Higher Education Minister Datuk Mustapa Mohamed said this was in line with the ministry’s emphasis on academic excellence and internationalisation.While there are those who will argue against an excessive obsession with world rankings (which I agree - if it's "excessive"), I think it's great that the new Minister of Higher Education states his position at the start of his "reign" on top. It's always healthy to have a healthy dose of comparative competition to challenge oneself to do better, in this case, our local universities.
“Among the tools available to help us gauge our progress towards these goals are international benchmarks and rankings. We have set ourselves a target to maintain at least two of our universities in the list of the world’s top 50”.
Some of the other little positives I gleaned from the press report included the fact that Datuk Mustapa Mohamed (Tok Pa) recognised that in order to attract the best talents to the local academia, that includes both students and staff, a strong reputation from internationally published rankings or comparative tables is extremely important. Unlike his predecessor who "appreciated" rankings only when its favourable to the local universities, and criticised them when the local universities rankings dropped, this is a particularly welcome change.
So which are the "2" to-be-selected universities? While the Ministry claims to be identifying them, it's a no-brainer that Universiti Malaya (UM) will be one of them on the list. After all, it's still the only university listed in the Top 200 list. That probably leaves 2-3 universities "fighting" for the second spot. Who are the favourites?
Well, in the year when Malaysia performed credibly in the 2004 Times Higher Education Supplement (THES) rankings table due to misrepresented statistics, it was Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) which was ranked at 111th, behind UM at 89th. However last year, while USM dropped out of the rankings list altogether, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, made a surprise appearance in the Top 100 Science universities of the world at joint 91st. At the same time, the new Vice-Chancellor of Universiti Putra Malaysia, Prof Dr Nik Mustapha Raja Abdullah has openly declared his objective for the university to be in the Top 80 in 5 years' time.
I won't be surprised at some intense lobbying by some of the vice-chancellors now, for the simple reason that the identified university will receive "all the support needed to compete globally" from the Ministry of Higher Education - which basically means plenty more funds.
The only unfortunate thing about Malaysian politics is that despite making such bold declarations, our Ministers will never be accountable for the actual outcome for hardly anyone is punished for "average" or even poor performance. On top of that post-2008 general elections, we might again have a new Minister for Higher Education, and objectives, policies and targets will change once again.
But then again, there's never harm praying for sunshine :).