Source: The Malay Mail Saturday, 25th February, 2012
GHAUTH: I'm the only (Malaysian) vice-chancellor who talks about world rankings
PETALING JAYA: Universiti Malaya (UM) is overrated. This is the damning verdict if none other than its vice-chancellor Tan Sri Prof Dr Ghauth Jasmon.
He said the country’s oldest institution of higher learning “has never been good”, explaining that UM’s reputation has always been the product of public perception.
He feared continued emphasis on quota policies, the lack of research and large numbers of academic staff who failed their doctorates would further contribute to the decline.
His comments were sparked by a World Bank 2011 report that cited some of these factors for UM's decline.
However, Ghauth has embarked on the road towards UM's “rehabilitation” during his last tenure as VC. The autonomy status awarded to UM last week, will also go a long way in addressing mediocrity which the university has been wallowing in all this while.
“If you ask me why UM was very good back then and what went right, I tell you it was nothing.
“It is difficult to compare between now and then but definitely when you talk about research productivity, there was nothing except in 2007 when the number of publications began to rise,” he said in an interview with The Malay Mail before Thursday's announcement that UM was among five universities awarded autonomy.
He said UM had always been a step behind the National University of Singapore (NUS), where the latter began focusing on research publication in 1980.
“UM began only in 2007 which means NUS has been performing better than us since 1980. Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University (NTU) began research publication in 1993 so the truth is UM was never good when you compare."
Gauth said the difference under the university’s first local vice-chancellor Ungku Abdul Aziz Ungku Abdul Hamid, was that there were only two universities — UM and Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM).
He said during Ungku Aziz's era (1968-1988), the university’s population was between 4,000 and 5,000, compared to 27,000 today.
“If we plot the performance of UM in the last 30 years, publications in the index journals were at the lowest during the time of Ungku Aziz,” he said.
Ghauth said the country’s educational scenario has also changed and asserted UM not only has to compete with international but also local universities.
“People say that UM has produced a lot of leaders; even two prime ministers came from here; yes, but we were the only one then,” he said, adding that Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad graduated from the Singapore campus while Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi graduated from the Kuala Lumpur campus.
Ghauth said now that there were many universities, the competition and landscape had changed.
Last year, UM was able to breach the top 200 mark in London-based QS World University Rankings by being ranked at number 167.
However it was still behind NUS and NTU, ranked 28 and 58 respectively. Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) was the only other Malaysian university that entered the world’s top 300 universities at 279.
Malaysian varsities also failed to make it into last year’s Times Higher Education (THE) World Ranking University Rankings of top 400 universities.
Gauth also took issue with counterparts and politicians for ignoring the importance of university rankings to boost the quality of varsities.
“I am the only vice-chancellor who talks about world ranking.
"The rest find it sinful to talk about it,” he said, adding that the matter has been politicised.
“Sometimes it seems if we talk about ranking then it is not in the national interest. That is the problem in this country.”
Gauth said the government must make a stand on the well-being of the country’s universities and education system.
“When I attended the 100th anniversary of Peking Tsinghua University, President Hu Jintao said he wanted Tsinghua to become the top university in the world.
“That was his directive. I don’t hear that here.”