After all the sound and fury of the slide of Malaysian universities in THES 2007 world universities rankings, there seems to be less discussion on the Malaysian government’s plans to set up Apex Universities. Now when this plan was first announced, I was really puzzled. Was the government going to set up new institutions and term them Apex Universities or was some pre-existing institutions to be given the status of Apex Universities. I think after reading the news story on the plan, it is the latter. Which then leads to the next point? Why are we all wasting our bloody time then? Everyone in Malaysia knows that the best universities in Malaysia are University of Malaya, UKM and USM. Is someone really going to say that Universiti Tenaga Malaysia or Universiti Technology Petronas is better than UM, UKM or USM? There are even ridiculous stories like this talking about the search for apex universities. I mean why go through a long drawn process when the answer is so obvious!
So let’s suppose we do go through the process and name UM, UKM or USM as the nation’s apex universities. So what? It’s a case of old wine in new bottles isn’t it? The point is that there are a lot of things wrong with Malaysian universities; as I have explained in my previous post , these problems are both systemic and also a question of inadequate funding . However, these problems will not be solved by giving these institutions the title of apex universities. It’s like cutting off the label of a cheaply made petaling street T-Shirt and slapping on the label Prada. That’s not going to solve the problems. We can talk until we are blue in the face but the fact remains why Malaysian universities are in the state they are in: the quota system and terrible funding. If we don’t address these issues, it’s like not addressing the elephant in the room. The only way to really achieve excellence at universities is to bite the bullet and to: (a) run the universities on a truly meritocratic fashion in terms of students’ admission and faculty promotion; and (b) to create a culture where research is truly valued. It remains to be seen whether the Malaysian government has the political courage to do that.