Thursday, December 22, 2005

Compare & Contrast: UM vs NUS/NTU

Coming back to the furore over the Universiti Malaya (UM) rankings debacle, I just thought it might be useful (or at the very least interesting to do a simple "compare and contrast" on the reactions and pronouncements made by the various authorities on both sides of the Causeway in relation to the world universities ranking table.

We all know that in UM's case, the "plunge" in rankings from 89th to 169th in the world universities compilation by The Times Higher Education Supplement (THES) was met with denial, ignorance and incredulity. When the university was mistakenly ranked 89th in 2004, the UM vice-chancellor celebrated unabashedly that UM has achieved world-class status. And despite the steep decline in the overall rankings this year, the UM vice-chancellor continued to insist that UM has improved.

Let's take a look what happens down south at the Nanyang Technological University (NTU), the No. 2 university in Singapore. The university came in 48th in a ranking of universities worldwide (9th in Asia) by THES this year, which is far better than even UM's false achievement of 89th in 2004. And yet, listening to the Singapore leaders speak, you would not have thought that their leaders were particularly impressed with NTU's achievement!

During the 50th Anniversary alumni dinner for NTU on last Saturday, the Star reported that former Prime Minister, and Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong warned Singapore universities to "adapt and perform, or face extinction"!

SM Goh argued that "NTU has to keep moving if it wants to become world-class". From this sentence alone, you can tell the world of a difference in approach in ensuring that our universities excel in their respective fields. While the UM vice-chancellor basked in glory at their "89th" ranking last year, and continued to insist on UM's world-class status this year, our friends down south don't think that being 48th is anywhere near world-class. Are setting too low standards for ourselves?

SM Goh also warned that "Those which cannot move or adapt fast enough will drop off the table of rankings." What he said couldn't be more true, for clearly UM dropped 80 places in the world rankings, while Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) dropped off the map altogether! SM Goh could have been cheeky and added "See what happened to our neighbours!" (Note: He didn't - don't want to cause a diplomatic uproar here! :-))

Similarly, when Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Abdul Razak set a Top 50 benchmark for Universiti Malaya, NUS (ranked 22nd in 2005) was given the ardous task to be "the top 10 in the world" by Deputy Prime Minister of Singapore, Dr Tony Tan.

The President of NUS, Professor Shih Choon Fong concurred with his DPM, and set out to become the first Asian university in the Top 10. “Being in the top 10 in the world is something worthy to strive for. This is not an ego trip. As a Top 10 university, NUS can help propel Singapore’s development as a dynamic global city in a knowledge-based, innovation-driven world economy”.

Unfortunately for Malaysians in this case, we do not have leaders of strength, ambition and vision occupying the top echelons of our academia and leadership who will seek to become truly world-class. Instead we have leaders who are complacent and seek to be regarded as world-class by lowering the standards to "qualify" as being "world-class".


Anonymous said...

Feeling generous today, so I will put in a defence for our DPM in his target for a top 50 spot for UM. When you are currently placed 169 and in danger of dropping off the charts completely, there is no point in setting a top 10 target. It is patently impossible, much like trying to teach a monkey how to speak in English (they don't have the vocal cords to manage human speech) or in a Chinese saying "to pull a cow up a tree". So, setting an impossible target would have the opposite effect and demoralise the team. As it is, a top 50 placing is probably near impossible baring another mistake. Perhaps our DPM was thinking along these lines? Also, it is already a credit that our DPM didn't compare our UM against all the other universities in the world that didn't make it; didn't he compare Malaysia against Ghana in terms of how well we fared economically since our independance in 1957?

Unless of course if our DPM is thinking along the lines of JFK's "First I believe that this Nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon..." in 1961, at a time when the USA had no space programme to speak of, then maybe his target is too low. But then, if no date is given, then it is also meaningless isn't it?

Anonymous said...

One is arrogant
The other is humble

One is over-confident
The other wants to improve but confident enough to set a new target

One has no clear directions.
The other has a clear focus of directions.

One self-declared world-class inspite falling outside 100th.
The other remain conservative on its international status eventhough its position is 48th.

One is a potential loser.
The other is a potential winner.

Anonymous said...

That one already is a loser in the eyes of the learned.

Anonymous said...

It's rather funny that a pair of twin sisters having so much differences just because they were brought up in two different environments. One is heading to the peak while another is heading to nowhere. Are they destined to faced such trauma or it is the society that shaped them? It is too obvious isnt it.

Anonymous said...

if Malaysian Local University want to improve in world ranking,please stop matriculation courses (90% Malays n 10% non-bumiputra). Only through STPM, all students are able to compete with each other's meritocracy in order to study in University. Those who are unable to follow,why put them in a university? At the end of the day,we still need government to 'feed' them back,what is the point of education system,specifically higher education system ??
A university, is a place where students get knowledge and build interpersonal skills. Therefore, i urge the government look seriously in this matter in order not to let our IPTA 'out of the map'...Ultimately, cancel, abolish Malaysian Matriculation!!!!!!!It will be the end of the story.