The Star Online > Education Sunday October 11, 2009
UM back on track
By KAREN CHAPMAN
THERE was good news for Malaysia this year when both Universiti Malaya (UM) and Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM) moved up the prestigious Times Higher Education (THE) – QS World University Rankings 2009. UM helped put Malaysia back in the elite top 200 when it climbed 50 places from last year to 180 this year while UTM moved to 320 from 356 previously. Mohamed Khaled is of the view that if varsities focus on their weaknesses, they will have a stronger ranking in future. Higher Education Minister Datuk Seri Mohamed Khaled Nordin was all smiles when he congratulated UM on a job well done when speaking at an event on Thursday. He joked that that was why UM vice-chancellor Prof Datuk Dr Ghauth Jasmon had spoken so confidently at the same event. Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin who officiated at the event, was happy as UM, he said was his Alma Mater. Prof Ghauth said the success would be a major boost to the morale and motivation of all staff and students to work harder. “The redefinition of key performance indicators for the academics and the new initiatives implemented in international networking, recruitment of international staff and students have produced a quick, positive impact,” he said. However, three other institutions, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM), Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) and Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM) dropped to 291, 314 and 345 respectively. Harvard University topped the ranking once again; followed by Cambridge, Yale, University College London, Imperial College, Oxford University, Chicago University, Princeton University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and California Institute of Technology. The highest ranked Asian institutions were Tokyo University (22), Hong Kong University (24), Kyoto University (25) and National University of Singapore (30). Prof Ghauth says the ranking is a major boost to UM staff and students to work harder. Now in its sixth year, the ranking is conducted and compiled by QS Quacquarelli Symonds and featured in the Times Higher Education’s Oct 8 print edition. This year QS looked at 2,175 institutions when compiling the ranking. QS Quacquarelli Symonds Ltd managing director Nunzio Quacquarelli said the ranking identified not just the most highly-ranked universities in the world, but also the best performing universities in key subject areas. Apart from that, the ranking also identified the universities most targeted by employers, those producing the best research, those investing in teaching and those with the most international profile. Moving up Sowter says producing high-quality research, in English will be an effective strategy for any Malaysian institution. QS Intelligence Unit head Ben Sowter said UM’s resurgence into the top 200 was clearly impressive. “Its apparent collective effort to attract a greater proportion of international students suggests a progressive outlook,” he said in an e-mail interview. There were only minor changes to the methodology. The same criterion and weighting were used to measure the universities, namely recruiter review (10%), international faculty ratio (5%), international student ratio (5%), student faculty ratio (20%), citations per faculty (20%) and peer review (40%). Sowter said “the citations area” had consistently been the weakest for all Malaysian institutions since the ranking began, and this year was no exception. “A strong focus in producing high-quality research, in English, so as to be accessible for international citation, will be an effective strategy for any Malaysian institution. “UM comes top among Malaysian institutions in all indicators with the exception of citations where USM has a slight edge, perhaps due to its strong focus on science,” he said. In an immediate response to The Star following the release of Malaysia’s ranking, Mohamed Khaled said the universities’ weaknesses were in citations per faculty and peer review. “I believe if we concentrate on these areas, the universities will have a stronger ranking in the future,” he added. Acting USM vice-chancellor Prof Omar Osman said the university was moving towards strengthening areas where it was weakest such as the citations per faculty. Based on a recent finding, Mohamed Khaled said the ministry found that citations only increased in 2008 after UM, UKM, UPM and USM were elevated to research university status in 2007. “I must admit that there was no real focus or encouragement before,” he said. He said the universities would be in a better position by 2011 or 2012 as citations usually build up over a four-to-five-year period. Sowter said Malaysian universities were in the lists of the five subject areas under the THE-QS World University Rankings. The lists name universities in the following areas namely Arts and Humanities; Life Sciences and Biomedicine; Natural Sciences; Social Sciences; Engineering and Information Technology (IT). UM and UKM were at 178 and 238, respectively in Arts and Humanities, while UM, UTM and USM were at 201, 236 and 246 in Engineering and IT. All five appeared in the Top 300 in Life Sciences with USM and UM at 114 and 132 respectively, and in Natural Sciences at 234 and 244. In Social Sciences, UM, UKM and USM featured at 167, 203 and 250 respectively. UTM vice-chancellor Prof Datuk Dr Zaini Ujang said the improvement was due to its strategy in networking, quality, strategic research, synergy and organisational culture. “We work closely with many universities, both local and abroad,” he said. Prof Ghauth believed UM’s success was in part due to the Standard Academic Performance Target introduced when he took over as vice-chancellor a year ago. “This defines what annual targets all academics must achieve that pertain to research supervision, publications, teaching, consultancy and administrative duties,” he added. UM, he added, was now firmly grounded on the right track to take it into the top 100 of the ranking, which was its next target. UKM deputy vice-chancellor (Academic and International Affairs) Prof Dr Hassan Basri said the university was happy to note that it was making progress in the student faculty ratio, international students, and international faculty. It also wanted to improve in the citations per faculty criterion. UPM vice-chancellor Prof Datuk Dr Nik Mustapha R. Abdullah said the university’s achievements were better last year compared to previously, adding that this showed how dynamic and subjective ranking could be. Asked if an annual ranking meant an institution had no time to improve, Sowter said this depended on perspective. “A prospective student wants the latest data and an annual ranking meets that demand,” he said, adding that it also assists an institution to measure the impact of its strategies as most take between three to five years to take real hold. He said the principal objective behind the ranking was to help individuals make more informed decisions and to guide institution strategy that required more sophisticated thinking and tools, an area the QS Intelligence Unit was now exploring.