Monday, June 02, 2008

SETARA ratings announced

Again, not a particularly sexy topic but one which I've covered for some time now. It was announced a while back, in November 2007, that USM topped the public perception ratings in Malaysia under the Academic Reputation Survey (ARES). Now, it seems that UM has topped the SETARA survey of our public universities.

The aim of SETARA or the Rating System for Malaysian Higher Education Institutions 2007 is to provide an internal, qualitative complementary survey to ARES. For a description of the two surveys, look no other than to the current UKM VC, Sharifah Hapsah, who was one of the main drivers behind the ratings system at MQA before she took the position at UKM.

Two reports in the Star, here and here, document some of the main findings of the SETARA rankings. A more comprehensive report can be found here. Some of the nitty gritty details can be found at the MQA website though I don't think they have released the full details / reports of either the ARES or SETARA rankings on the website.

According to one of the Star reports, Setara involves a quantitative survey where data collected is analysed according to six domains – academic staff (25%), students' selectivity (10%), research (15%), academic programmes (25%), resources (15%), and management (10%).

Most of this data is collected from the universities themselves and evaluated by the staff at MQA.

A total of 17 public universities were rated and placed in three categories – research, broad-based and specialised.

Only UM managed to obtain 5 stars (out of six) among the research universities.

International Islamic University Malaysia and Universiti Teknologi Mara both scored four stars each in the broad-based category, while Universiti Teknologi Malaysia was the only one to receive a three-star rating for specialised universities.

I think one can be critical about the veracity of such ranking systems, especially when UM is capable of obtaining 5 stars out of 6. The danger of inflating the rankings for some schools like UM is that they don't have very far to rise.

Given that this rating system is still in its infancy, I would not be too critical of the findings as of now. I would like to read the reports in more detail if they are eventually released by the MQA but for now, I'm glad that the process of collecting such information is already in place. No doubt the system will be improved over time.

It was also reported that, as a benchmark, the compilers also visited the National University of Singapore, University of Melbourne, Indian Institute of Technology, Mahidol University and University of Technology Sydney to test Setara against those institutions.

We'll be watching this closely.

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

"The danger of inflating the rankings for some schools like UM is that they don't have very far to rise."

Your argument is mind-boggling to say the least. On what grounds do you say that the ratings for UM was inflated?

What then do you have to say about the majority of universities that got two and three stars?

All these university bashing is really getting tiresome. As if the only good universities are Oxford and Duke.

the anonymous after the first anonymous said...

anonymous 12:59, lets assume that Harvard, MIT, Oxford, Cambridge etc are at the top of the scale - 6 stars. UM would then be at most a 3 star university. To put UM at 5 stars would be saying that they are just a rung below these top universities, something which I'm sure even you would have to take with a couple spoonfuls of salt.

Then again, I am willing to concede that the rankings may be tailor made for the Malaysian higher education system only and is not meant for comparison with foreign universities. As such, I agree with Kian Ming that until the reports are scrutinized in detail, it would be a little unfair to start hopping on the criticism wagon.

system said...

The university ranking simply reflects the global performance of our universities. In fact these results give no surprises. Hidden under the ranking, what are the real issues?

I have been going in and out of most Malaysia public universities and research institutes for the past 12 years or so. By the nature of my job, I have chance talking and discussing with these public university reseachers, university undergraduate and postgraduate students on their research work. Base the quality and originality of the work, I really do not see that our ranking will significantly improve any further, if not sliding down further.

As for the student quality output of our universities, it is rather dissapointing. Many may not believe that a 1st class student nowadays does not really carry the weight. Many were shocked when they were told that questions for exams are exactly the same questions given out as tutorial exercises. Student need not understand the topic to score in the exams,they can perform well simply by memorizing all the answers, even core subjects like mathematics! Our 1st class is simply someone with a good memory rather than someone who fully understand what he studies. After leaving university they just forgot what they have memorized. With these students (1st class!), what do you expect our university ranking would be?

As for the right attitute for research works, I have been to almost all the science & engineering labs in public universities, and sad to say, probably only 5% of the researcher & professors step into their lab. The rest of them simply depends on the student to perform all the experiments. Working in the lab to them is something so far back in their memory when they were a student themselve some 10 to 20 years ago! If you have a chance to attend any scientific conference, you won't be surprise some professors while presenting they findings on the stage, they keep confirm the results slides with the students. This is in real contrast to NUS,Singapore (was it a top 10 university in the ranking?) whereby the most of the professor's room is attached to the lab. He or she can see what the student is doing and can guide the students right there in the lab. They themselve operates the instruments and writes scientific articles.

Back to our university, due to the pressure to boost up the university ranking, universities nowadays stress on quality research publications. This also have created some negative practices among the researchers. Since many researchers are now under pressure to publish more articles, they resort to cheating solutions. In a single article, we could see numerous authors listed as co-authors whom did not contribute at all to the finding of the article. They were listed as authors to help each other getting the minimal publications per year while contribute nothing to the research. Many just list the more senior lecturer, department head or professor as the co-author as these are the people who is in power. These practice will definately retard and give extremely negative impact to boosting the quality of our university.

How would our ranking go up given such a human resources quality in the university?

Anonymous said...

"lets assume that Harvard, MIT, Oxford, Cambridge etc are at the top of the scale - 6 stars. UM would then be at most a 3 star university. To put UM at 5 stars would be saying that they are just a rung below these top universities, something which I'm sure even you would have to take with a couple spoonfuls of salt."

You say this and then provided a follow up as follows:

"Then again, I am willing to concede that the rankings may be tailor made for the Malaysian higher education system only and is not meant for comparison with foreign universities."

Effectively, you are saying nothing.

Anonymous said...

To compare our universities within Malaysia and then give it stars seems to be like having fish in a small pond that would not survive in the big ocean. Unfortunately, since the days of Dr M we have been led to believe that Malaysia is the centre of civilisation, remember the show "CITY OF THE RICH" where it showed the Indian driver with the Malay boss. Well, I guess this mentality is still pervasive and really unhealthy. Secondly, with Dr M's meddling into the education system and its successor system led to a dumbing down of standards. Local universities are just vocal pieces for the politicians and little emperors with PhDs bought from universities in US and UK, that states behind them for use in Malaysia only - what a joke! So really our universities have also turned out to be real jokes. Some Yemenese students studying at UM complained that most of the lectures were literal translations of Bahasa to English which made it literally confusing to comprehend and really what else must our universities do to embaress the nation and its people?

ryansoh said...

If the rankings are meant to be world class and Oxford is 6 stars and UM is 5 then someone is going to have to call BS.

If things are not world class then that seems ok, but what is the point anyway? Is it to encourage the local universities to compete amongst themselves? Is it to increase transparency for those who can only afford to go to a local university? Those seem like decent reasons.

The problem is when rankings are misused, or mistaken to represent something which they are not, and perhaps its too early to tell if they are being used correctly yet.

Tek Seang said...

system said ...

"This is in real contrast to NUS,Singapore (was it a top 10 university in the ranking?) whereby the most of the professor's room is attached to the lab. He or she can see what the student is doing and can guide the students right there in the lab. They themselve operates the instruments and writes scientific articles."

You must be dreaming ...

Anonymous said...

system said...
In a single article, we could see numerous authors listed as co-authors whom did not contribute at all... Many just list the more senior lecturer, department head or professor as the co-author as these are the people who is in power.
-----------------------------------

This is also a very common phenomenon in countries like Australia, UK, USA, Japan, etc. Those senior academics are reponsible to find funding and they are too busy with admin works, thus they left behind the research to their research students.

JitSeng said...

I think this report is quite bias...look at the members of SETARA....more than half of it are from UKM....as always in M'sia...i feel preferences will be given during rating

no way USM is lagging behind UPM n UKM -imho-

xenobiologista said...

sad to say, probably only 5% of the researcher & professors step into their lab. The rest of them simply depends on the student to perform all the experiments. Working in the lab to them is something so far back in their memory when they were a student themselve some 10 to 20 years ago!

Sorrylah but that's the case here in the USA too. It's really sad because presumably if you're a top scientist running a lab, you're in that career because you love science, but then you get bogged down by paperwork and stay in the office all day.

I almost jumped when I went to another lab yesterday to get help doing a new assay and the PI (principal investigator) was there working in the "hood" (biosafety cabinet).

kelvin said...

This ranking is not reputable because its purpose is to build ranking profile for local univ in a special way - at least got 3 stars, no 1 star or 2 star uni.
Unlike Australia Good Uni Guide which has 1 star to 5 star uni...
How to compare?
In my own blog on University Ranking, I will focus mainly on reputable system, such as the one with ranking of 1,2,3,4,...OR at least has top Uni as well as bottom Uni.
M'sian no bottom Uni (1-star), all is very top, so funny..

habibah said...

SETARA stand for?...
(sory, its a stupid question to ask)

Anonymous said...

errr... why Malaysian Maritime Academy(also known as ALAM stand for Akademi Laut Malaysia) are not listed?