Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Universiti Malaya VC: We Have Improved!

What do our university administrators do when faced with damaging internationally recognised published information?

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?


Anonymous said...

Maybe it's time they put up banners that read: "UM Masih Bertaraf Dunia, THES yg buat silap", followed by pictures of the administrators.

Anonymous said...

Well think about it like this... last year if THES did not screw up the International Student stuff, we wouldn't even MAKE the list, but this year we DID! Isn't that an imporvement? Let's all just pretend the celebrations for last year was actually for... this year. Problem solved, everybody goes back to Malaysia Boleh mode please.

I'm trying to be sarcastic by the way.

Anonymous said...

Referring to MYC’s type of people (particularly those who’re still living in denial):
extracted : "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."

oh wow! Extracted from the THES list are "Beijing University, CHINA, Tokyo University, JAPAN, National university of Singapore, Hong Kong, India, Taiwan, Thailand.. etc.. " I never knew that their objectives, establishments and functions are in line with part of the "west" now?

Stop making immature, embarrassing, nonsense statements/excuses to further degrade ‘muka’ of other Malaysians. In particularly stop criticizing THES system but our own collapsing education system.

Kian Ming said...

Tony is right about the different 'normalization' standards used in 2005 versus 2004. Basically, Harvard scored 970 out of 1000 in the 2004 rankings. Every other school was normalized against Harvard - you times whatever score you have with 1000 / 970. In the 2005 rankings, Harvard scored a lower 67.6 over 100. All other universities were normalized against this score. Without this normalization, UM's score is approximately 16 out of 100. So, on an absolute scale, UM hasn't really improved. But vis-a-vis Harvard's score, UM would have improved. But like Tony said because of the different measures used in 2005 versus 2004, it doesn't make sense to compared absolute scores. It makes more sense to compare relative positions between 2004 and 2005 and to compare scores WITHIN the same year. I'm curious as to whether the VC REALLY understands the statistics behind the rankings or if he's just trying to spin positive even though he knows about the technical aspects underlying the ranking system.

Anonymous said...

replying 'off topic':

VC UM is a doctor (dentist) indeed, not some PhD holder.

Anonymous said...

Ohh i see, so that the VC UM only knows how to give precriptions/medicines and does not know how anything about statictics and simple mathematics. So perhaps we should forgive him for being so ignorance.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your explanation about the international student and faculty mix-up from last year's tables. Good Lord - what has become of Malaysia! :-( At this rate, our local universities are dooomed!!

Anonymous said...

Being doomed is not enough. They are continously dooming it and even dare to resort to cheap stupid tricks to persuade the public and themselves that they are in a better position hence mission accomplished for now.
I would think it is time to put them on the chopping block. Starting with the VC himself. He has a lot to answer for. The way he is running the University is simply unacceptable.

This is only the surface of the administration. I really wonder how many shady practises they have in the university itself. I heard things like ranging from unfair promotions to unethical practises like privillege students given exams material in their so called 'exam review'. So if these are not reason enough to do something then my advise to the students who willing to listen, get out of UM fast.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Honestly speaking, if not much effort is taken on improving the administration work in the university itself, the ranking status will keep on dropping. Currently the dropping is getting further, lagging UKM already.
Something must be done by University Vice Chancellor, especially on policies. If no changes in policies, even by changing thousands of new VC, the university will eventually get out of the list.
As for exam question leaking, it has been quite common. Nothing much can be done. It is mainly due to education system today tends to couch students being an machine for exam. Studying without deeply understand the underlying concept has become common among student in MALAYSIA, especially engineering field. It is also for this reason, MALAYSIA will never achieve break through in techology.

Anonymous said...

Today is great day for UM, one more big hole in the boat, the loosers rejoices and the so-called VC (she cares for her diabetes before all) has not managed to stop the expulsion of several skilled professors, of which authors of books in top US publishers and top national priority sectors. My friends, have no doubt about that, UM is performing a silent but powerful intellectual cleaning, the brains are removed, I mean the non-Bumi brains. Thanks notably to our dear DVC academic you is craving for power, money and sweeties. How could such a looser could be given the responsability to handle academe human resources, he has just removed a top publishing academe from UM, what does he wants for UM? indonesians, donkeys...
have no doubts about that: the present DVCs and VC are useless, and will continue the sinking. UM is gone my friends, that is a fact, UM is dead.