A few days ago, Times Higher Education (THE) released a list of the top 100 most powerful global university brands based on an invitation-only academic opinion survey.
THE admits that the reputation league table is based on nothing more than subjective judgement (albeit judgments of senior and published academics); however, it does give us an idea of the current standing of Malaysian universities on an international platform.
And like previous years, Malaysia wasn’t featured in the list. This is THE’s fifth listing and Malaysia has never made the cut.
But hold your horses — is it REALLY that big of a deal that Malaysian varsities are not recognised as the cream of the crop?
Everyone Saw It Coming
No one seems to be surprised that Malaysia wasn’t in that prestigious list. Christyn Anysha, a social media specialist who has a Bachelor’s Degree in Communication, said that Malaysian universities don’t place emphasis on updating their syllabus or keep up with the changing times.
“A lot of what is taught in Malaysian universities are theories and very little on practicality and things that require critical thinking. Some varsities in the UK push for one year internships and long as it may sound, the value gained from that one year is undeniable versus a three-month stint.”
Sandra Lim, who has a Bachelor’s Degree in Food Studies, is currently working as a marketing assistant at a foreign embassy. She too echoes the same opinion as Anysha, stating that her bosses at work observed that interns from Malaysian universities do not have critical thinking or problem-solving skills, in comparison to interns from Australian universities.
Another graduate who has a Bachelor’s Degree in English Literature and is working as a theater practitioner wasn’t surprised as well. He brought up an important root of the problem — the lack of a holistic education from a young age.
“Our primary education building up to our tertiary education doesn’t really meet up to a wholesome education. Very little emphasis was given on skills; therefore when this prolongs to the tertiary level, we tend to fall short.”
Instead of focusing on a holistic education, most graduates feel that the focus of both students and parents are wired towards “studying for the sake of exams”.
Not only that, local universities also fail to be on par with other evaluated criteria, such as research, facilities, international involvement, etc.
Even on the QS ranking, local universities are “struggling to just-get-there” as basic amenities are not solid. Mun Yee, a Science and Technology Studies graduate, voiced her concerns over the quality of local universities which has gone down exponentially over the years.
She proceeded to give some examples, “Some quick examples, such as the snail speed of administration-processing (other universities have gone electronic whereas local universities are still at the dinosaur age where administration matters are on papers and take ages to process), teaching in mix languages (which eventually leads to ultra low English standards upon graduation), having compulsory courses that just aren’t important enough for some students to make it to class.”
“Just to add some icing on top of the cake, leaders of the Education Ministry changes more than I change my smartphone. So, is education something to toy around? You tell me.”
Ashley Greig, who has been an English lecturer at Sunway University for the past 4 years, boldly said that Malaysian universities have a long way to go before we reach “world-class status”.
“Looking forward isn’t a bad thing, but pretending that we’re already near perfect when we haven’t even started the journey is something that we should stop doing. Actions speak louder than words, and in this case, we should focus on becoming better by taking measures to improve the quality of our education, and not trying to boast of things we don’t have just yet.”
World Reputation Rankings? Pffffft.
Despite the strong comments about the problems with Malaysian universities, the general consensus among the graduates I spoke to was that it doesn’t really matter whether one graduates from a recognised “top university” or not because success is very dependent on each individual.
Anysha said, “You could be a graduate in Malaysia with top scores from the best universities but not be able to look me in the eye when you talk or sometimes can’t manage a sentence in English. I don’t believe that a degree makes the individual. Experience and application does a better job at that.”
Sim Kuan Yew, a part-time English teacher with a Bachelor’s Degree in Education (TESL), commented that graduating from a top university does give the graduates an upper hand, but added, “There is always going to be someone with the upper hand, but that does not mean automatic success.”
“Looking from my education qualification and job role, it wasn’t a good university education that supported my career. University was just a platform for me to develop skills and meet people,” Sandra recalled.
Being realistic, Mun Yee said that graduating from a top university does matter, but only to a certain extent. “Yes, it matters in applying for professional jobs because your CGPA and university would virtually represent you on your resume as it is the first filter that some companies would look at; whereas for others, experience matters more than anything,” she said.
“This may sound cliche, but it is the reality. Try looking at most job advertisements and you would know.”
Syed Azmi Alhabshi, a graduate with a Bachelor’s Degree in Pharmacy and also the coordinator of FreeMarket, went for a more people-based approach and brought up an important point — the role of teachers. “It doesn’t matter where we graduate from, because I believe there are gems in every university — lecturers that are inspiring to students. So it matters more who your teacher is.”
That Less-Than-1% Chance
According to the Webometrics website, as of January 2014, there are 22,123 universities in the world. Sim Kuan Yew broke it down for us, “There are thousands of universities in the world and we consider less than 1% to be ‘top universities’ [100 universities represents 0.45% out of the total of 22,123 universities]. In other words, by people’s logic, it’s not good enough to even be better than 95% of universities over the world. Am I surprised that Malaysia isn’t in the list? No. Because it is not easy to be in that less-than-1% of a chance.”
Even with the best teachers from top notch universities, ultimately it depends on the graduates themselves. “In the end, all that matters is the mindset and character of the individual. One can be a graduate from a low-ranked university and yet manage to hold a stable job and is on the pathway to success,” Ashley Greig advised.
Graduating from a recognised and reputable top university is great, but it isn’t everything. After all, let’s face it, not everyone can be in the less-than-1% category.
[Author’s note: It has been kindly pointed out to us that the World University Ranking list used was released last year and that the latest list released is the World Reputation Rankings. Thank you, the article has been updated to reflect that.]