It's 2016, How Are The Malaysian Public Universities Doing?

Not a single Malaysian university made the top 100 Asian rankings.

Cover image via The Malay Mail Online

While Malaysia has 4 years to achieve its dream of being a high-income nation status, it seems this dream might not become a reality as reports suggest that Malaysia's higher education system is crumbling down.

And there are a few reasons why we should be worried:

1. The downfall of public universities in renowned rankings systems

Malaysia’s public universities have dropped completely out of the World University Rankings maintained by the Times of London. Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia was ranked 87th in the top 100 Asian rankings in 2013, but has since fallen out.

Not a single Malaysian university made the top 100 Asian rankings.

Malaysian public universities have also shown mixed results in other surveys like the QS rankings,where three Malaysian universities rose slightly while Universiti Teknologi Malaysia, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, International Islamic Universiti Malaysia, and Universiti Teknologi MARA, all slipped.

However, Universiti Malaysia Perlis (UniMAP) Vice-Chancellor Kamarudin Hussin has jumped in to argue that these ranking systems are "in favour of older and more established institutions"

UniMAP Vice-Chancellor Kamarudin Hussin

Image via UUI

"The fact of the matter is, Malaysia, with its array of not-so-established universities compared to others in the world, has the biggest growth in scientific publications between 2008 and 2014," he said.

"It has to be stated that the key performance indicators (KPIs) used to gauge the performance of universities are selected based on the institution’s specific characteristics and circumstances."

"The focus and emphasis of younger universities are different from that of older ones."

Datuk Seri Idris Jusoh, who was promoted to Minister of Higher Education last year, also cited various statistics to show that Malaysia's higher education system is indeed "world class"

Education Minister Datuk Seri Idris Jusoh

Image via The Malaysian Insider

On his Facebook post, Datuk Seri Idris Jusoh said that there are many indicators on how to evaluate if a university is world class including international student enrolment, university rankings, and subject and faculty rankings.

He gave many examples on how Malaysia has excelled in these aspects and offered more examples about how lecturers have gained recognition for their achievements and how our public university students' excellence in areas such as debate and scholarly output on Islamic banking.

However, the minister also admitted that there are areas that need improvement such as English proficiency, graduate employability and critical thinking skills.

2. Quality of education aside, there are also concerns about the funds available for public universities. The government had lessen the annual budget allocation for higher learning for Budget 2016.

"The government can't always provide the allocation because there are many other quarters that may need it," Education Minister Datuk Seri Idris Jusoh said.

He said the universities should take less allocation this year as a challenge to showcase their ability to raise funds for their research and development activities.

Idris said the universities should also collaborate more with the industry that would help boost their development and strengthen their courses.

To make matters worse, public universities in recent times have been surrounded with scandals related to mismanagement and corruption of funds, which only aggravates the situation

The Malaysian Auditor General’s 2012 report, for instance, cited Universiti Malaysia Sabah’s (UMS) mishandling of its computerized maintenance management system.

The cost of three building projects ballooned 8.9 percent at Universiti Tun Hussein Onn Malaysia (UTHM) due to delays and inexperience of the contractor.

The auditor general further found at Universiti Malaysia Perlis (UniMAP) that funding allocations didn’t take into account the basic needs of students in the planning and construction of its main campus.

3. On another note, Malaysian public universities have also been accused of suppressing students' freedom of speech. The most recent incident involves students from University Malaya.

Image via MalaysiaKini

Universiti Malaya student leader Ho Chi Yang received a show-cause letter from the university for holding a press conference on internet WiFi usage on campus.

The Universiti Malaya Association of New Youth (Umany) president was slapped with the letter on New Year ’s Eve instructing him to explain why he held a press conference on the WiFi quota, without university permission.

Condemning the show-cause letter as suppression of freedom of expression, Umany questioned the university’s timing.

“The university never seemed to understand the spirit of freedom of speech, but only fond of suppressing students’ opinion and criticism."

“If a university is so terrified of students’ critical thinking and objections, how will talents be produced to serve the country in the future?” it asked.

Universities should be an outlet for youths to express themselves even as they explore new ideas and ideals.

However, according to UniMAP Vice Chancellor, freedom of expression should be subject to the views of the ‘so called majority’.

Image via Bloomberg

"The fact of the matter is, the good of the majority overrides the interest of a few, " Dr Kamarudin Hussin is the vice-chancellor for UniMAP said.

"No authority worth its salt, given the state of affairs that we have in this country, would consent to damaging remarks that might very well topple the peace and harmony we have worked very hard to achieve all these years."

"Any academician, save the short-sighted ones, will say that academic freedom is not just alive. Instead, it is energetically kicking and thriving."

However, Suppressing independent thought, is counterproductive to creativity, critical thinking, and problem solving, the very mindset that Malaysian universities espouse to develop.

Among the characteristics of society required for progression are people who are knowledgeable and have the right to choose.

Nonetheless, with all these negativity surrounding public universities, it's still encouraging to know that student activism is on the rise and our students are making a name for themselves in Malaysia and the international arena:

We certainly can do a thing or two to improve the Malaysian education system:

Also, did you know that Malaysian parents actually spend more than half of their salary to fund one child for a university degree:

Exams around the corner? Learn how you can study better here:

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