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Cabinet on Wednesday should review and suspend implementation next year of allocation of five per cent of critical undergraduate places in public universities to foreigners



Media  Statement

by Lim Kit Siang  

(Petaling Jaya
, Sunday): Higher Education Minister Datuk Seri Dr. Shafie Mohd Salleh delivered triple shocks in one statement in Gambang on Friday when attending the Quality Day and Service Excellence function at the University College of Engineering and Technology Malaysia (Kuktem) near Kuantan, Pahang, viz:

  • that 5% of undergraduate places in critical courses in Malaysian public universities will be allocated to foreigners.
  • that this proposal had been approved by the  Cabinet and would be implemented next year.
  • rationale for the proposal being “a social obligation to nations with which Malaysia had exploration rights, especially for petroleum”. (Star 19.11.05)

All three are open to challenge as to whether they are in the public or national interest.

Firstly, it is  palpably unfair and unjust to allocate 5% for first-degree critical courses in public universities  to foreigners when every year the “best and brightest” of Malaysian students, particularly non-Malays, are denied places because of an unfair university intake system based on meritocracy in name but not in fact. Malaysians are not xenophobic and welcome foreign students to our universities, but in view of the special circumstances pertaining to public university student intake, a start should be made for 5% of university  places in the non-critical courses only.

Secondly, why was the proposal approved by the Cabinet without first soliciting the views and feedbacks of academicians, students, Members of Parliament  and the civil society?  If it is true that Cabinet had given approval for its implementation next year, it should review its decision on Wednesday, suspend any implementation next year and direct Shafie to get the fullest feedback from the public, including submitting the proposal to Parliament for a full debate.

Thirdly, what is this  “social obligation to nations with which Malaysia had exploration rights, especially for petroleum” for which we must sacrifice the rights and interests of the “best and brightest” in each generation by denying them 5% of the critical undergraduate courses in the public universities?

Apart from reserving 5% of critical undergraduate courses in public universities, can Shafie spell out other dimensions and implications of this “social obligation to nations with which  Malaysia had exploration rights, especially for petroleum”, whether economic or educational – and to enumerate the full list of these nations which seem to enjoy preferential treatment for their citizens which are even more favourable for our own nationals.

I wish to advise Shafie that while the Higher Education Ministry must give serious attention to the international university rankings, neither the Higher Education Ministry nor the public universities should become a slave to them.

It would appear that the Higher Education Ministry, University of Malaya (UM) and Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM)  have reached a consensus that the reason for the poor showing of UM and USM in the Times Higher Education Supplement (THES) World University Ranking 2005, where UM fell 80 places from 89th to 169th position while USM fell more than 89 places to be out of the Top 200 Universities bracket altogether, is all because of their poor “international students score”.

Shafie cannot be more wrong, as “international students score” is only one of the criteria used in the THES World University Ranking which merely  rates five per cent of the overall score.

Both UM and USM had inflated “international student score” for last year’s ranking, with UM getting 68 and USM 78 marks, ranking them as the world’s fourth and sixth most “international” university, which was  most ridiculous.  QS Quacquarelli Symonds which compiled the THES rankings has admitted the “mistaken identity” error last year where Chinese and Indian students in Malaysia were wrongly categorized as foreign students, resulting  in higher marks in the criteria of foreign students for the two universities.

Shafie should take note that for this year’s results, the “international student score” of Thailand’s Chulalongkorn University is even lower than that of UM, scoring only one point as compared to UM’s seven points. Yet Chulalongkorn University, which was not placed in the Top 200 Universities last year, has come from behind to overtake UM, being placed No. 121 as compared to UM’s 169 in the 2005 list.

This is because UM lost out to Chulalongkorn University and the other over 160 universities in the world in the other five criteria which total 95% of the overall score, namely Peer Review Score (40%), Recruiter Review (10%), International Faculty Score (5%), International Student Score (5%), Faculty/Student Score (20%), Citations/Faculty Score (20%).

Just allocating 5% places of undergraduate degree courses in public universities to foreigners will not appreciably improve the international ranking of Malaysian universities.

Education blogger Tony P has computed that even if University of Malaya had achieved a target of 5% international students for the 2005 Ranking, the overall score for UM will only be increased by 0.5 and the rankings moved from 169th to 165th – still 44 places behind Thailand’s Chulalongkorn University!

Both Shafie and Prof Datuk Dr. Hashim Yaacob,  University of Malaya Vice Chancellor are in danger of swinging to the other extreme of the university rankings debate and must be reminded that while the authorities, whether Higher Education Ministry or the public universities, must take very serious view of the international university rankings, they should never become a slave to these rankings.

Apart from the annual THES World University Ranking, there is the reputable  Shanghai Jiao Tong University’s annual Academic Ranking of World Best 500 Universities, with not a single Malaysian university able to be included for  the past three consecutive years.  Is the Higher Education Ministry or University of Malaya going to invite the academicians of Shanghai Jiao Tong University to give a public lecture on the basis of its criteria and rankings for the World’s Top 500 Universities?

In the coming years, there will be more and more international university rankings emanating from different parts of the globe, apart from national university rankings in each country.

Let Malaysia not be the first country, whether First World or Third World, whose universities are run according to the dictates of international university surveys, whether from London, Shanghai or any other international centre – as university authorities have adequate  reference material, whether from their academic staff or available literature,  to know the secrets of  producing great universities without having to depend on market surveyors.



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

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