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Three-point proposal in email to all Ministers for world-class universities – Royal Commission, appointment of “best and brightest” and repeal of UUCA


Media Conference Statement

by Lim Kit Siang  

(Penang DAP H
qrs, Monday): I have today sent an email to all Ministers to urge them to assume collective responsibility for the deep and worsening crisis of higher education highlighted by Times Higher Education Supplement (THES) World University Ranking 2005, which saw University of Malaya (UM) falling  80 places from 89th to 169th position while Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) fell more than 89 places from 111th position and got  knocked out of the Top 200 Universities bracket altogether.


My email  to  the Ministers said:


The  principle of collective ministerial responsibility for the deep and worsening higher education crisis  would not permit any Minister to disclaim responsibility or  just blame the whole higher education mess on one or two persons, such as the Higher Education Minister, Datuk Dr. Shafie Salleh and the Cabinet-rank Special Higher Education  Envoy, Datuk Seri Effendi Norwawi.


On August 24, 2005, the Cabinet approved the establishment of the 18th public university, Universiti Darul Iman Malaysia (UDM) in Terengganu  which will be fully operational by before the end of the Ninth Malaysia Plan 2006-2010.


The Cabinet is responsible not only for the quantity but also quality of higher educational  institutions in the country.  This is  why at the Cabinet meeting on  Wednesday (Nov. 9), Ministers must individually and collectively address the acute problem of  Malaysia’s prolonged and worsening crisis of higher education, as well as the scandalous response of the University of Malaya Vice Chancellor Prof. Dr. Datuk Hashim Yaacob to the latest THES World University Ranking which made  a national and international joke of UM as well as Malaysia.


At the June centennial celebrations of University of Malaya, Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak threw a challenge to  the university to raise its 89th ranking  among the world’s top 200 universities to 50 by the year 2020.

Bernama, the national news agency, reported: “At the function, Universiti Malaya Vice Chancellor Prof Datuk Dr. Hashim Yaacob was seen giving a slight nod, indicating that he agreed to accept the deputy premier’s challenge.” (Bernama 16.6.05)

I had criticized the UM Vice Chancellor for his lack of leadership and vision to be content at the 50th ranking among the world’s Top 200 universities in 2020, when the country should aim to have at least two Malaysian universities to be  ranked among the World’s Top 50 Universities by the end of the Ninth Malaysia Plan in 2010 – University of Malaya by 2008 and a second university by 2010.

 However, in a matter of a few  months after the DPM’s challenge, UM is faced with the crisis of remaining  within the world’s Top 200 universities in the THES World University Ranking in the coming years.


The Cabinet should realise that the challenge  facing higher education in Malaysia is not for  UM to achieve any breakthrough to be among the world’s Top 50 Universities, but for the nation’s premier university to avoid suffering the fate of USM of being knocked out of the Top 200 Universities Ranking next year or during the course of  the Ninth Malaysia Plan beginning next year.


The national crisis of higher education is not limited to UM or USM but afflicts all other public universities. This is the cry of one Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM) graduate on my blog yesterday:


“A few years back when I was a student, I thought UPM overtook USM as 2nd best university in Malaysia! What has happened to UPM now? It was not even in the top 200 ranking for both last year and this year.

Remember the Asiaweek report in 2000, UM was ranked a lowly 47th position out of 77 universities in the Asiaweek's 2000 ranking of Best Universities in the region, with UPM in 52nd and USM in 57th position.”


In the Cabinet deliberation, Ministers should acquaint themselves of another respected international  ranking of universities, the Academic Ranking of 500 Top Universities in the World by the Institute of Higher Education, Shanghai Jiao Tong University.  For the third year of its World’s Top 500 Ranking, not a single university from Malaysia was included in  the List.  Among the countries with  universities  ranked in the Jiao Tong University’s Top 500 Universities are:

Japan   33
Australia  13
China    8
South Korea  8
Israel      6
New Zealand   5
China – Tw   5
China -  Hk  4
India     3
Singapore   2


Permit me to make three quick proposals for the Cabinet’s consideration to break the back of the deep and worsening crisis of higher education in Malaysia:


Firstly, the establishment of Royal Commission on World-Class Universities in Malaysia, not headed by former government servants but eminent academicians, such as Royal Professor Ungku Aziz, former UM Vice Chancellor Professor Syed Hussein Alatas, former Vice Chancellor of Hong Kong University Professor Wang Gung Wu or distinguished academicians like Dr. Chandra Muzaffar and Prof. K.S. Jomo.


Secondly, the appointment of the “best and brightest” to lead the universities, whether as Vice Chancellor or Deans, starting with the appointment of an outstanding university academic as Vice Chancellor of University of Malaya.  The Cabinet should fully endorse the article by Tan Siok Choo, daughter of former Finance Minister Tun Tan Siew Sin, in the Sun today “Hiring a foreign CEO is no sell-out”.


In United Kingdom, world-renowned universities are headed by foreigners like New Zealander Dr. John Hood, Vice Chancellor of  Oxford University, and the Chancellor of University of Nottingham (the alma mater of the DPM) is the distinguished Chinese physicist Professor Fujia Yang.


But before foreigners are appointed to head Malaysian universities, aren’t there competent and qualified non-Malay candidates to be appointed Vice Chancellors, or have they to continue to go abroad if they are to be internationally distinguished academicians  or to be  appointed vice chancellors of universities which are in the World’s Top 50 Universities like Hong Kong University (No.41)  and Nanyang Technological University, Singapore (No. 48)?


Thirdly, the repeal of the Universities and University Colleges Act (UUCA) to restore the critical faculties of inquiry, meritocracy and  academic to usher  the return of an university ethos of academic excellence, social awareness and national commitment  by academicians and students with the ability to  know the difference between right and wrong and the passion to right injustices.


Let the Cabinet meeting on Wednesday end the rot to excellence, quality and standards in Malaysian universities so that Malaysians, whether academicians, students or the ordinary citizen, can hold their heads high in the international society with regard to the global ranking of Malaysian universities.


Yours sincerely,



Lim Kit Siang

(Ketua Pembangkang)




*  Lim Kit Siang, Parliamentary Opposition Leader, MP for Ipoh Timur & DAP Central Policy and Strategic Planning Commission Chairman

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