Archive for the ‘Colleges / Universities - Issues’ Category

Education costs rising

Tuesday, July 17th, 2018
(File pix) Over the last decade, pressure for financial reforms in higher education has intensified.

WE are often reminded by those older and wiser to reflect on the past, assess the present and look forward to the future.

In the case of Malaysia, we hope that the future will be good for us under the emerging scenario. For this to be realised, we need to recall several stylised facts. In connection with (higher) education and the human condition, there are at least four stylised facts:

EDUCATION is the basis for human development;

HIGHER education is important for social mobility;

HIGHER education is getting more expensive; and,

THERE are emerging and less expensive delivery modes for higher education using web technology.

We are also confronted with scenarios based on accountability, efficiency and value for money.

If we bring together the stylised facts and emerging pressures, we will learn how limited and restricted our options are in the financing of higher education.

This is even more so if we bring into the equation concepts and objectives such as accessibility and equity.

Throw in democratisation and “massification” (practice of making products available to the mass market) of higher education, the financing for higher education gets more complex.

All these require answers from policymakers and intellectuals. How will the government fund higher education? Can it be offered for free? Can subsidy-oriented policy work optimally?

What about public-private partnership in the provision of higher education and related infrastructure? Is it possible for consumers and providers to jointly finance higher education?

Let us look back to the 1950s and 1960s. There was a dominant view that public education, including higher education, should be free. This was essentially justified — with free education, there is higher social mobility, and the poor and marginalised are educated.

When it comes to higher education, there are three goals that many countries aim to achieve: access to quality education, wider coverage and adequate provision.

But, how can we achieve these with reduced public spending? Evidently, “retreat of the state” in financing higher education is the consequence of fiscal pressure, consistent rise in costs of providing higher education and the change from elite to mass participation.

All these demand radical changes in the higher education system. In developed countries, these radical changes have been initiated through increased financial autonomy, improved funding and private sector funding.

When evaluating the financing policy for higher education, policymakers are confronted with the issues of accessibility, equity and efficiency. Maureen Woodhall in her book, Sharing the Costs of Higher Education, Financial Support for Students, wrote: “A scheme designed to widen access and increase participation in higher education will not save taxpayers’ money. A scheme designed to reduce public expenditure will not increase participation. A scheme designed to reduce the burden of parental contributions must either involve an increase in the taxpayers’ burden or a shift in the burden from parents to students.”

In the context of Malaysia, the World Bank study on Public Expenditure on Higher Education undertaken in mid-2000 concluded that the government had allocated substantial resources for higher education, but we have not been efficient in using these resources. In other words, we need to deal with equity and efficiency issues.

Over the last decade, pressure for financial reforms in higher education has intensified. With increasing enrolment, the notion of free education is unimaginable. In fact, education, particularly higher education, provides high private rates of return and this justifies the notion that those who benefit directly from higher education should be responsible for the cost.

The introduction of user fees policy, that is, cost recovery, is highly justifiable. For a country such as Malaysia, the cost recovery approach would necessarily mean increasing fees above what is charged.

By Prof Datuk Dr Morshidi Sirat.

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Should Malaysian universities celebrate rising in the QS Rankings?

Thursday, July 12th, 2018
UM students gathered at Dewan Tunku Canselor to vote for the Student Representative Council members last year.

THERE has been a lot of publicity lately about University of Malaya (UM) getting into the top 100 of the Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) World University Rankings. It has now reached 87th place, ahead of Moscow State University,

St. Andrew’s University and the University of Science and Technology of China. Other Malaysian universities have also done well. Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) is in the top 200. Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM), Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) and Universiti Teknologi Malaysia are all in the world top 300.


It would be well to recall that this is not the first time that UM has been in the top 100. Back in 2004 the first edition of what was then the THES-QS World University Rankings put UM in 89th place and USM made it into the top 200.

But a year later UM fell 80 places and USM dropped out of the top 200. What happened was that in 2004 QS made a simple mistake. They counted Chinese and Indian students and faculty as international, boosting the universities’ scores in the international student and faculty indicators. In 2005, QS realised their mistake and corrected it. The resulting “clarification of data” meant that UM and USM lost a few points and fell dozens of places.


It should be noted that there are now 45 international university rankings listed in an Inventory published by the International Ranking Expert Group, including global, regional, subject and business school rankings. The QS world ranking is only one of them and it may not be the most reliable or the most appropriate for Malaysia. But it is the ranking where UM does best.

These are the ranks of UM in various rankings:

• The 2017-18 Times Higher Education (THE) World University Rankings, which include “teaching” indicators, 351-400

• The US News Best Global Universities, research-based, 301st

• The Shanghai Academic Ranking of World Universities, research-based, 401-500

• University Ranking by Academic Performance (published by Middle East Technical University), research-based, 234th

• Round University Ranking (RUR, published in Russia), which includes “teaching” indicators, 213

• Leiden Ranking (published by Leiden University, the Netherlands), publications indicator 110th, high quality research 264th

• Nature Index, highest quality research, not included in 500 ranked universities.

UM and, to a lesser extent, some other Malaysian universities have made significant progress in research output, the provision of resources and internationalisation. They are not doing so well when it comes to high quality research, as is shown by their failure to break into Nature Index, or quality of graduates or teaching. It also seems that the Malaysian university system is highly differentiated with four or five universities producing substantial research but many institutions doing no research, apart from a few isolated individuals, of any significance.

UM could claim that it has been very successful by noting its scores in the Leiden Ranking, the Round University Ranking and the Best Global Universities. Focussing on the QS rankings as a measure of achievement could be self-defeating.


Universities and stakeholders should be aware that the QS rankings are not the best measure of academic excellence. Take a look at the indicators that make up the QS world rankings. There are six: academic survey, employer survey, citations per faculty, faculty student ratio, international students, and international faculty.

The weighting of these indicators is very unbalanced. Forty per cent goes to academic reputation, which is about research, and only 20 per cent for citations. The employer survey gets another 10 per cent.

Some other rankings use reputation surveys, but they have smaller weightings. THE has 33 per cent for surveys of research and postgraduate teaching. The Russian based RUR rankings have 22 per cent, and the US News Best Global Universities 25 per cent.

The QS survey asks respondents about the best universities for research in chosen fields and regions. The citations per faculty indicator is supposed to be a measure of research excellence. One would expect that there would be some congruence between the two but that is not always the case. British universities do much better in the academic reputation survey than in the citations. Cambridge is second in the world for academic reputation but 71st for citations, Edinburgh is 24th and 181st, King’s College London 47th and 159th.

How do UK universities manage to do so well for academic reputation? Part of the answer may be that they are living off their intellectual capital, memories of fading scientific glory, but it could also be because the UK and other English-speaking countries are overrepresented in the survey. QS, to their credit, have listed the national affiliations of the participants in their 2018 survey. There are almost as many respondents from the UK as there are from the US, as many from Australia as there are from Russia, more from Canada than from Germany, more from New Zealand than from Switzerland.

Malaysia is also overrepresented. Out of the 80,000 plus respondents to the survey, 4.6 per cent are from Malaysia. That is more than any other country except the United States and the United Kingdom and more than three times the percentage five years ago. It is also more than the combined number for China and India. This is a lot more than Malaysia’s population, number of researchers, research output or research impact.


It is hardly surprising that the performance of UM and other Malaysian universities in the academic reputation indicator, with its 40 per cent weighting, is well ahead of its score for citations. The reputation survey has had a big influence on their ranking success and this is in large part the result of a very large number of respondents coming from Malaysia.

• UM is 99th for academic reputation and 399th for citations.

• UKM is 160th for reputation and below 601st for citations.

• USM is 168th for reputation and 556th for citations.

• UPM is 188th for reputation and 555th for citations.

Nobody is doing anything wrong. QS has its procedures for the survey and they include allowing universities to nominate up to 400 potential respondents and to alert potential supporters to the company’s sign up facility.

These procedures can be justified as a way of maximising participation in the survey and making it fairer and more inclusive by finding respondents from outside the world’s historical elite universities. But they also mean that QS might be suffering from survey inflation with many responses coming from universities with professional consultants and staff dedicated to rankings.

UM’s success and that of other Malaysian universities appears dependent on its research reputation score which has run ahead of its objective research achievements.


UM is merely promoting its best interests by focusing on the QS rankings and it has every right to do so. The Malaysian government should, however, serve the interests of potential students and other stakeholders by keeping them informed about the position of Malaysian universities in a broad range of rankings, especially the Shanghai and Leiden rankings, which are relatively consistent and stable and useful for evaluating research.

The international ranking of university teaching is only just starting but if an assessment of general university quality is needed then it would be better to use the RUR rankings, which contain five out of six indicators used in the QS rankings plus another 15, none of which has a weighting of more than 10 per cent.


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Tertiary studies on the cusp of change.

Thursday, July 5th, 2018

NOW that we have a new Education Minister, hopefully some fundamental questions will be asked about the role of our universities, where Malaysian tertiary education stands and where it ought to go.

As a member of a university community for the last 45 years, I myself reflect on a range of issues on which scholars have widely divergent views.

> What should tertiary education’s aims and objectives be? Is higher education about knowledge or utility, learning or earning?

> What are the qualities university education should seek to engender in the institution’s students and staff?

> What should our curriculum contain?

> Who should constitute the clientele of our universities? How should this clientele be chosen?

> What pedagogical methodologies should be adopted?

> How should university leaders and staff be chosen, retained and retrained?

> How far should the government try to control universities?

> Should universities evolve their own rating criteria?

> How can language proficiency of staff and students be improved?

> How should universities improve their financial standing?

Each of the above issues requires separate treatment. Let us concentrate on the first issue – the aims of education.

Education is a multi-dimensional thing. Any university worth its name must have broad and multiple roles. Priorities may vary from age to age and from university to university, but what is certain is the multiplicity of the aims of education.

Temple of learning: A university is a storehouse of the knowledge and wisdom of the past. It is a mirror of humanity’s great heritage in art, culture and science. At the same time, it is a place where new knowledge should be generated. Members of the university community must not only be the mirrors that reflect the light produced by others; they must be the source of new illumination.

Career training: A university is a place to learn skills for the job market and the professions. This role requires greater synergy between the university and the industries.

Some Masters and PhD students should do their hands-on research under supervisors from the industries. Lecturers must attend industrial training courses and professionals from the industries must be recruited by universities to provide the bridge between theory and reality.

Building of character: Besides careers, universities must build character and provide all-round development. University education should produce good democrats, good parents and mature graduates who are capable of contributing to the happiness of others.

Besides being profession-oriented, the university should be people-oriented. The curriculum should be so devised that staff and students are involved in the amelioration of the problems of society.

The programme of studies should impart a social conscience and social perspective. It should involve students in the daily struggles of the ordinary citizens. It should teach them the value of social service and emphasise town-gown relationships and community links.

A university curriculum should not resemble a factory assembly line blueprint. Education, as opposed to mere literacy, must be holistic.

There must be correctives against over-specialisation as well as some immersion in language, literature and the humanities. This problem is acute because most professional courses in this country are post-secondary and do not require a degree at entry point.

In keeping with the imperatives of liberal education, our education ministry must relook the science-­art streaming in schools.

Maturity and independence: Our entire education system is formalistic and authoritarian. It is aimed at producing obedient and compliant supporters of the status quo.

However, if our aim is to produce thinkers who can innovate, create and think outside the box, we need to loosen up on the culture of conformity and the requirement to comply with officially correct versions of what is wholesome in life, law and religion. Our instructional methodologies need to get more participative. The laws that govern our universities need a fresher look.

Research: The crucial factor in a university’s eminence is qualified academicians with proven research abilities. A good part of the research should be “applied research” to address and suggest solutions for the burning issues of the times – be it the impending environmental catastrophe, poverty, injustice or marginalisation. Through research and innovation, the university must contribute to the nation’s economic and industrial development.

But the emphasis on research must not be at the expense of teaching. In many citadels of education, post-graduate research is leading to a number of adverse tendencies.

Teaching is being neglected. Some senior educators shun preparatory and beginning courses. Committed teachers are being bypassed in tenure and promotion in comparison with entrepreneuring researchers.

Instead of singling out and supporting good researchers wherever they are found, the government’s approach is to anoint some universities with apex or research university status and shower them with special grants. Innovators in non-research universities are prejudiced.

In our research-centric atmosphere, a danger to guard against is that of receipt of sponsorships and grants from the industries, which often leads to the rigging and supporting of findings favourable to the sponsor.

Another problem is of show over substance. A great deal of research is a facade. It is for show and statistical record, and has no impact on the alleviation of the problems of society.

In such a milieu, university administrators must walk the tightrope between shaping reality and being its servile agents.

Social engineering: Perhaps in all countries but especially in Asian and African societies, universities must be part of the machinery of social engineering and social restructuring. It is a university’s job to reach out to all marginalised, left-out sections of society, irrespective of race or religion, and to give them opportunities for upward mobility.

Nation building: Education should contribute to nation building by fostering respect for each other’s cultures and traditions and by aiding the development of political maturity.

By Shad Saleem Faruqi.

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Gaya College marks 55 years

Monday, July 2nd, 2018

KOTA KINABALU: The Institute of Teachers Education (IPG) Gaya Campus kicked off its 55th Emerald Jubilee Celebration with the Flight of the Phoenix Concert at the Sabah National Department for Culture and Arts (JKKNS) Auditorium here last Saturday night.

The concert, in collaboration with JKKNS, showcased timeline-based performances starting from the 60s era up until the 90s to reminisce the progress of the campus since its establishment in 1963.

It also marked the beginning of a smart partnership between the institute and JKKNS.

IPG Gaya Campus director Gerturude Jock said an interchange of expertise and facilities is hoped to be accomplished following the partnership in addition to fostering a sense of appreciation for art among its students and lecturers.

“We hope to share human resource expertise. The (JKKNS) director himself is very creative and this has helped open up the eyes of IPGGaya students to their own self potentials and this is what we wanted to portray in tonight’s show.”

Meanwhile, JKKNS director Mohd Raizuli Mat Jusoh asserted that the department has always opened its arms to the public in developing partnership to uphold cultural art particularly in Sabah.

The concert, he said, was realized through the creative minds of IPGGaya lecturers who received minimal guidance by JKKNS in terms of visual presentation and musical direction among others.

“We hope that this small effort will subsequently cultivate the feeling of love towards art especially for students who were actively involved so that at least they could continue the artistic approach when they become teachers in the future.”

Present during the concert was Assistant Minister of Education and Innovation Jenifer Lasimbang. On the theme ‘Flight of the Phoenix’, Gerturude said it was derived from the institute’s former logo which contained a phoenix that symbolizes undying motivation.

She explained the theme did not only signify their desire to uplift the students’ motivation but also to regenerate the spirit of togetherness among its lecturers, students and alumni, who also took part in the show.

“We hope that our alumni will play more role in developing education in Sabah; together with our Gaya members and these young students, they could rely and help each other to further stimulate the State’s education,” she said to New Sabah Times.

Officially opened in July 4, 1963, IPG Gaya that initially offered education for teachers in English and Chinese language had since broadened its subjects to Islamic studies, Mathematics, History and Bahasa Melayu.

Students in the institute will take up a five year-course before being placed in schools throughout the country. According to Gerturude, IPGGaya is seeking to produce creative and innovative students who are able to take part in research under their 10 year plan.

“Under the Gaya Beyond 2025, students need to be able to take part in their action research to continually improve in their practice because this is what is required of teachers this day, not just to be teaching in isolation but to be part of a professional learning community.

“We are gearing towards what is in the Malaysian Educational Blueprint, so we’re hoping to create an impact in the lives of these students as well as to education in Malaysia.”


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iCGPA system no longer compulsory for public universities

Monday, June 25th, 2018
Education Minister, Dr Maszlee Malik, said the decision was made after it was found that the iCGPA, since its implementation, had deviated the attention of lecturers from their main tasks, which are teaching, research, writing, supervising their students’ performance, as well as serving the public. — fotoBERNAMA (2018) HAK CIPTA TERPELIHARA

PUTRAJAYA: The integrated cumulative grade point average (iCGPA) system is no longer compulsory in public universities in the country, effective immediately.

Education Minister, Dr Maszlee Malik, said the decision was made after it was found that the iCGPA, since its implementation, had deviated the attention of lecturers from their main tasks, which are teaching, research, writing, supervising their students’ performance, as well as serving the public.

He said the ministry had gathered feedback on the matter via sharing sessions and research with academicians and students, as well as industry and professional bodies.

“In the spirit of freedom and autonomy, the varsities are now allowed to decide for themselves whether they want to continue or drop the use of the iCGPA programme in their respective universities.

“If a university wishes to continue with the programme, the decision must have the consensus of its academic staff via a discussion session.

“However, if they wish to end the iCGPA, the balance of funds from having ended the programme will be channeled to their respective libraries to enable them to subscribe to quality international journals, thus spurring quality research and writing,” he said.

The iCGPA is a grading system which aimed to cover the students’ academic performance as well as professional ability gleaned throughout their years in university. The Higher Education Ministry started to pilot iCGPA at five faculties in five public universities — Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM), Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM), Universiti Malaysia Terengganu (UMT), Universiti Malaysia Kelantan (UMK) and Universiti Malaysia Pahang (UMP) — in September 2015.

Its aim was to produce graduates who not only excel in their fields of study (academically), but are also equipped with the necessary soft skills (such as English proficiency), knowledge (of the world at large, the sciences and arts), values (ethics, patriotism, and spirituality), leadership abilities (including the love of volunteerism), and the ability to think critically (accepting diverse views, innovation and problem solving).

Meanwhile, Maszlee said he had already requested vice-chancellor and deputy vice-chancellor of universities who are not in sync with the new government to retire honorably while those whose contracts were about to expire would not be renewed again

“I have personally met them behind closed-doors and relayed the Cabinet’s message that we want this to be done voluntarily. We do not want two-faced people,” he said.

He also gave his assurance that the appointments of these two positions would from now be free of political influence. Selections, he said, would be based on recommendations by the universities and that an interview process would be required

Asked on suggestions that the University and University Colleges Act (AUKU) be brought to Parliament next month, Maszlee said the government is giving its priority to matters pertaining to Pakatan Harapan’s 100-day manifesto first.

By Zanariah Abd Mutalib

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Four M’sian varsities listed in QS Top 50 Under 50 rankings.

Thursday, June 21st, 2018

PETALING JAYA: Four Malaysian universities have been listed in the Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) World University Rankings Top 50 Under 50 2019.

Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) was the highest ranked institution at the 12th spot, up from 16 last year.

The 48-year-old university is closely followed by Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM) at 13th place, Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) in the 14th slot and Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM) at 18.

The other Malaysian universities to make the list – though not in the top 50 – are UCSI University (61-70), Universiti Teknologi Petronas (71-80), Taylor’s University (91-100), Universiti Utara Malaysia (UUM) (101-150), International Islamic University Malaysia (101-150) and Universiti Tenaga Nasional (101-150).

Universiti Malaya does not qualify as it was set up in 1905, making it over the age limit as the QS Top 50 Under 50 ranks universities that have been established within the past 50 years.

UKM vice-chancellor Prof Tan Sri Dr Noor Azlan Ghazali said: “UKM is very proud yet humbled by this best ranking achievement since our establishment in 1970. This is our special gift for Malaysia.”

He added that the ranking proves that the university is on the: “right track and we must continuously measure ourselves with global peers without forgoing our national motives,” he said.

UCSI University’s latest milestone was welcomed by its founder, Datuk Peter Ng, who started the university on a shoestring budget of RM2,000 in 1986.

“Being ranked in the world’s top 70 is a testament to all the hard work and perseverance we have put in from day one,” he said.

“We started from nowhere so I can only thank God for the many blessings.”

UCSI University vice-chancellor and president Senior Prof. Datuk Khalid Yusoff welcomed the announcement, saying that UCSI’s achievement proves that Malaysian universities are being well-recognised globally, even though they might be young and new.

UCSI was ranked 481 in the recent 2019 QS World University Rankings.

Taylor’s University vice-chancellor and president Prof Michael Driscoll said: “This is an exceptional result, particularly as Taylor’s University is just over eight years of age, the youngest university in the world to make it to the top 100 list.”

“This achievement also highlights Taylor’s ongoing commitment to being a truly world-class university that is recognised globally for its research strengths, engagement industry and innovative teaching pedagogy,” he added.

QS research director Ben Sowter said universities from the Asia-Pacific region have dominated the latest edition of the rankings, with 27 of the 50 places occupied by institutions from Asia or Australia.

“Our Top 50 under 50 Ranking is no consolation prize for those universities that are included: 47 of the top 50 place among the top 400 of our overall table, and all 50 have featured among the top 400 at some point in their brief but successful histories,” he said in a statement.

By Rebecca Rajaendram
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Driving excellence in Muslim world

Wednesday, June 20th, 2018
Universiti Malaya is one of only three universities from Muslim-majority countries in the top 200 of the QS World University Rankings. FILE PIC

THE news that Universiti Malaya has achieved 87th place in the Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) University Rankings is a cause for celebration for Malaysians. With Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia at 184th, Malaysia now boasts two top- ranked universities in the Muslim world.

Despite these achievements, the fact remains that the academic performance of universities in Muslim countries lags behind the rest of the world.

At this time of contemplation for all Muslims and the dawn of a new era for Malaysians, it is appropriate to ask “why?” Here are some reflections.


No. Muslims represent a quarter of humanity. Based on population, there should be around 50 universities from Muslim countries in the top 200 QS ranking. But, there are only three (King Faisal University in Saudi Arabia is ranked 189th).

Perhaps Muslims don’t really have an academic tradition of scholarship?

Nonsense. While most students are dazzled by the antiquity of universities like Oxford and Cambridge, they remain unaware that the first universities were founded in Asia and Africa, predating European universities often by hundreds of years. Which Muslim student knows that the University of Al Quaraouiyine, founded in Morocco in 859 AD by a woman (Fatima al-Fihri), is the oldest existing, operating and degree-awarding educational institution in the world?

Western mathematicians and scientists owe a debt to the Islamic scholars who helped Europe emerge from the Dark Ages.


Not true. Muslims are among the richest people on Earth. Based on per capita income, six of 25 richest countries are Muslim countries — here at least we meet our quota. Of course, individual wealth in a few small, rich countries is not a measure of the wealth of our resources. But, here again, we have no excuses.

From the fossil reserves of the Middle East to the biodiversity of Asia, Muslims can claim more than their share of the planet’s bounty. Malaysia alone hosts five per cent of the world’s plant species, and some of the richest sources of terrestrial and marine biodiversity on the planet. Muslim countries span a “fertile crescent” from Senegal (further west than Ireland), Kazakhstan (further north than Denmark) and Indonesia (further east than Japan and further south than Brazil).


True, but even if we ignore the blunt tool of university rankings, research from Muslim countries is less cited than from elsewhere. No author in the 100 most cited papers in the prestigious journal, Nature, was from a Muslim country. Despite forming the majority population of 57 nations and citizenship of most others, only three Muslim scientists are among the more than 900 Nobel Prize laureates.

Muslim countries rarely
feature in metrics of research performance, spending or scientific discoveries.


Really? Almost half of the global poor live in the Muslim world. Sixty per cent of Muslims are aged below 30 and most of them live in rural poverty. Unemployment is often high, especially for women and youth. At the same time, many Muslim countries depend on food imports since they cannot feed their own people. If we built a “Trumpian Wall” around the Muslim world, many of us would starve.


By themselves, they won’t. For too long, scientists have been encouraged, indeed rewarded, for working in narrow disciplinary silos with a single objective — to publish. It is easier to follow the “publish or perish” maxim than to cross its boundaries. Cited publications remain the currency of academic success.

However, to solve existential challenges (such as climate change), scientists must increasingly work in multidisciplinary, multinational teams. They must welcome contributions from colleagues who neither look nor think like them, but bring new perspectives to a common challenge. This means that we must share, and not compete for, resources, welcome new ideas and encourage debate. We must ask whether our research is relevant to the challenges facing our communities and learn lessons from elsewhere. Publications will not empower communities, shared experiences may.


Islamic finance offers unique instruments to build climate resilient communities. Its principles and modus operandi bring a different perspective to sustainability. For zakat funds to be used for their purpose, an additional condition needs to be met, that is, the beneficiaries must be poor. The institution of waqf can help communities cope with humanitarian crises resulting from climate change. Waqf foundations can directly engage in provision of goods and services related to climate mitigation and adaptation.

Islamic Green funds and Green Sukuk can contribute to research on climate change. While the principles of Islamic finance can support climate change research, it is researchers who must work with communities to deliver climate resilience.

By Professor Sayed Azam-Ali.

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Malaysia universities shine in latest QS Rankings

Thursday, June 14th, 2018

Maszlee Malik (first row, fourth from left) with university representatives at the announcement of the 15th edition of the QS World University Rankings in Putrajaya. Bernama Photo

THE 15th edition of the QS World University Rankings, released recently by global higher education analysts QS Quacquarelli Symonds, sees University of Malaya (UM) achieving its highest rank since the first edition of the rankings in 2004. It now ranks 87th in the world from 114th last year.

Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) (184th) joins the world’s Top 200, an achievement only narrowly missed by Universiti Putra Malaysia (202th).

Two other varsities which made it to the top 200 are Universiti Sains Malaysia which rises to 207th position from 264th and Universiti Teknologi Malaysia, which jumps to 228th from 253rd in the world.

At the Press conference to announce the rankings, Education Minister Dr Maszlee Malik said university rankings have a role to play for tertiary institutions.

“The QS World University Rankings, in particular, provide a reference point for students and universities from all over the world to see whether they are on track with their counterparts across the globe.

“Credit must be given to the hard work of university academics and administrators who have brought our universities closer to the pulse of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.” UM vice-chancellor Datuk Dr Abdul Rahim Hashim attributed its success to the commitment of all the staff and their dedication to achieving the goals set in the university’s strategic plan to strengthen its fundamentals particularly in teaching, research and international collaboration. He added that the work done in the past years has laid a strong foundation that paved the way to the top 100.

“UM’s assiduous efforts in strengthening research, internationalisation as well as industry engagement over the past few years are now yielding positive results.

“These represent global acknowledgement and recognition of UM’s quality in teaching and research.”

Three indicators, namely Academic Reputation, Employer Reputation and Citations Per Faculty, leapfrogged the university into the top 100.

The first two are indicators of the university’s reputation among the academic community and employers respectively, and the third measures the impact of its publications.

However, the results this year saw a continuous drop in the ranking of the international staff indicator.

“The cut in the government’s allocation to the university had adverse implications on its international staff intake and ability to retain productive retired academics on contract. The university’s efforts towards financial sustainability will not yield immediate results to bridge the shortfall due to the drop in government funding.”

However, UM will continue its primary focus on establishing stronger academic fundamentals.

Only through such efforts, said Abdul Rahim, can the university maintain or better its ranking in the coming years. Intensification of international collaborations and enhancing research and industry partnerships are among its top priority.

Ben Sowter, research director at QS, said: “Malaysia shines in this edition of the rankings. Its higher education system has a solid reputation among both international academics and employers. To support this positive ascending trajectory, local universities should continue to focus on increasing the impact of the research they produce.”

The better ranking can be attributed to improved scores in Academic Reputation and Employer Reputation which account for 50 per cent of the overall score.

For UKM, the rise in rankings is a perfect gift for the institution’s 50th anniversary.

UKM vice-chancellor Professor Tan Sri Dr Noor Azlan Ghazali said: “UKM’s achievement does not only reflect its excellence in an overall context but specifically in its contribution to the goals of national development and enhancement of the societal well-being of the local and global community.”

UKM is now within the one per cent category of top universities in the world.

UPM vice-chancellor Professor Datin Paduka Datuk Dr Aini Ideris said the institution is within its target based on the 2014-202 UPM Strategic Plan to be among the world’s top 200 universities by 2020.

“We hope to improve several indicators through strategies in increasing the number of international lecturers and improving academic and student quality.”

UPM jumped 27 places and is now in the 20 per cent category of best universities among the 1,233 evaluated by QS.

USM has moved up 148 places within the past six years: from 355 in year 2013/14 to 207 in year 2018/19.

Its vice-chancellor Professor Datuk Dr Asma Ismail said: “We have been rising steadily since 2014 by concentrating on the fundamentals and we have improved further because we realise the importance of providing the best possible learning experience for the global community.”

USM’s Academic Reputation was ranked among the Top 200 in the world while Employer Reputation and Faculty Student ratio were within the Top 250 in the world.

“USM has always been in the position to view ranking as one of the gauging parameters, rather than be obsessed with it. We are happy with our overall performance, we know that we are on the right track and we have good strategies in place to ensure that USM remains as the preferred university to its stakeholders.”

There are also four new Malaysian universities in this year’s rankings. They are UCSI University, Taylor’s University, Universiti Tenaga Nasional and Multimedia University.

Ranked 481, UCSI is the only Malaysian private university in the top 500. This is also the first time it is featured in the QS World University Rankings.

UCSI vice-chancellor and president Senior Professor Datuk Dr Khalid Yusoff said that its continued rise in global stature was a culmination of university-wide push for excellence and performance with specific strategies to reach out and reach in, a commitment to synergise with the future for its students and staff, and the dedication and hard work of its staff and students in pursuing these ideals and aspirations.

“We welcome this development as it shows we are moving in the right direction,” he said.

“Our focus is to push UCSI further and higher. We are building the strengths of the university. Quality education is our priority and we want to be a standard bearer of thought leadership.”

Khalid added that UCSI’s position in the rankings showed that Malaysian universities can achieve marked improvement.

Over the years, UCSI has focused extensively on improving its research output, curriculum development and delivery, as well as industry partnerships.

UCSI also works closely with the great universities around the world while partnering with newer tertiary institutions in the region.

It has elevated its engagement with the world’s best universities. UCSI students are annually selected by Harvard University, Imperial College London, University of Chicago, Tsinghua University and the University of Queensland for involvement in their various research programmes.

Additionally, the University of Melbourne has arrangements for UCSI’s third-year medical students to pursue the Bachelor of Medical Sciences (Melb.) programme after one year of studies in Melbourne, indicating that Melbourne University recognises the three years of UCSI’s medicine programme.


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Malaysian education: A new hope

Thursday, June 7th, 2018

WITH a handshake, the handover of duties was complete. Former Higher Education Minister Datuk Seri Idris Jusoh has passed the baton to incoming Education Minister Dr Maszlee Malik.

The handover on May 22 was historic, the first of its kind, and it was an honour to witness the moment.

In his parting speech, Idris thanked the ministry’s officers for enabling it to “soar upwards” and reminded them to continue to serve with dedication.

Dr Maszlee thanked Idris for his service and spoke passionately as well as reassuringly of his vision for Malaysian education.

Both men share some similarities besides being alumni of Sekolah Tuanku Abdul Rahman in Ipoh, namely, they believe that learning at its core must be fun, humanised and enculture a spirit of love and care (kasih sayang).

The occasion was reflective of the kind of politics many Malaysians have been expecting of their elected leaders – mature, civil and yes, educated.

Dr Maszlee’s appointment as Education Minister was met with great interest, both positive and negative. Various labels were thrown around: Islamist, liberal, moderate. I dare say there has not been a politician in recent memory who evokes such contrasting ideological positions.

It also goes to show how passionate Malaysians are about our education system (yes, right up there next to food!).

Though we were both from the International Islamic University Malaysia, our paths never crossed, but many have said good things about him. Upon reading up on his background and civil society participation, I am impressed. I was Whatsapp-ed a video of Dr Maszlee’s campaign, with his wife and children speaking in multiple languages. It was different, unique even.

I believe our new Education Minister deserves this opportunity.

Dr Maszlee and his team will be facing interesting challenges in an always evolving education landscape.

For starters, managing a merged ministry is no small order. There are over 10,000 schools, half a million teachers and five million students in the primary and secondary schools system.

Higher education covers 20 public universities, over 500 private institutions, 36 polytechnics and 100 community colleges, with over 70,000 academicians and 1.2 million students, including 170,000-plus international students.

It’s like running a small country! Having a robust communications team is vital to convey progress, allay fears and share successes.

Second, the new Education Minister needs to quickly rise above the ongoing time-consuming merger and focus on the policy initiatives and reforms. Both Malaysia Education Blueprints, for schools and higher education, will be his best friends at this initial stage.

Third, let’s look at the school system. Promise 49 of the Pakatan Harapan election manifesto is about “making government schools the best choice for its people”. One challenge in achieving this revolves around whether Malaysia should have a single- or multi-stream education system.

The manifesto indicates continued support for a multi-stream system (vernacular, religious, national, boarding, missionary, private, etc). So, while it would appear that this debate is settled, it would be prudent not to close the door on this matter.

Go out there and listen to the stakeholders. Get their thoughts on unity, quality and capacity. The argument that national schools will naturally be the top choice if they are of quality, has become the chicken-and-egg debate of our era.

Similarly, if we aim to benchmark against Finland, we must ask, “Why don’t they have private schools?”

Fourth, let’s look at the higher education ecosystem. Promise 50 and Youth Commitment 4 of the manifesto speak of greater autonomy and free education, among others.

Autonomy is good for the ecosystem and effective leadership is essential. If I may suggest, when the next appointment of a vice-chancellor is due, the decision can be handled by the university’s board of governors (with the minister signing off on their choice).

The amendment of the Universities and University Colleges Act can take place in tandem. Such a simple yet pertinent gesture would instantly raise confidence within the higher education ecosystem and signal an important step along the path towards autonomy.

On free education, I have argued before that this isn’t feasible yet in Malaysia without tax increases or more income generation by the Government.

Related issues are the sustainability of the National Higher Education Fund Corp (PTPTN), whether free education can lead to complacency, and whether there is a better model to fund higher education in light of limited places and finite resources.

On technology in education, MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) is mentioned under Promise 50. Under the Malaysia Education Blueprint (Shift 9), there’s the Malaysia MOOC initiative, which began in 2015. It aims to reduce costs and enhance quality as well as access. I’ve written about this initiative and a few others, such as CEO@Faculty Programme, 2u2i, Waqf and more.

While different policy makers have different priorities, many of these programmes were introduced to address various challenges within the education system. It would be worthwhile to measure the impact of these initiatives and strengthen those that are delivering real results for students.

With the public eager for transformation, the new minister and his team must be given time and space.

The education system isn’t starting from scratch. Great strides have been made over the years and the imperative is to be brave in evolving.

Lastly, we are currently in a period where political goodwill is at its best. Now is the moment to make the hard decisions and transform the education system.

I wish Dr Maszlee and his team the best.

By Danial Rahman
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UM breaks into Top 100 in World University Rankings

Thursday, June 7th, 2018
University of Malaya achieves its highest rank, according to Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) World University rankings for 2018 released today.

University of Malaya achieves its highest rank, according to Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) World University rankings for 2018 released today. It now ranks 87th in the world from 114th last year.

The fifteenth edition of the QS World University Rankings, released today by global higher education analysts QS Quacquarelli Symonds, sees all Malaysian ranked universities rise, except one which remains stable.

Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (184th) joins the world’s Top 200, an achievement only narrowly missed by Universiti Putra Malaysia (202th).

University of Malaya achieves its highest rank, according to Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) World University rankings for 2018 released today.

Two other varsities that made it to the top 200 are Universiti Sains Malaysia which rises to 207th position from 264th and Universiti Teknologi Malaysia, which jumps to 228th from 253rd in the world.

Ben Sowter, Research Director at QS said: “Malaysia shines in this edition of the rankings. Its higher education system has a solid reputation among both international academics and employers. To support this positive ascending trajectory, the local universities should continue to focus on increasing the impact of the research they produce.

University of Malaya achieves its highest rank, according to Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) World University rankings for 2018 released today.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is the world’s best university for a record-breaking seventh consecutive year.


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