Are our varsities on par with world’s best?


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I was shocked yesterday when Bernama reported that Second Education Minister Idris Jusoh had said that “Malaysia’s higher education is now on par with those of developed nations including the United Kingdom, Germany and Australia” and that “this was proven by the fact that 135,000 foreign students made up 10 percent of students at national higher educational institutions in the country”.

The ‘proof’ used by the second education minister to ‘fool’ himself into thinking that our higher education system is now on par with other developed countries is totally laughable and makes a mockery of the position of education minister.

Firstly, the decision for foreign students to study abroad is governed by a number of factors including the cost of a programme, the cost of living, the entry requirements, the availability of programs, the medium of instruction, the ease of getting student visas, the availability of scholarships, the prestige of a university, the number of places available to foreign students and the quality of teaching, just to name a few.

To think that our education system is world class and on par with countries like the UK and Australia just because we have a large number of foreign students is dangerous, especially coming from the education minister.

By this reasoning, this means that if we have a larger percentage of foreign students in our universities, our education standard has exceeded that in the UK and Australia

Secondly, even using the 2014 QS World University Rankings, Malaysia is way behind universities in the United Kingdom and Australia. For example, there are 19 UK universities placed within the top 100 including four in the top 10 – Cambridge (2), Imperial (2), Oxford (5) and University College London (5).

There are eight Australian universities placed within the top 100 including the Australian National University or ANU (25), the University of Melbourne (33) and the University of Sydney (37).

Even Germany, whose universities are less well known internationally, have three in the top 100 – Heidelberg University (49), Ludwig-Maxmilians-Universität (LMU) München (52) and Technische Universitaet Muenchen (TUM) (54).

None in top 100

In contrast, Malaysia has no university ranked in the top 100. Universiti Malaya is the only Malaysian university ranked in the Top 200 at 151.

Unless the minister has access to the 2015 QS Rankings which shows a significantly different ranking for Malaysian universities, it seems silly to conclude that our higher education standards are on par with the United Kingdom, Germany and Australia, based on the rankings which the Minister refer to in the Bernama report.

Thirdly, if the esteemed minister really thinks that our higher education system is on par with the United Kingdom and Australia based on our foreign student enrolment, can he produce a list of foreign students who were accepted to Cambridge, Oxford, Imperial College or UCL in the UK or ANU, Sydney and Melbourne in Australia but gave up their places to come to study in Malaysia?

I am in no way trying to put down our local universities. For some programs such as medicine and law, it is probably more difficult to gain entry into these programmes in our public universities compared to foreign universities.

But even our local universities would admit that they have much progress to make in terms of teaching quality, infrastructure and funding for research before they reach the standards of universities in the UK and Australia.

The second education minister is actually doing a great disservice to our local universities by unfairly comparing them to other universities in developed countries which have a much longer history, higher per student funding and more established research infrastructure.

Those are standards which our universities should aspire to but have not yet reached.

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