MALAYSIA: No distinctions in university rankings

A rating of 47 Malaysian universities and other higher education institutions, including seven set up by foreign universities, has classed 18 as 'excellent', 25 as 'very good' and four as 'good'. None earned a 'distinction'.

Releasing the ratings last week, Higher Education Minister Datuk Seri Mohamed Khaled Nordin (pictured) said the Setara ratings compiled by the Malaysian Qualifications Agency would be used by the Higher Education Ministry in developing "appropriate higher education policies".

Khaled said public and private institutions that had earned an excellent rating would be entitled to local and foreign government-sponsored students as well as government research grants. They would also be eligible for 'research university status' and could enrol more graduate and postgraduate students.

"Through the rankings, we hope it could increase healthy competition in our higher education," he said.

A total of 58 institutions were listed to be assessed but 11 universities and university colleges were excluded. The official Setara website said this was because they were new institutions without final year students and had not produced graduates; did not offer undergraduate programmes; or were non-conventional institutions such as open universities "which may require instruments configured upon different criteria".

Malaysia has 18 public universities or higher education institutions and 40 run by private organisations. The Qualifications Agency uses a six-tiered system of rankings based on a rating mechanism that measures the performance of undergraduate teaching and learning.

The assessment was carried out by an independent committee appointed by the agency and headed by Professor Muhamad Jantan of the Universiti Sains Malaysia. It took place between October 2008 and June 2010 with the data collected based on the year 2009.

The agency says 25 criteria were used "captured through 82 indicators comprising the generic framework of input, process and output". Under the system, tier six is classed as 'outstanding', tier five as 'excellent', tier four as 'very good', tier three as 'good', tier two as 'satisfactory' and tier one as 'weak'.

No university earned an 'outstanding' rating but nor were there any classed as 'satisfactory' or 'weak' while 25 universities and university colleges were rated as 'very good'. Of these, 14 were private and 11 public institutions; four private institutions were rated good.

Khaled said only 20 local universities were evaluated in a 2007 ranking. "For 2009, we have expanded the rankings to include local and private universities."

He said private institutions rated as excellent would enjoy greater flexibility and exemptions in applying for teaching permits and seeking approval to set the salaries of foreign lecturers.

"They are also exempted from getting approval to set tuition fees and allowed to enrol foreign students automatically."

The foreign institutions operating in Malaysia classed as excellent included three Australian universities: Curtin University's Sarawak campus, Monash University's Sunway campus and Swinburne University's Sarawak campus. The others were Taylor's University College and the University of Nottingham's Malaysia campus.

Responding to news reports of the announcement, critics claimed the rankings did nothing to boost Malaysian universities on the global stage. As one wrote: "If only the Ministry of Education would stop deceiving themselves (and us) and stop comparing internally.

"What's the point of ranking these top 18 universities in Malaysia when they're not performing on the world's best list? I don't see the point of humouring ourselves - we seriously need to get our alignment right and stop living in this bubble of oblivion we so love to live in."

* The 18 institutions that scored an 'excellent' rating:

Public universities:
International Islamic University Malaysia
Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia
Universiti Malaya
Universiti Putra Malaysia
Universiti Sains Malaysia
Universiti Teknologi Malaysia
Universiti Teknologi Mara

Private universities
Multimedia University
Universiti Kuala Lumpur
Universiti Teknologi Petronas
Sunway University College
Curtin University of Technology (Sarawak campus)
Monash University (Sunway campus)
Taylor's University College
International Medical University
Swinburne University of Technology (Sarawak campus)
Nottingham University (Malaysian campus)
Management and Science University.