[t]he handling of the universities in dealing with this drop in rankings especially UM's administration can at best be described as confused, if not downright idiotic.The Star also headlined an article “It’s no cause for jubilation”, quoting Deputy Minister of Higher Education, Fu Ah Kiow.
And in a most tactful and diplomatically damning comment on Universiti Malaya to date, Azmi Shahrom wrote on “How To Judge a Good University” in today’s copy of the Sun. What makes his assessment particularly meaningful, is that he is actually an Associate Professor and the Deputy Dean of the Law Faculty in Universiti Malaya.
Read the complete article in the Sun, for you won’t find another well-written commentary on university education which is able to make analogous comparisons to “sex” and “powerful kissing lips”! More seriously, he argued that:
Instead of strutting around like a bunch of peacocks, a sober examination of the ranking system and how it can help us improve should have been done. Now that UM is at 169, the same thing should be done instead of hthe hopelessly silly PR exercises of spin doctoring which has the appearance of the self same peacock waving its moulted feathers in desperation.There has also been a few but noticeable criticisms with regards to this entire Universiti Malaya rankings crisis debate. They have argued that by focusing on the “rankings table”, we are missing the woods for the trees as if we were to take care of providing quality education, the rankings table will sort itself out. I agree.
However, the reason why the rankings table is so “important” in the discussions at this stage is that it provides a focus for the academics and education authorities to focus their attention on the state of higher education in Malaysia. The effect of the severe drop in rankings of UM have galvanised the public, the media and hopefully at the end of the day, the education and university authorities to take the necessary steps (even if they are baby steps for a start) towards reversing the decline in our university quality and reputation.
Without the initial debate on the rankings table, and the position of Malaysian universities in them, there would never have seen some of the discussions with regards to the setting up of “search committees” for university vice-chancellors, the public calls to improve the state of our universities, the set up of a parliamentary committee on education etc., as highlighted in my earlier post here. At some point down the road, the debate on the actual rankings table should cease to take prominence while the actual steps needed to transform our higher education system takes precedence.
The shift in debate is already taking place. Nik Nazmi commented on his Sun piece that:
But it is futile to dwell too much on the ranking issue, without seeing it in perspective: it's a symptom of deeper problems plaguing Malaysian higher education.And today, Azmi Shahrom followed up with the extremely constructive piece of some of the critical actions that need to be taken to ensure the quality of our universities and their graduates are raised. Some of his criticisms, comments and suggestions include:
The major problems that we can see include the absence of genuine meritocracy; the lack of academic and political freedom in campuses; the prevalence of unemployment for many graduates; the poor command of English and a lack of focus in the direction of our education policy.
1. Transparency in Promotion
... make sure that good academics join and stay... make sure the working environment is conducive to research and those who are able to do good work are promoted. Good work here meaning publishable research by respected publishers and journals (not lifestyle magazines) and sound teaching; not administrative duties and brown nosing. This can be done quite simply by ensuring that the promotion process is open and transparent, for example by publishing the CVs of all successful candidates.2. Foreign Faculty and Student Intake
Artificially enticing foreign students and lecturers will simply not work and in the long run will be disastrous for the institution. Artificial means would include lowering the standards so as to take in any Tom, Dick and Harry to study or work here; begging foreign universities to have student exchange programmes with us; or by paying huge amounts of money just to have foreign professors lend their name to our staff lists with little or no actual responsibility.3. Quality of Graduates
The hard fact of the matter is that, by and large, our graduates do not have the sort of qualities that would make overseas employers want them, or do our graduates have the qualitites to go out beyond the coconut shell to offer their services to the world.Coming from the Deputy Dean of the Law Faculty of University Malaya - who's clearly no buddy of the vice-chancellor, there's really nothing more I need to add. Go read his piece. And I hope those at the Ministry of Higher Education read it too.
This is because Malaysian public universities treat students like children. Their freedom of speech is curtailed. Their freedom of assembly is controlled. Their freedom to vote is interfered with. Without such freedoms, students can't grow. ... they won't have the confidence, the chutzpah to grab the world by the throat and scream their arrival.