Thursday, October 8, 2009

UM Back Among World’s Top 200 Universities...



KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 8 — Universiti Malaya rejoined the tight circle of top universities in the world today after four years in the wilderness.

The country's oldest institute of higher learning is the 180th best university in the world, according to the 2009 Times Higher Education-QS World University Rankings list published by the UK's Times Higher Education magazine and released today.

Harvard University in the US still holds the top spot for the sixth year running.

But the United States's grip on the 2009 World University Rankings has loosened greatly with five dropping out of the top 200 altogether as Asian institutions steadily climb up the academic ladder.

Last year, UM came in at 230th best in the world.

It was the only Malaysian university to make the top 200 table this year. Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM), which was given apex university status by the federal government, failed to make the cut.

Phil Baty, deputy [Ghauth was overjoyed with UM's new ranking.] editor of Times Higher Education and editor of the annual best universities index, credited UM's return to “a solid performance in our international academic peer review exercise, and to a relatively high level of international faculty.”

“The UK has been watching closely as Malaysia sets itself up as an international hub for higher education — and increasing international collaborations, with the associated student and staff mobility, are likely to see Malaysia further improve its international profile,” he added in a press statement.

UM vice-chancellor Professor Datuk Dr Ghauth Jasmon was overjoyed over its new ranking when The Malaysian Insider broke the news to him. He had been working on reaching the top 200 list in two years.

In an immediate response, Ghauth said: “This will be a major boost to bring up the morale and motivation of staff and students.”

Ghauth, who was appointed vice-chancellor last Nov 10, said UM had taken big steps to define the “proper targets” for all academics after its dismal performance last year.

“People now know what they have to do every year in order to meet their KPI and they know what they need to have before they could apply for promotion,” he said.

He pointed out that UM went on a “massive recruitment drive” and hired 300 international educators.

UM also increased its foreign student intake which now numbers over 1,000 with 99 per cent in post-graduate studies.

“In order to do that we actually set up offshore offices. Now we have two offshore offices in China, one in Tehran, two more coming up in Jakarta and Sudan,” Ghauth said, ticking off on his fingers.

“If things go well, we'll set up one in Yemen because our idea is really to bring up the number of international students for research and post-graduate research,” he added.

UM has also been aggressively pushing for more inter-university student exchange programmes.

The figures of Malaysian students involved in the exchange has more than doubled, from 600 to just over 1,300.

The number of foreign students in UM has also gone up.

“We have a total of 1,297 students from universities in Korea, UK, and some universities in the US,” Ghauth said.

The university also revamped its hiring formula to improve the quality of their research, he said.

“We only accept staff who publish in the ISI index journal,” he said, referring to the Institute for Scientific Information founded by Eugene Garfield in 1960 which maintains an extensive database covering thousands of academic journals to help researchers identify the most popular articles cited by other researchers.

“And you know that only 10 per cent of submissions are accepted by the ISI index journal so each time you publish there, you are very sure of the quality.

“This is how we make sure that the research that our staff is doing has met international standards,” Ghauth explained.

And Ghauth is now even more gung-ho in pushing UM into the top 100 table within the next five years.

He is convinced UM can do it.

“For the future, I am doubling up research,” he said.

“I want more publications of international textbooks and ISI index journal publication, especially those faculties that before this were not really doing it,” he added, noting that the social sciences were lagging behind the other faculties.

But not everyone is satisfied with UM's new ranking.

DAP leader Lim Kit Siang told The Malaysian Insider that UM's position “while commendable, is nothing really to shout about.”

The veteran politician, who has been keeping a close eye on the annual university ranking index, said it must take into context UM's previous performance in 2004, when it scored the 89th position among the world's 100 best universities.

It tumbled a long way down and limped in at 169th position the following year, despite then Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak's challenge for it to race into the top 50 list.

“We have a long way to go,” he stressed, pointing out that Singapore was still ahead of Malaysia.

The universities in both countries actually share common roots as the University of Malaya which goes all the way back to 1949. A Bill was passed in 1961 which saw the two campuses in Kuala Lumpur and Singapore become fully-fledged national universities in their own right.

Malaysia's UM, as it is known today, was founded on Jan 1, 1962.

-The Malaysian Insider

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