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Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Boycott of prestigious education surveys shows UM, UKM too weak to compete, students say.

University Malaya students protesting against the recent sacking of Professor Datuk Dr Mohammad Redzuan Othman, July 4, 2014. In a joint statement, undergraduates from Universiti Malaya (UM) and Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) hit out today at their institution’s administrations for choosing to sit out of a prestigious world university ranking survey, calling the boycott an excuse to save face. — Picture by Saw Siow Feng

KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 7 — Students of Malaysia’s two oldest universities hit out today at their institutions’ administrations for choosing to sit out of a prestigious world university ranking survey, calling the boycott an excuse to save face.
In a joint statement, the undergraduates claimed the reason given by Universiti Malaya (UM) and Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) in snubbing the Times Higher Education Supplement’s Top 400 World University Rankings (THE) only proved the two local public institutions were unable to compete on an international level.
“Such [an] act is seen to be an acknowledgement of the incompetency of our public universities to compete at the international level.
“This indirectly affirms the wrong perception that our local graduates are not as good as foreign graduates thus will lead to the prejudice towards local graduate when it comes to employment,” four student groups from UM and UKM said.
The four groups are PKR-linked Mahasiswa Keadilan Malaysia, Progressive University of Malaya, University of Malaya Association of New Youth and Gabungan Mahasiswa Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia.
The student groups disputed UM’s argument that they were underfunded and could not compete with other more established rivals, arguing instead that both UM and UKM were trying to avoid “further embarrassment” by simply “boycotting” the world varsity rankings in which they fared poorly.
“Both UM and UKM should not be selective in its participation in the university rankings, choosing the one whose results are most likely favourable to it,” the groups said.
The student groups also claimed that graduates from both UM and UKM would lose out during job interviews as prospective employers will have a poor impression of the quality of education given to them.
The groups pointed out that the two universities had joined the Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) World University Ranking — run by the education consultancy initially commissioned to do the THE survey but which later split from the Times.
In the QS World University Ranking, UM now ranks 151 after shifting up from its previous 167th spot in 2013, while UKM went up from 269th in 2013 to the 259th spot this year.
In comparison, UM initially ranked 89th among the world’s universities when the THE-QS World University Rankings had its first run in 2004, after which the varsity floated in and out of the top-200 ranking over the next five years.
UKM’s ranking on the THES was volatile as it ranked 289th when it joined the survey in 2005, their position went as low as 309th to as high as among the top-200 in a five-year period up to 2009.
Today, the student groups said public universities need to generate their own funds, but also called UM and UKM to press the federal government for more funds instead of using it as an “excuse” to opt out of global ranking surveys.
“Based on the 2014 National Budget, the education sector has the biggest allocation boasting an amount of RM54.6 billion, but only RM600 million research grants are allocated for the public universities.
“How are our public universities to compete at an international level if the government does not give them adequate allocation?” they asked.
They reiterated their calls for UM and UKM to join all surveys regardless of the methodology — which had been criticised in the past — used to measure their rankings and quality of education provided.
The statement was signed by Mahasiswa Keadilan Malaysia’s president Haziq Abdul Aziz, Progressive University of Malaya’s secretary-general Vince Tan, University of Malaya Association of New Youth’s president Lee Jin Yang and Gabungan Mahasiswa Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia’s chairman Abdul Kahar Hamzah.
UM Students’ Association President Fahmi Zainol last week supported the move to opt out of the THE ranking, arguing in a statement run by Malaysiakini that lecturers and universities had ended up chasing citations and funds from commercial activities to prop up their rankings, at the expense of quality of education.

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