I agree with the letter below, although the language in the letter is a bit harsh. This Apex university exercise is funded by tax payers’ money and it is incumbent that the Higher Education Minister explains why USM was chosen over UM. This choice effectively means the death of UM as the premier university in Malaysia.
A Choice That Defies Logic
31 October 2008
REFER to the TV programme Ehwal Semasa (Current Affairs) on RTM1 on Oct 28 in which the vice-chancellors (VCs) of Universiti Malaya (UM), University Teknologi Malaysia (UTM), a representative of the Higher Education Ministry (MOHE) and also a professor discussed the recent Times Higher Education Supplement (THES) ranking and the award of the Accelerated Programme for Excellence (Apex) status to Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM).
From the discussions, it seemed that there was confusion among the panelists about the objective of the Apex programme and the way it was implemented.
The MOHE representative claimed that USM was chosen as the Apex university because of its past record and “promising future plans”. However, since USM has slid down the recent THES ranking while the other contending universities had moved up, perhaps MOHE should explain the rationale about the choice of the Apex university.
The MOHE rep seemed to skirt the issue by claiming that the THES ranking was not a factor in the choice of USM. However, the VC of UM countered the claim that the THES was a factor in the Apex study since without it, the world ranking university question would not have arisen in the past few years.
She also mentioned that from the economic point of view, it is better to invest in a university that is
higher up the rank than to invest in one that is lower, and moving
This matter was again raised in Parliament when several MPs raised the issue about the choice of the Apex university. However, the Education Minister briefly replied that all university VCs had agreed
to the choice made by the Ministry.
It seemed that to many of us intelligent lay persons out here that the choice of USM as the nation’s first Apex university is seriously flawed. If the Government is
serious about meritocracy and be seen practising it, then it should have made the selection based
on the past and current THES
In simple terms, UM should have been chosen since it is higher up the THES rank than the other three contending universities in the previous ranking. And if the decision had been delayed a bit, then the choice of UM as the Apex university would have been logical since it had retained its top national position and had made an improvement in this year’s ranking.
In fact, even selecting UKM as the Apex university should be a better choice than USM although it is less logical. At least UKM also moved up the THES ranking this year.
Since the decision on the Apex university was made a few months ago, perhaps the Government should review the earlier decision before any additional Apex money is pumped into USM. It should also review the status of all universities based on a level playing field suited for academia.
As mentioned by one of the VCs during the panel discussion, the mantra for universities should be “publication, publication, publication”. In this respect, MOHE should ensure that all public universities
display their academic publications and known citations on their
In this way, prospective students and the intelligent public can differentiate between the good and the deadwood dons. Interestingly, some universities, including USM, still do not display the publications of their lecturers.
MOHE should also standardise the promotion of lecturers to the level of associate and full professors. Some universities, such as UM, have strict rules about the promotion of lecturers to these prestigious academic posts and will only consider the number of publications and citations made by them, as practised in world ranked universities.
However, some universities, such as UTM, have set up their own rules and have been known to promote mediocre lecturers without a
single citation to the rank of associate professors and even full professors. MOHE should stop this rot that
has crept into the public university system for more than a decade before some of our public universities acquire the nickname “kampung
They should also purge the public universities of the “kampung
professors” since these academics have not contributed much to the academic prestige of the university and are even setting a bad example to their juniors who aspire to become “kampung professors” the easy way.