PETALING JAYA: Malaysian universities will continue to drop in international ranking unless fundamental problems are addressed, said DAP Bukit Bendera MP Zairil Khir Johari today.
Zairil said that the lack of academic freedom, continued political interference and declining quality of the teaching faculty are among the reasons Malaysian universities are not ranked highly in the latest ‘The Times Higher Education Top 100 Universities under 50 years old’ list.
None of the public universities which have been in existence for less than 50 years made it to the top 100 list this year.
“Remarkably four out of the top five universities are from Asia, with South Korea’s Postech (Pohang University of Science and Technology) coming out on top.
“Besides sterling performances by the more advanced Asian countries, new universities from Saudi Arabia, Iran and even India have also made progress and for the first time have been included in the list.
“This proves that adverse socio-political and economic situations are no barrier to academic improvement,” Zairil said in a statement.
“Unfortunately, Malaysia has again failed to make a presence in the global arena,” he added.
He said one reason for the lack of growth in local universities is the attitude of those in power in being selective in allowing speakers to address the students.
“If leading professional figures are continued to be barred from speaking to future practitioners, how do we expect our students to develop critical thinking abilities necessary for a knowledge-based innovation-driven economy?” Zairil questioned, referring to former Bar Council president S Ambiga who was recently barred from delivering a talk at Universiti Malaya (UM).
“However former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad was allowed to deliver his talk and was accorded a hero’s welcome at the same university,” he added.
“Clearly, there is political interference at play, which does not bode well for an institution meant to cultivate future leaders,” he said.
He also pointed out the lack of autonomy in governance in our public universities was evident in the appointment of key personnel such as vice-chancellors.
He said these positions are decided at the political level rather than by the university’s Board of Governors.
“On top of that, students continue to be shackled by the draconian Universities and University Colleges Act (AUKU), limiting their freedom of association and expression,” said Zairil.
Academic brain drain
The Bukit Bendera MP also said that the quality of the teaching faculty in local universities has also deteriorated.
In the old days, our local universities attracted many international academics and leaders in their fields, such as John Funston, Harold Crouch, Clive Kessler, James C Scott and Arndt Graf.
Today, there are hardly any great foreign names still plying their trade in Malaysia, he added.
“Worse, even highly reputable local academicians have left for greener pastures overseas. Names such as KS Jomo, Syed Farid Alatas, Wang Gung Wu, Johan Saravanamuttu and Azly Rahman have all but deserted Malaysia to serve at institutions overseas.
“Clearly, we have not only lost our pull-factor, but even the push-factor has amplified, resulting in a severe academic brain drain from the country,” said Zairil.
~ Free Malaysia Today