/1000 score against this year's 23.5/100 score, I'm certain the VC is fully capable of comparating the scores of the other indicators as well.
For example, why did the VC not highlight the drop in the international student score from 68/100 to 7/100, as well as the international faculty score from 29/100 to 12/100? This is likely to be the simplest comparison which will provide the most straightforward answer to UM's lofty rankings in the previous year's table.
You know what? I actually think that in "real terms", UM did indeed improve its rankings. This is because, in "real terms", UM never made it to the Top 200 list for 2004. By doing a simple replacement of the international student and faculty scores with this year's numbers (7 and 12), this will have resulted in a final score of 86.6 for the previous year. That would have meant it would have been out of the list as the 200th ranked university had a score of 102.9. Hence, UM managed to "improve" it's rankings from outside 200 to 169th due to a better peer review score this year.
It's just "sad", to quote our Prime Minister, and too bad that our university administrators will never face up to the courage of admitting that their "achievement" last year was on the back of spurious data. After all they have spent so much effort and funds to publicise their "world-class" achievements, it must be too "malu" for them to say otherwise now.
As a result, instead of celebrating our entry into the Top 200 universities for the first time, the relevant parties are spending much time over outright denial and clutching at straws.
The UM's motto is "Ilmu Punca Kemajuan" or loosely translated as "Knowledge is the Source of Progress". With the university academics and administrators continuing to hide behind a facade of false knowledge, it is no wonder that we are not expected to progress. Instead now, we are hearing parties friendly to the university administrators such as the Malaysian Youth Council (MYC) YAB Dato' Seri Dr. Mohamad Khir Toyo claiming that:
"MYC is of the opinion that the criteria used by The Times Higher Education Supplement (THES) are more appropriate to measure the performance of universities in the West in line with the objectives of their establishment and functions."And hence by default, the table is not relevant to Malaysians. I will not be surprised if UM VC leads in coming up with an alternatively compiled survey to indicate that UM is indeed in the top 50 in the world. After all, he has the precedent set by YAB Dato' Seri Dr. Mohamad Khir Toyo to follow when the latter made up his own statistics to show that Selangor is indeed a "developed state".
So, what next, Prof Datuk Dr? Display intellectual honesty for once, admit the university's weaknesses and seek to improve real performance? Or clutch at more straws and create UM's own world universities rankings table?